‘I, John, am your brother and your partner in suffering.’ Revelation 1:9a
If you’re going to listen to someone enough to take advice then you need to be able to respect them and relate to them. A person can say all manner of challenging things to you but if you have no respect for them then you won’t listen. You can almost despise what they say. In the same instance, if a person is living a completely different lifestyle from us, and they offer us advice, we listen with only half an ear, because we think ‘it’s alright for them!’
In this passage, John gains our respect. He was not only one of the twelve disciples but one of the three that was given, on occasions, exclusive insights into the infallibility of Christ, and he was the disciple that Jesus loved. He was given the practical commission of looking after Jesus’ elderly mother and many of us know what that’s like! He wins our respect. John, however, does more than that. He relates to us by the very fact he was a partner in suffering. The moment another identifies with you in your suffering, your heart opens in a new way. When someone else says the words ‘I know how you feel,’ or ‘that happened to me,’ it makes you feel more comfortable. The defensive, protective barriers that automatically go up towards others come tumbling down and our hearts open in a fresh way to that one.
John had been exiled, sent away, where he could cause no more damage by preaching the word of God or sharing his testimony. But God’s plans are greater than man’s and instead of closing the door through his suffering there came an open door through writing, not only to the local churches on the mainland, but to the whole Christian world. John had no idea that his suffering and patient endurance would lead to such significance.
It reminds me of several others who have left us writings as a result of being confined. Samuel Rutherford, exiled to Aberdeen, wrote the most insightful letters to members of his congregation that have been preserved down through the centuries. Amy Carmichael, bedridden through a fall, wrote books to her workers and friend which bring the voice of our Lord Jesus to many of us. C H Spurgeon, often set apart from his flock through ill health, wrote many a book that has been instructional and helpful to many. Each one put their suffering to good use. It didn’t stop them from pressing on in the work of the kingdom. What they felt just had to come out in a different kind of way; through writing rather than speaking. Thousands, if not millions, have been helped and supported in a way they could never have imagined. They were ‘partners in suffering’.
It’s a foregone conclusion that we will suffer for Christ. We need to learn to suffer with patient endurance, which is the next part of the verse, so that our suffering is put to good use and leads to fruitfulness for Christ. Instead of moping about your lot in life, let Christ shine through you. Be content in all things, praise in all circumstances and put a smile on your face even when life is hard or you’re feeling a bit down. Remember others have suffered before you and are suffering alongside you. Instead of feeling isolated and cut off, remember they are your brothers, your sisters, your family, your partners in suffering. We are partners in suffering as well as partners of joy! Let our Lord Jesus who has allowed these circumstances into your life, for whatever reason, put them to good use, and bring something positive out of them. Allow your difficult circumstances not only to strengthen you but strengthen others too. You are not alone; you can never be alone for our Lord Jesus has promised to be with us all through the day even until the end of the age. Begin to view your circumstances through different eyes and recognise we can do all things through Christ who loves us.