No one wants to suffer, but in a fallen world it is unavoidable. Whether physical pain or mental anguish, suffering is part of the human condition for everyone. However, that is not the type of suffering I want to explore here. Instead, I want to look at the different kindle suffering because for our faith in and faithfulness in Christ.
Why take up an unpleasant subject ? Because if we understand the inevitability, purpose, and fruit of suffering for Christ – and the resources He gives us to face it – we will be better able to endure when it comes. Forewarned is for armed.
Those who suffer the same things from the same people for the same Person can scarcely not love each other.C. S. Lewis
This is obvious to believers living under oppressive regimes. However, some today say, “Yes, but we aren’t facing that kind of persecution today.” It is true that for many centuries, followers of Jesus in Europe and America haven’t faced culture-wide persecution because of their faith in Christ. But that era has almost disappeared and a new era is upon us
Exactly what it will be like is not yet clear, but it seems unlikely that it will be favorable to those who follow Jesus Signs of opposition are already apparent.
John Scott has pointed out the “persecution is simply a clash between two irreconcilable value-systems.” That clash is what we are seeing now, and it is ultimately between those who believe, trust, and love the God of the Bible and those who do not. The changes afoot today represent a sea-change from the past, the wind is no longer on our back but it our face. This is creating a cultural climate in the West in which perseof Jesus’s followers, simply for their allegiance to Him, is no longer unthinkable, whether in family, community, or the workplace. This is confusing to some and frightening to others.
One of the greatest paradoxes in Christian history is that the church is most pure in times of cultural hostility. When things are easy and good, that is when the church goes astray. When Christianity seems identical with the culture and even when the church seems to be enjoying its greatest earthly success, then it is weakest. Conversely, when the church encounters hardship, persecution, and suffering… then it is closest to it’s crucified Lord, then there are fewer hypocrites and nominal believers among its members, and then the faith of Christians burns most intensely.Gene Edward Veith
Let’s look at the teaching of Jesus, Paul, and Peter about persecution and suffering, seeking to learn valuable lessons along the way.
Jesus’s Teaching And Example
What That used to say to us about persecution, and what resources does He provide in such times? We should begin by noting that Jesus was Steeped in Scripture and knew all about the persecution and suffering of the prophet and other godly people in the Bible, people like Daniel (Daniel 6) and his three friends and others. He knew that such evil ultimately resulted grows out of the spiritual darkness, blindness, error, and sin that dominates the hearts of fallen people and causes them to resist truth and righteousness.
He also knew that as God’s Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53). He would experience the full assault of men and devils against His earthly ministry and would ultimately die by crucifixion. He understood as well the opposition that His followers would face from their families, communities, the world, and the devil, and He sought to prepare them. Jesus frequently warned His followers that they would face persecution and suffering.
The first instance comes at the beginning of His ministry, when Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount. This teaching was and still is basic training about life in God’s kingdom and how to be a disciple of Jesus. He began with the Beatitudes, which is a profile of a disciples Christian and includes a readiness to suffer.
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for righteousness’ sake, or theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people reproach you, persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophet who were before you (Matthew 5:10-12
How did Jesus expect his disciples to react under persecution? Be glad and rejoice! We are not to retaliate like an unbeliever, nor like a child nor lick our wounds in self-pity like a dog nor just grin and Bear like I a Stoic, still less pretend we enjoy it like a masochist. What then? We are to rejoice as a Christian should and even “ leap for joy.”Matthew 5:12; Luke 6:23
Jesus also said, “Love your enemies and pray for also persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Clearly, persecution was a real possibility for anyone who followed Jesus, and He taught them the vital lesson that Joy, love, and forgiveness were the way to respond . This is a fundamental lesson for us today.
Later in His ministry Jesus taught more broadly about what was required to follow Him, and suffering looms large there, too.
And calling to the crowd to Him with His disciple, He said to them, “ if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, for whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel will save it. For what does a man profit to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in his adulterous and sinful generation, of him will be the Son of Man also be ashamed when it comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.Mark 8:34-38
The first condition, Jesus gives if you deny oneself. This means that would be disciples must say a radical to know your self-centered life and center there lives on Christ. Doing this prepares away for the second condition, to take up the cross, the dreaded Roman instrument of execution. This made a willingness to die for Jesus is faithfulness requires it. These two conditions clear the way to actually follow Jesus -Hid teaching and example in daily life.
Jesus was a suffering Servant on His way to Jerusalem and the cross. Those who would beHis followers might experience the same fate and need to take that into account.
Jesus’s final warnings about persecution and suffering came at the end of His earthly ministry. In the Upper Room, He told His disciples, “Remember the word that I said to you: A servant is not greater than his master.” If they persecute me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20) Then He elaborated
I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues (churches). Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you with think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have known not the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.John 16:1-4).
This warning was specifically intended to keep His followers from losing their faith in the fires of persecution that they would soon encounter. The lesson remains valuable today: we are likely to experience persecution at some point because of our allegiance to Christ and the gospel and should prepare for it. Being reminded of the possibility helps us to get ready.
Soon after Jesus ascended to heaven, persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem because of their preaching about Him and His resurrection (Acts 7). Following that, a great persecution was directed against the church in Jerusalem, and everyone except the apostles left for other places, preaching the gospel as they went (Acts 8:1). Herod then killed James, the brother of John, and arrested Peter with the intention of executing him as well (Acts 12:1-3). These are just a few examples of life in the early days of the Spirit-filled church presented in Acts