The previous two posts leading up to this one can be found here and here. Tomorrow I have a compelling video of a Christian who experienced persecution in China. Today I want to suggest answers to the question, “What can be considered Christian suffering?”
There are a number of texts in the New Testament that point to a life of hardship and difficulty for those who are followers of Jesus (Mt 10:21-23, Phil 1:29; 2 Tim 3:12, Hebrews 11:35-38, 1 Peter 4:12-14). For the most part, Christians have the idea that suffering for Christ means physical beatings, loss of job, martyrdom, character assination, and like things. Certainly those are considered suffering for Christ is.
However, there is a side to Christian suffering that we may not as quickly affirm as being in the same category but I suggest they are closely related.
Colossians 3:5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
Romans 8:35 Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
2 Corinthians 11:23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
From these texts I would affirm that the following is just as much a definition of Christian suffering as the more extreme forms mentioned earlier…
1. The constant and daily battle against sin. The grief of seeing we are not as much like Jesus as we desire to be… and then fighting against the passions and desires that keep us from becoming more like Christ.
2. The choices Christians make to honor Christ that put them in opposition to the world and those in the world. The conscious choice not to gossip… not to love the world… not to be like those in the world. The result of those decisions is that Christians are marginalized by society… they may not be considered for promotions… they may be slandered by people, their reputation maligned, and suffer all kinds of mistreatment.
3. Honoring God and Christ while living in a world broken by sin. Life is tough, it is hard, it is filled with disappointment and pain. But the Christian makes a conscious choice to live through the same things everyone else lives throughk, yet they refuse to give in to bitterness, resentment, anger, and hostility. Instead they glorify God in their hardship… they show the world through their actions the difference Jesus makes in a person’s life… they do what is right to honor God regardless of what others may thing, say, or do. This is what Moses did as found in Hebrews 11:24-27!
By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.
Yes… Christian suffering includes physical and purposeful persecution, but I suggest it also includes living a life that honors God… choosing Christ over the world. It also includes the struggles that everyone has as what life is in a broken world.
Faithfulness in the midst of suffering is God’s way of increasing the rewards of His children in glory!
“Take heart… Christ has overcome the world!”