Tag Archives: suffering well

Suffer Like Jesus (Part 2)

Last week, I started a two part series on Suffering Saturdays, and how we are to suffer like Jesus. I would encourage you to read last week’s if you haven’t already since the concepts build upon one another.  Last week I dealt with the ideas that we are to expect suffering, as well as, we are to exult in our sufferings.  In this week’s article, I want to deal with exalting in our suffering (different from exulting) and entrusting ourselves to God in our sufferings.

So we expect, we exult, and now we exalt.  Specifically, we exalt God for He alone is glorious.  “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christ, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name,” (1 Pet 4.16, ESV). To exalt is to lift high.  It is to raise in the sight of others.

I was recently listening to Allistair Begg, who was telling the story of Polycarp.  Polycarp was a young disciple of the apostle John and a strong believer.  As he grew older he became the bishop of Smyrna, and would eventually be martyred.  He was a wanted man and so he had fled a few homes and towns, but his captors were always on his heels, and so, he at last decided not to leave the house he was in, saying instead, “God’s will be done.”  Soon his captors were there entering the house.  He came down, at least 86 years of age, spoke with them, and then called for food and drink to be brought to his captors, asking that they allow him an hour of prayer before taking him off.  This they did.

The Proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On hearing that he was, he tried to persuade him to apostatize, saying, “Have respect for your old age, swear by the fortune of Caesar. Repent, and say, ‘Down with the Atheists!’” Polycarp looked grimly at the wicked heathen multitude in the stadium, and gesturing towards them, he said, “Down with the Atheists!” “Swear,” urged the Proconsul, “reproach Christ, and I will set you free.” “86 years have I have served him,” Polycarp declared, “and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”

“I have wild animals here,” the Proconsul said. “I will throw you to them if you do not repent.” “Call them,” Polycarp replied. “It is unthinkable for me to repent from what is good to turn to what is evil. I will be glad though to be changed from evil to righteousness.” “If you despise the animals, I will have you burned.” “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and is then extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.”

It was all done in the time it takes to tell. The crowd collected wood and bundles of sticks from the shops and public baths. The Jews , as usual, were keen to help. When the pile was ready, Polycarp took off his outer clothes, undid his belt, and tried to take off his sandals – something he was not used to, as the faithful always raced to do it for him, each wanting to be the one to touch his skin – this is how good his life was. But when they went to fix him with nails, he said, “Leave me as I am, for he that gives me strength to endure the fire, will enable me not to struggle, without the help of your nails.”

So they simply bound him with his hands behind him like a distinguished ram chosen from a great flock for sacrifice. Ready to be an acceptable burnt-offering to God, he looked up to heaven, and said, “O Lord God Almighty, the Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of you, the God of angels, powers and every creature, and of all the righteous who live before you, I give you thanks that you count me worthy to be numbered among your martyrs, sharing the cup of Christ and the resurrection to eternal life, both of soul and body, through the immortality of the Holy Spirit. May I be received this day as an acceptable sacrifice, as you, the true God, have predestined, revealed to me, and now fulfilled. I praise you for all these things, I bless you and glorify you, along with the everlasting Jesus Christ, your beloved Son. To you, with him, through the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and forever. Amen.”[1]

That is what it is to exalt God in your suffering.

It is also what it is to entrust yourself to God in your sufferings.  Entrust means to place fully into the hands and let them have control.  It was Polycarp realizing after fleeing from place to place, that God had this in store for him, giving himself over and saying, “God’s will be done.”  He gave up trying to protect himself but rather allowed God to do with him as He willed.  That’s not easy.  But Peter wrote that it was worth it.

For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?  And ‘if the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner,’” (1 Peter 4.17-18, ESV).  God is your judge.  He is the judge of the whole world, the living and the dead, future and past.  The judgment starts with believers.  It is only by God’s grace shown on the cross of Christ that believers will even make it in.  You are trusting him with your future judgment, a judgment that will last for all eternity.  It’s now time to trust him with your present circumstance, your present reality.  He is not only your judge but He is your Creator.  He made you and He will keep you, love you, and give you what is best, even if that means losing everything, because He in fact is the very best.  There is not greater prize, no higher gift than God Himself.  And He is giving Himself to and for you.  “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good,” (1 Peter 4.19, ESV).

