Willful Suffering

There’s a myth in Christianity that once you surrender your life to Jesus you have to embrace persecution. For some this causes fear, others curiosity. However, I don’t find this to be true. A simple reading of Acts will prove that there is a time and a place for everything, including not suffering for the Gospel.

Acts 9:23-25 – “When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him [Saul], but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.” (italics added).

After becoming saved, the infamous Paul (formerly known as “Saul”) made some of his Jewish men angry. Yet, he did not face persecution for his faith. And he wasn’t being sinful — he had the help of other believers!

As Christians, are we called to be bold? Yes. Are we called to shed light into dark areas, no matter how much strength it will sometimes take? Yes. Jesus Himself was hated, and since we follow Him we will be hated by others because of Him (Mark 13:13, Luke 21:17). This becomes easily apparent: I still can tell when I meet people in college who stop talking to me once they find out I’m a Christian. Anyone who has ever tried to do evangelism has encountered some hostile individuals when they mentioned the name Jesus in a loving way.

So this is the life Christians are called to; read Philippians 1:29. People shy away from God because He is personal. Many do not want to their true motives and habits revealed.

A good number of Christians take some of the hate they receive from others and wear it like a badge, saying offensive things nonchalantly. While being blunt is often necessary, wearing persecutions like a badge is not Christ-like. It is prideful.

Other Christians, then, are frightened by some persecution they face as Christians and keep their faith a secret, using God’s grace as a reason to stay ignorant of their mission. This is also prideful, as these Christians assume their present well-being is better than others’ eternal well-being.

Another factor to consider alongside Paul’s escape-story above is 1 Peter 3:17: “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” (italics added).

So there is plenty of evidence to see that God does not always want us to face persecution for Him when it arises. Think about Paul – what would have happened if he had stayed behind and been killed by the Jewish mob? Well, much of the New Testament would be non-existent. Churches in key places across the mediterranean areas would be non-existent. God doesn’t always want us to suffer because He may have an even bigger plan in mind for the future.

Now this doesn’t give anyone an excuse to run away from life’s difficulties, either. Keep in mind just a few chapters later Paul was stoned in Lystra, and Stephen was the first martyr for Jesus (Acts 7:54-60). There are plenty of other stories of persecution.

Here’s the kicker: Where do we draw the line? When does God want us to endure, and when are we supposed to ‘flee’, so to speak?

I don’t know.

Here’s what I do know. Jesus has overcome the world, including all of it’s sufferings (John 16:33). As we seek God’s plans throughout life, He works everything out for good, the best, despite what we think (Romans 8:28).

In life’s toughest situations, I don’t think God will always give us an answer. But I do think as His disciples we are supposed to seek Him and keep on going with our mission. Just like the disciples did all throughout Acts. And if there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s that God is always working. Nothing comes as a surprise to Him. That’s what we need to keep in mind. Not simply clarification.

Remember Joseph? Can anyone say persecution? Yet even after being sold into slavery by his brothers and being falsely thrown in prison, he was given a huge leadership role. When he faced his brothers many years later, he told them that God placed him there, through all the persecution, to preserve the nation of Israel (Genesis 45:4). I’m sure many things went through his head during those years, but he simply kept on going for God. He knew God would always carry him through. Perhaps not the way he expected. Perhaps through peace. Perhaps through suffering. But God would always carry him through.

That’s where our focus should be. Not on our possible suffering, but on God’s faithfulness. He’ll work all the details out.

Have you ever faced persecution as a Christian? Lost friends? Gotten into huge fights because of your faith? Have you ever run from a situation where God wanted to use you?

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