I placed my faith in Christ when I was 9 years old. I grew up in church, so I’ve been around information about Jesus and what it means to follow Christ for a long time. There’s so much about following Jesus that is counter-cultural. It’s backwards from what the world says to do. It’s not just counter-culture, it’s the opposite of our natural predisposition. While I may not have perfected following in his footsteps I have gotten comfortable with many of these ideas and try to practice them. I’ll bet you have too.
- Love your enemies.
- Humble yourself.
- Practice self-control.
- Sex is blessed in the context of marriage so remain faithful to the wife of your youth.
- Bless those who curse you and spitefully mistreat you.
While these things are counter-cultural they’ve been practiced by so many Believers who have come before us that even our culture has begun to recognize their value. But there is still one principle I, and most Christians really struggle with today. It’s the idea that we should be willing to suffer for our faith.
1 Peter 2:21 says, “For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.” This isn’t the only place in Scripture that talks about suffering for our faith. It’s all over the New Testament. Philippians 1:29 tells us, “For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him.” 2 Timothy 1:8 says, “With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News.” And 2 Timothy 3:12, “Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”
As modern Believers today most of us were raised in a nation where being a Christian is safe. More than that, we’ve been in a prosperous nation where food is plentiful, resources are abundant and following Christ is one among many reasonable choices people make every day without threat or consequence. The church I serve celebrated its 66th anniversary a few weeks ago. One of our charter members told the story that when the church began it met in a tent. On weekends it rained they had to get there early to raise the flaps or the inside of the tent would smell like a wet dog. If it started raining during church they had to raise their feet because water would flow down the slope of the floor. Can you imagine? A few weeks ago we got complaints because the church’s wi-fi wasn’t working properly. Our level of inconvenience and the pains we ‘suffer’ has certainly changed.
But inconvenience isn’t what Peter means when he says that God called us to do good even if it means suffering. During his time people were thrown in prison for their faith. They were beaten. They were killed. Tradition says that Peter was crucified upside down for preaching the gospel. That’s not inconvenient. That’s genuine suffering and Peter says not only should we expect it. We should willingly endure it.
And that’s a principle that goes against everything our culture has taught us. We’ve been taught that safety, security and survival are the highest priorities. Today, kids wear bike helmets. The Mayor of New York City wants to ban large sugary drinks because the obesity he says they cause is killing people. We throw out perfectly good food because we’re one day past the expiration date printed on the label. We’re a culture consumed with survival, safety and security.
Like loving our neighbors, blessing those who curse us and practicing humility, in God’s opinion there is a higher standard, a better standard. God’s more interested in our service, sacrifice and submission than our ease, comfort and pleasure. It’s not that he’s unconcerned with our safety or security. It’s that his view of what’s safe is so much bigger than ours. It’s that he places such a high value on people that he says it’s worth it to suffer if suffering will rescue them from hell, deliver them from bad choices, and help them overcome the challenges they face.
Think about this. God is a father who willingly put his son in harm’s way. He sent his son to a people he knew would hate and reject him. He sent him into a world that was cruel and filled with pain. God sent his son out of the safety and security of heaven to suffer through this world, to suffer through death. He sent Jesus to serve people and ultimately become the sacrifice that paid the penalty for your sin and mine. In God’s eyes you are so valuable you are worth suffering for.
Now that you are a Christ-follower God wants you to see the world the way he does. He wants you to value what he values and live according to his standard. He wants to you to trust that he knows best. Even if he’s telling you to do something that seems unsafe or that will lead to suffering. He wants you to value people the way he does and be willing to suffer for their sake. He’s not asking you to be stupid. He’s asking you to make service and sacrifice your standard rather than safety and security.
Are you willing to suffer for your faith? Are you willing to suffer in order to do good for someone else? Would you be willing to put your children in a dangerous situation for God’s sake? What are the limits of your faith? Is suffering where you draw the line and what miracles will you miss if it is?
I’ll confess, Father, I’m not terribly interested in this one. I don’t like to be inconvenienced, let alone to suffer. Sometimes it’s even tolerable to suffer the consequences of my bad choices. But to suffer for making the right choice? I struggle with that. I have been influenced by movies and stories of heroes who find a way, people who survive at all cost. Survival has become my standard rather than service and sacrifice. So…help me to pray a dangerous prayer. I’m not sure I mean this, but I’ll pray it anyway…help me to be willing to suffer for your sake. Help me view suffering the way you do. Give me a heart that says, “No matter the danger, if God leads me to it, I will go and take my family with me.” I’ll confess, it sounds crazy to me, but I trust you. So help me to do good, even if it means suffering for it. And help me to teach my kids to do the same.
Thank you for being willing to send your son into the danger. Thank you that he suffered and died in my place, for my sin, that I might have a right relationship with you.
I love you, in Jesus name –