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Suffering, the Gospel, and Christian Witness

January 30, 2021 • Life for Leaders

A Note from Mark

I am pleased to introduce you to Matthew Dickerson, who is our guest writer for Life for Leaders this weekend. I have known Matthew for many years. He is a deeply thoughtful and creative writer, a man of solid Christian faith. Though we can’t prove it, it’s almost certain that Matthew and I were in the same space when I was in college, because his dad managed the Christian bookstore in Harvard Square. Both Matthew and I spent countless hours in that store. Small world! Though Matthew is an accomplished writer of fiction and spiritual literature, his main “gig” is as a professor of computer science at Middlebury College in Vermont.

Scripture – 2 Timothy 2:8-10 (NIV)

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.

Focus

Paul, writing to Timothy, encourages both endurance and hope in the midst of suffering and persecution. Christians are called to work against suffering, but not to live in fear of it. Although persecution may be a threat to the comfort of Christians, it is not a threat to the Gospel. God’s word isn’t chained (even when his people are) and our endurance can help others to experience the saving work of Jesus Christ. This is one reason Christians can hold to hope, and also an exhortation to be more concerned for our Christian witness and for the spread of the Gospel than for our personal comfort.

Devotion

I’ve been thinking lately about comfort and suffering—what we might view as opposite ends of life experience. I live in one of the most affluent societies in history. Yet 2020 has presented powerful reminders of suffering in the world:  disease, war, injustice, oppression, racism, fires, and floods. The comforts of affluence are not experienced by everybody, even within a rich country.

Nobody likes to suffer. I prefer to be comfortable. Even the possibility of suffering can produce fear. One response to that fear is to pursue wealth and power, which can shield us from some forms of suffering. One of the most damaging deceits often put forth in the guise of Christianity is that Christians are promised a life of wealth and comfort, free from suffering. When Christians believe that lie, it is easy both to give in to fear (despite the fact that “do not fear” is one of the most repeated commands in scripture), and to pursue wealth and power.

Paul’s writings should free us from that deceit. In his second letter to Timothy, he repeatedly speaks of the reality of suffering, and the need for endurance, recounting his own experience of suffering for the Gospel. (See also 2 Timothy 3:10-13). Christians are never promised a comfortable life, free from suffering. Not only might we experience suffering from causes common to the world (disease, violence, injustice, natural disasters), but in following Christ we may experience even more suffering. In addition to facing persecution as a result of our faith, Christians are called to enter the suffering of others in imitation of our Savior who came into the world he created and took its suffering upon Himself. Jesus could have shielded himself from pain. He had the right and power to do that. But he gave up that right, humbled himself, and freely accepted suffering.

We too—those who seek to follow Christ—are called not only to endure persecution, but to imitate Christ’s example as we minister to others who suffer, and as we work against the causes of suffering. If we are to be like Jesus, we mustn’t isolate ourselves from suffering.

As difficult as this sounds, however, Paul’s letter suggests two wonderful reasons for hope even in the midst of suffering. The first is that, while suffering may seem like a threat to the comfort of Christians, it is not a threat to the Gospel itself. Paul mentions his own chains—the persecution he endured for the sake of the Gospel—but then points out that “God’s word is not chained.” In other words, the threat of persecution is not a threat to the Gospel itself. Indeed, a second reason for hope is that our suffering and endurance can actually further the Gospel, helping lead others to Christ—as Paul notes, to “salvation. . . with eternal glory.”

Paul’s primary concern is for the furthering of the Gospel. Like Paul, we should be more concerned for our witness than for our comfort: more concerned for the spread of the Gospel than for the avoidance of hardship.

Reflect

Is your work environment a place where it is difficult or easy to be identified as a Christian? What are some ways you have seen the Gospel spread in the midst of persecution or opposition to Christianity (in the world, in your community, or even in your own workplace)?

How do you respond to suffering, persecution or the threat of persecution? Are you sometimes fearful when you think that your comfort, rights, or freedoms are threatened? How are you inclined to respond to suffering or persecution, and how does your response help or hinder your witness?

What are some ways you can work against injustice and suffering of those around you?

Act

Consider how your own experience of suffering or persecution, or the suffering of those around you, can be an opportunity for the Gospel and can be used as an instrument for God’s kingdom on earth.  Consider some marginalized people around you who suffer or endure injustice, and try to find one thing you can do this week to alleviate the suffering of others (without worrying about your own suffering or comfort).

Pray

Lord, we praise you that your Word is not chained even when your people endure persecution or hardship. We praise you that you can work through our endurance to bring about your good plans.

Lord, help shape my thoughts and attitude so that my witness, and the work of your Kingdom, is more important than my personal comfort or rights, or my avoiding of suffering and persecution. I want to live with endurance and perseverance so that my life and words both bear testimony to the Gospel.

Help me to live with the hope of the Gospel. Help me to live in a way that alleviates the sufferings of others and the injustices in the world.  Amen.


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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: “Blessed Are Those Who Are Persecuted for Righteousness’ Sake” (Matt 5:10)


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