suffering

The Call to Suffer

Paul tells us that in all our relations, we are to “have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had” (Phil 2:5). Though he was “in very nature God,” he didn’t cling to this status. Rather, for our sake he set aside his divine prerogatives, took on the nature of a servant and “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8).

Along similar lines, Peter encourages us to be willing to suffer injustice out of “reverent fear of God,” for “it is commendable if you bear up under the pain of unjust suffering because you are conscious of God (1 Pet 2:18-19). He then adds, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (vs. 21). When people “hurled their insults at him,” Peter continues, “he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.” Instead, Peter says, “he entrusted himself to him who judges justly (vs. 23).

This is the example, Peter says, we are to follow, and it precludes picking up the sword even though one might be justified, by normal worldly standards, for doing so.

Paul teaches the same thing when he tells Christians to never “repay anyone evil for evil” (Rom 12:17) and to never “take revenge … but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” Rom 12:18). Knowing that God alone has the right to pass judgment on people, and remaining confident that God will do this in his own time and by his own means, kingdom people are commanded and empowered to refrain from ever executing judgment on their own.

This doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for kingdom people to enjoy ruminating about the future judgment of their enemies. Such an attitude reflects hostility in the heart that has no place in the life of a kingdom person. Our attitude toward our enemies is rather to be that of Jesus who with his last dying breath prayed that his Father would forgive his persecutors (Lk 23:34).

Paul and Peter are simply pointing out that kingdom people are to be confident that, if an enemy needs to be punished, God will do it in due time. We are to relinquish all judgment to God and self-sacrificially love those who treat our loved ones or us unjustly.

Peter returns to the example of Christ in the next chapter of his epistle when he encourages people who are facing persecution to “revere Christ as Lord” in “their hearts” by responding to their persecutors with “gentleness and respect.” Following the example of Christ who “suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring [them] to God (1 Pet 3:15), followers of Jesus are to maintain a gentle, loving attitude so that “those who speak maliciously against [their] good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (vs 16).

If ever one would be justified in using violence to protect oneself, it’s when they’re being persecuted for doing good. Yet followers of Jesus are to do what Jesus did in these circumstances. We’re to choose to suffer on behalf of the persecutor instead of retaliating.

The example of Jesus’ willingness to suffer rather than violently resist enemies is not just relevant to people facing possible martyrdom. Instead, it is to characterize our entire life. “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did (1 Jn 2:6). As “Jesus laid down his life for us,” John wrote, “we ought to lay down our lives for one another (1 Jn 3:16). There may be times when we are called to do this literally, but this loving, sacrificial attitude is supposed to permeate every aspect of our life.

Hence, as stated in the video yesterday, the justice of the kingdom is manifest when we reflect this sacrificial character of God.

Photo credit: ashley rose, via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

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