The Church in the Hurt: When Christ’s Love is Shown in the Midst of Suffering - Radical

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The Church in the Hurt: When Christ’s Love is Shown in the Midst of Suffering

Between 165–266 A.D., two deadly epidemics rampaged throughout the Roman Empire. Citizens of the empire’s crowded cities often had two responses: They either fled danger to save their lives or braved danger to help others. Christians became known for staying. 

One early church father described the plagues’ devastation: “Everything is tears, and everyone is mourning, and wailings resound daily through the city because of the multitude of the dead and dying.” 

The sick were abandoned on the streets to die, as piles of dead bodies filled the city. It seemed as if the workers loading corpses onto carts and wagons could not remove the bodies faster than people were dying. Nearly a third of the population was wiped out.

In the midst of the hurt, the church showed Christ’s sacrificial love.

But as the healthy fled in fear, Christians stayed to care for the sick. Sometimes, the cost was their own lives. In the midst of the hurt, the church showed Christ’s sacrificial love.

Love God, Love Your Neighbors

Fear ran rampant during the epidemics known as the Antonine and the Cyprian Plagues. The sick were shunned, and sometimes thrown onto the dirt before they died. As many people fled, Christians stayed and tended to brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as those who did not know the Savior.

Loving God and our neighbors is not just a command (Matthew 27:37–39). It’s a fruit of our sanctification as we draw near to God. As we are filled with Christ’s love, peace, and grace, we respond with praise and gratitude for the goodness he extends to us. When we love God and acknowledge his love for us, that love ultimately flows out upon those around us.

Serve As Christ Serves Us

Centuries later, a plague broke out in Wittenberg, Germany. When church congregations wrestled with whether they should flee the city, Martin Luther wrote these words:

If it were Christ or his mother who were laid low by illness, everybody would be so solicitous and would gladly become a servant or helper….nobody would flee but everyone would come running…you hear that the command to love your neighbor is equal to the greatest commandment to love God, and that what you do or fail to do for your neighbor means doing the same to God. 

If you wish to serve Christ and to wait on him, very well, you have your sick neighbor close at hand. Go to him and serve him, and you will surely find Christ in him, not outwardly but in his word.1

Luther reminds us that Christ “did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45). He came to be the lowly servant, helping us and even waiting on us. Since Jesus “laid down his life for us, we ought to lay down our lives for others” (1 John 3:16). 

When Christians laid down their lives for others by taking care of the sick during plagues throughout history, they put the gospel into action.

The Church’s Witness Strengthened

When Christians laid down their lives for others by taking care of the sick during plagues throughout history, they put the gospel into action. They were lights during some of the darkest times. In the midst of mourning, believers shared the promise that one day God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain” (Revelation 21:4). 

We can learn from these examples of the church centuries ago. The church’s witness is strengthened as members walk in light of the gospel. The church can persist—even grow—in the midst of the deepest hurts and trials when we put our trust in Christ and show his sacrificial love to others.


  1. Whether One May Flee From A Deadly Plague 

Selah Vetter is a Content Writer at Radical. She is a graduate of Samford University where she studied Journalism and Spanish. She is a member of Redeemer Community Church.

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