In modern Christianity there is a topic that is rarely discussed, preached or taught. However, this topic receives quite a bit of attention in the scriptures, especially in the New Testament. It is the topic of suffering for Christ.
This topic is not popular because of several reasons:
- Suffering is hard, and painful, otherwise it wouldn’t be called ‘suffering’
- There are many other topics that are more pleasant to talk about – love, joy, bearing fruit, sowing and reaping, etc…
- We don’t really understand the topic
And some don’t talk about this subject as they don’t believe it actually fits modern day society. After all, it is a bit difficult to talk about the doctrine of prosperity, and then turn around and discuss how that we might have to suffer for Christ.
Before we get too far along, let’s be clear on one thing – suffering can take many forms. We usually think of physical suffering when the subject is raised, but there are many other types of suffering. There is the suffering associated with broken relationships, friends who turn to be enemies. There is suffering associated with those who are prayer warriors, who fight enumerable battles often in private. There is suffering associated with grief over the loss of loved ones, or over their sickness, or those who are dying. There is suffering over lost opportunities, things that go wrong, reverses, upsets, disagreements, angry exchanges, etc…
To understand this difficult and forbidden topic, we must grasp a fundamental concept that is clearly spelled out for us in the scriptures. Suffering (among other things) changed from Old Testament to the New Testament. God did not change, but His method for dealing with man (men and women), and some fundamental things did change. In the Old Testament, for example, suffering was viewed as directly related to sin. If someone was suffering in the Old Testament you can be sure there is someone somewhere who has sinned and is responsible. However, in the New Testament this connection is not as clear, and not always true. In the Old Testament if things went badly, you prayed to God, broke out your army and attacked the enemy to regain the victory. In the New Testament this is not the pattern, at least in the physical realm.
We can see how dramatic change between the Old and New was brought into sharp focus by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and Sermon on the Plain. Many, many times Jesus explained the old by saying, “It is written or said that such and such is the rule, but I say to you …..”. In other words, Jesus was saying, “There are going to be some changes, so pay attention.”
One of these changes had to do with how we would deal with an enemy. In the Old Testament an ‘eye for an eye’ was the general rule, whereas in the New Testament, “we are to turn the other cheek.”
One of the more dramatic changes had to do with persecution. While persecution was not unheard of in the Old Testament, it was mostly experienced by the prophets and judges God sent to the people. In the New Testament, however, all who live Godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. Now, persecution is not a pleasant thing, and could involve many things associated with suffering, up to, and including death.
One can well understand why this subject has dropped off the ‘hit list’ of topics in today’s pulpits. Who wants to hear about suffering? Who wants to grasp Christ’s words when He said, “If one will follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me?” We would much rather talk about more pleasant things, wouldn’t we?
I haven’t calculated the total scriptures, but I’d guess that around 20% of the scriptures written by the Apostle Paul either deal directly, or indirectly, with suffering. So, it would be a shame if were to take 20% of the scriptures and put them away only because we do not fully understand them, or because they are not pleasant to us.