For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake… Phil 1:29
That’s a scripture that I don’t hear quoted too often.
Contrary to what some may say, it is the will of God for us to suffer persecution. How can I confidently say that? Because I know that it is the will of God for us to live godly, and ‘all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution’ (2 Tim 3:12).
Ultimately, God doesn’t want us to suffer. That’s why there is no suffering in heaven. However, suffering is a necessary prerequisite to perfection. Even Jesus had to pass the suffering test (Heb 5:8-9). Suffering is the ultimate test of obedience, and those who pass will join the ranks of ‘the spirits of just men made perfect!’ (Heb 12:23)
New Testament saints rejoiced in their sufferings. They considered it an honor to suffer reproach and hardships and beatings (even death) for Christ’s sake. Look at this amazing passage in Acts 5:41, when Peter and John appeared before the council and had been threatened and beaten:
So they departed from the presence of the council, REJOICING that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. Acts 5:41
I remember once that a friend of mine and I approached some teenagers to share the gospel with them. When we did, they quickly replied with choice words. This gave us the slight clue that they weren’t interested in hearing what we had to say. Being embarrassed, we took our leave, and while walking away my friend expressed his disappointment in what we had hoped to be a more glorious encounter. Immediately I remembered this passage and I shared it with him. At that point his countenance was changed and we both, like Peter and John, began to rejoice that we had been able to suffer reproach for Christ! Glory to God!
My friend and I experienced very light afflictions, but know that less light afflictions may be headed our way. The writers of Hebrews said that ‘you have not YET resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin’ (Heb 12:4). This means that more trying times were coming, even to the point of losing their own lives. But Jesus said, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life!” (Rev 2:10)
When we suffer for Christ’s sake, we should consider it an honor. And we should also know that our sufferings will not be in vain. In the end we will all live in a place will there will be no more suffering. God will wipe away every tear from our eyes and there will be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There will be no more pain, for the former things will have passed away! (Rev 21:4)
Now, I need to specify what the bible means by suffering. There is suffering according to God’s will and suffering that is not according to God’s will. We need to know the difference (1 Peter 3:7, 4:19). Some people suffer because of their own stupid choices. This isn’t the kind of suffering I’m talking about. If you are suffering in pain because you got slammed drunk last night, that’s your own fault and not commendable. But, if you suffer for righteousness sake (1Pet 3:14) or because you are a Christian (1 Pet 4:16), then you need to shout and rejoice and be exceedingly glad, because so did the prophets of old (Mark 5:12), and so did Jesus Christ Himself! What an honor to be counted among them!
So, the suffering that the bible is talking about is suffering because of our faith.
This type of suffering also excludes sickness. Nowhere in the bible does it tell us that we need to be sick for the glory of God. (The only time the bible mentions the glory of God in connection to a sickness is when a man is gloriously healed!) I have heard people say that they are sick for God’s glory, but those same people go to the doctor and take medicine! If you are sick for God’s glory, why are you trying to get rid of the sickness? Don’t you want to glorify God? You can see how silly this idea is. No, it’s never God’s will for us to suffer with sickness. If it was, then why did Jesus go around healing everybody? You would think He would at least leave one person sick for God’s glory! No, what we need to do is go to the doctor, and call for the elders of the church, and believe God for healing so we can get well and serve the Lord with all our heart. And if we have sin in our lives that caused the sickness, we need to deal with that as well.
But concerning suffering for our faith, one of the most profound scriptures dealing with this topic, to me, is Philippians 3:10, where Paul speaks about his desire to know the ‘fellowship of Christ’s sufferings.’ What is Paul saying? If you read verses 7-11, you will find that Paul’s great desire is to know Christ in every way. He tells us how everything in life is comparable to a dung heap when contrasted to the excellency of knowing Him. So Paul’s life goal is to know Christ in every way possible, which meant that even to suffer like Him would be an inexpressible honor and privilege! To Paul, even this was a gift.
So don’t be alarmed by the fiery trial which is to try you, but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy!