Take [with me] your share of the hardships and suffering [which you are called to endure] as a good (first-class) soldier of Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 2:3; Amplified)
Dr. Erwin Lutzer has been pastor of The Moody Church in Chicago since 1980. After listening to a sermon of his the other day on Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10), I was reminded of a rarely-preached, unpopular biblical truth: as believers/followers of Jesus Christ, we are called not only to love God, love people, share our faith & study God’s Word – we are called to suffer.
In his sermon, Dr. Lutzer stated, “In 2 Corinthians, Paul’s answer to the False Prophets was, in essence, ‘If you want to know if I’m authentic look at the way in which I suffer.” Lutzer added, “During WWII, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, ‘The time is coming when the gospel in Germany can no longer be preached by word. It can only be preached by suffering.”
Let Bonhoeffer’s statement soak in for a minute.
Consider this: several of Paul’s letters were written while suffering in a prison cell. It was only when John was exiled on Patmos that the Revelation was given to him. A.W. Tozer’s famous quote stopped me in my tracks when I first read it: “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has first hurt him deeply.” This is nothing new. Job said, “…when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” And Psalm 119:71 continues, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn Your decrees.”
This biblical truth is prevalent throughout Christian hymnody as well – it was after losing much of his family that Horatio Spafford wrote the beloved hymn, “It is Well with my Soul.”
We read Isaiah 53:10, “It was the Lord’s will to crush (His Son) and cause Him to suffer,” and wonder, “What could God possibly be thinking?!” But, then we read the words of Hebrews where the author wrote, “In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the Author of their salvation perfect through suffering.”
Finally, we understand that, for a Christ-follower, suffering is a means to an end. It’s a path we must take. Why? Because Jesus walked the same path. He went first. And, “to this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:21)
Soli Deo Gloria, Nick