Most of us in America are so spoiled it’s not even funny. OK, maybe a little funny. I have a smart phone with Google Maps. The other day I was searching for a certain route, and it took almost TEN SECONDS to come up with the map. I was about ready to throw my phone out the window, which would not have been a good idea. Or to take another example, our internet service really slowed down the other day. It took me almost twice as long as normal to download a web page. Meanwhile, some orphan over in China is really grateful because his two ounces of rice in his bowl is mostly worm-free tonight.
I’d like to think I take a nuanced view of suffering which is biblical. In order to really capture what God’s word says about this, I think we need to discount some wrong-headed attitudes. Here are some ways that people look at suffering which I don’t think represent the right approach.
All suffering is a wonderful thing and should be actually sought out. I don’t think there are a lot of people in America who would say this in public. But there are some well-meaning Christians who seem to have a martyr’s complex. If the world actually thinks well of or agrees with them on something, then they actually go out of their way to find some source of contention. There are people in this world who aren’t happy if they aren’t being persecuted. Hopefully I don’t have to prove to too many folks that this is not Scriptural. Nowhere in the book of Acts, nor in the Epistles, do you find any indication that we need to “pick a fight” with those in authority.
All suffering is a wonderful thing, and we should embrace it. As with many others, this subject calls out for context. If all you had to go on was today’s passage, I could see someone taking this position. But it’s not all we have. Later on in Acts, Paul officially uses his Roman citizenship to get out of a torture session. The apostle also said to slaves that if they could gain their freedom, they should do it.
All suffering must be avoided at all costs. Quite frankly, this is the creed--spoken or unspoken--of what passes for much of Christianity in America. I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else. If someone does me wrong, my first instinct is to hurt them back. Like I said in the first paragraph, if my fancy technology doesn’t work 100% right 100% of the time, I act like I’m being tortured on a rack. If today’s passage and its description of the disciples’ attitude towards suffering doesn’t rebuke you, then you either have a cleaner conscience than I do, or no conscience at all.
Now we come to what I think is the biblical view towards suffering:
Suffering—as long as it’s for the Name—is a blessing and an honor. It goes against every fiber in my American DNA, but it looks like that’s what this passage is teaching. Paul wrote to the Philippians that "it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him."Apparently, it’s not everyone who gets chosen for the honor of suffering for the name of Jesus. I’ve been made fun of by a few people for my stance for Christ, but that’s about it. There are plenty of faithful Christians in the world and throughout history who suffered relatively mildly compared to the first generation of believers.
One of my favorite stories about this subject concerns Larry Norman. You've probably never heard of him, but he’s considered to be the primary pioneers of what's known as "Christian Rock." During the 1970’s (his heyday), there was a lot of controversy about the appropriateness of using modern Rock music to further the Kingdom, and a lot of preachers called him horrible names and denounced him from the pulpit. Someone interviewed him and asked him about his attitude towards the “persecution” directed towards him. His response (paraphrased from memory): “Persecution?! Are you kidding me? Because somebody's saying something bad about me?! When someone pulls me out of my home, beats me up and throws me into prison because I’m a Christian, then we can talk about persecution.” Now that’s a refreshing attitude.
So I don’t think we need to seek out persecution, nor should we shun it if the tides turn here. If it’s for the Name, we should see it as very different as we normally do. I sure need to change my attitude towards this. Do you?
Lord Jesus, I stand rebuked by your servants. Please forgive me, and change me from the inside-out, as only you can.
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