Rejoicing, While Suffering For Jesus Christ!
“So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.” Acts 5:41
Many times preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ will result in suffering and that suffering will occur in various ways. In fact, all Christians ought to expect this type of suffering (2 Tim. 3:12, 1 Pet. 4:12-19). For powerful examples of suffering, I refer to the book of Acts. Which brings a sense of awe of the Apostle’s courageousness, tenaciousness, and fortitude. They endured horrendous persecution for sake of the Gospel, yet continued to press on. Obeying God, regardless of the numerous perilous situations they encountered at the hands of the Jewish leaders or others. Suffering came in many forms; they were maligned, falsely accused, threatened, arrested, severely beaten, imprisoned, etc (Acts 4:3, 17-8, 5:18, 40, 16:22-23).
Peter and John were illegally jailed for preaching Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and were ordered by the Jewish leaders to refrain from preaching about Jesus Christ. Realizing to whom Peter and John ultimately held allegiance to, they disregarded the command and continued to proclaim Jesus. When arrested a second, they were brought to testify before the ruling body of the temple, the Sanhedrin; where they declared; “…We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). They knew disobedience to those men would result in severe punishments, but faithfully believed obedience to God transcended obedience to men. So as a result their choice for God, they suffered tremendous persecution Amazingly, all their suffering was because of righteousness!
Moreover, Peter asseverates that faithful believers must not only expect to suffer for Christ’s sake, but to also “rejoice” in that suffering (1 Pet. 2:21, 4:13, Acts 5:41). An example of this can be found in the fifth chapter of Acts; “…they flogged them (the Apostles) and ordered them to speak no more in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:40-42-emphasis added). Also, when Paul and Silas were severely beaten with rods and imprisoned for proclaiming Christ, they sang hymns of praise to God! (Acts 16:22-25) Can you imagine enduring a painful, blood-spattering beating for preaching that salvation is only through Jesus Christ? But, what is even more mind-boggling, is rejoicing afterwards! This is encouraging to read, knowing there are many in other countries who do suffer severe persecution for Jesus’ name. But in America the concept of rejoicing in the midst of suffering for Christ, is difficult for many to comprehend. As life is very comfortable and devoid of any need for exercising this profound reality.
Surely the Apostle Paul was the quintessence of suffering for Jesus Christ in the New Testament and the paradigm for all Christians to emulate. Furthermore, the Scriptures are fraught with instances of Paul undergoing extreme trials for the sake of the Gospel. To the Corinthian church, he provides a brief recapitulation, and by no means an exhaustive account, of the hardships he suffered for the sake of ministry. (2 Cor. 11:23-27). Paul understood wherever he ventured to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he was going to suffer and yet nothing would deter him (Acts 21:13). Interestingly, in a vision, the Lord prophetically declared to Ananias, how greatly Saul (Paul) would suffer for His name, thus ordaining ALL of Paul’s suffering! (Acts 9:15-16).
Additionally, Paul was given by God a “Thorn in the flesh”; “A messenger of Satan” (2 Cor. 12:7), to buffet him and keep him humble, because of the many revelations he had received from the Lord, including a personal trip to heaven (Acts 9:1-6, 18:9-10, 2 Cor. 12:2-4, Gal. 2:2, Eph. 3:3). Three times Paul entreated the Lord to remove the thorn, but the Lord denied his appeals (2 Cor. 12:9). Many theologians vary as to what the thorn actually was, yet Dr. John MacArthur, stated Scripture tells us the thorn was a “messenger of Satan“. The word “messenger” in the original Greek; aggellos, is defined: “a messenger; an angel.” The thorn most likely was a demon(s), who masqueraded as destructive false teachers. Demonically influenced false teachers in Corinth raised doubt from in the true believer’s at Corinth as to Paul’s apostolic authority and claiming he was a false apostle.
Sadly, these false teachers were able to wreak much havoc, turning many believers at Corinth against Paul. Because of that trouble, Paul spent a large portion of second Corinthians, particularly chapters 10-13, in defense of his apostolic authority and therefore teaching. The spiritual pain caused by the Corinthian believers devastated Paul. He had poured out his heart to them and in return they turned on him, and believed the lies of the false teachers. Paul was no stranger to suffering for Christ, both physically and spiritually. In fact, he anticipated suffering and even embraced it (Phil. 1:20, 3:8, 2 Tim, 1:12, 2 Tim. 2:3, 9). Paul knew his endeavors were perilous and life-threatening, however physical death would be considered “gain” (Phil. 1:21). To Paul, it meant no more suffering. So it was easy for him to stay focused on the eternal prize laid up for him in heaven (Phil. 3:12, 20-21). As for all the Apostle’s of Christ, it faith in God’s promise of eternity, and being in the glorious presence of Jesus Christ that kept them motivated to press on with joy.
We too, have that same promise! Persecution will most likely surface in this lifetime for most American Christians, especially now. But if we set our minds on things above and eternal life (Col. 3:1-2), no amount of suffering in this life can ever compare to the glory of heaven which awaits those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:18)! Amen!