Sometimes you just gotta laugh. When I look back at so many “important” moments in my life, I just laugh at my own foolishness. I remember the first time I was dumped by a girl—you would have thought the world was ending! I DID think the world was ending. But, perspective does change things; perhaps what I stressed about back then really wasn’t that big of a deal.
Perspective helps when it comes to suffering as well. It is easy to recognize that we all suffer. Given the rampant devastation of sin in this world—the perversion of humanity and the brokenness of nature—it should come as no surprise that no one, ever, is immune to difficulty, to struggle and to suffering. It is a common affliction of life; not the way God intended or designed the world, but universal anyways. But, perspective helps us realize that the suffering we experience may not be all that great when compared with others. My bad day at the office hardly compares with the daily anguish of those in war-torn areas, or those struggling for enough food to eat.
Having acknowledged that, it nevertheless is true that suffering is an inescapable component of life—all humans suffer from the consequences of sin. We acknowledge that and live with it. But, the Christian life is different yet. For the Christian, suffering is not simply a natural outcome of living in a sinful world; for the Christian, suffering is built into our faith.
Consider just a few texts:
- Matthew 5:11-12. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
- Luke 6:26. Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how the false prophets were treated.
- John 15:18. If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.
- John 15:20. A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.
- John 16:33. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
- 2 Tim 3:12. Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
- 1 Pet 4:1. Since Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking.
The point here is not that suffering might happen for the believer, but that suffering will certainly happen for the believer, and suffering because of our faith in Christ. That’s a hard pill to swallow. Suffering, then, is not just a natural part of this world, but, for the Christian, there is additional suffering ahead. And, notice again the certainty of this claim—to be a Christian is not to run the risk of persecution, it is to guarantee persecution.
Suffering is an indispensable mark of every true Christian and church. What that suffering looks like, how the persecution will come, I cannot say. I just know that that is part of the promise of following Jesus—to suffer with Him.
Join us in worship this week as we look at Jesus letter to the church in Smyrna and to see the promise of suffering for the Christian.
Read Revelation 2:8-11.
1. “Angel” can mean “guardian angel,” “human messenger/leader,” or “spirit of the church.” How does the meaning of the letter shift with each one?
2. How does the phrase “first and the last” shape our understanding of who Jesus is? Why is this description particularly apt for this letter?
3. What does the word, “tribulation,” mean? What ideas might it bring to mind for the believer?
4. In verse 9, “slander” is one of the sufferings the church experiences. How might the church today be “slandered”? Where might we see that on an institutional level?
5. “Do not fear” is a frequent command and comfort in the Scripture—I believe it also captures the essence of faith. How so?
6. What might the “crown of life” be (vs. 10)? What would it mean to receive this crown?
7. What is the second death? Why is freedom from the second death so crucial in Christian teaching?