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Point of Reference

    by Fred Price

"To this you were called,…"
Date Posted: April 15, 2005

Suffering is not a topic we like to discuss, unless its to question why we're experiencing it; and it's certainly not used as a promotional tool for bolstering church attendance. However, John Paul II's emphatic embracing of his suffering brought on by illness and old age, associating it with Christ's willingness to suffer for humanity, has over the last several months raised this subject to a place of prominence. (As a Protestant Christian I have serious reservations concerning Catholicism but I can appreciate the unswerving emphasis the Pope placed on moral and ethical issues throughout his life.) In fact, Peter characterized the suffering many Christians face as part of our call to follow Christ. "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow…" 1 Peter 2:21

It seems reasonable that, "There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil…" Romans 2:9; but we are often confused when faced with such ourselves. We fail to understand that persecution, trials and trouble of various kinds have been common to people throughout history and that the mortality rate before the modern era was shockingly high. Death was always close at hand, therefore the question of eternity was addressed with a sense of urgency. Jesus assured his followers that, "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, …Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven,…" Matthew 5:10-12 He knew from practical experience what he was speaking about and made dire predictions of things to come. (Mark 8:31 and Luke 21:8-19) And yet he still advised them, "…do not worry… each day has enough trouble of its own." Matthew 6:34; essentially telling them not to allow expectations of the future to overly influence the present. Deal with the up's and down's of life as they happen, depending on God to see you through while making the most of whatever comes your way.

The ideals of self-denial and cross-bearing were central to Christ's life (Philippians 2:6-8) as he was fully aware that, "…he was being carefully watched." Luke 14:1; and not just by those agreeing with him but by those who were looking for any excuse to do away with him. (Matthew 12:14 and John 5:18) This caused him to warn that, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it." Luke 9:23,24; adding that those who don't, "…cannot be my disciples." Luke 14:27 Yet he didn't leave it at that, encouraging them with, "…Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me." John 14:1 He further explained that, "I have told you these things, so that you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have over come the world." John 16:33 (see also John 14:27 and Philippians 4:7)

But what's the point of hardship, whether it takes the form of a test, trial, temptation or suffering. At times we are disciplined – punished (Hebrews 12:5-11), but more than that as we are actually being developed into the likeness of Christ; humble in Spirit, strong of character, dependent on God for our hope of eternity. As Paul exclaimed, 'We rejoice in Christ's actions that give us hope for the future', "…but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope." Romans 5:3 (See also Hebrews 10:36) James concurred by proclaiming, "Blessed is the man who preservers under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life God has promised to those who love him." James 1:12 Peter agreeing that, "…for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith, …may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor…" to Christ. 1 Peter 1:6,7 James again admonishing us to, "Consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. (And) Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." James 1:2-4

In attempting to strengthen and encourage believers in their faith and, "…so that no one would be unsettled by these trials." 1 Thessalonians 3:3; Paul frankly warned that, "We must go through many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God." Acts 14:22 "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ will be persecuted." 2 Timothy 3:12; making it an extremely personal decision to follow Christ come what may. But it was their intense desire to share in all things with Christ that created the kind of believer who could leave the presence of authorities who had abused them and commanded their silence rejoicing because they had been considered worthy of suffering for the name of Jesus. (Acts 5:17-41; see also John 15:20,21) Peter admonishes us to, "…not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ." 1 Peter 4:12,13 "Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead…, we too many have a new life. If we have been united with Him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection." Romans 6:3-5 "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him,…" Philippians 1:29 In the process, we become heirs of God, co-heirs with Christ, "If indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." For as Paul explains, "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." Romans 8:17,18

I'm not trying to suggest that all our trials or suffering are instigated by God. Some will be inflicted on us by unbelievers who are jealous or angered by our refusal to conform to the world's belief system; while some unpleasantness is merely the result of our living in a fallen world where imperfection reigns until Christ returns. Other problems are however a direct result of our actions. (See Galatians 6:7) Yet all of these can be turned to good as, "…we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,…" For indeed, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" Romans 8:28,31 (See also verses 35-39) And we are assured that God, "comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the same comfort we have received… For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows." 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

This assurance was given by a man who fully understood the premise that, "We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body." 2 Corinthians 4:10; his acceptance of this reality being grounded in God's own demonstration of love. "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8 This then qualified Paul to confidently challenge us to, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ," 1 Corinthians 11:1; which echoed Christ's own call of, "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you." John 13:15 (For a graphic demonstration of what this meant for Paul, read 2 Corinthians 11:23-28) Throughout the course of his life, Paul had learned that God is prepared to do whatever it takes, not to give us health and wealth, but to prepare us for service in the here-and-now and heaven in the here-after; by remaking us in the image of Christ. That's all he's really concerned with. As such, he may very well give us a "thorn in the flesh" as was given to Paul, who three times asked for its removal – only to hear, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." This in turn enabled Paul to proclaim, "That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; asserting that, "…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. (As) I know what it is to live in need and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, …(For) I can do everything through him who gives me strength." Philippians 4:11-13 This total identification with Christ fostered a relationship forged in the flames of a shared purpose that brought forth the cry, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." Philippians 1:21

Sharing in this resolve will foster in us the conviction that, "Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." 2 Corinthians 4:16,17; inspiring in us a desire, "to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." Philippians 3:10,11

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Biography Information:

Fred Price - married (48 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.

Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker.  He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today.  Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.  

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