Suffering is not something we like to think about and we would rather avoid. Who wouldn't? Many preach against suffering, that it isn't of God and that suffering is a sign of sin. Some see suffering as failure and are utterly defeated by it. But suffering is only natural to a Christian.
I agree that suffering is not of God, as in it is not from his hand, but it is a result of Jesus in our life in this world. From Jesus' own lips we heard the words that the world will hate us because of him. We are not to provoke this hatred as the Word tells us to live at peace with everyone. It also adds, as far as it depends on us. Just because we try to live at peace with everyone does not mean that everyone will want to live at peace with us because the Jesus in us provokes hatred in those who do not want the light to reveal their ugliness. Suffering at the hands of such people is a natural thing in a Christian life.
Now, understand by suffering I am not referring to being punished for doing wrong like stealing. This too is natural but is not due to the name of Jesus. I am also not talking about illness or disease which Jesus has given us authority over. I am talking about when we suffer the actions of others simply because we bear the name of Jesus, like what many Christians are facing in the world today. We live in a tiny bubble of security while our brothers and sisters are shot, hung, beaten, tortured and put on public display. Our bubble will not last much longer.
However, instead of fearing it we need to understand it. Apostle Paul never looked for trouble but as long as he preached Jesus trouble always found him. But instead of fearing it and running away Paul wore it like a badge of honour. Just as the first apostles rejoiced when they were beaten because of Jesus, Paul rejoiced that he was called on to suffer for the Church. To the Colossians he wrote:
Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. (1)
That sentence may seem a little confusing for you so let me use the paraphrase of The Message to help you understand the sense of what Paul is writing here:
I want you to know how glad I am that it's me sitting here in this jail and not you. There's a lot of suffering to be entered into in this world—the kind of suffering Christ takes on. I welcome the chance to take my share in the church's part of that suffering. (2)
How does that grab you? "There's a lot of suffering to be entered into in this world - the kind of suffering Christ takes on." And what was that kind of suffering? Suffering for the sake of others; suffering for proclaiming the truth. Paul was glad that it was him sitting in the jail instead of anyone from Colossi. He was glad to face whatever suffering he had to as his portion of what the Church faced. He wrote that he welcomed it. It is hard for us to grasp this attitude. "I am glad I suffer and not you." I am sure that if Paul could have he would have faced everyone's suffering for them, his love was so great for the Body of Christ, but he was called only to the portion that was given to him.
We have grown soft in our bubble of security but our unnatural freedom in this world is coming to an end. What we, the Church, has built into society is being thrown off and soon the world is going to look a lot different to us. Soon we will know what it is to suffer for the name of Jesus and I pray we are up to the task. I pray that our faith will hold us firm to our King and, no matter what we must face, we will never deny him. In this world, it is only natural to face suffering because of the Jesus in us. The world hates him because he is the light that allows the dark to see its own ugliness. Don't be afraid, he will strengthen us. Stand firm!
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do everything in love. (3)
1. Colossians 1:24, NIV
2. Colossians 1:24, The Message
3. 1 Corinthains 16:13-14, NIV