May 29, 2009 § Leave a comment

Marked by Suffering

The church in America today is not marked by suffering. But suffering is essential to the Christian life. Paul says, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied,” (1 Corinthians 15:19). What is Paul describing that is so pitiable?  Paul can’t be referring to the fruits of the Spirit that anyone, Christian or not, would seek for: love, joy, and peace. No, Paul must be speaking of something he is doing that is utterly foolish if Christ isn’t really raised from the dead. In Desiring God, John Piper expounds on the potentially pitiable act:

“[Paul’s] was life of freely chosen suffering beyond anything we ordinarily experience. Paul’s belief in God, and his confidence in the resurrection, and his hope of eternal fellowship with Christ, did not produce a life of comfort and ease that would have been satisfying even without the resurrection. No, what his hope produced was a life of chosen suffering. Yes, he knew joy unspeakable. But it was a rejoicing hope (Romans 12:12). And that hope freed him to embrace sufferings that he never would have chosen apart from the hope of his own resurrection and the resurrection for those whom he suffered. If there is no resurrection, Paul’s sacrificial choices, by his own testimony, were pitiable.”

Through our sufferings, those we minister to are invited into the eternal joy of loving Christ. Suffering is adorning the gospel. This is the argument of 1 Peter. Peter goes through a series of exhortations telling his readers to endure suffering while submitting to authority. Peter goes to great lengths to show us that we are not alone in our suffering but that Jesus suffered in his earthly ministry in order to draw people to God. Peter even tells us to follow Jesus’ example for suffering when he indirectly quotes Isaiah 53:

21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.  22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.  23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.  25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:21-25)

In the very next exhortation clause, Peter appeals to wives to follow Jesus’ example, “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, (1 Peter 3:1).” Just as Jesus did not open his, but endured, so are wives called to endure.

It wasn’t until after Jesus suffered that the centurion said, “Truly this was the Son of God! (Matthew 27:54).” Likewise it may not be until after we suffer, that those we are ministering to, see the joy we had in serving our Father for the joy set before us.

Watch for an upcoming post, “What is Suffering?”


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