We’ll wrap up our series on suffering this week, which seems appropriate. The Christian season of Lent started a few days ago with Ash Wednesday, and Lent is a penitential season designed to prepare us for the death and resurrection of Jesus. During Lent, we contemplate the terrible suffering Jesus went through to take away our sins on the cross.
During these few weeks we have talked a lot about unjust suffering, and no one human every suffered more unjustly than Jesus. Jesus lived a perfect life of obedience to God and “committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth” (1 Peter 2:22). Yet, Jesus suffered scorn, rejection, persecution, humiliation and finally unimaginable physical torment.
Because we have all been called to follow in the footsteps of Christ and be imitators of Him (1 Corinthians 11:1), we are sometimes called to suffer. When the Bible talks of such suffering it refers not to everyday physical or emotional distress, but suffering for the sake of the Gospel. In one respect, this can be seen as our suffering to overcome the sin and temptation of the world. There is spiritual warfare taking place all around us (Ephesians 6:12), and Satan is constantly prowling and looking to devour (1 Peter 5:8). “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin” (1 Peter 4:1). Paul compares this struggle to a race or competition, for which we must train ourselves. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Suffering for the Gospel also means facing persecution, humiliation, embarrassment and even death in the case of martyrs. Jesus himself said that we would face persecution in His name, with others speaking “all manner of evil against you falsely for my name’s sake” (Matthew 5:11). Paul wrote Timothy, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).
While we tend of think of this happening in such restrictive settings as China and the Middle East, it is now taking place in North America. Where once we had complete freedom of speech and expression of our faith, there is a growing movement to outlaw the Gospel as “hate speech” because it is not considered inclusive (A curious notion, considering “God wants all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth,” 1 Timothy 2:4). The Ten Commandments are forcibly removed from many government buildings and offices, while courts push through unbiblical measures on abortion and homosexuality. Faithful Christians are already being marginalized in the American culture, and the day is not too far off when we could face arrest and imprisonment. That is already happening in many parts of the world.
While Christians should certainly push back to boldly proclaim the Gospel and reestablish our presence in the culture, the Bible says we should not only accept such suffering, but even rejoice in it (Colossians 1:24, Acts 5:41). Such suffering builds and refines our faith (Romans 5:3-4, Isaiah 48:10), identifies us with Christ (1 Peter 4:13), brings blessings from God (1 Peter 3:14), and ultimately ends in eternal life (Romans 8:17, James 1:12).
In Matthew 16:24, Jesus told His disciples to pick up their cross and follow Him, and carrying our cross often involves suffering. Not the routine suffering of our lives (such as physical pain, emotional distress, and broken relationships), but suffering that comes from living the Gospel. We carry our cross when we suffer like Jesus did – unjustly, but for the sake of the Father. Therefore, let us join with Paul “in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:8).
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to let me know.
Pastor Brad Schultz, Zion Evangelical Church, firstname.lastname@example.org