Persecution & Suffering: 35

Hebrews 10:32-39 says, “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering.  Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated.   You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.   So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.  For, ‘In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.’  And, ‘But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.’ But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.”

This is a beautiful picture. These people chose to suffer public humiliation, confiscation of their property, imprisonment, and all sorts of persecution gladly, knowing that their reward was greater and eternal. Their confidence will prove well-founded. The promise to them is that if they persevere and do God’s will, they will receive what God has promised. Those who shrink back, prove their commitment was empty, and are punished. Those who are faithful are saved with a great and eternal salvation.

We see the same portrait in Moses, described in Hebrews 11:24-26: “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.  He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.  He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.

In China, one of the major house church networks has people who are being baptized take a pledge:

“I am ready at any time and any place to suffer for the Lord.

I am ready at any time and any place to be imprisoned for the Lord.

I am ready at any time and any place to escape for the Lord.

I am ready at any time and any place to die for the Lord.”

They are then baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This makes it quite clear from the moment they identify with Him that they understand what it will cost to follow Him and they recognize He is worth it.

If new believers realize that suffering for Christ is normal and expected, then they are far less likely to be confused, or discouraged, or hopeless, or bitter, or angry, when they face that suffering. Suffering for Christ is the normal life of a believer. One measure of God’s greatness is that He can strengthen us to endure it, and He can use it for our good and His glory.

Persecution & Suffering: 34

The other passage in Hebrews that always surprises me is Hebrews 5:7-8 “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.  Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.”

Did I hear that right? Jesus learned obedience from what He suffered? Again, it was not that Jesus was ever disobedient, but in some way, His obedience could not be complete apart from enduring suffering. If that was true for Him, how much more necessary will suffering be for us, who have been disobedient. Surely suffering is also necessary for us to learn obedience. This is yet another valuable gift we derive from suffering.

The Lord has us all in training and preparation for reigning with Him for eternity. This requires us learning obedience. I learned long ago as a parent that you never know the level of obedience a child has until you ask them to do things they do not want to do. If a child is only asked to do things they want to do then their motive is in question. If they obey in something that goes against their desires then their obedience and submission is known. Thus, we can rejoice in the opportunity to demonstrate our love and submission to the Lord through suffering obediently.

Persecution & Suffering: 33

There are a couple of passages in Hebrews that always astound me. One of them is in Hebrews 2:9-10: “But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.”

The part that surprises me is that it says Jesus was made perfect by what He suffered. Not that He was ever imperfect in any way, yet in some sense He could not be complete or all that He was intended to be apart from suffering. If that was true for Jesus, how much more so will it be true for us, who are imperfect in many respects. Not only that, but as we see in verse 9, His being crowned with glory and honor was directly tied to the fact that He suffered death. Our death is integrally tied with His, just as our glory is integrally tied with His. We must die to self to live to Christ. Suffering in the flesh is tied to victory in the spirit.

This is something I find difficult. My flesh enjoys being coddled and spoiled. Just as the body is trained by putting it through the difficulties of intense exercise, so I need to embrace spiritual training which comes by denying the desires of my flesh for comfort and ease in order that I might pursue the advancement of the Kingdom of God.

Persecution & Suffering: 32

In 2 Timothy 2:11-13 Paul says, “This saying is trustworthy: ‘If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we persevere we shall also reign with him. But if we deny him he will deny us. If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.’”

It is evident from this passage that our response to tribulations is critical. We are to persevere. As in the parable of the soils in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8, “Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.” (Luke 8:13). Trials are a test to see whether or not our roots are in Christ.

If our roots are in Christ we will persevere. If He is our foundation, we will stand in the storms. In Matthew 7:24-27 Jesus said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.  But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

If we do not persevere, but rather deny Him by word or deed, by action or inaction, He will deny us. In Luke 9:26, He says, “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”

We are to be bold emissaries of the Kingdom. 2 Corinthians 5:20 says, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

The enemy has a purpose for persecution. His purpose is to silence us. If we allow persecution or the fear of persecution to silence our testimony, we are collaborating with the enemy. Let us rather, boldly and openly stand for our King and His Kingdom in the midst of persecutions and threats.

Persecution & Suffering: 31

In 2 Timothy 2:3-4, Paul tells Timothy, “Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.”

We expect soldiers to be ready to make all sorts of sacrifices in order to carry out their duties. They may have to sleep out in the open, forsake all the comforts of home, leave their friends and families, and live in constant danger, taking great risks in order that they might serve their nation. They focus not on their own comfort or convenience or pleasure, but rather the instructions of their commanding officer.

