Grace to Endure Persecution – Pt. 2
Of all the topics from the Word of GOD that believers enjoy studying or discussing, the topic of persecution is rarely found at the top of the list. Of course we know that the Scripture tells us that persecutions will come, and we have compassion for those who are suffering for their faith in Christ. Yet deep in our hearts, we harbor the hope that we, ourselves will never encounter intense persecution, and as a general rule, we tend to avoid the topic. In my previous blog post, I endeavored to address the topic of persecution full on, but I portrayed persecution as something positive rather than something negative.
For most believers, to think of persecution in a positive light is an absolute paradigm shift.
More often than not, we equate the word “suffering” with misery and sorrow, as if suffering and sorrow were synonymous. From Scripture, we know that the Lord never wills for us to live in misery and sorrow. Recall that Proverbs 10:22 teaches that “the blessing of the Lord makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow with it” [NKJV, emphasis mine]. In fact, Isaiah 53:4 reveals prophetically that Jesus would bear our griefs and carry our sorrows in His Redemptive suffering, so that we would be relieved of them. Without question, God has never been and will never be the source of misery or sorrow in your life. (Note: by “sorrow,” I do not refer to Godly remorse or conviction. Rather, I use the word “sorrow” to denote affliction, distress, heartbreak, grief, and the like.)
So, if GOD is never the source of our misery, affliction, or sorrow, then there is no such thing as suffering according to the will of God, right? Or is there such a thing?
Before you are quick to answer whether “suffering” according to the will of God exists, read 1st Peter 4:19 carefully. In this passage, the Apostle Peter wrote, “Therefore, let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good…” [NKJV, emphasis mine]. So how do we deal with this verse? How do we make it fit with our theology that every good and perfect gift comes from our Father in Whom there is neither variation nor shadow of turning, while all affliction comes from the enemy? If God is only good, and Scripture makes it abundantly clear that He does not afflict us with sorrow or with misery, then what did Peter mean when he spoke of suffering “according to the will of God”? Could it be that suffering and sorrow are not necessarily synonymous? Could it be that there is a type of suffering which induces joy rather than sorrow?
Herein lies one of the great paradoxes of the New Testament. Not all suffering generates sorrow. In fact, there is a type of suffering that stirs joy! We learn of this paradoxical type of suffering from the writings of the Apostles in Scripture. Peter wrote to the believers saying, “Rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings” [I Peter 4:13, NKJV]. Paul, in his Epistle to the Colossians, wrote, “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you” [Col 1:24; NKJV]. Thus, as foreign as the concept may seem to our natural minds, we learn unequivocally from Scripture that there is a type of suffering that stirs joy rather than sorrow.
What is the suffering that brings rejoicing? It is the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ, as Paul describes in Philippians 3:10. Persecution affords us the opportunity to know and relate to Jesus in a deeper, more intimate way then we ever would have otherwise in this lifetime. When the believers of the early church suffered persecution, they were aware of the Presence of Jesus, and the glory of that intimate encounter with Him made the pain and suffering seem insignificant – a small price to pay. For this reason, they rejoiced when they were counted worthy to suffer for Him (Acts 5:41).
Obviously, there is another type of suffering – a suffering which involves affliction, torment, sorrow, and misery. Any such suffering we are to reject vehemently! Jesus already carried and paid for all suffering that involves affliction and sorrow, and He nailed it to the Cross. To carry such suffering, which He already carried for you, as though you were honoring Him is, in fact, a slap in the face to Him. Sickness, poverty, destruction, death, infirmity, lack, or any other such suffering that brings sorrow is not the will of God for your life!
God will never put sickness on you, nor will He afflict you with poverty, lack or death.
Therefore, we should passionately oppose, and ultimately reject, any suffering that brings sorrow. Do not embrace sickness, infirmity, or lack as though it were God’s will. Rest assured that it is not His will!
The only type of suffering that Jesus did not remove from us at the Cross was the suffering of persecution – the suffering which produces joy rather than sorrow because it affords us the opportunity to know and relate to Him in a more intimate and beautiful way. Did you know that Jesus is no longer suffering the penalty of sin and a broken Law? He suffered that once for all! But did you further know that Jesus indeed continues to suffer? His present suffering, however, is not suffering for the payment of sin. He paid the price for sin and the curse of the Law fully at the Cross. Now, He only suffers when His Saints suffer persecution. Recall that He spoke to Saul of Tarsus in Acts 9:4-5 saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” [NKJV]. As far as Saul was concerned, Saul was only persecuting followers of Christ. But upon his conversion, Saul learned that by persecuting the Saints, he was in fact persecuting Jesus, Himself!
For this very reason, Paul penned a somewhat difficult statement in Colossians 1:24, when he wrote, “[I] fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church” [NKJV]. How could Paul insinuate that there was anything lacking in the afflictions of Christ? Insofar as the payment for sin and the curse of the Law, the vicarious, redemptive suffering of Jesus was more than sufficient to pay our debt, and nothing was lacking. At the Cross, Jesus bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, as Isaiah 53:4 foretold, and He did so in full. But there is some suffering that was not covered at the Cross, and it is the suffering which Jesus continues to incur to this very day – the Persecution of the Church, His Body.
In our suffering, there is no redemptive value.
All we have in our suffering is the privilege to know Jesus more intimately, as well as the opportunity to stand as a testimony before this world of the veracity and power of the Gospel. Paul understood that we as believers bear that part of Christ’s suffering through persecution in our own body and souls. Indeed, Paul was very familiar with persecution; not only did he suffer it as an Apostle, but he, himself had also once been a perpetrator of persecution against the Church.
So, Jesus bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, but He did not remove the suffering of persecution from us, chiefly because it is not a suffering of sorrow, but rather a suffering of joy. Thus we know that we as believers are not immune to persecution. Recall the message of II Timothy 3:12 that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” [NKJV]. Since, therefore, we know for a fact that persecution is coming, we ought to prepare our hearts in advance so that we will stand boldly when we encounter resistance to the Gospel.
How can we prepare our hearts for coming persecution?
In the next blog entry we will discuss how to prepare our hearts in advance for the coming persecution. When that time comes, may we be prepared to stand firm and persevere by His Grace!