Category Archives: Suffering

Ephesians 6:5-9 — Conversations with God

Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.  Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.

If I were a slave, Lord Jesus, owned by another person, owned by a Christian person, and your apostle told me to obey my earthly master as I would obey You, I could be very tempted to doubts and to giving up Christianity. I could argue that being a Christian has certainly not changed my situation as I hoped it would.  Why wouldn’t Your apostle command my Christian master to give me my freedom?  Where is the justice?  Where is the compassion?

But when Paul reminds me that I am a bondservant to You, Lord, I have no qualms about it.  I willingly serve You as your slave.  I owe everything to you.  You own my life and I willingly embrace that and want to serve you from a sincere heart.  And the fact that You will reward me for such service blows my mind.  I don’t deserve that!

And commanding masters to “do the same thing,” to live as Your bondservants and do Your will from the heart, this could certainly lead to real changes in the way I am treated and reminds me that the Christian life is not about righting all the wrongs that are here in this world before the kingdom comes.  It is about demonstrating the righteousness of the kingdom despite all that is wrong continuing to make it countercultural to live as Your followers.  How else will people see that You really do transform our lives?  You don’t just change our conditions, You change our hearts.

Ephesians 3:11-13 — Conversations with God

…according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.  In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.  I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

Lord, even today I am thinking and praying about countless believers around the world who are suffering tribulations because of their faith and in a very real sense they are doing it on my behalf and on behalf of all believers everywhere.  I could very easily lose heart but for the truth spoken by Paul here that they are for our glory.

Those who are being persecuted will, I believe, be rewarded by You in heaven and be given an unusual amount of grace by the Holy Spirit to walk through this.  Their families and loved ones will receive Your comfort.  They will be enabled to rejoice at being worthy of suffering for Your name.

I, on the other hand, will be encouraged to be more faithful in my own witness, more faithful in prayer, and more ready, if need be, to suffer similar tribulation.

Thank You for giving us in Christ Jesus bold and confident access to You by faith.  Thank You that part of Your eternal purpose has always been to have loving relationship with me.  I need that assurance and I want to take advantage of the access You have provided.

Fellowship With Jesus (Theology for Living from Philippians)

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.  (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 3, verses 10,11)

When Jesus spoke those burning words to two disciples walking to Emmaus, “Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:26), He laid out forever the path all His followers will have to walk if they want to have fellowship with him.  Do we want to know the power of His resurrection?  Then we must first know the pain of his sufferings and become like him in His death.  First comes suffering and then comes glory.

I have yet to experience the fullness of what Peter and John experienced when they were beaten at the command of the Sanhedrin and the “apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).  I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, but I am hesitant to get excited and rejoice over suffering disgrace for His Name.

And yet, this is Paul’s desire.  He is wanting to know Christ in this way.  He is currently in jail as he writes because of his willingness to suffer with and for Christ.  He is ready to die, if need be, in order to bring glory to his Savior.  Though he doesn’t say it directly here, we know that his motive is gratitude for the rescue Jesus has done in his life, saving him from trying to face God with a righteousness of his own instead of that which comes from God by faith in Christ.  Another motive he states plainly here is so that he might attain to the resurrection from the dead.

This raises questions for those of us who believe the Scriptures teach that one can never earn nor lose one’s salvation.  Does Paul believe he has to suffer with Christ in order to attain to the resurrection?  Does he doubt that if he does not pursue this course he will be refused resurrection?  Yes and no.

Paul believed all who were true believers would be willing to suffer persecution with Jesus (2 Timothy 3:12).  He didn’t presume that no believer would struggle with the fear of such a decision.  That is why in the beginning of this letter he was counting on help from the Philippians’ prayer and the supply of the Holy Spirit (1:19).   He didn’t believe that after all this time serving Jesus he would quit now, but he knew and taught that true believers are enabled both to will and to do God’s good pleasure and would persevere in their faith (2:13).

Do you want fellowship with Jesus?  Of course you do.  Do you want to suffer?  Of course you don’t.  But if it comes to a choice of sharing in the life of Jesus or avoiding suffering, I believe we both will choose Jesus.

Facing Martyrdom (Theology for Living from Philippians)

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 1, verse 20)

Have you ever wondered what you would do if someone asked you to renounce Christ or die?  I always wonder if I’ll be devoted enough or brave enough not to cave in and renounce Jesus.  I’ve even considered that He would forgive me because He knows how hard it is to deal with pain or the threat of death.  But would He?

After the persecutions under Emperor Diocletian in the first decade of the 300’s, there was a group of Christians, some of whom had denied Christ, some of whom had under pressure turned in other Christians to the authorities (hence called “traditors,” those who hand over), and the church had to make a decision about whether they could be forgiven.  One Christian group under the leadership of Donatus, a bishop in Africa, believed that they could be forgiven but not enough to allow them to hold positions of leadership, and that if any did serve as priests or bishops their administration of the sacraments was invalid.  These were the Donatists.

The rest of the church was much more forgiving, but even they often had a very strict process for penitents to go through.  It is described this way,

The first question, therefore, was whether the Sacrament of Penance can effect a reconciliation whereby the apostate, or in some cases specifically the traditor, may be returned to full communion. The orthodox Catholic position was that the sacrament was for precisely such cases, though at the time the Church still followed the discipline of public penance whereby a penitent for such a grievous offence would spend years, even decades, first outside the doors of the church begging for the prayers of those entering, then kneeling inside the church building during services, then standing with the congregation, and finally receiving the Eucharist again in a long progress toward full reconciliation. (see here)

Do we have any biblical example to appeal to in this regard?  What about Peter, who did deny Christ three times?  Was he forgiven?  Was he allowed back in leadership?  Yes, see John 21:15-17!  So should Paul have been concerned?  Should he have worried about what would happen if he wasn’t courageous enough to exalt Christ in his body during persecution?

