True Christian suffering comes because we live for God and are serving the expansion of His kingdom. It is a positive sacrifice for the good of others. It is not a morbid, introspective act that one does to oneself to feel or become spiritual.
No, I’m saying that if you really mean to follow Christ, you will not be at peace until the whole world knows of Him. You will pay any price to see others know the love of God.
“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution,” says 2 Timothy 3:12. This is the meaning of suffering for Christ. It is true in all countries and at all times. How dare we think that we have a right to be an exception?
In the book of Acts, we find Paul going to Jerusalem despite the fact that he knew afflictions, beatings, imprisonment and sorrow lay ahead. He was warned. He didn’t have to go, but he chose to love the Lord more than his own life.
Paul took a calculated risk. He said, “Neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
This is a perfect example of the proper attitude toward suffering. It is never something we desire for its own sake, but something that we choose because it is necessary for the sake of the Gospel.
Suffering Authenticates Our Faith and Calling
When Paul’s apostleship was challenged, he used a defense in 2 Corinthians that mocks our current “convenience store” Christianity. He does not rest his case on the testimony of his call, conversion, birth or background—as wonderful as all these were. He barely mentions his incredible spiritual gifts. There is almost no reference to his accreditation, educational degrees, ordination or memberships. He does not point to material blessings such as buildings, vestments or wealth because he had given these all up to follow in the steps of Jesus. In short, Paul relied on none of the criteria that we would look toward today.
Instead, he uses his suffering and sacrifice as the basis of his defense. Paul is saying that trials and tribulations authenticate, verify and vindicate his ministry. To Paul, suffering is the proof of his discipleship—not recognition or the symbols of success accepted by culture, society or even religious leaders.
Look at just part of the dreadful list he describes as “light afflictions”: labors, imprisonments, beaten times without number, in dangers, five times he received 39 lashes, thrice beaten with rods, once stoned, three times shipwrecked, hardships, sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, cold, homeless, wifeless, in weaknesses and difficulties.
Paul was betrayed, hated, rejected, insulted, persecuted and distressed. Like the other apostles and millions of Christians down through the ages, he eventually suffered martyrdom for his belief in Christ.
The Operation of Death
But in all his writings, Paul seems to accept this life of terrible suffering and sacrifice as normal and necessary. “Death works in us,” he reasoned, that life might come to others.
I will never forget the day I learned the meaning of these words.
. . . a missionary named Paul welcomed our group at the airport. One look convinced me that something was terribly wrong with him. He looked emaciated, weak and sick—especially next to our robust, overweight guests.
“What’s wrong, brother?” I asked.
He answered with just one sentence: “Death works in me, and life in them.”
Tears came uncontrollably to my eyes as I recognized the allusion to Apostle Paul’s rationale for suffering in 2 Corinthians 4:12. I discovered that this brother had been traveling to visit the missionaries without proper food and rest for nearly a month. He was just skin and bones!
He was making a conscious choice to deny the normal, minimum needs of his body for the sake of others’ souls. For life to come to one, death must come to another. This is the biblical exchange from Genesis to Revelation. Somebody always pays the price, entering into the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. . . . The exchange must take place.
Paul writes, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. . . . So then death worketh in us, but life in you” (2 Corinthians 4:8–10, 12).
Suffering at All Times
This concept of accepting suffering as a normal part of our everyday experience is resisted by most. We’re taught just the opposite. Everything in our culture, personal lives and churches is geared to avoid sacrifice and suffering. We believe that we must wait for a disaster or a time of tribulation to suffer, that sacrifice and self-denial are only reserved for special, temporary situations.
But that’s not the way anything works in real life—not in the Church or the world.
We celebrate the dedication of Olympic athletes who diet and train and exercise daily for years in order to prepare for the games. They give up not only physical comfort but also any hope of a normal social and family life.
When police officers or firefighters die, often thousands turn out for their funerals. We honor our children who die in military service in much the same way—often arranging public ceremonies and holidays.
We expect television celebrities such as actors, news correspondents and musicians to sacrifice any kind of normal life in order to entertain us around the clock—and they are paid millions of dollars to do so.
The names of astronauts become household words because they risk their lives in order to forward the conquest of space.
But the minute a Christian young person starts to fast and pray, consider the mission field or give up career or romance for Christ—concerned counselors, family and friends will spend hours trying to keep him or her from “going off the deep end on this religious stuff.” Even devout Christian parents will oppose Christian service when their own son or daughter is about to give up all for Christ.
Discipline, pain, sacrifice and suffering are rewarded with fame and fortune in the world. Why then do we refuse to accept it as a normal part of giving spiritual birth in the kingdom of our Lord?
The biblical requirement is that we should voluntarily go out of our way to accept assignments that involve suffering. But this teaching has been so long neglected that even the sound of it has become strange to our ears.
Excerpted from Road to Reality by KP Yohannan. Copyright © 1988, 2011 KP Yohannan. All rights reserved.
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