Who wants to suffer? No-one in their right mind goes out looking to attract some sort of suffering in their lives – do they? But I have been reading the First Letter of Peter in which the Apostle tells us that ‘we have been called for this purpose’ – that is, to suffer as Christ suffered (1 Peter 2:21). Are Christians then supposed to be masochists? No – here is the difference:
Peter continues: ‘Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.’ He is emphasising that the way Jesus returned to glory was through suffering, and we are meant to do the same. This life is a call to heavenly glory through a journey of suffering. He says there is no other way – so does Jesus and so did the other apostles, Paul, James, Jude – and we should thank God when we do have to suffer because it proves we are on track.
No-one is saying this will be easy or palatable – but it is necessary. Jesus told His disciples everyone would hate them because of Him. The world hates us Christians if we are true followers of Christ because we will believe what the world doesn’t believe, we will do what the world doesn’t do and we will not do what the world does. We will be singled out, we won’t be one of the crowd, we won’t find pleasure in the world and we will express an underlying joy in our lives which reveals that our citizenship is really in heaven.
There are many ways in which a real Christian will suffer: obviously not many of us will probably have to forfeit our lives, although many martyrs have done just this, and especially in Muslim countries at the present time; but some of us in this country may be imprisoned for speaking up against homosexual marriage or abortion or even speaking to someone in the street; some will be fined and convicted. Not all will be forced by court order to bake a cake for a homosexual wedding, but we may be ostracised by former friends for daring to utter ‘hateful speech.’
Christian suffering may also take the form of being ridiculed, being snubbed, being made the butt of jokes or cynical comments, refusal of a letter written to an editor or to speak on talk-back radio, or even banned from making internet comments.
What happens when we are persecuted, even in small ways? According to Peter we should ‘rejoice’. Why rejoice? Because, as 1 Peter 5:10 tells us: ‘After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.’ In other words, God will allow us to suffer to prove our faith is not a fake.
I believe that if we are not being made to suffer for His sake, that we are not Christian at all, but impostors. If someone in a police uniform led you to believe that they were a crime stopper, yet absolutely refused to do anything about a burglary in progress, you would have to dismiss them as a liar and a fraud. If I, as a Christian, told you I believed Jesus is my Lord and my Salvation and was opposed to abortion and homosexuality, but I had not made these sentiments known publicly, I would have to be classed as a fake Christian.
So it is with Christian suffering. Unless I am prepared to be ridiculed, at the very least, for my Christian stance, I cannot hope to expect Jesus to speak up for me before His Father. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:17, ‘our momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.’
I guess many of us find it hard to wait for eternity – we would often rather be happy and suffering-free on earth right now.
Let’s continue to encourage one another as we deal with hardships for His sake, especially as we see the Day approaching.