Suffering is a tough subject. It is one of those subjects you want to avoid because who wants to hear it? No one wants to think about suffering, let alone go through suffering. In fact, I think our first response would be, “Don’t we make a drug for that?“ Yet suffering is throughout the Bible, and mentioned repeatedly throughout the New Testament:
Philippians 3:10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.
Here is yet another version of this same Verse:
I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death.
The Apostle Paul is saying that he is making it his goal to know Christ in the power of His resurrection and to know Him in his sufferings.
This is not the kind of message we hear in our churches today. Why? I can only surmise because it doesn’t sell the idea of God pandering to our needs and making a way for us to be prosperous. I did say that with a bit of sarcasm, yet I do think this kind of suffering is not a part of the fabric of today’s faith … at least in the majority of churches.
I had to ask myself after reading this verse if I really understood suffering as it is being proposed by the Apostle Paul? I do not think I do. I don’t know if I have ever suffered for my faith where it could be compared to the sufferings of Christ. Nowhere in my 50 plus years of being a Christian can I honestly say that suffering as a Christian has been a reality. I have experienced rejection and ridicule, but never suffered with my life at stake or on the line for what I believe. It's likely most of us in the West have never been faced with such suffering. Earlier in Philippians, the Apostle Paul talks about Jesus emptying Himself to become a servant, a servant whose destiny was to die upon a cross. Scripture says that when you become a servant of God you will suffer and that suffering will be in the form of persecution:
2 Timothy 3:12 Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.
Again, I ask, “Where is this kind of persecution today?” The worst kind of persecution most of us suffer is when we stick our neck out on Facebook with some kind of statement about Christ and someone finds it offensive and attacks our comment. Like I said early on, suffering is a tough subject and since most of us avoid it, my conclusion is we don’t know much about it.
However, I would like to at least wade out into the water a bit as a way to question the lack of suffering in my life. For most of my life, I have been a person who avoids issues that not only didn’t interest me, but I also avoided because I didn’t understand them. Now that I am much older, I realize that this form of denial and avoidance made me shallow and opinionated on issues I didn’t understand. Most people criticize and make fun of the things they don’t quite comprehend. But I didn’t want to ‘suffer’ through the pain of boredom and wasting time on matters I preferred to avoid. Yet, what I discovered was when I suffered through the painstaking moments of my boredom I found something that I would never have imagined in my ignorance. I think it is the same with suffering.
We often think of suffering as a painful experience to be avoided, yet even Christ knew joy would be the end result when He endured the Cross. Suffering will give you a different perspective. It will teach you to be dependent on something greater than yourself, and it concentrates on the hope of it being different someday. I have been told that many of the Negro spirituals were sung to remind the people working in the fields that there is a better day coming. The suffering in the moment has to be tempered with the hope that God is coming after me.
So, you may be like me where you haven't had to suffer for your belief in Jesus. Yet we should suffer the pain of seeing people going into eternity every day without Jesus, knowing that without faith in Him they will be lost to God forever. We may not live in an environment where people will shoot you if you follow Jesus, but we are in an environment where people are killing themselves because they refuse the message of the Gospel. This is the kind of suffering the church in the West must know because our heavenly Father suffers as Scripture says, “He wants non to perish.”
Do we feel anything for those living without Christ? Do we suffer in prayer as we should for the lost? I know I don’t, and it disturbs me greatly as I write this today. My prayer is for the conviction to return as we consider how God suffers when those who know Him care so little about others who will perish without the Savior.
My prayer is for a suffering church to see things as clearly as heaven and hell.
Challenging the Culture with Truth … Larry Kutzler