[1] https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/study/module/polycarp/

Suffer Like Jesus

When I was a kid I wanted to be like Superman.  He was my hero.  I had the Superman pajamas with the cape, and I would wear them all the time.  I would safety pin a towel around my neck and zoom around our yard like I was superman.  He just seemed so cool to me.  I watched Superman II so many times on Beta (if you remember what Beta is) that the tape wore out.  I knew every word of the movie, and I still know a lot.  Even today, my favorite song is the Superman Theme Song (as it is the ringtone on my phone).  If I hear it on Pandora, I crank it up as loud as I can stand it.

We all had heroes when we were kids.  Some of them were fake, like Superman, and some were real like a teacher, a parent, a policeman or a fireman, or even a friend.  As we grow in our faith, Jesus hopefully becomes our greatest hero, not in the Superhero way, but in the “I want to be just like him” way.  We desire to become greater in our holiness and devotion.  Yet what we don’t often think about is how that comes about.  To be like Jesus we must go through what Jesus went through.  The writer of Hebrews wrote, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.  And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him,” (Heb 5.8-9, ESV).  What the writer was saying was that in His suffering, Jesus comprehended what obedience was all about.  Anyone can obey as long as things are going their way.  But when things stop going well, and suffering enters the picture, will they stay on course and find out what obedience is really about?  By this suffering Jesus was made perfect, not in the moral sense, but in the maturity sense.  If that was what our hero went through, then is it not also necessary for us, who desire to be like Him, go through it too?

This is a two-part series where I am looking at Jesus’ response to suffering and our response to it.  Initially, we ought to expect suffering as a Christian, but also then to exult in it.

What we see from Peter is that we are to expect suffering.  Since Jesus is our hero, we want to be like Him, and He is our greatest and highest example of what we are to be, then we should expect to encounter the same reactions and walls that He faced.  “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you,” (1 Peter 4.12, ESV; italics mine).  Expect these trials.  They are the norm.  To not be tried and to not suffer is not the norm.  Christians in America have lived in a bubble for about 400 years.  That bubble has burst.  What we went through during that time is unprecedented.  It was strange.  The rest of the real world has been going through what we are just beginning to experience for thousands of years!  We find it strange, but we shouldn’t.  For the Christian, it should be strange when we don’t suffer.

We ought to be expecting it.  I remember as a young boy playing peewee football.  I was running down the line looking to make a great tackle on this other little kid.  Out of nowhere a blocker shows up and levels me on my back.  At practice, I had no problems leveling blockers, but I knew where they were and could see what was coming my way.  This kid blindsided me and knocked me on my rear.  That’s happening a lot in American Christianity.  We are getting blindsided and knocked on our rears when we should be expecting the suffering.

But not only should we expect the suffering, but we should exult in our suffering.  Exult is to find rare pleasure or joy in our circumstances.  Peter wrote that rather than be surprised at our suffering, “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed,” (1 Peter 4.13, ESV).  We are to rejoice insofar as we share Christ’s sufferings.  That’s an interesting way of saying it, but what Peter is getting at is that we are to rejoice only when we suffer for Christ’s sake.  Hence, he immediately wrote, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.  But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler,” (1 Peter 4.14-15, ESV).  Being insulted for the name of Christ equals blessing.  Suffering for being a murderer, thief, evildoer, and meddler receives no blessings.  This doesn’t negate Paul’s instructions that we are to rejoice always or that we are to give thanks in and for everything. It simply means that we can’t rejoice for suffering in the same manner.  In Acts 4, the church is praying because Peter and John were arrested, beaten, and released with a threat.  At the end they rejoiced because they were counted worthy of suffering. That’s what Peter refers to when he tells us to rejoice when we suffer as Christ suffered.

If we suffer for doing our Christian duty we should count it a privilege to suffer.  We can rejoice because we are becoming more like our Savior.  But we cannot rejoice for going outside the bounds of our Christianity.  We would probably all say that God has not called us to be murderers or thieves or evildoers, but many people don’t think twice about being meddlers.  Solomon wrote, “Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears,” (Prov 26.17, ESV).  I remember reading that a few years ago, and it has stopped me more times than not at meddling into people’s business.  Many Christians tend to have no problem giving unsolicited advice, poking their noses into other people’s lives, and tattling on their coworkers or such.  And then we are surprised when it all blows up in our faces.  Then we excuse it with the idea that we were just doing our Christian duty, when in fact our Christian duty is to show by our lives and tell by our mouths the simple good news of Jesus.

So exult when you suffer for being a Christian.  Once you step outside of that, there is no reward and no reason to rejoice, except in the fact that God is still sovereign.  Next week, I will deal with exalting in our suffering and probably the most important of all, entrusting ourselves in our suffering.