Sometimes God encourages us to consider suffering as a privilege.
In Acts, we read that the Jewish priests arrested the apostles. Luke records the end of the matter with these words: ‘They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name’ (Acts 5:40-41).
Why would the apostles rejoice over their suffering and consider it an honour? Isn’t suffering always disgraceful? Jesus had taught the apostles that it was a privilege to suffer for God’s sake because when you suffer you are in good company. Jesus said: ‘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’ (Matthew 5:10-12).
And not only are you in the company of the prophets, you’re in the company of Christ who also suffered for God’s sake. Peter says ‘Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you…if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name’ (1 Peter 4:12-16). Both Jesus and Peter also encourage the reader to remember the great reward given to those who suffer for Christ. Such a reward can help even the most bitter of suffering appear sweet.
This teaching has led many Christians to endure great suffering. One example from Korean history is given by Milne in his commentary on Acts: ‘The Communists were vicious to the pastors. One pastor’s family were captured in Inchon, Korea, and the Communists put them on a “People’s Trial”…They dug a large hole, putting the pastor, his wife and several of his children in. The leader then spoke, “Mister, all these years you have misled the people with the superstition of the Bible. Now if you will publicly disclaim it before these people, and repent of this misdemeanour, then you, your wife, and your children will be freed. But if you persist in your superstitions, all of your family is going to be buried alive. Make a decision!” All of his children then blurted, “Oh Daddy! Daddy! Think of us! Daddy!”‘ The father was shaken. He lifted his hand and said, “Yes, yes, I’ll do it. I am going to denounce… my…” But before he could finish his sentence his wife nudged him, saying, “Daddy! Say NO!” “Hush children”, she said, “tonight we are going to have supper with the King of kings, the Lord of lords!” She led them in singing “In the Sweet By and By,” her husband and children following, while the Communists began to bury them. Soon the children were buried, but until the soil came up to their necks they sang, and all the people watched. God did not deliver them, but almost all the people who watched this execution became Christians, many now members of my church.’
So, if you were to suffer for Christ, would you rejoice? Joel Radford