Are we unwilling to suffer for the gospel? (Col. 3:3)

POST OVERVIEW. An exhortation for disciples of Jesus to accept suffering and persecution as a necessary price to pay for the privilege of proclaiming Christ.

One of the prominent themes in the New Testament is the suffering of those who follow Jesus. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, our Lord made clear that His disciples would be expected to suffer in this world. “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18). “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16). To the faithful church at Smyrna, the risen Jesus Christ commanded that they “be faithful until death” (Revelation 2:10). In writing to the suffering church scattered throughout modern-day Turkey, Peter declared that “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example to follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21). That Jesus’ church would be expected to suffer for His name sake is not surprising since Jesus Himself suffered to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:8). The faithful prophets of the Old Testament were hunted (consider Elijah), were mocked, imprisoned, and threatened with death (like Jeremiah) as they proclaimed the word of the LORD. The apostles and prophets of the New Testament were often under intense pressure to compromise their message and to be silent, yet they preferred to suffer and die rather than shrink back (Hebrews 10:38-39) and compromise. It is plain from virtually every book of the New Testament that the church of the Lord Jesus in the world is expected to suffer and to persevere through suffering to obtain the crown of life (Rev. 2:10).

In light of the Bible’s clear message regarding promised suffering and the certainty of persecution (2 Tim. 3:12), it is troubling that the western church, even the true church that has not apostatized, seems to consciously avoid suffering. My view is that the church in America has been lulled into a degree of softness. We are not only unprepared for suffering, but, more than that, we are also unwilling to suffer shame for Jesus’ name (Acts 5:41). Being unprepared to suffer is perhaps understandable since disciples of Jesus have never really been persecuted in this country. But being unwilling to suffer is an entirely different matter. Believers in America seem to still believe that we can remain true to our crucified Savior and remain true to the gospel of salvation without having to suffer. There seems to be a pervasive attitude that there exists a nuanced way to tell the world that they are perishing and need to repent, and this search for a gentler message is motivated by a fear of suffering for the gospel.

THE DISCIPLE OF JESUS HAS ALREADY DIED

The many references to suffering and to courageous perseverance in the Bible are placed there to stoke the furnace of our courage and to quench the fear of man. One of the most profound thoughts expressed in the Scriptures is stated very simply in Colossians 3:3.

For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.Colossians 3:3

Paul states here that the disciple of Jesus “has died.” The apostle is speaking figuratively of the death that you have died in the new birth. “Our old self was crucified with Him” (Romans 6:6). “I have been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20). But, while Paul is speaking figuratively of the death of our old life and the death of the old man, that death is nonetheless real. The disciple of Jesus is dead to the fear of death because we have already died. And, if the fear of death has died, then how can there still be fear of other suffering that we might endure for the name of Jesus?

Paul can serve as our example here. Paul had no fear of the future or of suffering or of the threats of man because Paul had already died. And how can you threaten a man who has already died? The same is true for us. We have died with Christ and therefore can never die again. To put it in terms of persecution, we are physically vulnerable but spiritually safe. Of course, we are not to welcome or seek out suffering. We are to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16) because we desire for our ministry for Jesus to last as long as possible, but the length or the comfort or the safety of our gospel ministry is never to restrain our boldness or to constrain our proclamation. We have died and been raised with Christ (Romans 6:4) and can therefore “go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13:13).

So then, as those who have already died and as those whose “life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3b), as those whose eternity is forever established (see Phil. 3:20 – “our citizenship is in heaven”), let us run the race with joy and abandon as those who have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. – Phil. 1:21

Soli Deo gloria            rmb                 1/21/2023                   #614

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