There are some things we will choose to suffer through, if we feel the endeavor is worth it. Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Nothing in this world is worth having or doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.” Many of us suffered through school and acquired a degree to achieve a career goal. Many of us played a sport where we suffered through tough practices or games to achieve the victory. Not many of us choose to run a marathon and endure 26.2 miles of mental and physical anguish. And how did we feel after achieving these things? Most of us felt pretty good. Therefore, not all forms of suffering are avoided, but there are many of us who read that paragraph and cringed at having to face any of those things. The idea of suffering through one of those things is unthinkable. 26.2 miles? Really? That’s dumber than sitting for 5 minutes and doing nothing.
And yet, the door in which a believer (and any human, for that matter) must pass through from time to time is suffering. The good news is that this suffering doesn’t have to be meaningless. Suffering, when there is meaning or purpose behind it, gives hope to those who are in the midst of it. The second most commonly used greek word for suffering in the New Testament is pashó. It means to endure extreme emotion or pain. The description of Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the desert uses this word. The description of the suffering Jesus endured on the night of his betrayal uses this word. And pashó is used again describing Jesus’s turmoil on the cross. It is interesting that temptation and physical pain are described using the same Greek word. Paul writes that no temptation is uncommon to man. The fact that Jesus endured temptation and came out sinless should be a hopeful sign that we can have that freedom, too, in Christ. But we must endure suffering, for that is what temptation is. To give into temptation, whatever it may be, is not suffering—it is the avoidance of suffering. As believers we are called to suffer in order to be free. And we can find purpose and meaning in suffering through temptation because that is the place where, if we choose, we can meet Christ. He knows our pain. He knows our struggle. He seeks relationship with us in that struggle. He’s the only one who truly gets it because he endured it and was victorious over it. Jesus gives us this gift. It’s up to us to accept it.
But, what are we truly accepting? The Gospel is called the good news, but what is it really? When tempted, we get immediate gratification if we act upon it. And yet Christ is calling us to suffer by denying ourselves that option. How can we trust someone who is calling us to be in pain and why would we choose that over immediate gratification? Peter writes it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is the will of God, than for doing evil. That doesn’t answer the question. Maybe the life of Paul can answer that question more completely.
Paul had one goal following his conversion: to know Christ; to be as close to Christ as he could possibly be. He found that suffering for Christ’s sake brought him closer to his Lord. And if that suffering led him to death, even better because then he’d be both spiritually and physically with Christ. The purpose of life, of suffering, of pain, of everything is to bring us, and others closer to Christ. That is what Paul believed.
Do we believe that? Suffering to the point of death is an extremely scary concept. And yet that is what Christ did for us. Certainly there can be some self-fulfillment in this life, right? Do we truly trust that seeking Christ in every aspect of our lives, of denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Him will provide us all that Christ promises? Nothing in this world truly fulfills what it promises. It might deliver initially, and then it fades away. It always needs replacing or refilling; it never lasts. Who’s to say that Christ’s promise of an abundant life and living life to the full if we follow him is legitimate? Why choose to suffer? Why risk if it’s not worth it? The world may not fulfill all that it promises, but it can be pretty good. Most people settle for that.
It boils down to trust. We cannot trust unless we allow ourselves to risk being hurt. We can’t say we trust God and remain in our perceived comfort zone. Trust requires stepping outside the tyranny of self-preservation. Remaining inside is rejection of our Creator and everything he promises. Do we believe that? Do we believe that rejecting Christ is a big deal? We certainly live our life this way, and make the world and it’s stuff so important. We may have the Holy Spirit within us, but we aren’t listening. We’re avoiding the relationship for many different reasons. We’re calling God a liar—he cannot fulfill what he promises. Therefore, I will get what I can when I can, because I’m really good at that. I am content. Or am I?
Posted on Thu, December 26, 2019
by Jeff Pipe