Suffering And The Gospel

I am not one to write boldly about suffering for the sake of the Gospel. There are Christian brothers and sisters around the world and even in American who have personal stories of being persecuted for the sake of Christ. I have never truly experienced persecution. But as I seek to live a more outward, evangelistic life I have to recognize that Paul tells us (through Timothy) to “share in suffering for the gospel.”

Now in that statement to Timothy he does not tell us the specifics about what that suffering looks like. But as we look at the life of Paul we know that suffering for him involved painful, physical suffering. In 2 Corinthians chapter 11, Paul gives this account of the things he has endured for the sake of proclaiming Christ.

“Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not.”

When Paul talked about suffering he did not just have humiliation or embarrassment on his mind. He had real, physical suffering that at times caused Paul to believe this might be the end of his life. God may never require that kind of suffering for me. But what Paul wants us (and Timothy) to understand is suffering isn’t just something that may come but something we have been called into for the sake of the Gospel. For me (and I am embarrassed to even write this in comparison to Paul) the suffering might simply be rejection by neighbors or becoming known as a religious freak who people run from when they see me coming. But how small is that for the sake of Gospel.

Too many times we stop sharing the Gospel because of the suffering that comes with it. We become surprised that the mission of Christ would actually lead us into hardships and pain. And yet that is exactly what it does. The mission of Christ led Christ to be crucified. The mission of Christ also leads us to lay down our own life. In the book of 1 Peter, the disciple Peter encouraged Christians not to be surprised at the trials they were experiencing. He wrote:

“Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world (1 Peter 4:12-13).

The Gospel invites us into the suffering of Christ. The Gospel does not exempt us from it. It does not lead us to a pain-free life. The Gospel we are invited to proclaim ensures a life of suffering. My grandfather used to say, “recognize the reality.” What he meant by that is make decisions based on what is real and not based on what our own desires hope or believe our situation would be.  The reality of the Gospel is that we will suffer if are walking in obedience to Jesus.

Too many times we try to create a Christian life that does not involve the Gospel and suffering but we cannot. If we want to be truly following Jesus, it will involve outwardly declaring Christ and partnering with Christ for the sake of the Gospel.

And so to echo the words of Peter: do not be surprised at the suffering you experiencing if you are sharing the Gospel. It is what the Gospel calls us into.

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