Today I watched a documentary on Netflix tiled "American Gospel - Christ Alone", a thought-provoking exploration of the false "prosperity" gospel versus the true gospel of Jesus Christ's atoning work on the Cross and the centrality of the need for repentance. The documentary also explores the nature of suffering and what it means, according to the Bible, to suffer for Christ.
SUFFERING IN THE BIBLE We see suffering throughout the Bible, mostly in Christ's suffering for us. Throughout Scripture, there are many who suffered in one way or another - for example, Adam and Eve, Noah, Job, Samson, David, Esther, Elijah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Daniel and the Apostle Paul - but none suffered anywhere close to what Jesus endured as He died a lowly and excruciatingly painful death on the cross, becoming a curse (Galatians 3:13) and taking on all man's sin so that the relationship between God and mankind - through repentance and forgiveness - could be restored.
WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME? Suffering asks the painful question "What is happening to me?" We serve a great and loving, just and merciful, all-knowing, all-powerful God who may not tell us exactly why we are suffering in any given situation, but who Scripture shows is faithful and trustworthy, and more than equipped to provide the deep comfort and solace to us when we are going through suffering. And when we look back at what we have been through, we can see God's guiding hand was always on our situation.
If we are willing to see our suffering - as Scripture instructs us - to be an opportunity for God to grow character within us through the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), then we begin to mature a little more in our faith.
I was thinking about suffering after watching "American Gospel" and pondering about what it means to suffer for Christ. I reflected on the times in my life I have experienced suffering - before I knew Jesus and after I knew Jesus. In my experience, the suffering I went through before I knew Jesus was something intensely painful, something I railed against and tried to escape from, and something I felt powerless against with no hope of reprieve. After I knew Jesus, I still experienced suffering and I still felt powerless within it, yet this time the powerlessness held a subtle difference. This powerlessness was something I could give to God. Whatever the suffering I was going through, I knew, through Scripture, that God was in control of the situation and none of it was a surprise to Him. I could choose to rest in God and know that I could trust Him to take care of me amidst the pain and turmoil. It was still very painful, uncomfortable and challenging. But God was there, with me, just like Jesus was in the fire with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Daniel 3:24-27)
This changed everything.
SUFFERING FOR CHRIST Suffering for Christ means that I am given an opportunity to lean in closer to Him, to admit my powerlessness and my weakness and that God is on the throne - and I am not. It means that in all the brokenness, the mess, the out of control-ness and the not-knowing of suffering, that I serve a God who knows me inside and out, who is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, and who Himself endured the greatest suffering when He sent His son Jesus to die on the cross for me - and you.
JOY IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES I can only catch a glimpse of what the Apostle Paul means in the Book of Philippians when he speaks about joy in all circumstances, as an outgrowth of his willingness to suffer for the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul's message - that true joy is to be found only in a dynamic personal relationship with Jesus Christ and in the assurance that God is able to turn adverse circumstances to our good and His glory - is timeless and applies just as much for us today as it did back when Paul was alive. The Book of Acts records many of Paul's tribulations and sufferings, as does 1 Corinthians 11:22-27, yet Paul can declare truthfully in Acts 20:24 "But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God." and in Philippians 1:29 For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, 30 having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.
Paul's willingness to suffer for Christ is what made his ministry so powerful.
Our willingness to suffer for Christ is what makes us true followers of Jesus and allows us to go deeper and deeper into His mystery.
So let each of us reflect on our own suffering and what it means to suffer for Christ. Are we going to be dragged, kicking and screaming, through the turmoil of suffering, moaning and shaking our fist at God, or are we going to use the opportunity of suffering to lean into Christ, the author and finisher of our faith, to admit our powerlessness and allow our weakness to be made strong in Him?
I pray this blog post has been a blessing for you and a pause for reflection on your own journey with our Lord Jesus Christ.
I welcome any comments or feedback.