Suffering for the Sake of Christ

Nathanael Winkler

We have been given two things. First, it has been granted us to believe in Jesus Christ; and second, to suffer for Him, as the apostle Paul says in Philippians 1:29, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.”

Our faith is not based on our own merit or works—it is a gift of grace. We Christians should not think that if we do this or that, we have more favor with God. Jesus Christ accomplished everything for us (Romans 3:21-24; Philippians 3:9). We must realize this under all circumstances. It is a gift. We do not believe because we deserve it, but because God has given it to us. You are a child of God because Jesus Christ died for you and because He pursued you.

In the epistle to the Philippians, Paul continually speaks of the joy he has in the Lord. This joy is not dependent on the circumstances in which we find ourselves. It is not dependent on our health, or whether we are being persecuted or not. It is a continual joy that a believer has, because he looks at something much greater. He looks at Jesus Christ and the eternity that he will spend with Him.

We are living today in the Western world of fun, and Christianity appears to adapt more and more to this. At crusades one often hears of the liberty—and this is right—and the joy that we have as a child of God. But the other side is spoken of all too seldom. It belongs to a life of faith to suffer for Christ’s sake (cf. Revelation 1:9). This is also a gift (Philippians 1:29).

A pastor once said, when believers or a church do not experience resistance for believing in Jesus, they must ask themselves if everything is in order in their faith-life and their behavior.

Clear Christian behavior brings resistance. Many Christians who come from non-Christian homes and are converted can testify to this. Suddenly, all their friends do not want to know them anymore. A friend of mine in Israel was converted. He had taken drugs, and at one time didn’t want to have anything to do with his own parents. When he came to Christ and left his old life behind him, his father said to him, “I would rather you would die from drugs than that you believe in Jesus.”

Resistance is nothing new. In Matthew 5:10-12, the Lord said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” This contradicts our human understanding. 

When we suffer for the sake of Christ, when we are ridiculed for Christ’s sake, should we rejoice? Yes! The prophets and many other men and women of God had to go this way (Hebrews 11:35-40).

Why is it given us to suffer (Philippians 1:29)? This suffering has nothing to do with castigation, as takes place in various religions. In Christianity there are even people who let themselves be crucified in order to suffer with Christ. This is not what Paul meant. He meant suffering on the basis of our faith in Jesus Christ.

Suffering is a proof of our faith. Satan does not want lost people to become children of God. When we are children of God, he will go to any lengths to make life difficult for us. Apart from this, suffering or persecution can bring us nearer to God (1 Peter 5:10). When we suffer or are persecuted, it is Christ that is working in us. Through this we become united with Jesus (Philippians 3:10). He wants to make us perfect. Our suffering and persecution ultimately bring an eternal reward (Matthew 5:12; 2 Corinthians 4:17).

The suffering of a Christian can lead to the conversion of others. When we suffer for the sake of Christ, steadfast and uncompromising, and trust in the Lord, the unbeliever will stand before a big question mark. In the first 300 years of church history, the church was founded and grew in the midst of much persecution. The more Christians were persecuted, the more people were converted. In the arena, Christians were burned and thrown to wild beasts to be eaten. It even happened that spectators on the tribune were converted.

Paul and the church at Philippi were involved in a spiritual battle (Philippians 1:30). The church had seen how Paul had suffered when he was in Philippi. In Acts 16:22-25 it says, “And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them. And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely: who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.” Why did they do that? What did their suffering bring them? It brought about the conversion of others. God worked through this in a wonderful way in the life of the keeper of the prison, “And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). On this evening a whole family was converted.

Paul wrote to the Philippians from the prison in Rome, “But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; so that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; and many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Philippians 1:12-14). During Paul’s time in prison, others also were converted in the praetorium, in the house, and under the bodyguards of the Caesar. The believers outside were encouraged by this testimony to fight and remain steadfast (Philippians 1:30).

Paul said to Timothy, “Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel; wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound. Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:8-10). In our suffering as Christians, it is about far more than our present situation. Paul mentioned that the Word of God is not bound. The fastest growing church today is in China. There many Christians, despite the concessions of the state, who are suffering for the sake of their faith. Many a revival began with suffering. The church of the living God came about through much suffering.

If we live in Switzerland, Austria, Germany or the U.S.A. today, mostly we do not have to suffer persecution. It may be that we are ridiculed at our place of work or are bullied because we believe in Christ. According to the testimony of the Lord and the apostle, one may then be glad because he is suffering for Christ’s sake.

In general, we have the privilege and can thank God that we may live our lives in a land in which we can practice our faith. But for this very reason we should be ashamed, because Western Christianity is as prepared to compromise as never before. So many believers attempt to amalgamate with the world instead of noticing that it is about more than our present situation. We children of God must concentrate on the eternal. Every sphere of our lives has one goal—everything must be concentrated on the future, on the better world to come.

The church should therefore spread the gospel, even if this means the more a church spreads the gospel, the more resistance she will have to endure. But from this comes much fruit for a church. The missionary command is for every single member of a church (Matthew 28:18-20), even if not everyone is an actual missionary (Ephesians 4:7-16). But you are a missionary at your place of work, and where the Lord has put you. We can be a testimony anywhere God gives us the possibility. When we stand before the living God one day, we will perhaps be shocked when we look at our individual life situations; situations where God put people in our lives, to whom we did not witness or even displayed a bad testimony. This is why it is so important that our lifestyle corresponds with God’s will and standards (Ephesians 4:1ff.). We cannot be like the world, and in consequence we experience a certain resistance. We must fight for Biblical truth and must not be silent. It is about eternity. Jesus Christ gave everything for us, so “Study to show thyself approved unto God” (2 Timothy 2:15; cf. Philippians 1:30).

Midnight Call - 04/2017

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