We are to serve in that same way as soldiers of the King, serving His will and seeking to advance His Kingdom. This means we are to be willing to suffer for Jesus’ sake. This is not a cause for special praise. This is the natural by-product of our position, which we have willingly taken on.

In Luke 17:7-10, Jesus says, “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’?  Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’?  Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do?   So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

In the same way, suffering is part of the job description for citizen-soldiers of the Kingdom. Our appropriate response is to expect suffering willingly, and not to complain or whine about it. The difference between us and the soldier or the slave, is that we will be honored and rewarded and glorified for all eternity as God’s children. The pay is a lot better for soldiers of the King!

Persecution & Suffering: 30

Philippians 3:7-11 says, “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in   Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.  I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”

Paul sets an example for us here. He considers the loss of his reputation, his accomplishments, his learning, his possessions and his life to be a small price to pay for the opportunity to know Christ and to be “in Him,” having His righteousness and His life.

Paul realizes that the path to intimacy with God and eternal life with God lies through suffering and even death. It is through suffering with and for the Lord that we come to know Him. It is through suffering with and for the Lord that we are made like Him, and we are conformed to His likeness, His image. If we are to share His glory, it is only through sharing in His suffering and death.

When we come to this realization, we understand that sacrifices for the sake of the Lord and His Kingdom are not only natural and necessary, but welcome. Nothing will matter to us except loving and pleasing and serving the Lord.

Persecution & Suffering: 29

In Philippians 1:12-17, Paul says, “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.  As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.  And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.  It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.  The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.  The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.  But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”

Paul writes this from prison and he is speaking about his imprisonment. He is noting how many good things have resulted from his persecution. All the soldiers in the palace guard and indeed, everyone who heard of his imprisonment realized his mistreatment was for the sake of Christ. All the followers of Christ who heard of his suffering, were emboldened to speak out more confidently in sharing the gospel more widely and without fear, seeing how God was strengthening and using Paul from prison. Paul sees how God’s Kingdom is being advanced both among believers and unbelievers alike, since God is making His name more famous even among those seeking to hurt Paul.

In other words, Paul recognizes that in Christ, we win no matter what the enemy tries to do to stop us. I spent years working closely with the major house church networks in China. They have a slogan that goes like this: “If you imprison me, you free me to share the gospel openly. If you put me in solitary confinement, you enable me to meditate on scripture and to pray. If you beat me, you allow me to glorify God. If you seize my home or farm, you are freeing me to travel widely to spread the gospel. If you kill me, you are sending me to glory.” That slogan makes it clear that no matter what the enemy does, we win. Everything the powers of darkness do to try to stop us, only serves to advance the cause of the Kingdom.

Therefore, we can and should rejoice in our difficulties. Paul did. We can. God uses our troubles for our good and His glory.

Persecution & Suffering: 28

In Romans 8:35-39, Paul says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?   As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

No challenge or difficulty or problem or pain or power can separate us from God’s love. Paul tells us that means that we win. We are conquerors of all these tribulations. The greatness of the reward, being with God and loved by Him, makes the cost of suffering anything, more than worth it. Knowing Him and being known by Him are the ultimate reward. The more we are allowed to overcome for His sake, the more our lives testify to the truth of His worthiness.

In fact, the more we suffer for Him, the more intimately we come to know Him and be identified with Him. God’s grace in this is unimaginable. We should certainly take heart in the midst of all our troubles.

Persecution & Suffering: 27

In Romans 8:16-18, Paul says, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

This seems to be a strange statement. It says it is those who share in Christ’s sufferings are the ones who are His heirs and will share His glory. Our suffering with Him and for Him is evidence that we belong to Him. It is this suffering, along with the Holy Spirit’s testimony with our spirits, that provides the assurance that we are His.

And again, we see that the price of the suffering is more than amply rewarded by the eternal results of that suffering. The temporary pain we experience pales in comparison to the glory we will receive for all eternity. This is indeed cause for great rejoicing.

Persecution & Suffering: 26

In Romans 5:3-5 Paul says, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

This is an exceptionally encouraging list of the results of suffering. It brings about perseverance, character, and hope that will be fulfilled and will not disappoint. That hope is assured because of God’s Holy Spirit and the love He has poured out within us. As a result, Paul tells us that the suffering is a cause to glory in it, or take pride in it.

We see an example of that when Paul is defending his apostleship in 2 Corinthians 11:16-33. He lists all the suffering he underwent as a basis for boasting and an evidence that he has authority.

Also, the character that is developed is something that will benefit us for all eternity. This is yet another example of how temporary pain produces eternal benefits by God’s grace.