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What About Suffering?

Acts 9:16  I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.

INTROD–  Haven’t you sometimes wondered, given the early Christians’ ignorance of marketing skills and motivational techniques, how they ever “sold” the Gospel to anybody?  Much less to sophisticated, educated, proud, movers and shakers like Saul/Paul?
            I mean listen to this story—
                                         God strikes him blind,
                                         lets him stew for 3 days,
                                         tells him some ordinary Christian(ugh)
            will tell him
                        what to do,
                                    where to go,
                                    and he will have to suffer.
            Seriously now—If we had been told discipleship meant being shown how much we must suffer, how many of us would have signed on?
            Maybe that’s exactly our problem.  We’ve signed up for discipleship under false illusions.  We’ve never been told “how much we must suffer”—ie suffering’s essential connection to discipleship.
            Paul describes those sufferings in II Cor. 11:23-33.
            There are different reasons for suffering.
            Suffering is a part of life—“Rain falls on just and unjust.”  There is no special meaning to it.  It is just part of the human condition.
            In I Peter we are told there is suffering as a result of our sins.  We can suffer as evil doers, murderers, meddlers, etc. (I Pet. 4:12-19)
            We can also suffer as a result of being Christian.  References abound to this in the Bible:
            if you   suffer as a Christian (I Pet.4:16)
            The fellowship of sharing in his suffering (Phil. 3:10)
            We share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
            (Rms. 8:17)
             In Philippians suffering is referred to as a gift (Phil. 1:29).
It may come as a result of Satan’s attacks, because we are part of the “body of Christ” (when one suffers all suffer).  It may be to make us fruitful, a pruning.  We are challenged to suffer “for the Sake of Christ,” gospel (II Tim 1:8)—a price for ministry.
            There is, in fact, no discipleship without suffering.  The New Testament is filled with promises of suffering, accounts of suffering, grace in the midst of, etc.  BUT NEVER ONCE (that I could find, I was surprised) is there any promise that God will protect Christians from it, or remove it from them in this life.  There is in fact the opposite, even a warning of trying to make a good impression to avoid it (Gal. 6:12).
            How contradictory of contemporary attitudes which seek to avoid it at any cost.  Some years ago I read an article referring to a Newsweek column.  The writer tells of euthanasia of an ailing cat and asked, ‘“Why can’t we treat fellow humans as humanely as we treat our pets?’  Henry, a mentally impaired man, violent, impossible to employ or even care for was on the streets. ‘Wouldn’t he be better off dead?  Why don’t we just kill him—gently?—she asked.’”  (“Why not Kill Henry?” Christianity Today, 4/27/92, 15)
            In the midst of our frantic attempts to avoid it, our agonizing fears of it we hear a glorious promise.  Jesus will be with us—“I will show him…”  I’ll show you, is a great assurance.  I’ll help, be with you, etc.  Jesus’ personal attention through God’s Holy Spirit transforms even suffering into God’s blessing.

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