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

Related Reading

Who is Your Family?

Gates Foundation via Compfight Living in the tension of the already and the not yet is a blog written by Americans living in India who have chosen to live among the poor at their same economic level. They’ve written a post called On Miracles and Justice through Community. It contains a challenge to rethink who…

Our Beautiful, Nightmarish World

The Bible consistently proclaims that the creation reflects the glory of God. To me, the truth of this proclamation is undeniable. When I was younger I several times went on three-week solo backpacking trips into the mountainous forests of Montana. If gazing at the star studded sky on a moonless night at the peak of…

Q&A: Already-Not-Yet

Question: My question is regarding our “entanglement” with Christ that you spoke about a few weeks ago. In the sermon you noted how we are joined with Christ like those two particles that can be separated by light years of distance and yet both will react equally to a force acting on the other one. So here is my question: If…

Our Insatiable Hunger

The only kind of life animals care about is biological. If their basic physical needs for food and shelter are met, they’re satisfied. Humans also want their basic physical needs met, of course, but that isn’t enough. We hunger for more. Not only do we want to be alive, we want to feel fully alive.…

The Worst Heresy That Never Got Anyone Burned at the Stake

According to John’s Gospel, on the evening of his crucifixion Jesus clearly articulated the single-most important quality by which his followers would be recognized: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love (agape) one another” (John 13:35). Or again: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for…

Standing Our Ground Together

  Osheta Moore is someone we’ve featured here before. She’s a lovely, thoughtful, passionate African-American woman of God ministering with her husband T.C. Moore in Boston. Osheta has been featuring a series called Standing Our Ground…In Prayer. In the wake of the tragic and senseless death of Jordan Davis, she struggled to articulate the grief and…