How to embrace suffering as a Christian?

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Is there anything the Bible tells us about how to embrace suffering as a Christian?  There are many places.  Two New Testament passages are helpful in this regard.  Read Philippians 1:27-30 and then compare 1 Peter 4:12-19. 

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange was happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 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. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 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?’  Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
— 1 Peter 4:12-19

In Philippians 1, Paul’s admonition to live consistent with the standards of Christ’s Gospel reflected the Roman citizen or soldier’s allegiance to Caesar. It was a high calling in life with a loyalty unto death. Though they had the backing of the emperor and the state, there was also an expectation they would suffer for the cause. Being a citizen had its perks and privileges, but also came with a serious price. Soldiers were well aware of that and even expected it. The ordeal of suffering was no surprise to citizens or soldiers because that was the natural consequence of wearing their Lord’s insignia.

As Christians, we have a Kingdom citizenship. We are heavenly aliens who live on earth. Our deep affinity is with our Lord. At the same time, we can expect antagonism from opponents. Our allegiance to the King of all kings reaps incredible rewards but also comes with a very high price.

Peter picks up on this in his first letter. One of the main points of his epistle is that we suffer in Christ and we suffer with Christ. Our Eternal Emperor suffered for natural and spiritual reasons. So too, we will not escape what Jesus went through. In this passage, we are called to embrace the affliction we share with Christ and also have confidence in our commitment to Christ.

How do we embrace this affliction? In four ways:

(1)   Don’t be surprised by suffering (1 Peter 4:12)  

Going through fire-burning trials and persecution from people of this world is actually quite ordinary.  In fact, it is an indication of our obvious affiliation with Christ. It is something we all share. Now, some Christians take this to the degree that they antagonize others in order to receive angry or hostile responses just to prove they are Christians. Other believers fear the suffering so they do what they can to appease people. We are to do neither.

(2)   Rejoice while suffering (1 Peter 4:13a) 

Isn’t that weird? You mean, enjoy the suffering? Well, nowhere in the Bible are we called to be masochists. Instead, we rejoice because we are gifted with the grace for suffering as we participate in Christ’s sufferings. We rejoice because this kind of suffering indicates we wear his insignia and live out his life.

(3)   Without shame (4:16a)

There is no shame in suffering for the cause of Jesus.

(4)   By glorifying God (4:16b) 

We do this when we radiate the weighted beauty of our Lord through our life and lips.

 

Another thing we are called to do as Christ’s colonists is to have confidence in our commitment to Christ. Peter’s own experience as one taunted, reviled, slandered, and imprisoned tested his commitment to Jesus many times. Then, he came to understand the prophet Malachi’s message (Mal. 3:1-3, 4:1). This message was a severe threat to the Lord’s enemies while at the same time a great promise to his own people: when God appears in glory, he will bring a refining process. This refining fire will purify his people in order to make them holy and acceptable to God. At the same time, this scathing fire of God’s pure glory will burn up the old world and all his enemies. Our commitment to Jesus serves as a sign of God’s impending judgment (Phil 1:28).  In the end, there is a huge benefit for remaining committed to Christ.

A wrap-up

Since embracing affliction in Christ and remaining committed to Christ will eventually cause rejoicing in the Lord and in our great happiness (1 Pet. 4:13), we can entrust our souls to the faithful Creator as we do good in the world.

Dr. Don


Want to study a bit more on what the Bible says about suffering?  Click on the button below and download your own study notes.  Then, let me know what you think.

 

One helpful book on the topic is by James MacDonald.  Get your copy today:

When Life Is Hard
By James MacDonald