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.

Persecution & Suffering: 25

Paul makes a clear statement in 2 Corinthians 12:7b-10: “Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.   That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Every person has their own areas of weakness. For example, I have never struggled with fear as many people do, but I have battled my entire life against pride (as well as selfishness and laziness). Evidently, pride was an issue for Paul as well. Paul recognized that his “thorn in the flesh,” although painful to endure, was a gift from God. It was God’s tool for helping deal with Paul’s pride. It showed Paul his inability to deal with it, his weakness.

As a result, Paul was able to rejoice in every “negative” thing that happened to him, knowing that God was using those things to refine his character and show the power of God in him. In fact Paul said he actually delighted in those things. Those areas of personal weakness and helplessness actually became the things he took pride in because of how they testified to God’s greatness in being able to use such a weak instrument.

Persecution & Suffering: 24

In 2 Corinthians 11:23-29 Paul says, “Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.  Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.  I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.  Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.  Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?”

This is an interesting passage. Paul clearly equates the degree of suffering one experiences in service to Christ as a measure of commitment to Him and service for Him. In other words, the more one suffers for the sake of Christ, the greater devotion is demonstrated and the more fully one belongs to Him. This explains why the early followers of Christ rejoiced greatly that they were counted worthy to suffer for His Name (Acts 5:41). What we sacrifice for Christ in terms of comfort and safety and honor and security and convenience is evidence of our love for Him.

It is of note, that the internal pressures and anguish arising from love and concern for the body of Christ, are considered, perhaps, an even greater burden than the litany of external challenges. This is an expression of the fact that it is easier to suffer oneself than to see loved ones suffer. It is easier for a man to suffer than to see his wife and children suffer. The more influential one becomes in Kingdom service, the greater the spiritual family that one serves. This opens them up to concern and compassion of a much wider nature.

Early in my ministry the Lord prepared me for this type of situation. I was in an area where telephones had not been available yet. I found myself at a place where there was one of the first telephones but the person who had just moved in did not know the number of the telephone. I was sharing with my host my deep concern for a team I had just trained and sent into a very dangerous situation. Suddenly the phone rang for the first time. The host answered it. The call was for me. I assumed it was the (Communist) government, letting me know I was under surveillance. I answered it and found the call was from the team I was concerned about. They had a satellite phone. The Lord miraculously gave them the number of the place I was staying. They were calling to tell me things were going well. As soon as they delivered the message, they hung up.

The message was clear. God was telling me that He was in control. The team belonged to Him and not to me. He had called them, not me. He alone would determine if they remained safe or if they were thrown into prison. He loved them more than I did. I needed to trust Him as a faithful Creator to do what was right and best.

Many times, I have gratefully looked back on that clear lesson. Many people whom I have led to the Lord, whom I have trained, whom I have challenged to go into difficult regions, have suffered. Many people, from many countries and to many countries have been martyred for their faith. They have been held captive for years. Many have been imprisoned for years. They have been tortured in horrible and unimaginable ways. They have had their children taken from them. They have had their homes confiscated. They have been fined. They have lived for years as fugitives, constantly on the run. The weight of all that suffering would have been unbearable for me if not for the Lord’s clear message to me many years ago. He is in control. We win in the end.

Persecution & Suffering: 23

In 2 Corinthians 6:3-10 Paul says, “We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited.  Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors;  known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed;  sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

Here, Paul is listing the ways he is encouraging faith in others and avoiding doing anything that might hinder people’s faith. Notice how many of these items are related either to suffering or to his response to suffering. He cites these items first, before more “positive” items. Then he highlights that both have a significant role by contrasting pairs of apparently good and bad situations, and closes by demonstrating the paradox of how God uses apparent negatives to bring about positive results. This is another example of the “upside down” Kingdom.

God brings good out of what His enemies intend for evil. He demonstrates His power in our weakness. He shows forth His hope and joy and love through us in circumstances the world would respond to with despair, grief and hate.

Persecution & Suffering: 22

In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 Paul goes on, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.   For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.   So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

This is perhaps the best news of all related to our suffering in this life, and a cause for us to be encouraged in the midst of trouble. Though our bodies are being battered and crushed, and our souls are being stretched and tormented, the results for our eternal selves are wonderful. We are being strengthened. We are gaining in eternal glory and honor. We are attaining eternal benefits for our temporary pressure.

This means we need to focus on the presently invisible but enduring blessings which are accrue to us through the temporary adversities we face. Delayed gratification is essential to the life of a disciple. It is necessary for our survival and is a defining characteristic of a follower of Christ.