“Good luck building any tribe on an invitation to suffer”
Mark Driscoll’s typically brusque statement in his latest book “A Call to Resurgence” is spot on. I hear a few groans already from those who don’t like Driscoll. Well, have a read and think about what he is saying, especially on his chapter on mission. We have great books about the death of Christendom from many writers recently; books that provided great insight into the sociological and cultural changes that the church is being confronted with. Well Driscoll’s book shows how those changes are affecting the grassroots of church planting and evangelism. And suffering is increasingly part of the agenda.
Here are five good reasons for you, if you are Christian, to resolve to suffer in 2014 and five reasons why you might avoid it.
FIVE REASONS TO SUFFER
1. It’s Biblical: The New Testament is full of passages about suffering and its role in the Christian life. (Romans 5:3, Romans 8:171-8, 2 Corinthians 1:5-7, Phil 1:29, 1Thess 2:4). That’s not an exhaustive list, so have a scroll through the Bible and check it out. If you’re planning on planting a mega-church on a prosperity gospel approach, sprinkled with some therapeutic homilies, you just might want to go through your church Bibles (you do have pew Bibles don’t you, or did they get dumped with the pews?-Ed) and cut out a whole bunch of verses.
2. It’s Necessary: Necessary for what? Your salvation. Surely not! Yep! Look what Romans 8:17 says:
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.
Seems pretty clear cut to me. We suffer. Why? In order that we share in his glory.
3. It Identifies us With Jesus: Look again at the verse above. Whose sufferings are we sharing in? His! No amount of bumper stickers, WWJD bracelets, blogs/books/twitter accounts will make up a refusal to identify with Jesus by sharing in his sufferings. And what were those sufferings? The hatred of the world, and the rejection of his own people. Similarly we can feed the poor, give our money away, do all sorts of good things, but if it comes to the crunch and we can’t own an increasingly rejected Saviour in the 21st Century Western World, then we are refusing to share in his sufferings and putting our share of glory at risk.
4. It Bears Good Fruit: Do you want to be a Christian who perseveres when others might fall away? Do you want to have a character worth writing home about and worth emulating in a culture that highlights style over substance, but bemoans the lack of integrity in its heroes? Do you want to be defined by hope in an increasingly fear filled and fearful world? Then accept the suffering for the gospel that comes your way. Romans 5 places suffering as the first link in a chain that includes “perseverance, character and hope.” Can’t have those without suffering.
5. Because Suffering is Coming One Way or The Other: Check out 1Thessalonians 5:9
For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
See that? Suffering is coming. It is unavoidable. It just depends which suffering you are going to experience. You can experience suffering in this age because you align yourself with Jesus, his message and his people, and you will receive salvation in the age to come. Or you can duck your head now and suffer later. God’s wrath coming at the end of the age is the mother of all sufferings, and it’s inevitable. It’s suffer now, glory later, or glory now and suffer later. A stark choice.
FIVE REASONS YOU MIGHT AVOID SUFFERING
1. You Seek Approval From People Rather than God: Let’s face it, social media and advertising campaigns are effective and the people who run many of these campaigns are smart. Christians who stand firm on ethical and sexual issues, the exclusivity of Jesus amongst other things, can be made to look like idiots at best, and bigoted, unmentionables at worst. And in the sound-bite age there is no time for nuance and colour – it’s either black or white, with Christians often getting a tarring and feathering. But things haven’t changed. Why did some people not align themselves with Jesus back in the day? Here’s why:
Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human praise more than praise from God.
John 12:42-43 is pretty plain. The in-crowd had more pull on peoples’ hearts than God did. Even though they wanted to align with Jesus people would not. Their hearts had been captured by their fear of others and their desire for approval.
2. Western Life is Cushy: Suffering for Jesus doesn’t just mean financial deprivation, or going without, but it DOES include it. I mean, how many verses are there in the NT, how many words from Jesus’ lips about money and its lure on our lives? We should give until it starts to hurt. But just like physical exercise, hurting fades when we start to plateau. In physical matters that’s the stage to take it to the next level: in financial matters that’s the stage to take it to the next level.
3. The Age to Come Has Fallen Of Your Radar: This goes with the previous one. We are supposed to store up treasure in heaven are we not? Every day Christians should wake up in the knowledge that the age to come is but a blink away. Jesus promised to return like a thief in the night (calm down Frank Peretti fans – Ed), so you need to be spiritually, emotionally, morally ready. The same Peter who couldn’t stand up for Jesus on the night of his betrayal is the same Peter who said “After you have suffered A LITTLE WHILE, the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ…” (1Peter 5:10). What circumstances changed that enabled Peter to transform from a cowardly comfort to a brave sufferer? None, not at all. He was still in danger for following Jesus. But once he could see the universe from the same perspective as Jesus had seen it on the night of his betrayal, his attitude changed. He was emboldened to suffer.
4. Suffering has Deceived You: When we are suffering for the sake of the gospel, when the culture is against us, when friends or family forsake us, when a romantic partner breaks it off with us because we want to save sex for marriage, when we are confronted by someone angry with us for saying that Jesus is the only way, suffering seems heavy and persistent. Don’t believe it. Listen to what Paul says in 2Cor4:17:
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
Not heavy and persistent, but light and momentary. Light and momentary in the way birth pains lead to the wonder of a newborn baby. Light and momentary in the way that perseverance in a race leads to the winner’s medal. Light and momentary in the way that faithfulness to a difficult spouse in the midst of temptation leads to hearing “well done good and faithful servant” from the Covenant Maker himself. Stare down suffering and call its bluff. It’s light and momentary, despite its claims to be otherwise.
5. You Can’t See the Joy It Will Bring: Suffering is not associated with joy in our culture. In the headlong pursuit of happiness that our culture says is our right, suffering is anathema, and is hidden away in locked wards, behind closed curtains and euthanised away (the word euthanasia means “good death”). But James1:1 says to count trials as “all joy”, whilst the disciples, when beaten for sharing the good news about Jesus, were “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name.” (Acts 5:41). We don’t go looking for suffering, but when suffering comes looking for us we should resist our instinct to hide from it. I well remember the joy of a young friend who went off to the mission field, who, when he was suffering malaria, was astounded at how light-hearted he felt in the midst of it – how honoured he felt to be allowed to suffer this way for the sake of serving Jesus and his gospel. It made him bullet-proof! There he was, sick and a long way from home in a strange land, but joyous. People in our culture spend a whole lot of money seeking joy, and every advertisement is full of joyous people, excited about a car that will rust, money that will dwindle, and a life that will come to an end. Joy in Jesus cannot be taken away from us. Let’s heed the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:23, and strive to enter the joy of our Master, or as the NIV puts it, “share in his happiness”. We don’t have to go on a vain search for joy, it will one day, as we suffer for his name’s sake, come and find us!