Suffering is not a word we typically associate with modern Christian life (especially in the USA). The reality is, suffering not only occurs through sickness, disease, and death because of the curse of sin, but more importantly, our suffering through persecution, because of our faith in Jesus Christ, is something we’re all called to.
Suffering is an essential part of our spiritual growth. In 2 Timothy 3:12 (ESV), the Apostle Paul made this abundantly clear when he wrote, "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." Such suffering is the underlying theme of the Scriptures, from the patriarchs, the psalmists, the prophets, the Lord Jesus, to His apostles. For the first 300 years of Christianity, every person who received Christ as their Savior expected to suffer persecution, including martyrdom. Not so much today.
Christ had to suffer to enter into His glory, and therefore, we should expect to suffer if we are to enter into glory. And, the greater the suffering, the greater the glory. Hebrews 2:10 (NKJV), For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
The reason Jesus laid down His life on the cross was for the Father's glory, and if God the Father allowed His only Son to endure such undeserved suffering, on what basis do we believe He should spare the likes of us? In Hebrews 5:8, the writer says: Though Jesus was a Son, He learned obedience from the things He suffered. If the Son of God learned obedience through His suffering, why should we think our learned obedience would come out of anything less?
As it was with our Lord, so it will be with those who are His followers. Suffering is our pathway to glory. In Acts 14:22, part of the discipleship for new Christians was to strengthen their souls and encourage them to continue in the faith by saying, that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. If we are seeking to avoid all suffering at all costs, we are not only setting ourselves up for greater suffering, but we’re dismissing God’s warnings and preparation for when suffering comes along.
Read 1st and 2nd Peter. Notice the number of calls to stand firm in our faith in Christ, even if it requires us to suffer persecution. Why? Because unbelievers watch how we handle suffering.
Romans 8:18 — For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Suffering reveals our testimony, our witness to the faith we have in Christ. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps (1 Peter 2:20 NKJV)... Not only is our personal testimony revealed by our response to suffering, but so is the credibility of the Christian Faith, and therefore, the very Person of Christ.
Christians in the West will soon face the same level of persecution as over 340 million of our brothers and sisters in Christ are enduring today in over 50 countries. Perhaps, for the first time in our lives, we will realize what it means to live as Christians in a world that is hostile toward God, especially toward Christianity.
How will we endure persecution now that all the props are gone? When the government is no longer a defender of the faith, and the modern evangelical church is no longer our supporter, we press on in the joy of the Lord who is our strength. As the Getty’s song says: In Christ alone, our hope is found: He is our light, our strength, our song. This Cornerstone, the solid ground, firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
The only way we can silence our critics is to submit ourselves unto the Shepherd of our souls, and be prepared to lay down our lives for the One who died for us, ...looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2, NKJV).
Every day, every Christian faces the inevitable fork in the road. The sign over the wide road says, “God has a big dream for your life. Just enlarge your vision, and expect God to make you successful.” The sign over the narrow road says, “To follow Christ, you must deny yourselves, take up your cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Our surrender, our submission, and our suffering are where we find our communion with Christ and our deepest joy. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him, ‘Come and die.’”
If, when our life is over and all we sought was a life free from suffering, we will have missed out on the inexpressible joy we have access to through Christ in the midst of suffering, and any impact we may have had on others will be short-lived. On the other hand, if we lose our life for Christ's sake, whether as a missionary in the jungles, a soldier on the battlefield, a citizen in a city, or a believer in our homes, the suffering we endure for our faith is not only our pathway to glory, but God will use it to open the pathway for many others to follow, and the ultimate effect will be eternal.
DR. WAYNE EDWARDS
Is a pastor, author, and founder of Mature Ministries. He is committed to the preaching and teaching of the Word of God, discipling followers of Jesus Christ, and being a watchman on the wall for the Church. He and his wife, Linda, reside in Perry, Georgia and enjoy spending time with their son, daughter-in-love, and grandchildren. For more information about Dr. Edwards’ ministry, visit www.matureministries.org.
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Knowing the exact day and date of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection is not essential to one’s eternal salvation. However, to prove Jesus was who He said He was, and that He did what He said He did, for the reason He said He did it – i.e., to prove He was the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” Jesus had to fulfill every biblical prophecy regarding the Messiah. Therefore, the date and time of His crucifixion and His resurrection had to be according to the pattern God established with the Hebrews at Mt. Sinai. Come walk with Jesus from the Garden of Gethsemane to the hill called Golgotha, and from the Garden Tomb to glory!
WRITE: Mature Ministries, PO Box 766, Perry, GA