A Reflection on Trouble, Part 1
2 Corinthians 6:4-10 (ESV)
but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.
In a previous reflection (found here) we discussed God’s promises in terms of overcoming the struggles of this present age, getting through each day when it seems like the world might crush you before you take your next breath. Yet even though the promises of God’s sustenance and provision are clear, they do not answer the question as to why we must suffer in the first place. This is perhaps one of the trickiest questions and dilemmas in the life of the Christian and it would be exceedingly arrogant to assume that the question would be answered in full here, but perhaps through the grace of God and the understanding of the Holy Spirit we might scratch the surface. Let’s break with tradition and pray first (probably later too) and then get into the reflection.
Prayer: Father, there are times when I do not understand suffering in my life or the lives of others. Lord, as I look at your Word today please give me a glimpse of why this suffering takes place and provide me with understanding that I might grow into a deeper relationship with you, better understanding your nature and your ways. In the name of your Son Jesus I pray, amen.
Our intro verses today are a little longer because it is a single sentence containing a laundry list of hardships Paul and his companions experienced. If anybody had reason to complain against God and his mercy it was Paul, yet Paul never utters a complaint against God but simply accepts these things as the cost of going out into a world that is full of sin and proclaiming that Jesus is Lord and Savior to all who call on his name. A pretty risky move it appears (then as now!).
The fact that Paul suffered for the sake of righteousness says something about our world. There is a ruler of this world who hates God and his message of hope. You can see that based on these verses:
1 Corinthians 2:6 (ESV)
6 Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away.
Ephesians 2:1-2 (ESV)
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins
2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience
So we see that one reason for suffering is that there is a power in this world who will do anything to stop the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ from being spread. It is the same power that killed Jesus on the cross, the same power that martyred the first believers and the same power that seeks destroy the faith even today. As Christians we call this power the devil, the enemy, the prowling lion.
Yet this suffering has never stopped the Word of the Lord from being spread, for it is good to suffer in this way and the Lord promises a reward for endurance through it. Jesus rose from the dead to conquer the enemy and the early church was empowered by the Holy Spirit to victory. Just look:
Acts 5:40-42 (ESV)
40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.
They rejoiced at a beating! Can you believe it?! This is the right attitude of a Christian towards suffering that comes from professing Christ and being faithful to him. If you have experienced suffering because of your obedience to Christ, may you be richly blessed and may God continue to provide you with the strength to get through each day that you may continue to glorify His great name!
In the next reflection we will consider another reason for suffering, one that helps us move closer to God and become more like him.
Prayer: Father, like Paul, I thank you for the opportunity to suffer for your name, that in telling people about You I would be counted worthy to share in the pains of your Son. Please give me the strength and boldness to continue on through each day, pressing ever closer into to you to receive my daily bread. Amen.