Suffering is horrible. There is no natural reason to desire it, and everything in us wants to avoid it. Some grief comes to us through our foolishness, the sins of others, or because of living in a fallen world. But Jesus-followers may experience another pain – being persecuted as children of God simply because they belong to Him. Such suffering often comes in unexpected ways and at unpredictable times. Even though we know that our suffering is directly due to our faith in Jesus Christ, prejudice and injustice will rightly arouse the sensitive conscience, making us feel indignant. But if the Lord allows it (‘suffer’ is an Old English word for ‘allow’) the question for the Christian is: how can we deal with it, in ourselves and towards others, in a way that glorifies God.
It is a fact of the Christian life that godly men or women will, at some time or another, experience rejection from people who do not bow to Jesus as Lord (2 Timothy 3:12). The mental, emotional or physical pain is real, and we may be tempted to think that God has forgotten to be kind to us. Not so. When others reject us, it is important to accept God's kind commendation (Psalm 27:10). He honours all those who honour Jesus (John 12:26). To be rejected for the sake of Jesus is a validation of your devotion to Him (Matthew 5:10-12). Don't take it personally; the attack is not so much directed to us as individuals, but as representatives of our Saviour - although our persecutors may not recognise their motives.
What should we do? Today's verse tells us to 'bear up'. The situation is neither hopeless nor unexplained. All of us in ‘Team Jesus’ must personally have to accept our share of the load (Galatians 6:5). But we know that God will not allow anything that goes beyond what we are able to bear with His help (1 Corinthians 10:13), and with the help of our brothers and sisters (Galatians 6:2). Suffering is not only a trial but also a test (James 1:2-4), which will strengthen our faith and witness, if we do not give in to the temptation of self-pity within and expressing anger to others.
Every time we look at ourselves, deciding how to protect and preserve self, we cannot be looking to the Lord at the same time. But when we do look to Him, He will not only honour us but also provide a way for us to endure what is unfair. Looking to Jesus, and how He dealt with dreadful painful injustice, is our model. Look beyond the suffering to the reward of His presence. Hebrews 12:1-3 spells it out, “…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
© Dr Paul Adams