We are in the middle of our Missions Conference at our church this week. Tonight we have a special prayer meeting for the persecuted church. The church around the world suffers in various degrees and in various ways. There is such a thing as Christianity because Jesus came and suffered for His people. It is through that suffering that we have our sins atoned for. The call of the Gospel to all who claim to desire to follow Jesus is to take up the cross and follow Him.And where did He go? He first went to the place of torture and pain and suffering and death. Then He went to glory.
In North America we can now wear gold plated, diamond studded crosses on our lapels and around our necks, but you can be sure that the original hearers of Jesus’ words did not have jewellery in their thinking when Jesus said “take up your cross”. They knew what crosses were for. And they should have known what Jesus was calling them to. The indications are that they did not until after He left the planet. But they found out pretty quickly and they were willing to do it.
Christians are called to suffer. And as Peter reminds us (I Peter 1:6), this suffering comes in all kinds of ways. What many believers often miss, especially in parts of the world where political freedom or power enable them to demonstrate the faith without official opposition, is that suffering for the faith is not something the New Testament says will happen to some. It tells us it will happen to all who follow Jesus. We have the blatant comment in II Timothy 3:12
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ
Jesus will be persecuted.
Of course we can point out that this does not say all those who profess faith in Christ or who wear gold plated, diamond studded crosses will suffer persecution, but those who desire to be godly. You have never suffered for the faith in any way because of your faith in Christ? No insults, ridicule, being left off the invitation list, being whispered about, missing the promotion, being abused at home, divorced, disciplined by parents? You have never been charged with being too narrow minded, too judgemental, too old fashioned? Nothing? Then you should get your wanters fixed and truly desire to live a godly life.
The church needs a better understanding of the call to suffer. Consider Romans 8:16-17
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
How many times have we heard the first part of verse 17 quoted in glowing words and a sense of amazement? And it truly is amazing. Believers in Jesus Christ are children of God and since they are children they are heirs of an unimaginably great inheritance (Colossians 1:11-12). Jesus has an inheritance too and we are co-inheritors with Him. It is too stunning a concept to grasp properly. But we do great disservice to the text and to real faith in Jesus if we stop there. The verse does not just say that we are inheritors of a great inheritance with Jesus, does it? It adds a condition to it. “If” is the word that the Apostle Paul utters next. We are heirs of God and co-heirs with God – IF.
We are co-heirs with Christ IF we suffer with him. This is our calling. We are called to suffer (I Peter 2:20-21, 3:9, 4:1-19). We are not called to wealth, prosperity and health. And what a travesty it is that that non-gospel actually sells. Suffering comes in all kinds of forms and suffering, ever since the fall is just the default position of humanity. Believers in Jesus Christ will have the added suffering because of their faith. Sometimes it will be persecution that actually terminates lives. Sometimes it will be pressure to conform to ways of thinking and living that are contrary to the Gospel (Colossians 2:8). Sometimes it will be the inner struggles of the heart and mind that exist because of our faith in Jesus. Sometimes it is unrelenting temptation that makes us feel like we aren’t believers at all. (What an irony. The temptations that haunt us and make us feel like we aren’t even saved are the evidence that we are children of God through faith in Jesus Christ.)
Most of the sufferings of the saints do not make our normal prayer lists. Warren Wiersbe once commented that if everyone in the church were healthy and employed we wouldn’t know what to pray. I hope he was wrong on that but quite often church prayer lists are dominated by medical and financial concerns. Nothing wrong with praying for those but they are not all we need to be on our knees about.
Hebrews 13:3 reminds us to
Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.
We should make special prayer for those who suffer in this way while not neglecting to pray for the sufferings for the faith in other ways that mark all the saints.
The church is called to suffer. The early church counted it a privilege.
Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. (Acts 5:41)
They could react like that because they took the call to carry their crosses seriously. And they knew their hope. Paul could comment about his sufferings this way
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (II Corinthians 4:17-18)
We are called to suffer. But we are also called to a glory that is beyond all comparison. Jesus calls us to follow Him. He endured His cross for the joy that was set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). He will help us do the same.