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Introduction

In numerous places, the New Testament states that followers of Christ should expect to face trials and persecution. Both Jesus and the apostles stated that fact. Here are some examples:

John 15:18-20 (ESV):

18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.

1 Peter 4:12 (ESV):

12Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

2 Timothy 3:12-13 (ESV):

12Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

Of course, Christians definitely have faced many trials and persecutions over the years – and those trials continue to this day. For example, in some countries, it is illegal to even own a Bible.

The apostles, themselves, suffered horrific persecution during their lives. One might expect that such persecution would cause them to become disheartened; and perhaps even to fall away from their faith. So, let’s take a look at the reactions that the apostles had, when they were persecuted:

Acts 5:40-41 (ESV):

40And when they [the Sadducees] had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.

Acts 16:22-25 (ESV):

22The crowd joined in attacking them [Paul and Silas], and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. 24Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight [after being thrown in prison] Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God…

Notice the reaction of the apostles when they suffered persecution. In Acts 5, the apostles rejoiced that they had been persecuted. Similarly, in Acts 16, Paul and Silas were moved to pray and sing hymns to God, when they were persecuted.

In other words, not only did the apostles not lose their faith due to persecution, but their faith was apparently strengthened by it!

Not only that, but James tells us that all Christians (not just the apostles) should rejoice in the face of trials:

James 1:2 (ESV):

2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…

So, from all of the above information, two main questions arise:

First, why in the world should Christians rejoice, when they encounter trials and persecution?

Second, why does God permit Christians to be persecuted by unbelievers at all? In other words, what is the purpose behind Christian suffering, during this age?

Some possible answers to those questions are listed below.

 

Rejoicing in the face of persecution

First off, it appears that if a person undergoes persecution for the sake of Christ, then that identifies the person as a true Christian. Of course, that identification should be very heartening to sincere Christians.

To demonstrate this, take a look at Acts 5:40-41 again:

Acts 5:40-41 (ESV):

40And when they [the Sadducees] had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.

Basically, the apostles rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer for Christ. It appears to me that there are two basic reasons why they rejoiced. First, they had such great love for Jesus, that they considered it an honor to suffer for him.

In addition to that, though, the fact that the apostles had to suffer for Christ confirmed that they were true followers of Christ. They knew this because Jesus explicitly stated that his followers were going to face persecution for his sake. As a result, the persecution that the apostles encountered indicated that Christ considered them to be sincere followers – and that greatly encouraged them.

In addition, consider these passages:

1 Peter 4:14 (ESV):

14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

Matthew 5:11-12 (ESV):

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Both of the above passages also indicate that persecution for Christ is an “identifying mark” of a Christian – and that that identification should be heartening to Christians.

So, it appears that one reason why the apostles rejoiced when they endured persecution, is because that demonstrated to them that God recognized their devotion to Christ. I expect that all sincere Christians would be encouraged by such recognition.

Of course, that still leaves the question of why God allows Christians to suffer in the first place.

 

The purpose behind Christian suffering

The apostles had quite a bit to say, about why Christians are made to suffer during this age. Here is just a small excerpt, from the writings of Peter, James and Paul:

1 Peter 5:8-10 (ESV):

8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

James 1:2-4 (ESV):

2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Romans 5:3-5 (ESV):

3More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

All of the above passages tell us that suffering is able to produce “good fruit” in sincere Christians. That fact is actually borne out historically; the early Christians – who were persecuted mercilessly – demonstrated enormous faith.

In other words, the above passages appear to state that suffering can allow Christians to develop qualities that will be useful in the kingdom! To put it another way, persecution can “train us for the kingdom”, so to speak.

 

Many passages in Scripture (including the one in 1 Peter, above) indicate that Christian suffering is brought about by enemies of God – i.e., either by the adversary, or by people who are opposed to God.

In addition to that, though, some passages in Scripture indicate that God, Himself, disciplines believers – and that that discipline can be “painful”. In other words, in some cases, it appears that God (or His agent) is actually causing temporary suffering for Christians – for our own good! Consider this passage:

Hebrews 12:5-6,11 (ESV):

5And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
6For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

To demonstrate this, consider what happened when Paul (Saul) was addressed by Jesus, in Acts 9:1-19. Saul had been vigorously persecuting Christians – because at that time, he was thoroughly convinced that Christians were enemies of God. Jesus then caused Saul to be struck blind – temporarily – evidently in order to help Saul realize that God wants people to follow Christ.

So, in at least some cases, Christians may be made to suffer temporary difficulties by God (or Jesus). In those cases, though, the suffering is explicitly designed for our own good.

 

Conclusion

Luke chapter 19, verses 11 through 27, contains the parable of the “minas”. That parable has the following basic points:

– A nobleman is about to set off on a long, “round trip” journey. Basically, this nobleman is heading off to a distant land, in order to receive authority to rule as king over his own country – and after that, he is going to return to his country, to begin his reign.

– Before the nobleman leaves, he distributes some money among his servants. This money is in units of currency called “minas”. The nobleman then instructs his servants to use those minas, to engage in commerce, while he is away.

– When the nobleman returns, he finds that two of his servants have used their minas very profitably – the first servant gained 10 additional minas, and the second servant gained 5 additional minas. The nobleman is pleased with their work; and gives the first servant authority over 10 entire cities, and the second servant authority over 5 cities.

– However, the third servant did not use his mina at all – instead, he kept it hidden away in a handkerchief. The nobleman chastises this servant for not making use of the mina – and then he gives that mina to the servant who has 10 of them!

A very similar parable exists in Matthew 25:14-30. One difference between the two parables is that in Matthew, the coins given to the servants are not minas; instead, they are talents.

Both of those parables use the following symbolism:

– The nobleman represents Jesus;

– The country that the nobleman will rule represents the kingdom of God;

– The servants of the nobleman represent Christians;

– The minas / talents represent the different abilities that God has given to individual Christians.

It certainly appears to me that both of those parables indicate that God wants us to use the abilities (or talents) that He has given us – both to serve Him, and to improve upon those abilities. In other words, it appears that God wants us to “build upon” the talents that we were given.

As mentioned above, it appears that one reason why Christians are made to suffer is because that helps to “train” us for the kingdom. The parables of the minas / talents seem to reinforce this idea of “training” – and those parables also indicate that if we do use our abilities as God wants us to, then we may be granted positions of authority in the kingdom!

 

One Response to “Christian Suffering in this Age”

  1. on 10 Jul 2011 at 1:28 pmFiona

    Thank you, Brian, for a thought-provoking article. It’s very timely, too. We all have sufferings of different kinds right now, but it’s good to remember that it’s for a very good reason. That reason may not be very apparent right now, but we may be making preparations for the Age to Come!
    Fiona

  

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