42. Suffering for the Church

Meditations in Colossians: 42. Suffering for the Church

Col 1:24   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.

And so the strange, even alien, phrases continue to appear before us in Paul’s writings, phrases and concepts we are so often happy to pass by with little thought. From the great and glorious paragraphs about the gospel, salvation and the wonder of Christ, for a moment it seems, we fall back to see Paul himself again. There has been much pure doctrine in the verses we have considered but every now and then Paul himself comes to the fore: We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you,” (v.3) and we have heard of your faith,” (v,4) andwe have not stopped praying for you,” (v.9) and “This is the gospel….and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.” (v.23) and then finally our present verse. Paul’s letter contain a lot of doctrine but also a lot of personal expression.

So he starts this verse with, “Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you.” The truth is that the Gospel never comes easily. Paul’s focus there is on what was “suffered for you.”  Someone had suffered to get the Gospel to them there in Colosse and that person had been Epaphras (v.7). He had obviously brought the Gospel to them, established believers and then came under attack from the heresies of the day, so he returned to Paul in Rome (probably)  for him to write this letter countering so much of the heretical teaching that had been going on. It is a battle to bring the Gospel and a battle to hold on to the truths of it. Beyond this we don’t know what Epaphras went through. We do know that it would have cost time and energy to travel so slowly from place to place, often on foot, often by sea with its perils in the Mediterranean.

When we come to the middle part of the verse we come across an idea or concept that is alien to many of us: “and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions.” Taking the latter part first, there is implied that for Christ to bring the Gospel to his world – whether in the single body during his earthly ministry, or his wider body, the church, throughout history – he (and we) will suffer afflictions. Now an affliction is simply something imposed on us from outside of us. A missionary in Africa or Asia might be afflicted with malaria. They may also be afflicted with persecution. Now I believe we may also stretch the word ‘affliction’ to include things we impose on ourselves by taking up the call to go with the Gospel, so we may speak of sacrifice of family ties, and home comforts, and the affliction of loneliness, misunderstanding and so on. These things are part of the package that goes with the Gospel being shared around the world.

Paul spoke of the things he suffered in the course of his ministry in an amazingly open outpouring: “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” (2 Cor 11:23-28) His life and ministry may have been exceptional but these are the sort of things he refers to when he says, “I fill up in my flesh.” i.e. these are the things I have physically experienced. Read back over those verses above and see that so much of it involved physical struggles.

Modern sharing the Gospel across the world is mild by comparison. In the past when I have traveled abroad I was away from my family for up to three weeks (in a day before Skype or e-mails provided a link). In the middle of the night in Hong Kong, I suddenly became aware of the thousands of miles of rock between me and my wife as I imagined her on the other side of the globe. Sitting on a plane for ten to thirteen hours is tedious and tiring but nothing like the endeavours of Paul and his fellow apostles. When I first went east, I suffered culture shock, a relatively minor shock to the system. And then I came across some missionaries in preparation. One couple were about to make their way to Outer Mongolia where the nearest Westerners would be over five hundred miles away. As I encountered these and other similar missionaries getting ready for a life of privation, I recognized that I was in the company of a different brand of people. These were those who were giving up their lives, giving up their families, giving up their careers, to go and take the good news of Jesus to peoples who had never yet heard, and all they looked forward to was affliction! These are mighty people!

Paul finishes the verses with, “Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”   Christ is in the business of growing his body so that his Father’s kingdom may be expanded and the world blessed and his Father honoured. These afflictions come and are experienced that this end may be achieved. Jesus himself was misunderstood, reviled and rejected and then crucified. These were his afflictions  while he was on earth in a single body. Since then his body has received beatings and burnings, impositions and imprisonments, derision and death, and so even today in varying measures around the world, it continues. It is the cost of sharing and maintaining the Gospel.

67. Assurance

Meditations in 1 Peter : 67: Assurance

1 Pet 5:10,11 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

And so we come to Peter’s closing comments in this letter about suffering. Again we must note that there is a context for these verses. There are distinct links from these verses to the ones that precede them. Verse 10 starts with “And”, suggesting a continuation of thought. There is the phrase, “after you have suffered a while” which links this with the previous thoughts about suffering. Previous chapters had more to say on suffering and persecution but the previous verses warning about Satan’s activities, had reminded us that, your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” Now what is important to note is that although we may resist the enemy, sufferings still come, and it is about this that Peter seeks to bring this final assurance: God WILL restore you! But there is much here to be understood.

