This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Bound to Be Free compiled by Jan Pit. In the following short quotation from Joseph Ton (Romanian Christian writer), there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are ill-treated as if you yourself were suffering. (Hebrews 13:3)
Suffering is a favor that is to be shared with the whole of Christ's Church.
If my hand hurts, I say: 'I don't feel well.'
If one part of the Body suffers, the Bible says (1 Corinthians 12) the whole Body suffers.
Millions of Christians in other countries are suffering. Do you feel the pain too? If they suffer, I, who am part of the same Body, should also feel the pain. If we do something for persecuted Christians, we suffer with them.
For example, persecuted Christians always pray for a Bible of their own. Printing Bibles in the free world is very expensive. Those who are prepared to make a financial sacrifice for the printing of these Bibles suffer with those who have none. They work hard to send spiritual food to the people who suffer. When they receive their long-awaited Bible, they shed tears of joy.
Jesus said: 'Whatever you do for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me' (Matthew 25:40)
If a Christian is beaten, Christ suffers.
If a Christian is helped, Christ is helped.
If we pray for those who suffer, they will be comforted.
That is the way God works, and we are God's fellow workers.
A moment of introspection: "You've got to be kidding!" Suffering is a favor?! Let's explore this concept a bit further. First, the noun form of "favor" has a number of meanings. A few are: "something done or granted out of goodwill, rather than from justice or for remuneration; a kind act" and "a gift bestowed as a token of goodwill, kind regard, love, etc., as formerly upon a knight by his lady." By definition, then, to say that suffering is a favor would be meant as, suffering is something done or granted out of goodwill, a kind act.
The apostle Paul expresses suffering [for Christ's name] as something joyful or something in which we, too, can glory in. (Romans 5:3-5) In his letter to the church in Rome, the apostle Paul ends his explanation about our being children of God, by saying "The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him." (Romans 8:16-17) Here, the apostle gives us a proviso regarding suffering showing us to be heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ--"provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him." Paul expands his reasons for believers being willing to suffer for Christ's gospel; he says that we experience divine comfort "when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer." That is the message he brings as a gift to the budding church in Corinth: "If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort." (2 Corinthians 1:6-7) Paul also comforted the church at Philippi, writing "For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have." (Philippians 1:29-30)
To his co-worker, Timothy, Paul wrote of Timothy's sharing in suffering for the gospel by God's power:
I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. (2 Timothy 1:5-14)
In this letter to Timothy, Paul reminds him to be fervent in his work for the Lord, not giving in to fear, but sharing in suffering for the gospel by the power of God. Paul relates that he was appointed to suffer as a preacher, apostle and teacher. This is a powerful encouragement for his young cohort, and to us as well.
In Acts 5:41, Luke wrote, that Peter and the other apostles "left the presence of the [Sadducee] council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name [of Christ].
Peter, in his own letters, addresses servants. He says, "Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 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." (1 Peter 2:18-21) Perhaps we, too, might see ourselves as servants of the Most High--suffering when we do good, and therein doing something gracious in the sight of God. Jesus said, no servant is greater than his master... (John 15:20) Peter continued explaining about suffering for Christ, in the Christian life. He said, "Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit," (1 Peter 3:13-18) wherein he lays out for us suffering for what is good, for doing good, for righteousness' sake; in willingness to suffer for what is good, we are blessed.
And he continues addressing suffering in the Christian life, as he said "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And 'If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?' Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4:12-19)
The apostle John also speaks of Christian suffering, in the end times, saying "Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Revelation 2:10)
Jesus and His apostles all understood the values ascribed to suffering in the cause of the Gospel. What might bring on suffering in our lives as believers? Perhaps sharing our faith in a social setting involving persons opposed to the good news of Jesus. Perhaps standing up for the truth (See the "Meditation on the Coming Persecution") in a society that denies absolute truth. Perhaps standing up against religious intolerance on campus. Perhaps speaking on behalf of Israel, God's chosen people, and their rights to a land of their own--unimpeded by outside pressure from U.N. or other countries individually. Perhaps handing out religious tracts at a bus or train station. Perhaps standing up for your company's rights to offer benefits to your employees, without outside imposition of benefits that stand counter to your company’s beliefs. Perhaps standing for marriage amendments that would establish a protection for one man and one woman in faithful marriage, within your state. Perhaps standing against removal of prayer in schools. Perhaps standing for the sanctity of life and against abortion clinics in your city. Perhaps just going about your normal lives as believers in a country besieged by terrorists intent on doing you harm. There are many ways in which one might suffer for being a Christian, a believer, in today's world.
But, Jesus says...
But, the apostle Paul says...
But, the apostle Luke says...
But, the apostle John says...
But, the apostle Peter says...
But, we say... "We will not fear what lies ahead, for though we might suffer, we will not be ashamed; we will glorify God in Christ." We will be faithful unto death. We will prayerfully consider Josef Ton’s words, above. Until we ourselves suffer for being believers, for doing good, we will pray for those upon whom suffering has come. We will encourage those believers who suffer for their belief. We will help supply the precious Word of God to those who hunger for it amidst their troubles. We will serve God, and glorify Him as we do. Amen? Amen!