Letter to Smyrna 2
Suffering is not nice. Yet the word not only means 'to bear up under a load', but also 'to allow'. In the Bible, no suffering occurs without God's permission. It is a part of His means by which His will is done. That is seen in the suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ which brings salvation to those who receive Him (Hebrews 2:10), and the persecution of the church which enabled the spread of the gospel as believers migrated (Matthew 10:23; Acts 11:19).
This prophetic word to Smyrna was intended to encourage them that the Lord had not left them, so they should not leave Him. Nor should they live in fear. They had already suffered poverty, social isolation and slander (Revelation 2:9). Worse was coming. The imprisonment of some in the church would be inspired by the devil, but always restrained by the Lord (10 days is a Hebrew way of saying 'a short time' as in Genesis 24:55; Daniel 1:12). Satan's intention was to test them to breaking point, but the Lord was allowing it to show the devil, and the city, that the believers had grown stronger through their relationship with Christ. We know that they had already been living close to Jesus through their previous hardships, because He does not rebuke this church in any way. Trouble had kept them trusting Jesus.
That faithfulness was to be tested further. Prison and, for some, execution awaited them. It was just as Jesus had predicted (John 15:18-25). Nevertheless, the Lord promised to give eternal life in place of mortal death, and the garland of laurel leaves (the victor's crown) to those who completed the race well (2 Timothy 4:6-8). Interestingly, Smyrna means 'myrrh': a spice with a perfume, used for embalming dead bodies. It was a city of death, but through the testimony of the gospel and the suffering of the church, many more would believe and receive eternal life.
Suffering for the sake of Jesus is honourable to God (1 Peter 4:12-19). If we suffer with Him we will also reign with Him (2 Timothy 2:12). It is part of the reality of following Jesus in a world which will not submit to His grace (Philippians 1:27-30). Such truths cut into the false teaching that poverty, disgrace and suffering for the sake of Jesus is a mark of God's curse. No, it is a sign that the Lord trusts His faithful people to bear the disgrace of Christ (Hebrews 11:26). Neither is God anything less than good when He allows His people to suffer (1 Peter 5:10). He always has a higher objective: in the refining of the church (Malachi 2:3; 1 Peter 1:6-8) and the saving of souls (Philippians 1:12-14). 1 Peter 2:21 says, "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps." So, if the Lord trusts you enough to allow you to suffer for Him, do not be afraid. Let His grace be advertised through Your patient endurance, in your workplace and community; and in the church.
© Dr Paul Adams