to be different: in the world
but not of the world. In the realm of suffering though, we often
difference from the ways of this world.
Winter rain can cut an old man. A closed door,
roaring fire, and hot tea help, but somehow still yield to the cold
and pains frighten us. "What if
this pain never goes away? What if I just keep hurting?" The mind plays
tricks on us, claiming we simply cannot bear the pain.
I have a friend Lisa who knows the feel of debilitating pain daily. She rebuffs the strongest drugs which could eliminate the pain, but leave her in a fog, turning instead to knitting needles. When nothing else occupies her mind, the pain seems unbearable, so her knitting needles twirl and spin new creations day after day. Each time I see her, I realize how rarely I feel true pain.
The "pain" of winter rain and the aching it brings can surely be endured. Scripture shows us suffering can even be enjoyed in one sense and proven powerful in another sense because King Jesus blessed suffering, conquered through suffering, and promised His most loyal citizens they too would share in the joy and power of temporary pain because His kingdom operates differently from the kingdom of this world.
WHAT THE KING SAID
Jesus began His first-ever public address by redefining suffering as blessings: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." He then blessed the weaknesses of gentleness, hunger, mercy, purity, and peacemaking. Then He said, "Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad..."
Can we admit doubting His words? I logically know His decrees are truth, but honestly my mind struggles to agree even when suffering is only a philosophical thought, much less when my body aches at the shivering cold. How can we transform suffering into blessing?
As a new believer, I waited tables for years at an upscale Italian restaurant located in one of the city's nicer hotels. The restaurant management was very good to me, but one day informed all employees we had to sign a form saying we seen a particular safety video before we could receive our paychecks. No problem, except for the fact that no one had seen the video. The restaurant considered it a waste of time and only wanted our signatures to appease a requirement by the hotel that housed it. In good conscience, I refused to sign without viewing the video, and while they made special arrangements for me to see the video, everyone had a big laugh about the fact that I took such a silly stand as a Christian.
I can count as blessing the many insults I have heard that day and many other times when preaching Jesus. Scripture presents more suffering though than just religious persecution as blessed. "Blessed are those who mourn" carried no tie to religious persecution. In another place, James said, "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance." He did not limit the trials to religious persecution, and we know suffering usually tests our faith as we mature past the idea that God should not let His children suffer.
Paul lifts up suffering as a blessing many of his letters. For example, in his first letter to the church of Corinth, he devoted several verses in a row (12:7-10) to suffering, recounting how he had begged God to take away a particular torment. Instead, God revealed to him, "My grace is sufficient for you for power is perfected in weakness." Paul had wanted freedom from suffering, but God let the pain continue so Paul would have to depend on the grace and strength of God. In return, Paul did not curse God or question His goodness, but found that the power of our King was gained through suffering. Paul said about the continued suffering, "I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong."
TO KNOW THE KING
To understand Paul's appreciation of suffering, we look at his love for King Jesus. Paul wanted to be like the King, and perhaps more importantly, wanted to know the King. We know someone by knowing academically what they have been through, but we know them more intimately when we experience first-hand the same things they have experienced.
The man with eyesight who loves a blind woman inevitably spends time walking around his house with closed eyes so he can "know" his sweetheart better by briefly experiencing blindness. The woman with full hearing who falls in love with a deaf man will surely try a few hours with earplugs, trying to better "know" her man by living briefly the way he lives. Similarly, Paul said his greatest desire was to know Jesus "and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings"(Php3:7-10). He wanted not only to experience the power of the King's resurrection but also to experience the "fellowship of His suffering."
My suffering can not compare to the suffering of the King. I will never know the torment of having the sin of humanity placed on an innocent brow. I may never feel the cut of whips or the piercing of a Roman spike, but when I suffer, I feel a reflection of His pain. My suffering is an opportunity to consider His suffering and to embrace what Paul called "the fellowship of His suffering." I can run from suffering like all the world does, or I can call on the help of the Holy Spirit to bear my suffering as a kind of fellowship with the King.
