Point of Reference
by Fred Price
Suffering is not a topic we like to discuss, unless it’s to question why we’re experiencing it. However, many Christians have emphatically embraced suffering brought on by illness, old age and persecution, associating it with Christ’s suffering on the cross in providing for our salvation. In fact, Peter characterized suffering as part of our call to follow Christ. “To this you were called,...” he says, “...because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow…” 1 Peter 2:21 (See also John 13:15)
Most of us feel it’s 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, failing to understand that persecution and trouble of various kinds has been common to Christians throughout history. Jesus assuring 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 (See also John 15:20,21) Based on his own experiences, he made some dire predictions of things to come. ( Luke 21:8-19) And yet he still advised them, “…do not worry… each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34 Advising them to deal with the up’s and down’s of life as they happen, depending on God to see them through while making the most of whatever came their way.
The ideals of self-denial and cross-bearing were central to Christ’s life ( Philippians 2:6-8) and he was fully aware that, “…he was being carefully watched.” Luke 14:1 Not just by those agreeing with him but by others who were looking for any excuse to do away with him. ( Matthew 12:1-14) This caused him to warn, “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 to, “…not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” John 14:1 Further explaining 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 overcome the world.” John 16:33 (See also John 14:27 & Philippians 4:7)
But what’s the point? At times we are disciplined/punished because of misdeeds ( Hebrews 12:5-11), but its more than that as we are actually being developed into the likeness of Christ. Paul acknowledging that he rejoiced in what Christ has done to 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 James concurred by proclaiming, “Blessed is the man who perseveres 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, saying 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, “…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 an 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) Peter admonishing 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 “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, becoming heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, “If indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Paul believing wholeheartedly, “...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 trials and difficulties 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 being a direct result of our own 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,…” Romans 8:28 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 from a man who experienced the reality of 2 Corinthians 4:10, “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” (See also 2 Corinthians 11:22-28) His acceptance of this reality was grounded in God’s own demonstration of love, as “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 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. 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.” Which 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 4:11-13This 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 (See also Philippians 3:10,11)
Sharing in this resolve then 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
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Fred Price - married (49 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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