In 2 Corinthians 1:5 we read, “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort, too.” Paul writes this verse about the suffering of believers as simply a matter of fact, making it clear that the expectation for the disciple of Jesus is to “share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings.” (See also Philippians 3:10; Colossians 1:24)
Now, we must pause to consider this. Paul, a chosen apostle, says we are to “share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings.” It is a normal part of being a follower of Jesus. Given this clear statement and given the prominence of suffering and affliction by Jesus’ followers throughout the New Testament as an imitation of Christ (“following in His steps” – 1 Peter 2:21), it is amazing to me that the absence of suffering for the cause of Christ in our American Christian experience does not cause us great alarm. Indeed, American Christians (and I am among them) are not only unfamiliar with suffering for Christ, but we have a strong aversion to this sort of thing as though, if we suffer affliction, “something strange is happening to us (1 Peter 4:12).”
This absence and avoidance of affliction is deeply troubling to me, for almost every book in the New Testament either documents suffering of believers or foretells afflictions that will come to people solely because they are followers of Jesus. The four gospel records give detailed accounts of our Lord Jesus’ conflict and affliction at the hands of His opponents and they carefully document His sufferings on the cross. The book of Acts pictures the spread of the gospel in the face of fierce opposition, and disciples of Jesus suffer and some die. In his epistles (like 2 Corinthians), Paul speaks of suffering and affliction as simply part of his calling as a follower of Christ. The main theme of Peter’s first epistle is suffering for Christ, where enduring unjust suffering for the name of Christ places a stamp of authenticity on your profession of faith. The book of Hebrews is written to persecuted Christians. James tells us to consider it all joy when we encounter trials, and the book of Revelation includes the voices of those who have been beheaded for the cause of Christ and those who are in or who have come out of tribulation. But in America, where is the abundant suffering?
Since there is a vast chasm between the experience of the gospel community in the New Testament and our own experience as professing followers of Jesus, I think that we need to ask some questions. We need to examine ourselves (2 Cor. 13:5). Why do we not suffer more for the cause of the gospel? Have we sacrificed boldness and Christ-honoring directness at the altar of winsomeness and civility? (Ephesians 6:19-20; Acts 4:24-31; 5:29-33, 40-42) Would we prefer to be thought erudite and clever, or would we preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 1:18-2:6, esp. 2:2)?
If the world is not threatening us and is not seeking to silence us, is it because the world is unconcerned about our message? Herod did not put John the Baptist in prison and eventually behead him because John was not winsome enough, but because he delivered a direct message to Herod that called his sin, sin. Would I have been so bold?
Jesus said He was sending us out “as sheep in the midst of wolves (Matthew 10:16)” and that we “will be hated by all for My name’s sake (10:22).” Do we speak and proclaim boldly enough to get the wolves’ attention and to draw the world’s hatred?
Again, I think it is time to consider our ways (Haggai 1:5, 7) when the Lord’s apostle assumes as completely normal and expected a church context of affliction and suffering, and we have a church context absent of these. Our brothers and sisters in China and Nigeria and Iraq have a normal, expected New Testament church context that includes affliction. What are they doing that we are not?
SDG rmb 5/21/2020