“What? Me Suffer?”

Posted by colin on August 24, 2010 under From the pastor | Comments are off for this article

The Scriptures promise us that as Christians we will suffer. This is not a pleasant prospect. In fact, it is something that most of us would like to avoid. In some countries, however, it is unavoidable. Christians in various parts of the world face discrimination, the threat of jail, and even death for their beliefs.

But what about the rest of us? Particularly in the West, we don’t face much suffering for our beliefs. In fact, we tend to confuse the normal sufferings of this life with the particular sufferings that a Christian can expect to endure: things like the death of a loved one, a prolonged illness, a wayward son or daughter, the loss of a job, or even the sufferings we bring upon ourselves because of bad decisions. This type of suffering is part of the normal course of life. They are faced by Christians and non-Christians alike.

The suffering that we can expect to face as Christians is directly related to our profession of our faith. As Christians we can expect to suffer in at least two ways:

First, we can expect to suffer for our beliefs. Jesus warned His disciples: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18-19). But, you might say, the world doesn’t hate me. Could that be because the world hasn’t realized that you don’t belong to it? Perhaps you are flying so low that you are below the world’s radar system; your conduct is no different from that of your colleagues in the world.

Jesus has called us to live lives that testify to Him (John 15:27). If people see Jesus in us, then some will take offence at us: “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name…” (John 15:21-22).

The apostle Paul encourages the Philippians – and us – to “… conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, … I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you… For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him” (Phil. 1:27-29).

This is not to say that we should try to bring persecution and suffering upon ourselves. It is not Christian to be obnoxious, self-righteous and condemning of others. We are called to be different. And when people notice that difference, we should not be surprised if we suffer as a result. Peter reminds us, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (I Peter 4:12-13).

Secondly, we can expect to suffer because of the sufferings of others. As Christians, we have been called to live in communion with God and with one another. Because of this union, we share in the sufferings of God and of each other. Some theologians tell us that because of the impassibility of God, God does not suffer or experience emotions. However, the coming of Jesus, has revealed the true nature of God. And we see that God is a God who suffers.

When Jesus came to the tomb of Lazarus and saw the suffering of the people there, He wept (John 11:35). He was not weeping because of the death of his friend Lazarus – as the crowd thought (John 11:36). He knew that he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. He was deeply moved by the sight of the suffering of the people around him: “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled” (John 11:33). Here we see the mind of God. He is not impervious to the sufferings of humanity. He is deeply moved by our suffering. If Jesus is moved by the suffering of others, and we are being conformed to his image, then it is appropriate that we too should be moved by the plight of others. This is what God calls on us to do: to share in the sufferings of others.

And this applies particularly to the church. Paul likens the church to the human body. We are all interlocked and interdependent. When one member of the body hurts, the whole body hurts. When one member of the church suffers, we all suffer (I Cor. 12:25-27). Notice this instruction in the book of Hebrews: “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Hebrews 13:3). We are called to identify ourselves with our brothers and sisters and share in their suffering.

There are millions of Christians who are daily facing situations of intense suffering. We ourselves may not be suffering for our faith, but we can share in their suffering, calling on God to intercede on their behalf.

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