The Paradox of Suffering
Every once in a while I run across a verse that completely blows me over. It's not just the "Hey, that's is nice and it applies to my life" kind of verse, but rather a verse that you can't get out of your head. It's a verse that challenges your thinking and raises all sorts of questions in your mind. It's the kind of verse that lets you know God is working through His Word and is speaking directly to you. I had that happen the other day going through Philippians. Philippians 1:29 to be exact. Let me quote the verse for you in the New Living Translation.
"For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him."
Read it again and meditate on it a bit.
When we think about salvation and what God has given to us through His Son Jesus Christ, you can't do anything but stop and marvel in wonder about the glorious gift that it is. Too often I don't give my salvation the proper awe and respect it deserves. God's gift of grace to us cannot be explained in mere words nor could we ever express back to Him our thanks in a manner that He deserves. We have been saved from an eternity separated from God and even in our sinfullness God still wants us to be with Him! Incredible!
Now, here is the part of that verse that completely and utterly blows my mind...suffering is equated with salvation. Paul says that salvation is a privilege and that suffering is a privilege. What? Huh? Back up, what did you say? Suffering is a privilege.
I'll be the first to admit I don't find it pleasurable to suffer persecution for the cause of Christ. In fact I pretty much avoid it all costs. It's not a lot of fun. But that is exactly where our thinking needs to change. I believe that Paul actually enjoyed suffering for Christ. I think that Paul found pleasure when he was in jail. I think Paul smiled to himself after being whipped. I think that Paul sang praises after he had been stoned and left for dead. Why? Because Paul understood what suffering meant. He understood that when he was suffering for something he had done for Christ, Christ was being glorified. And since Paul's ultimate goal was to glorify Christ in all he did, he understood that his suffering meant glory, and that made him happy.
When you think of suffering in these terms it really doesn't sound bad. We need to stop thinking of suffering as negative and think of it as positive. When I am made fun of or verbally abused because I just shared the gospel, I need to pump a fist in the air and get excited! And really, here in America what persecution do we really have to fear? Are we going to be beaten, thrown in jail, killed? Probably not - but how much more glory could we give God if those things could happen? You see, we in America have gotten lazy and fat and we are content to just do the "church thing" serve a little here and there, and make it through life without a lot of conflict and strife. But is that what we are called to do? Look at what Paul says about the subject again in 2 Corinthians 1:4-5.
"You can be sure that the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. So when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your benefit and salvation! For when God comforts us, it is so that we, in turn, can be an encouragement to you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer."
If you have the opportunity, pick up a copy of Jesus Freaks, a modern day Fox's Book of Martyrs, and see if your thinking isn't challenged by the testimonies of these revolutionaries.
We need to experience a revolution in this area of thinking. We need a complete 180 degree about face. We need to be asking God to let me "suffer" as John Leonard has "suffered" and not to allow me to just go through my normal pain-free day.