Friday, August 11, 2017

Should Christians Expect to Suffer?

A person once wrote to a friend of mine, "I've never been too keen on the whole 'God values suffering' bit. He knows we are suffering, but God provided salvation through his Son because God wanted man to live in paradise. Jesus bought all of mankind from death. If you have died, regardless of faith or not, you will receive your resurrection through Christ and His judgement. And, if you live like we are told to through Jesus, there should be no suffering...only a wrong attitude."

This was in response to my friend asking, "Why do we suffer? Didn't Jesus suffer for us so that we don't have to? Are we called to suffer? Does God value our suffering? How do I explain to someone the benefits of suffering other than just saying 'offer it up'?""

There were a couple things in the person's response that were off base (i.e. "If you have died, regardless of faith or not..."), but I chalked it up to a possible language barrier or other misunderstandings. Given some of his past comments, that probably didn't mean what it appeared to mean (in his mind). However, the part I underlined needed to be addressed. This whole idea that, if we are Christians, we will not have to suffer; or that God cannot bring good from our sufferings; or that it's wrong-minded for Christians to value suffering and 'offer it up'; is completely contrary to the promise of Christ and the example given in His written Word.

Jesus, Himself, explicitly promises us that we will suffer when we follow Him. "Jesus said, 'Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age — houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions — and in the age to come eternal life" (Mk 10:29-30, emphasis added).

Christ explains to us that a servant is not greater than his master. Jesus is our master and He suffered. So shall we if we are His servants. "Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also" (Jn 15:20).

He takes this promise even further in Mt 16:24-25, when He says we must take up our cross if we want to be His followers: "Then Jesus told His disciples, 'If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.'". Luke 9:23 quotes the same, with the added emphasis that this cross is to be taken up "daily".

He even told His disciples that when the persecutions comes, they should allow God to work through them and they must endure the persecutions. "See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved" (Mt 10:16-22).

And not only does Jesus promise that we will suffer as His followers, but He also says we will be blessed for it! For example, Mt 5:10-11 records, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account".

Scripture shows us many accounts of Christ's followers suffering, and that they shall suffer, for Him in this way. For example:
"There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, 'It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God'"(Acts 14:22).
"Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2Tim 3:12).
"Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you" (1Pet 4:12).
-How many times was Paul beaten, stoned, imprisoned, shipwrecked...?

Oh, sure, you may say something like, "...but 'persecution' isn't the same thing as some of the suffering we see in our lives...". I'd agree. Most of the suffering I go through in my life is EASY compared to being persecuted or killed for my faith. But that doesn't negate our daily or life-long sufferings, of which persecution can be a heavy example.  And not all of the suffering in Scripture was directly linked to persecution (i.e. Paul being shipwrecked, or struggling with "that which he hates' while 'neglecting to do what he should be doing' (Acts 27; Rom 7:15-20)).
Paul gets to the heart of it in 2Cor 1:6, when he writes, "If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering".

God has never balked at people suffering for Him or for living a righteous life with persecutions. In fact, He allows it for a greater good (the stories of Job and Tobit come to mind!). Paul rejoiced in his suffering! "I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church"(Col 1:24).
How many of you reading this have put much thought into "what is lacking in Christ's afflictions"? Personally, I believe what is lacking is our participation in it! Hence, Paul suffers for our sake in this regard, and rejoices for it!

Can any good come from suffering, and 'offering it up'? Again, and keeping in mind what Paul said in 2Cor 1:6, we can turn to Paul for a very clear answer: "And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us" (Rom 5:3-5). 
And in Philippians 3:8-11: "...For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead".

Neither Christ nor His disciples claimed anyone to have a wrong attitude for seeing it as 'suffering'. They saw suffering for what it is; suffering; and offered it to God for His greater purpose.

Photo borrowed from - God's Blessing to you, Anna!

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