By Michael E. Brooks
“Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. However, when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city. And the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe” (Acts 14:19-20 NKJV).
What is the very worst thing you have suffered as a result of your faith in God? That question is something of an embarrassment to most Christians, including I freely admit, myself.
The truth is that I have a very difficult time thinking of any experience in my life related to Christianity that I could describe as suffering (boring, hours long sermons not excluded).
I have had conversations with many non-Christians and indifferent Christians (there’s an oxymoron for you) over the years in which they discussed the difficulty of living the Christian life.
“I would have to give up too much” is a frequent excuse for disobedience. When it comes to difficult decisions, like remaining faithful in a no longer exciting marriage, they claim, “I know God wants me to be happy.” I always respond, “I cannot find that in the Bible.”
God wants us to be righteous. If so, he will provide happiness for us (Philippians 4:4-7).
But many Christians have and do suffer.
Real, martyrdom type suffering. Paul was stoned in Lystra, his attackers intending to kill him and believing they had done so. But God spared his life. What did he do in response? He got up and went back into the city where his attackers were. Then he went on to the next city and continued to preach the Gospel.
Did he reason, “God would surely not want me to risk my life any further.” Did he believe he had done enough, suffered enough? Not Paul. “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). “. . . Woe is me if I preach not the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16).
Years ago in a South American country, I studied with a woman whose livelihood, and that of her mother, depended upon her Muslim brother. She said she wanted to become a Christian but if she did her brother would cut off their support and they would be in the street with nothing to eat. That is suffering in the name of Christ.
Another woman was being blackmailed into an adulterous affair and would be exposed to her husband if she stopped. Conversion depends upon repentance and turning from sin. Had she obeyed the gospel (sadly she did not at that time at least), she likely would have suffered greatly.
One has some understanding and sympathy for those in such difficult situations. But the truth is not changed. Outside of Christ, they are lost eternally (Acts 4:12; John 14:6; 2 Thessalonians 1:8).
Compared to these examples, and innumerable others exist, giving up one’s only day to rest and do what one pleases in order to serve the Lord is hardly a sacrifice. Working until 5:00, then rushing to get the family fed and to Bible study on Wednesday night does not constitute suffering.
Friends in another country have been uprooted from their village home by pagan neighbors threatening to burn them because of their faith. That is happening in 2009, right now in the modern world.
Their family is scattered over a wide area as they seek to alleviate the threat. Other friends have been beaten, interrogated and imprisoned simply because they are Christians. I read frequent accounts of martyrs, though so far none of them have been personal acquaintances.
Again I ask, what is the very worst thing you have suffered as a result of your faith in God? Why exactly are you not able to serve God faithfully, not only in regular worship and study, but in doing his work in this world?
“Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).