This past Sunday a man working in China spoke about the trials and suffering of the Chinese Christians. He related instances of their being beaten, jailed and separated from family. Earlier this spring another friend related instances of people she works with going back into their home countries, extremely hostile to the Gospel, and putting their lives at risk to share how God, through His Son, gave them the hope they never experienced before. None of this is new; it happens all over the world, but the realization struck me that I have a difficult time relating to that kind of suffering. As I write this, I’m sitting on the porch of our log cabin nestled in 4 acres of woodlands. I have virtually no fear the government will come and take me to jail because of my faith in Jesus Christ, to say nothing about the possibility of suffering a beating. How does someone like me truly understand what suffering for the sake of Christ means? Yes, someone may make fun of me for my faith but that hardly compares with what Christians are suffering in areas that are hostile to the Gospel of Christ.
What am I to do with the knowledge of this kind of persecution and suffering?
The persecution of God’s people should drive me to my knees! As the Psalmist says in Psalm 142:6(ESV): “Attend to my cry, for I am brought very low! Deliver me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me!” We all desire to be delivered from our trials, and that will happen, but it may not be until we meet Jesus face to face. Scripture shows trials are for the benefit of God’s Kingdom, and we will grow through the trial, or someone else will benefit from our trials. We may never know why we are suffering, but rest assured, trials in a Christian’s life are not in vain. James tells us in 1:12, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” We need to pray for endurance for those suffering, that includes us as we go through trials.
An aspect often forgotten is talking or, as 2 Thessalonians 1:4 says, boasting about enduring trials in steadfastness and faithfulness. Not only does this bring attention to how people are suffering, it will give encouragement to those afflicted.
Also, persecution is a natural outcome of living a godly life. Timothy reminds us of this in his second epistle when he says: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…”. I should not be surprised when trials come my way.
Furtherance of the Gospel is another aspect of trials and suffering. Paul wanted the Philippians to know that his trials were furthering the propagation of the Gospel. He wrote in Philippians 1:12-14 “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
Scripture has much to say about suffering, trials and persecution for the sake of the Kingdom and people much more eloquent than I have discussed these; still, there is more than enough here on which I can ponder.