The Suffering Christian

Yet for your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter – Psalm 44:22

In Psalm 44, the writer begins by recounting the stories he had heard from the days of his ancestors when the Lord did mighty works among them; but he then goes on to lament the fact that things were hard for his generation. After highlighting the great things the Lord did for his ancestors, the writer says this:

But You have cast us off and put us to shame – Psa 44:9

Now, its worth noting that not everything the Psalms say is literally true. Sometimes the Psalmist is simply expressing the feelings of his heart. For example, in Psalm 43, the psalmist says to God, “Why have you forsaken me!?” (Psalm 43:9). Of course, we know that God never forsakes His people, but this man felt that way because of the circumstances he was going through. This is typical in the Psalms.

The same thing is true regarding what the Psalmist is saying in Psalm 44 when he says, “you have cast us off and put us to shame.” God had not done that to him. He just felt like God had done that because of the current circumstances. God does cast off and put to shame those that persist in evil, but this wasn’t the case here, as we can see:

All this has come upon us; but we have not forgotten You, nor have we dealt falsely with your covenant. Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from Your way – Psalm 44:17-18

Despite the fact that these people were serving God with all of their heart, things were really bad, as we see in our title verse:

For Your sake we are killed all the day long; we are account as sheep for the slaughter. – Psalm 44:22

If you read the whole Psalm you will see that many bad things befell these people; but why? Why were all these bad things coming upon these good people – these people who were doing right?

The answer, I believe, is found in verse 22, in the phrase ‘for Your sake.’

For Your sake we are killed all the day long… Pas 44:22

In other words, ‘for Your cause, we are killed all the day long.’ Or ‘for your purpose,’ or ‘for your plan.’

This Psalm (Psalm 44) is actually a perfect picture of the early church (and the true church in general). It is also a picture of the difference between the old and new covenants. God’s people under the Old Covenant (before Jesus), when they were serving God properly, prospered exceedingly, defeated their enemies, and grew powerful as a single nation, with none able to tear them apart. However, God’s people under the New Covenant (i.e. after the death and resurrection of Jesus) suffered greatly; they were regarded as the filth of the earth, spit upon, beaten, mocked, scourged, jailed, persecuted, and killed. And we know that there have been many times in history when Christians, who were serving God properly with all of their heart, were quite literally killed all day long, being regarded as sheep going to the slaughter.

What a contrast!

Now, we could ponder the whys behind this, but to stay on subject, we won’t. (We can address the theological ‘whys’ another time). However, one important thing to remember is that under the New Covenant there is a much greater push for the spreading of God’s word. And that is a big reason for the difference.

God loves the world, and He desires greatly to shower His mercy upon undeserving sinners (Mat 9:13). He has done this through His Son, and He has commissioned His people to carry that message of grace to all the world (Mark 16:15). Jesus demonstrated the depth of God’s love through His sufferings. Now He has called us to demonstrate that love, too – in the same way.

‘No greater love is there than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,’ – Jesus (John 15:13)

Love can be measured in the amount of suffering a person is willing to endure for the object of his love.  For example, would you give up all your money to save someone you loved? Would you give up your house, your car, your education, your health? If your child was held by a terrorist and threatened with death unless you agreed to vile torture, would you consent? I don’t know one parent that would not.

Does God love less than we love our children? Not even close. God’s capacity to love is infinitely greater than ours. And there is no greater way that God could demonstrate that love to us than to send His Son to offer up His life on the torturous cross.

By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. – 1 Jn 3:16

God wants us to received that love, to turn from our sins, to embrace the cross, and to gain eternal life. But He also wants us to show that love to others. This is a clear staple of the New Covenant – not just to love our friends, but also our enemies:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven – Jesus (Matthew 5:43-45)

So now, if we are to love those around us like Jesus loved us, we will have to suffer for them, as Jesus suffered for us.

This is what I believe Psalm 44 is all about.

Paul the apostle quotes Psalm 44 in his writings to the Romans. In Romans 8:34-39, Paul shows us both the great love of God and the suffering of the saints. He reconciles the two by showing us that God’s love is still super-abundant towards us in the midst of sufferings. He says

What shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As is it written: “For your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” – Romans 8:35-36

These awful things (tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword, and the like) aren’t any indication that God doesn’t love us! However, they can be an indication that God is loving through us.

The apostle Paul understood this. That love compelled him to travel the world and suffer many things for the cause of Christ. As a matter of fact, he used his sufferings as a way to prove his love and to identify himself as a true apostle of Christ (2 Co 11).

Paul sufferings were extreme, but what truly blows me away is what he says in Romans chapter 9. The statement he makes is so extreme that he has to qualify it a few times to convince his readers that he isn’t exaggerating. Look at what it says:

I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh… – Romans 9:1-3

Could it be true? Was Paul’s love for his fellow countrymen so strong that he was willing to suffer the torments of Hell forever if that could save them? That’s what the Word says. (Notice that he measures his love by the amount he is willing to suffer for them).

[And here’s an interesting side question: If Paul was willing to go to Hell forever for his people, do you think that Jesus (who’s love is infinitely greater) would have been willing to do the same?]

The point that I want to make is that love goes to whatever lengths it must in the effort to save its object. And as Christians, God has called us to suffer like Christ did in the effort to reach a lost and dying world.

Look in the Bible. Look how the best of God’s people were cut down like grass. John the Baptist was beheaded by the hand of an evil and greedy woman. Stephen was pummeled to death with stones. Men and woman were torn from their families and carted off to jail and death. James was killed by a proud and arrogant king. Christians were forced from their homes – scattered into the world. Paul was beaten times without measure, stoned, shipwrecked, whipped, hunted, imprisoned, and eventually killed in Rome. And we know that history is full of stories of the horrific fate of the faithful.

And let us not forget Jesus, our example, the perfect One, who was cut down in His prime – nailed to wood and hung in shame for all to see.

How can we understand this?

Look at how Jesus puts it:

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. – John 12:24

In order to save the world, we must learn to suffer for the world, and to die for it, if need be. Are you prepared to do just that?

We must lay down our lives for the salvation of the world. For many of us, this may simply mean giving up the things of this world in exchange for times of agony in prayer. For some, it may mean prayerfully going to dangerous places to spread the gospel.  Whatever it may be, the command is clear: take up your cross and follow Jesus.


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