We are granted many rights and privileges as those who are redeemed in Christ. Some of these precious rights and privileges are…
The right to become children of God; calling Him “Abba Father” (John 1:12; Romans 8:15).
The gift of the supernatural fullness of the Holy Spirit (John 7:37-38).
The privilege of being witnesses for Christ (Acts 1:8; II Corinthians 3:18-4:6).
The promise of the blessed hope, which is the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13).
Two additional privileges can be found in Philippians 1:27-29.
(Philippians 1:27-29) Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God. For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.
The word “granted” (vs. 29) means “gratuitously granting as a favor”. As a gratuitous expression of of His love for Christ, the Father gives us the ability to not only to believe in Christ, but to suffer for His name.
Most would agree the right to “believe” is wonderful. In God’s mercy and loving-kindness, He comes to awaken us, making it possible to see and enter it the kingdom, so long as we exercise repentance and faith in Christ (John 3:3-6; II Corinthians 2:14). I have rarely run into those who call themselves followers of Jesus, who have a problem with the first blessing granted to us . This “believe” is the fountain head of every received promise and privilege, which is afforded to us in Christ. That being said, the second privilege granted is not so readily understood or received.
To the body, soul and spirit of a human, declaring suffering to be a privilege is like a man in agony declaring “YEAH, PAIN!!!” To which most sane people would questioningly declare, “Say what?”
The shock at “YEAH PAIN!!!” is understandable to the human condition, but the confusion arising from this particular passage should trouble us all. It would be my assumption that this passage is not readily preached or taught in many Christian churches around America; it is possibly one of the more glossed over verses in the Bible among American Evangelical types. Some may interpret its meaning as being for another time or only applies to the people who first heard it.
We can dismiss the excuses after considering II Timothy 3:12, which declares “all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution”. As with most of the “all” statements in the O.T. and N.T. this one simply means “all”, or everyone who is truly a follower of Jesus. Therefore, we must not ignore the intent of the word of God or try to explain it away, because to do so potentially sets the stage for many to fall away.
The reasons for these errors are many, but most primary is that we have little practical or historical context to understand the passage. This we will look at a bot further later.
In God’s word suffering for Jesus name, through threat to life, limb or property–through rejection of family, friends or countrymen–or through satanic/demonic spiritual attack , is not something to avoid but a cause for rejoicing.
(Matthew 5:10-12) Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The word “rejoice”, in Greek, carries with it’s most expressive manifestation which is to leap. Can you hear your flesh saying “Say What, Rejoice and leap for joy, when being slandered, slapped, clubbed, shut out, stolen from, insulted, put out of a job, tortured, threatened or killed?” Jesus answer when it is for His sake is, “Absolutely!” Let’s examine why.
Suffering for Jesus is a special privilege granted to those who love Him with all their heart, soul, and mind. This is not only is not only for the glory He receives, but also the door way of personal blessing it opens for us. Our Savior, loves to bless those who love Him.
The disciples lived out Matthew 5:11-12 in a graphic display of joy in Acts of the Apostles, after they were beaten for ministering the gospel.
(Acts 5:41-42) So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
Paul also understood this and asked for the privilege of suffering, which was a means to knowing Christ more intimately.
(Philippians 3:10) that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Even with these overwhelmingly good examples, the “Yeah pain!!!” suffering being a blessing, just doesn’t fit the warped view American Evangelicals carry, when it comes to Christian blessing and suffering. I began to notice this disconnect just two years into my walk with Christ.
In late June of 2001, my wife and children and I traveled to the Alive Fest in Canal Fulton Ohio, with our fellowship’s youth group. Lincoln Brewster would lead the songs in the late morning followed by a speaker. Later that day we would rock out with The O.C. Supertones, Pillar and end the evening in an incredible time of adrenalized praise with the U.K. band Delirious.
In between the morning time of praise and afternoon concerts, pastor John Piper spoke to the crowd. His message for the day, was on the our being call to suffer for Jesus sake. Piper spoke to approximately 11,000 teens, parents, pastors and youth leaders, who were awaiting the afternoon shows. The message profoundly impacted my life, bringing into view for the first time, the persecuted church and the possibility of suffering on Christ’s behalf in our nation. Pastor John was not painting a bleak picture, but one of privilege and love, yet his words were lost to most of the crowd that day; It was as if he was shooting BB’s at a tank.
One of our fellow youth leaders commented on how out of place the message seemed to him, for in His view God has called us to be blessed, not suffer. Tragically he missed that suffering for Christ is a privilege and blessing of the highest order; it is where we can encounter His presence most manifest in our lives (regard Psalm 23; Psalm 46, mind the context of each).
The insensitivity and lack of love for Christ, which lead the majority of the crowd to miss the point that day, is still sown throughout the body of Christ in this nation. I have seen this first hand over the last 11 years, advocating for the persecuted church worldwide. In the churches I have been called to pastor sharing the testimonies of our suffering brethren has been a distinct honor. As we have encountered their lives, written letters and considered their love for God, many have been transformed to being more committed followers of Christ. Yet the vast majority are still confused, indifferent, or even angry at what the testimony of suffering Church suggests for them.
Why is this the case? In the first place, Christian’s in America have known little suffering for our faith. Therefore our faith is often absorbed into an unquestioned religious nationalism; which is tied to the political doctrine of American exceptionalism. This American Christian paradigm has little intersect with the kingdom of God. As a result of this being sown through out the church, it has produced the error, that we are a Christian nation. Before you curse the messenger, we need to regard world history concerning this assumption, before the end of WWII.
For the past 2000 years, many nations have laid claim to the title of “Christian nation”. Rome was the first, followed by other, like France, Spain and yes even Russia. During WWI both Germany and England, had claimed the title for years, to being “The” only “Christian” nation. Interestingly, there were millions in each nation population and leadership, which believed they were called by God to destroy the other nation. The political and social fervor of the last 65 years in American, which led to the rise of the error of us being “The” Christian nation, actually reveals we are like all other nation, are “drop in the bucket to the God of the universe (Isaiah 40:15).
The belief America is a unique Christian nation in the earth, has led us to seek to insulate ourselves from the uncomfortable things of life, because God (in our view) wants us to be blessed. We have believe freedom is to have the stuff we want, to use this stuff to make our lives easier, and to have the ability to do what we desire without hindrance. In this we have chosen the error Israel made. Their faulty thinking concerning access to “blessing”, led to their being characterized as worse than Sodom (Ezekiel 16:48-50).
In this error we are also like Abraham in Genesis 15:1-2, where God declares “Abram! I am your shield. I am your exceedingly great reward”. In response,Abraham did not even say thank you. he complained that he did not have what he wanted. Here we can see the problem with misunderstanding the True blessing of God for the redeemed, which is His presence with them regardless of their state of material affairs. Our error concerning our uniqueness before God, and the blessing that guarantee , has left the church wanting more rather than being content with the presence of God, through Jesus atonement on our behalf.
Also adding to this mess is the predominance of the pre-tribulation rapture view concerning eschatology. I am not seeking to debate its theological merits or lack in this post, but I will speak to the religious cultural phenomenon that has arisen as a by-product of this view. What is it that I am referring too? The idea that before it gets real bad in the way of persecution, the Lord will get His church off this rock we call earth. This has practical significance.
Only a few years after my wife and I became follower of Jesus, while listening to a sermon, our pastor blurted out…
“You see this building we just built? Well, after we have been raptured, the Antichrist can have it! We won’t know or care. We will not suffer, we will be with Jesus”.
I had two problems with what he said. In the first place, I was fulfilling a monetary pledge for that facility. It made me mad to think the Antichrist would use the building I was funding in faith. Yet that irritation paled in comparison to second problem. I had recently read that “all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (II Timothy 3:12)”. For a man of God to pronounce we would not suffer, bothered me tremendously, as it contradicted the plain written word of God.
Beloved in Christ, I realize we are not appointed to endure God’s wrath poured out on the earth (I Thessalonians 5:9), but we are ordained and privileged to suffer for His name. The benefits are wonderful to those who endure on His behalf.
Blessings To Those Who Chose To Suffer For Jesus Sake!
(James 5:12) Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
- The crown of life
(II Corinthians 4:8-12)We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you.
- Persecution allows those around us to see Christ through us, we get to encounter the power of His Presence.
(I Peter 4:1-2) Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.
- Suffering on Christ’s behalf, is the means to greater sanctification and holiness for God’s glory.
In closing let me encourage you to prayerfully consider the passages of scripture in this article. Allow the Holy Spirit to give you singleness of heart for Jesus alone. In that Christ fixation and the joy that comes with it, you will suffer for His name. This suffering is inevitable, but it is momentary and light, considering the eternal weight of glory you will encounter on that great day, when we see Him face to face.