Do “real” Christians suffer?
I feel very blessed in my life right now. I cannot identify any area of my life that I would characterize as overly-stressful. But that has not always been the case.
I have lived through periods that were so stress-laden, they were affecting my physical health. Attacks and challenges came at me simultaneously, and from multiple directions. Well-meaning Christians brought indictments against my faith, claiming that such trying conditions were an indication that my faith was not what it should be, an approach similar to that of Job’s friends who pointed to his suffering as an indication of hidden sin in his life. Such men and women often present their own lives as trouble-free, non-stop joyous adventures wherein they peacefully float from one victory to the next. It is delusional.
The external stressors on me during those times were very real and had nothing to do with my faith or lack of faith. Despite statements to the contrary from a professional counsellor, I did not feel as though I was handling the stress well at all.
Have you lived through periods like that? Are you in such a period now? Are others bringing judgement to bear on your faith?
Stressors and challenges come at believers from numerous sources, and in a variety of ways. Sometimes the attacks are blatant, direct, and rooted in the fact that we are disciples of Jesus Christ. Other times the attacks are shrouded, subtle, deceptive, and unannounced. Is it wrong to suffer? Is it an incrimination of our faith?
Consider this statement from 1 Peter 2:21-24
“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.”(NASB)
Inasmuch as I am able, I need to place my footprints directly atop the footprints of Jesus. I am to follow in his steps. When I do so, looking at the passage above, there are three specific truths to note:
1. Jesus Suffered
The sufferings of Jesus had nothing to do with sin in his life. He had no sin, yet he suffered. (2 Cor. 5:21) Neither were they related to some shortcoming in his faith. Jesus knew exactly who he was, why he was here, and what was going to happen. His faith was rock-solid. If we are going to walk in Jesus’ footsteps, then suffering comes as no surprise to us just as it came as no surprise to him.
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.” 1 Peter 4:12-13 (NASB)
Jesus said in John 15:18-19, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.”(NASB) Then he really laid it down for us, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” He did not say they might persecute us. He said they will.
Thus, while we don’t seek out suffering, we are not surprised when it finds us, and we do not see it as any kind of dictum regarding the state of our faith. Instead, following in the steps of Jesus, we work to endure it with grace and patience.
2. Jesus Suffered Quietly
Many Christians cry out extensively about injustice, noting inequities in the treatment of Christian men and women when compared to those of other faiths. It is not difficult to find injustice about which to cry out, because it flows through our society like water over Niagara Falls. What we must consider, then, is the appropriate response of one stepping on the footprints of Jesus.
Jesus was not always silent when he saw the oppression of others. He shouted his “woes” against the scribes and Pharisees for the oppressive yokes they had laid on the people of God. He “cleansed” the temple when he saw the chaotic activities in the Court of the Gentiles, and how that chaos made reverence and worship in that venue difficult, if not impossible.
It is interesting, then, to note how Jesus responded, or did not respond, when the injustices were unloaded upon him, personally.
And while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously. (1 Peter 2:23, NASB)
He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth. (Isaiah 53:7, NASB)
3. Jesus Suffered Quietly for Others’ Wrongdoings
So, Jesus suffered, and he suffered without retaliation, but would call out those who mistreated others. Now we see that Jesus suffered quietly for wrongdoings that were not his own. “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” (1 Peter 2:24, NASB) Jesus died for me that I might live. Jesus became weak that I might become strong in Him. Jesus became sin for me that I might become his righteousness. Jesus was condemned for me that I might be forgiven.
Suffering as a Christ-follower is not a bad thing. Indeed, if I am truly to be like my Master, I will suffer, I will do so quitely, and I will do so that others might be blessed, even when the suffering I am enduring is more appropriately placed upon them.
Victoriously in Christ!