Christian’s that die for their faith fascinate me. Not in some weird morbid way. It’s not like I get pleasure out of hearing and reading about Christian’s that lose their life for the sake of the gospel, but those men and women who take their faith so seriously that they are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice really do catch my interest.
I think a lot of the reason for my interest is because it is such a foreign concept for me. If I were honest with myself I would have to say that I have never been in a situation where my faith has caused me many problems. Sure, there were parties I didn’t go to in high school, names I had been called from time to time, and just a general sense of tension at certain stages of my life because of my faith, but nothing that I would call substantial persecution or suffering.
The older I get the more this bothers me. It bothers me because when I read the scriptures I find men and women that suffer an immense amount of heartache in their lives for the sake of Christ. I look at the lives of those who follow Christ in scripture, and then I look at my life. The two don’t seem to add up.
This type of thinking has led me to confront a question that has been lingering in the back of my head for a while now. Can I truly be considered a Christ follower if my life is not marked with suffering that comes from following him?
To answer that question I have found myself looking to someone who is well acquainted with the idea of persecution, the Apostle Paul. There is a passage of scripture where he really seems to narrow in on this idea of suffering and the Christian life. Take some time and check out Philippians 1:12-30 . Go ahead and do that now. If you don’t everything else you read from this point on is not going to make any sense. There are a couple of observations that I have drawn from this passage involving the Christian life and suffering.
1) Christian Suffering is more than physical persecution.
I had always assumed that Paul’s suffering was a result of his imprisonment, beatings, snake bites, shipwrecks,and just all around general horrible circumstances that began happening to him the moment he started following Christ. I assume that, but that is not what Paul says. Anytime Paul speaks of his physical persecution he speaks of it in almost joyful terms. This guy is glad to be going through this for his Lord. That in itself will take me the rest of my life to figure out, but he takes it one step further. Vs. 23 of chapter one sums it up pretty nicely, “I am torn (interestingly this is a Greek word for suffering) between the two; I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” Did you catch that? Paul’s suffering does not come as a result of his physical persecution, it comes from knowing that he is not and will not be in complete and total fellowship with Jesus Christ until he leaves this earth.
2) Everyone suffers.
Paul’s letter does not read, “if this happens to you,” it reads more along the lines of, “when this happens to you.” This does not only apply to Christians. If you live on the planet earth you will suffer. We suffer because this world is broken and always will be until Christ restores it. There is no one, no matter how rich, pretty, smart, or in shape, that will not at some point in their life suffer. The question that each of us has to ask our selves is, “Who are we willing to suffer for?” As Christians we have decided to suffer for Christ who is eternal as opposed to suffering for the world which is fleeting. Paul suffers because he is not yet in full communion with Christ, this should be a form of suffering for all Christians.
We feel this suffering every day. We turn on the news and hear about, war, death, disease, injustice, and lack of mercy and we suffer. Even when it’s not happening directly to us. We suffer because we realize that this world is broken, and will remain broken until Christ restores it, and that time in between ruin and restoration should cause us heart ache.
So no, I don’t believe that you can call yourself a Christian and not suffer in this world. To truly follow Christ is to desire to depart to him, but to realize that there is still more work to be done here first.
This was Paul’s suffering, and it should be ours as well.