We also have a passage in 2 Timothy 2:11-13,

Here is a trustworthy saying:  If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.  If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.

Was Paul unaware of Peter’s experience?  Surely he was aware.  So what does he mean here?  The context makes it clear that Paul is not talking about someone who disowns God and then repents, but rather someone who abandons the Christian faith altogether, like Phygelus and Hermogenes (1:15).

Nevertheless, Paul had reason to be concerned.  Would he give a good testimony to Christ, one worthy of all that Jesus had done for him?  Would he glorify or exalt Christ by how he conducted himself during the trial, even if it meant death?  He was representing not just himself but all those who knew him in Christ and looked to him for leadership, so it was important to him that he quit himself well.

I have often thought that surely I would take death and torture for Christ, or at least be willing to, but have understood that many have cracked under torture.  If I was just going to be shot, I think I could take that easier than being tortured for days or weeks or months.  I anticipate, too, as Paul did, that Jesus would supply me with the Holy Spirit to help me in my hour of distress (Philippians 1:19) and enable me to fulfill my commitment to Him.

But what if my whole family was being persecuted and I was asked to renounce Jesus or my granddaughter would be tortured.  Surely Jesus would forgive me for not putting her through such torment.  But then, would it be better for her in the long run to see her grandfather stand true to Jesus?  Or would she want to abandon the faith altogether that required her grandfather to let her suffer torture for Jesus?  These are tough questions that I hope I will never personally have to face in real life.  I know we have a gracious God who understands that we are but dust and has pity on us (Psalm 103:13,14).  I trust He will help me know what to do and to do it.  I know I will have other believers praying for me that I do the right thing.  And even if I fail to do the right thing, I know He will forgive me if I ask for forgiveness.

The Power of Relationships (Theology for Living from Philippians)

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.  God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.  (Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, chapter 1, verses 7 & 8 )

If Tony Bennett left his heart in San Francisco, Paul left his in Philippi.  Paul can justify his confidence in the salvation of the Philippians by the powerful bond he developed with them as they labored together to make the good news of Jesus Christ known.  In that process they had together experienced persecution, but they had also together experienced God’s grace in their lives.  And now that Paul is in chains again, as he was in Philippi (see Acts 16), there is a sense in which the Philippians reside in his heart.

There is a power in relationships to encourage us, to make us motivated, to give us hope, and to fill our need to love and be loved.  And this is all the more true of our relationships with fellow followers of Jesus.  We are together in the most daunting and most important mission ever given to any human being.  We are charged with defending and confirming the gospel and suffering for it.  If we were in this alone it would certainly be nothing more than  a suicide mission.  But though it may result in death for us, our comradeship with one another in the battle brings a comfort and joy none can explain except for a God-given grace bestowed.

We need each other.  This is not an individual endeavor.  It is a team effort and requires a unity that is all too often missing in our fellowships, much as it was in the Philippian fellowship.  If we are missing this unity we are missing the needed encouragement and motivation to carry on the endeavor.  And we are missing the power we need, the power of a united front and the power of the witness that unity gives.  Paul had to remind this church of how he had experienced that power with them.

When we are working together, partners in the gospel instead of foes, there is an energy that becomes available to us that is otherwise missing.  Paul said it this way, “I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.”  Paul knew how much Jesus loved the Philippians from two sources.  The first was the self-declaration of Jesus backed up by his sacrificial death on our behalf.  The second source was Paul’s own affection.  The affection he felt for the Philippians was actually Jesus’ affection for them.  Paul was in tune with Jesus and so he was in tune with what Jesus felt for this church.  Despite the conflict they were embroiled in, Jesus loved them.

Are you in tune with how Jesus feels toward the saints around you?  Toward your spouse, your children, your pastors, your fellow parishioners, your friends, relatives, co-workers, and enemies?  When you are you will feel the same way toward them.  You will not be able to help but feel that way.  Who are you loving and longing for with the affection of Christ Jesus?

For further study:

Lessons From the Old Testament: God’s Concern for Justice

Jesus Friend of Sinners

Lessons From the Old Testament: How Not to Counsel People in Pain

Lessons From the Old Testament: The Origin of Human Conflict

The Bible and Race Relations

Lessons From the Old Testament: Principles of Counseling From Job

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Recognize the value of silent sympathy. (Job 2:12,13; 13:5)

Like God, be able to show kindness even to those who are suffering for their own sins. (Job 6:14-23)

Beware of pious platitudes which ease your own fear but fail to have impact on the sufferer. (13:12; and see 4:7; 5:17; 11:6; 11:7-9, etc.)

Be ready to listen as though hearing for the first time and take what is said at face value. (12:1-3; 13:17)

  • You may never have faced this situation before (16:4)
  • You may not be experiencing the same level of discomfort (12:5)
  • God may be asking you to re-examine your own assumptions

 Don’t be surprised by dramatic mood swings.  (Job 3:3; 6:8-10, 11-13, 24-27; etc.)

Do not assume sin is the cause of the suffering. (Job 6:29)

Give to the sufferer the same freedom God gives them to express their disappoint with God. (Job 42:7)

Believe that God is willing and able to minister to the needs of every hurting person. (Job 38-42)