“I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself” (Philippians 3:10 The Message).
It’s not in the heart of man to want to suffer for the sake of Christ. We want a life of ease and comfort. We want a God that fills up our bank account, dries up all our tears, heals our wounds, and always puts a smile on our face. This is what Jesus was referring to when he said to Peter, “You are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (Mat 16:23). We have somehow believed that a life lived for Christ is one of continuous peace, love, and happiness. When some find out that suffering is involved, they want nothing to do with it. But you see, suffering is not put into our lives just for the sake of suffering, or because God is angry with us. It’s so that the sufferings of others will be taken to heart, and we will reach out to them with all we have. Without personal suffering, other people’s stories of suffering will be nothing but their stories to us.
You may ask yourself, “why would I ever want to live a life for Christ if I have to endure all this suffering?” The answer is easy. In this life we ALL will suffer, but wouldn’t you rather have your suffering put to good use?
The Suffering of Paul
If there was anybody that understood something about suffering, it was Paul. Just before his baptism, Ananias was complaining to God about having to go to the murderer Saul and baptize him. Gods’ words were, “Go your way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake“ (Acts 9:15-16 KJV). God didn’t tell this to Ananias for the reasons we may think, it had noting to do with setting the score even with the murderer Saul. God had the intentions of showing Saul the pain of the world so that he could understand it better, and in turn, win even more people.
Saul, after becoming Paul, later had this to say in 2 Cor 11 about the sufferings he had endured. Notice the statement he starts with. “I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five times received thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea.I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers, from my own people, from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. I have endured many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches” (2 Cor 11:23-29).
Even after all his suffering and hardships, Paul had this to say. “I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10 NLT). There was something very important Paul understood about suffering. It made him closer to the needs of others. Just look at the passion and motivating drive of his words, “To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men , that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you” (1 Cor 2:22-23 KJV).
Jesus Speaks of Suffering
Jesus, who was touched with the feeling of our infirmities/weaknesses, had some things to say to Peter when he didn’t want to see Jesus have to suffer the cross. From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:21-23).
Jesus also talked about suffering in the book of Revelation when he appeared to John and had him write to the seven churches. To the church in Ephesus, “You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.” To the church in Philadelphia “You have little strength, yet you obeyed my word and did not deny me.” To the church in Smyrna, “Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.”
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).