Bearing Jesus’ suffering. Is it relevant to the Christian faith? Is not relevant? Is it the path that some Christians take? Maybe just the mature? Or is bearing Jesus’ suffering a necessary component of Christian faith?
And what do we mean by “bearing Jesus’ suffering?”
Consider these verses:
Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. – Colossians 1:24
Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. -Romans 8:17
For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. – 2 Corinthians 1;5
You may have noticed that I’ve been thinking a great deal about the church and discernment over the last week. For the last two years, I’ve been quietly blogging Bible commentaries, and despite a brief stint on another blog, I’ve kept several riffs pent up for the better part of the last four years – when I last ran a serious blog that delved into every Christian controversy imaginable and that shared the Gospel with no one.
Cautiously, I’ve waded in again but with a new approach.
I’ve been thinking a great deal about discernment and specifically about two things. First, about unbiblical discernment that is ripping the Church apart. Second, about those external evidences that differentiates false and good teachers of the Gospel.
The Gospel demonstrates through word and deed that the best outward evidence of genuine faith is through suffering. Jesus summed up his Beatitudes by saying twice that the persecuted will be blessed. Paul and the apostles, while basking in the example of their Lord, frequently wrote in their letters that suffering comes to all who are in Jesus and that suffering is necessary to bring about true faith.
So the best litmus test for any pastor is to watch their approach to suffering because Christians suffer for the Gospel. They suffer alongside their brothers and sisters. They suffer at the hands of their enemies, be it insults, physical assaults and worse. And Christians follow Jesus in every regard. Jesus suffered, and so they suffer too.
Now many are worried about asceticism, about the kind of suffering that professing Christians go looking for in ritualistic fasts and while being unnecessarily antagonistic while preaching. But the difference between holy suffering and sinful suffering is very simple. Christian suffering is suffering that finds you on account of your faith. Self-righteous asceticism is suffering you go looking for in order to find faith. And holy suffering is the natural outcome of genuine faith. As faith in Christ grows, and a heart becomes emboldened, it will attract persecution and God will send it trials to test its resolve. The best men and women of the Christian faith have endured incredible suffering. Paul was beaten multiple times, stoned, jailed for years, humiliated in courts, and eventually beheaded. Men like Stephen, Peter, James, Timothy, Polycarp, Wycliffe, Luther, Bunyan, Wesley, Spurgeon, Judson and countless missionaries and evangelists have suffered among the ages since the cross, and have endured the shame and spilled their blood for Jesus’ sake. These are among the most worthy examples of emulation, exactly because they have suffered for the Gospel.
Lack of suffering is why it’s difficult to accept the teaching of those who do not suffer for Jesus, but who avoid the topic in their preaching altogether. If suffering is a necessary component of the Christian faith that God uses to mold his children into the likeness of his Son, what does this say about the faith of those who lead us who ask us to treat suffering as some great evil? Suffering breeds authentic preaching. It shapes plastic people and statutes of stone into real people with real cares for others. Suffering tames the sinful soul to yield to God. Suffering sharpens the ear to listen to his Word more carefully. And suffering focuses the eyes of the heart to see his truths more deeply and to spread his love more broadly for his glory and our joy.
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. - Hebrews 12:7-11
Update: Justin Taylor has a wonderful J.C. Ryle quote up today, 8 Symptoms of False Doctrine, which rounds out this discussion nicely. In essence, passion, presentation and delivery can never serve as a substitute for substance – and suffering, both in preached word and in experience, is most certainly an inessential part of the substance of faith.