This question came up in small group this week. We are reading The Faith by Chuck Colson and this week’s chapter talked alot about suffering. This discussion paired well with other areas God has been working on me as I flew through Secret Believers and God’s Smuggler over Memorial Day and have since had this internal dialog going on about suffering and God’s call on some to suffer more or in different ways than others.
In “The Faith” Colson tells the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and how he followed God’s call to return to Nazi Germany to “strengthen what remains,” which ultimately ended in his arrest and execution.
As we discussed this in group, the conversation turned to trying to identify suffering we experience for the sake of the Gospel, and compared to Bonhoeffer, the Secret Believers, and other stories of suffering, none of us felt like we are truly “suffering” for the gospel. Do we have suffering in life? Absolutely. Is it suffering for the Gospel? Thats a question we grappled with.
At one point my husband made a statement that has left me intrigued. He said:
“If God tells us that all sins are the same and that we shouldn’t compare sin as one being worse than another, is it fair to say that we also shouldn’t compare sufferings among Christians?”
Meaning, is it wrong for Christians to look to others who have endured great suffering for the sake of the Gospel and hold them in a higher regard than others who work for the Gospel but have not been asked to suffer in a similar manner? Can suffering for the Gospel be Measured? Does God measure suffering for the sake of eternal reward? How does scripture address these questions?
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My observation with regards to your wonderful husband’s statement is that when I read his statement, I get the impression that the statement is dependant on sin being equated with suffering??
Although I agree that we shouldn’t be keeping tabs of our suffering level and then comparing with our fellow-believers to see who has more “Suffering” merit badges… (Because that would be prideful…) I think it is reasonable to look at many of the fellow saints that have gone before us and suffered greatly for the kingdom.
I don’t believe there to be anything in Scripture that would make it wrong for Christians to look to those who have endured great suffering for the gospel and esteem them much. In fact I would argue that this is the example given by Scripture.
“But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” Hebrews 10:32-36
“By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” Hebrews 11:24-26
“Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.” Hebrews 11:35-40
In my opinion, the Bible makes it clear that making sacrifices or suffering for God is not done unnoticed and that rewards or treasure in Heaven is the result.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:11-12
“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” Luke 6:22-23
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18
“You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven;” Mark 10:21
“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:6-8
“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great.” Luke 6:35
“…you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” Luke 14:14
I believe Scripture clearly communicates that being a Christian is a call to suffer. Thus most of us in America have to wrestle with how this applies to us… I think most of us will probably be spared a martyrs death if we choose to live here all our days… but persecution and/or looking like a fool for Christ may be more common. Or doing without so that you can give more to further the kingdom… Again, I think these are things we should wrestle with… I’ll put some of the scripture references that highlight this calling to suffer below:
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Luke 9:23-24
“I die every day.” 1 Corinthians 15:31
“If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” John 15:20
“Behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.” Luke 10:3
“You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” Luke 21:16-17
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.” Matthew 24:9
“For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Acts 9:16
“…through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22
“…that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.” 1 Thess 3:3
“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” Philippians 1:29
“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” 2 Timothy 3:12
“I urge you, then, be imitators of me.” 1 Corinthians 4:16
“For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” 2 Corinthians 1:8-9
“Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” 2 Timothy 2:10
“Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.” Revelation 6:11
“And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Revelation 12:11