Christians have either suffered in the past, are suffering in the present, or will suffer in the future. Suffering for the Christian is a gift to all true believers.
Many examples of suffering are illustrated in the Bible. Consider Peter and the apostles in the early days of the church. After refusing to cease speaking the truth about Christ, they were punished repeatedly by the Sadducees led by the high priest.
After one such beating, Peter and the apostles’ response was:
“So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. Acts 5:41
Later Peter expounded in great detail about suffering as he addressed the dispersed church in Asia, which is present day Turkey.
“Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you…but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings…for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you…if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.” 1 Peter 4:12-14, 16
The ‘world’ considers this passage to be utterly foolish. But for the Christian to suffer is to partake in the sufferings of Christ. Such suffering confirms the presence of the Holy Spirit and in turn glorifies God.
The Greek for ‘suffering’ in the above has many synonyms including sickness, misery, affliction, or wounds. Therefore, suffering is much more than persecution; it includes physical pain.
Peter then tells those to whom he is writing that the suffering they are experiencing is being experienced by the Christian Brotherhood throughout the world.
“Be…steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.” 1 Peter 5:9-10
The apostle Paul reinforced Peter’s message in his letters to the church at Corinth.
“For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ… because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation.” 2 Corinthians 1:5, 7
As Christians partake of the sufferings of Christ, they will likewise partake of the consolation (comfort) which abounds through Christ. The Greek for ‘consolation,’ or comfort, is parakletoswhich was the term used by Jesus when He announced the coming of the Holy Spirit to His disciples.
The apostles stressed the glory involved in suffering for the sake of Christ, and Paul also put that suffering in perspective within the big picture.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18
Therefore, what are the implications for the Christian who suffers for Christ’s sake?
“I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church…” Colossians 1:24
The enemies of Christ hadn’t had their fill of persecuting Christ so they turned their persecution on Christ’s followers, the church.
But consider the end result.
“Him (Christ) we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” Colossians 1:28
The objective is for every follower to be perfect in Christ.
The Greek for ‘perfect’ means complete, whole, finish, and goal. In other words, suffering for Christians will fulfill God’s purpose for which they were created.
It is all part of the plan for the Christian set out before the foundation of the world.
“…He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame (perfect) before Him…being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will…” Ephesians 1:4, 11
Therefore, the Christian should be prepared to experience suffering and endure all suffering with deep confidence, peace and joy.