First, note his description of the Lord: “the God of all grace.” In the context of what follows this must mean the God who provides all the grace you need. Grace as a provision of God for our daily lives is simply His ability conveyed to us to enable us to cope and overcome. But God doesn’t aimlessly provide this resource for us; He does it for a purpose: “who called you to his eternal glory in Christ.” Now this has at least two meanings. First it can mean God who called you to share in His eternal glory, or share in His very being. Now that is certainly true for He has made His home in us when He placed His Spirit within us. Remember Jesus said of the Spirit, “you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (Jn 14:17) and then Paul taught, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Cor 3:16) So God’s glory resides within us, but He is an ongoing resource to help us live out our relationship with Him.

But there lay be another meaning to this, “who called you to his eternal glory in Christ.” It also means who has called is to an eternal life with Him, which starts here today and continues on forever. So we are participators in a life that goes on and on, and while on this earth we need His continual resourcing to uphold us and maintain us against the enemies attacks that we have already referred to. For that glory to continue to shine in us, despite the things that come against us, we need His continual supply of grace.

That supply is necessary because of the suffering that is implied in,after you have suffered a little while.” Despite all that has been said so far in these recent meditations, we still may not take in the truth here: Christians DO suffer and they suffer persecution. Jesus warned the church in Smyrna, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Rev 2:10) Jesus KNEW this was going to happen and wasn’t going to stop it! It was coming as a test of their faith that would abound to God’s glory!  This does happen to Christians!

For the Christians that Peter was writing to, he was confident that, God … will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” They were going to come through this. Now we have to acknowledge that that isn’t always the outcome; there are sometimes martyrs. Stephen was stoned to death (Acts 7:59,60) and James was killed by Herod (Acts 12:2). It is not for us to say what the outcome of persecution will be. Our call, as Jesus said to the church in Smyrna is to “be faithful, even to the point of death.” If persecution comes and God brings us through it, we win. If we die and go to heaven, we win! This does require us to have a Biblical view of eternity and of death and heaven.

Peter then concludes, To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” When he says, “to him be…” he is saying, understand that He has this and so declare it and glorify Him with it. His is the power. God has the power, all power, for He is Almighty. There is no limitation to His power so if He so decrees, none can stand before Him. But, understand this: it is His power to use as His wisdom decrees. So sometimes He uses His power to bring us through the persecution here on earth, and sometimes He uses it to bring us to Him in heaven.

Why is Peter finishing with this? He finishes with it because he wants us to live at peace in the face of whatever comes our way, secure in the knowledge that the Lord is sovereign and He will move on our behalf in whatever way is best for us. We can rest secure in His love knowing that His wisdom is perfect and His power is sufficient to achieve whatever it is that He has on His heart to achieve through us! Whenever – and always! Hallelujah! Can we rest in that? May it be so!

 

33. Opposition (2)

Meditations in 1 Peter : 33:  Coping with Opposition (2)

1 Pet 2:21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

This is the hard side of the Christian life, the side that most of us in the West prefer not to think about. We will in the next meditation go on to look in detail to how Christ acted but for now we must just focus on the fact that he suffered and we are also called to suffer for the Gospel. Remember Peter has just said about slaves, if you suffer for doing good….” This is not self-inflicted suffering; this is suffering because we are Christians.

Now to get balance we have to note that it isn’t always like that in life and there are also times in the New Testament when the church found favour with the world: “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people.” (Acts 2:46,47). Indeed, it should be our purpose to win favour by our good lives, as Paul said a similar thing to the slaves in Colosse: “ Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” (Col 3:22).  Yet the truth also is that there will be times when the world around us will be hostile to us because we are Christians.

Jesus laid out this teaching very clearly to his disciples: “But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.” (Lk  21:12-19).

Now there are some crucial points in this. First, note, “This will result in your being witness to them.” i.e. when you are hauled before authorities see this as an opportunity to testify to the Lord. Second, note the Lord’s provision: “I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.” Wow, that is positive!

Why will people oppose us? Listen again to Jesus’ teaching at the Last Supper: “I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: `No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name.” (Jn 1519-21). Ultimately all opposition we receive as Christians is because of Christ. The enemy is against him and against us as his representatives.

This teaching goes right back to the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you,” (Mt 5:10-12) yet there it is expanded to remind us that all of God’s servants throughout time have been opposed. But, says Jesus, you will be blessed when you are persecuted and we are to rejoice in such circumstances because (implied) it shows we are part of God’s family, doing God’s will.

The nature of this persecution is made even more clear in John’s Gospel: “So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (Jn 5:16-18) Jesus was ‘working’ on the Sabbath because his Father was working and that upset the religious ideas of some. Then we he associated himself with his Father that upset them even more.

Our call is to do the will of God as the Holy Spirit leads us. Sometimes that will upset people (see Acts 4). When we associate ourselves with our Lord that will sometimes also upset people. We are not to be purposely antagonistic but if our simple declarations spoken gently bring hostility simply because of the content – despite the delivery – then so be it!  That is our calling.  But remember it is a calling that brings the grace of God with it. He will enable and He will look after us. Those are His promises.