SUFFERING TO WIN
King Jesus conquered Satan, sin, and death through suffering. This world may equate suffering with defeat, but my King Jesus chose to suffer (Lk9:22,51; 13:33). He lived in anticipation of His suffering, and the scriptures call His pain the greatest victory (Isa53:5; Col 2:14-15; 1Jn3:8). When He won the victory and departed to heaven, His followers then took up suffering among their weapons of warfare. They spread His kingdom by preaching, teaching, praying, and dying. To this day, the dominion of Jesus advances throughout the world, not by wealth or politics, but by the willingness of Christians to suffer for the name of Jesus. Romans 8:37 says, "But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us." What are "all these things" in which we conquer? Verses 35-36 list these things as tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword, and slaughter.
While we view martyrdom as the obvious victory, we generally neglect to see smaller suffering as victories too. When coworkers insult us without referencing religion, we win by blessing them instead of retaliating (Pv25:21-22).
We win when people slap, sue, bully, and pilfer
(Mt5:39-42), but we win in suffering only if we suffer "through Him who
loved us" (Rm8:37). Citizens of the New Kingdom do not
hurt themselves or glorify suffering, but we glorify King Jesus and
care for our bodies as temples of the Holy
seeking to hurt ourselves, but always seeking the Holy Spirit's
leading. Apart from
the Holy Spirit's influence, suffering accomplishes nothing, but by the
Holy Spirit, we conquer the kingdom of darkness by suffering
differently than the world. We suffer with
the worshipful, helpful peace of the Holy Spirit.
Not only does the world run from suffering, but the world uses "worldly" power to keep suffering at bay. My friend Mark had to choose between demanding justice according to the way of this world versus Spirit-led laboring according to the way of the kingdom. Mark is divorced and watched helplessly as his daughter's grades spiraled downward so badly she appeared ready to fail the sixth grade. Mark had settled many years before in divorce for just two weekends a month with his daughter, so he had little means of holding her accountable each evening to her homework and studying. By the wisdom of the world, Mark believed the time had come to use the power of the courtroom to demand custody of his daughter so he could help her succeed in school.
While on the path to legal action, Mark was convicted by God against using worldly power. In faith, he laid down his legal rights, offering instead to drive across town every day for the final two months of the school year to work with his daughter for hours each night until her work was complete, then take her home to her mother before driving nearly an hour back to his own house every night. By worldly reasoning, Mark was foolish for not demanding his daughter come live with him.
His daughter's grades were conquered, not by worldly means, but by Mark's service. Justice demanded he fight for his daughter in court. Justice was not served, but not only did his daughter pass the sixth grade, she then shocked everyone by becoming an honor-roll student the following year.
We set no example to the world when we as Christians demand our legal rights. King Jesus called us to operate as foreigners in the kingdom of world. The foreigner has no citizenship rights to demand. The foreigner lives in worldly weakness with the help of the Holy Spirit to prove the power of the Kingdom of Jesus. King Jesus decreed, "If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also."
Our bones are allowed to ache in the winter's cold. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can find joy in better knowing our suffering King by experiencing suffering too. My neighbor can encroach on my property, and I can win by not only suffering the injustice at his hand, but also by showing him kingdness in return "through Him who loved us." As the Holy Spirit leads and helps, we can radically embrace suffering in a manner utterly alien to the kingdom of this world because we are a citizens of the supernaturally powerful Kingdom of Jesus.
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*NASB with "the King's"
substituted where NASB reads "Christ's". For
explanation of such substitution, see www.matthewbryan.net/mystery1.html
"Gospel of Nicodemas" by Matthew Bryan was first published at www.matthewbryan.net February 28th, 2013. All rights are reserved. Scripture quotations are from NASB unless otherwise noted. NASB quotes permitted by the Lockman Foundation at www.lockman.org