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Archive for August, 2016

Challenges to Discipleship: The Role of Suffering

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1Peter 4:12-13)

One of the great barriers to entering into true discipleship with Christ is our problem in understanding the role that suffering plays in those who, through faith, have dedicated their lives to follow Jesus.

Shall we not suffer with Him?

I am Crucified with Christ ..

The first thing that hinders us about accepting the role of suffering in discipleship is that our natural selves cannot comprehend it. If Christ Suffered for us and took on our sufferings why then should believers still endure suffering as part of our calling? The second thing which hinders us is that, even upon beginning to understand the Lord’s calling for us to endure (certain types of) suffering, we cannot receive it because we lack sufficient faith to enter into and willingly receive the suffering to which we have been called.

After all, why would a good and loving God, insist that those He loves pass through the trials of suffering, especially when that suffering comes on us seemingly without cause or seeming justification. Wasn’t Jesus’s suffering sufficient?

This of course brings up the topic that the citation from Peter’s Epistle alludes to, that is, our participation in the sufferings of Christ. From this brief mention we begin to surmise that we, His Body, like the apostles, are destined to drink the same cup as he drank from, that is , the cup of suffering. That is, the suffering caused by His rejection and torture by the world and the establishment for the proclamation of the Good News of the Kingdom.

This then is the main theme of Peter’s Epistle to the suffering church at Rome. To encourage them to endure their persecution in Love, as Jesus endured His persecution in Love.

The Testing of our Faith

In the beginning of this first epistle, the Apostle Peter indicates that the primary reason that the father permits this type of suffering to enter into their lives (and therefore ours as well) is that, through their endurance, through faith, that same faith may be proven to be genuine, just as Gold in order to be assayed must be tested as if by fire.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:3-7)

Just as Jesus’ faith was tested through suffering so our faith also will be tested to determine if it is genuine. For there is such a thing as false faith and many have been deceived by their own human desires into presuming that their misdirected human zeal is the faith needed for discipleship. The Apostle Paul himself decries that, “ .. Demas has abandoned him for this present world” (2 Tim: 4:10), and in his first letter to Timothy he says: “… By rejecting conscience, certain persons have suffered shipwreck in the faith; among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have turned over to Satan, so that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Tim. 1:19-20).

In the Deuterocanonical literature we have the challenge for discipleship clearly stated :

“ My son when you come to serve the Lord prepare yourself for trials. Be sincere of heart and steadfast, undisturbed in time of adversity. Cling to Him, forsake Him not; thus will your future be great. Accept whatever befalls you, for in fire Gold is tested and worthy men in the crucible of humiliation”. (Sirach 2: 1-5)

Discerning the Types of Suffering We are to Endure

Peter makes it clear in his epistle that the type of suffering that he is exhorting us to endure is the unjust suffering imposed by others on us because of our faith or stand for righteousness. For this, he says, is consistent with our calling. Note that he does not include that suffering which comes to us because of our own unjust ways and sin.

“For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:19-23)

We also note that Illness or disease is not listed as the type of suffering we need to endure as Christians, In fact, he concludes the above paragraph as follows:

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1Peter 2:24-25)

Because of Jesus’ suffering and atoning work on the cross disease is not deemed a suffering that we Christians must endure as part of our path to discipleship. For this reason we attend to medical doctors and for this reason we are exhorted to pray for each other healing. Jesus did not have any sick disciples. It is not the Father’s will for us.

No! The types of trials we are to endure as disciples is how others treat us because we are outspoken disciples of Jesus. Not those who hide in a corner and are afraid to express their faith but those who openly confess Christ not only by their confession but also by the fruit of their confession – that is, the very lives they live!

Yes! They will revile us, persecute us, censor our prayers, expel us from their fellowship. We will lose many whom we formerly called “friends” but in being bold to proclaim Christ to the world we will be drawn into a new community, a new family of brothers and sisters in Christ who are not afraid of being called Christians and who live their lives in the truth of the Gospel, empowered by the Holy Spirit!

“Baruch haShem” – Praised be His Holy Name! Amen and Amen!

Bartimaeus

© B.R.Timeo and Bartimaeus’ Quiet Place, [2008-2016].

Related Links to this Article

Assessing our Discipleship

Discipleship: Accepting the Challenge

Prayer To Receive the Holy Spirit

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