One of my least favorite things in the whole world is to check air in tires. Or to check the oil level in my car. It’s not that it’s too hard… It’s too messy! And I’m not a pansy or a sissy boy that doesn’t like getting dirty – I don’t mind getting dirty mowing grass or cutting a piece of wood (lots of sawdust!). But checking the air in tires means you have to get close to the tire, take the cap off the valve, and use those tricky little gauges. You’re destined to get black streaks all over your hands, which then transfer to your shirt, the couch (when you go inside), and a million other things. The worst is when you pick your nose afterward, and everyone knows it because there’s black greasy streaks all around the opening to your nostrils. Not that that has ever happened to me, but I’m sure that it’s the worst…
Today’s lesson in The Ever Loving Truth talked about the necessity of suffering in the Christian life. Regardless of what some preachers may teach (especially those that have TV shows), that God wants us to be happy over everything else, that God wants us to share in His riches here on Earth (well, His money anyway), and that if you just believe enough, pray enough, and give enough (money…to their ministry), you can have these things and more. What they’ve done though is take Bible verses and twisted them. They’ve read and taught them out of context and made them seem to say something that they don’t actually say. If you take the whole of the New Testament, if you look at the messages taught by the writers of it (Paul, Peter, etc.), you’ll see that Christians are not expected to receive good things in this life half as much as we are expected to receive the bad. We should expect to suffer.
In America, we suffer so little for our faith compared to other areas of the world that we’ve almost become accustomed to not doing so. In fact, when you read today’s short teaching passage from Acts 5:40-42, if you’re anything like me, you are going to be a little puzzled in response to how the apostles treated suffering for the cause of Christ. After Gamaliel had stood up in the Sanhedrin and said that they should let the apostles go, because if their cause had any merit to it, if God was behind it at all, there was nothing they (the Jewish leaders) were going to be able to do about it. And if it didn’t, they would ultimately fail. The passage then says:
40His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ. (emphasis added)
Did you catch that? They rejoiced because they had been flogged! Now, I’ve never been flogged. I’ve been spanked, whooped, punched in the face, and even got a rug burn one time (none of these for the cause of Christ, I might add), but I’ve never been flogged. I’m thinking that must have been pretty rough. Perhaps it was the usual Jewish punishment of 40 lashes minus 1 (which equals 39 for the mathematically challenged), but I doubt it since many prisoners who received those died. Either way, I just don’t see why anyone would rejoice in getting flogged. But therein lies the problem – I’m seeing it from my own perspective, from a heavily-influenced-by-American-culture perspective. And if I think that rejoicing in suffering is crazy, then Biblically-speaking, I’m wrong, wrong, wrong (3 wrongs = very wrong).
The truth is that we will undoubtedly suffer if we are committed to Christ. The hard truth is that if you are not suffering, it very well may indicate that you aren’t very committed to Christ! I don’t say this judgmentally – I can’t point to much suffering that I’ve had to go through for the cause of Christ, so I admit that this probably has implications about my commitment level.
Jesus taught that suffering and persecution would come:
11“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)
18“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19)
2They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.” (John 16:2)
Paul taught this to his young protegé, Timothy:
12In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Timothy 3:12)
The hard part is realizing that suffering and persecution is necessary.
…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us… (Romans 3:3-5).
When we suffer, we develop perseverance, which develops character. What kind of character? Character like Jesus. We can identify with Him, because He taught that if we were of the world, it wouldn’t persecute us. But since we are identifying ourselves with Jesus, the world hates us, thus the reason behind our suffering.
Suffering itself happens to everyone. I don’t think that anyone gets a easy-life card at the beginning of their lives that they get to pull out any time a disease tries to take them or a tornado rips through their mobile home park. We all suffer. But a Christian will suffer, and his or her response to it acts as a pretty accurate gauge as to how committed he or she truly is to Jesus. I know I’ll have my share in whatever life I still have to live – I pray I am committed enough to rejoice in my suffering. I’m not promising I will…If I did, I may be lying. But at least I know that I should. That’s the first step. And the good news is that using this gauge doesn’t leave any black streaks on your face.