Are Christians Supposed to Suffer?
Tom: Thanks, Gary. We’re continuing our review of Dave Hunt’s book An Urgent Call to a Serious Faith. Dave, on our last program we were discussing discipleship as it related to the Great Commission. But the aspect that you write about in that chapter has to do with being disciple – what that means. And it has to do, as the Scriptures point out very clearly, with suffering. That's what I want to talk about today. It’s not a popular subject.
There are a number of verses that I’d like to get into here. But before we do, Dave, what about suffering? Why is it something that a Christian has to, according to the Scriptures, go through?
Dave: It comes with the territory, as they say. It’s part of being Christian. Why is that? Because, well, Jesus said it in John 15: “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. The servant isn’t greater than his lord. If they persecuted Me, what do you think they’ll do to you?”
It’s the very fact that we are the followers of Christ – the true Christ . . . and, again, Tom, we’re not trying to jump on anyone. We’re not trying to push our ideas. But we want to be biblical. We also want to be logical.
Tom: Right. We want to know what God’s Word says.
Dave: Right. Now, Jesus Christ was hated and persecuted and crucified. Now, we have the Vicar of Christ, a man who claims to be the Vicar of Christ, the pope, John Paul II today, and of course there have been many others, and he travels around the world claiming to be the representative of Christ. But he’s greeted by presidents and by heads of state, by huge crowds. He’s hailed; he lives in a palace of 1,100 rooms.
Jesus Christ didn’t have a house to live in. He had one robe. The pope has hundreds of the finest silk robes embroidered with gold. It doesn’t seem to quite ring true. And when Jesus said, “The servant isn’t greater than his lord. If they persecuted and hated Me, they’re going to hate you also.” That doesn’t mean that we try to go around to become hateful and try to be obnoxious and get people to persecute us. But Paul did say in 2 Timothy 3, “All they who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”
And I can remember my wife and, in fact, our children were with us on some occasions, traveled in the Soviet Union and all the Iron Curtain countries back in those Iron Curtain days, and I can remember when the Christians over there would ask us, “Why is Christianity popular in America, and they put us in prison over here, and they kill us! What . . . do we have a wrong kind of Christianity? Or what is the problem?”
Again, we’re not trying to be persecuted, but I think to a large extent, Christians – and I speak to my own heart – have become very much of the world. Jesus said, “I’ve called you out of the world. If you were of the world, the world would love its own.” We have an idea today that if we can make Christianity as much like the world and as appealing to the world as possible, then we’ll be able to win the world. But we’re not going to win them very far if we are like them.
Someone has said, “If you were arrested and accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you, based upon what the Bible says a Christian should be and the life that you’ve been living?”
So, yes, there should be some rejection from the world to a Christian. On the other hand, Christ was the friend of sinners. He ate with the publicans and sinners. He wasn't an austere man who tried to separate himself in that way. Paul said, “I have become all things to all men that I might win some. To the Jews I become like a Jew. To the Greeks like a Greek. To the weak like the weak,” and so forth.
Tom: No compromise there, but . . .
Dave: No, we should be loving, kind, compassionate. We should be friendly. We should be good neighbors, and so forth. On the other hand, there should be something about a Christian that is different.
I can remember, Tom, I was in the business world. I was a CPA, a general manager of a number of corporations. I was a management consultant, and I had an office on the corner of Wilshire and Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills. We had a number of attorneys – tough, Beverly Hills Jewish attorneys. And not all of them were Jewish. Many of them were. And I can just say, I can look back at my life – I was a young man in those days – if someone . . . if one of the attorneys or one of the officers of the corporation swore in my presence, they apologized! They realized that I was different. Well, of course, I testified to Christ to them.
I remember we had some building projects in Las Vegas, and they realized that when we went to Las Vegas, which I had to do for business, I didn’t play the machines; I didn’t go to the shows, or whatever. They never questioned that. If I had done that, then they would have realized that there was something wrong with my Christianity. So even people who were not Christians realized there was a difference between a Christian and between them – between my standards and their standards. And it should be!
Tom: Dave, this goes back to what we were discussing last week. We’re talking about discipleship, but to be Christ’s disciple, we said, “You’re a follower of Him.” Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” Matthew:16:24 talks about taking up the cross, denying self. Taking up the cross and following Him.
Well, there’s an element of suffering in that. We’re going to suffer for Christ’s sake – not suffer just to suffer. But if we’re going to follow Him, we’re going to take some . . . maybe affliction. Maybe some rejection. Persecution, certainly.
Dave: It’s as simple as this, Tom. If Christ were here today – let’s say that He didn’t come 1,900 years ago. He came for the first time today. Do you think people would hail Him? Do you think He would be loved and popular, any more than He was then? Well, of course, when He fed the hungry, when He opened the eyes of the blind, when He raised the dead, when He healed the sick, oh, great multitudes followed Him!
And yet, many of those people who had been healed and fed by Jesus were in the mob that cried “Away with the man! We’ll not have him reign over us!” Because it’s like those in John 6 – remember, they followed Him because they wanted Him to feed them. They wanted Him to heal them. In fact, it says they were going to take Him by force and make Him a king! Well, that doesn’t mean that they were going to follow Him then. They wanted to use Him to their own ends, and that’s one of our problems. That’s the kind of God a lot of people want: sort of a cosmic bellhop who does what we want. We use Him for our ends. But if Christ came today – and He is God in the flesh – He is manifesting the purity, the holiness, the righteousness, the justice, without compromise, the sinlessness of God Himself as a man walking this earth, pretty soon it becomes too much for you. He is showing up your blemishes. He’s the light of the world, and He is showing up the darkness. They began to hate Him for this, even though He is feeding them and healing them and so forth.
And that this is the Christ that we’re going to offer to the world as Christ whom everybody loves, a Christ whom everybody loves – the world finds Him popularly appealing, and so forth – that’s not the Jesus of the Bible.
See, when someone would come running up to Jesus and someone comes running and says, “Master, we’ll follow wherever you’re going,” Jesus would say, “Peter, sign him up quick! James, get him in the choir! John, make a deacon out of him.” You know, “We don’t want to lose this guy because I think he’s got some money!”
Well, what would Jesus say? “You’re sure you want to follow Me? Foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests. I don't have anywhere to lay My head. You know where we’re going, guys? You want to follow Me? Well, let Me tell you something. I’m heading for a hill outside Jerusalem called Calvary, and they’re going to nail Me to a cross. Now, if you’re going to follow Me, pick up your cross right now. Make up your mind. That’s where we’re going!”
Now, Tom, we’re not going to become popular if we talk about this sort of thing on this program.
Tom: Yeah, but Dave, popularity aside, these are things that I’m sure Christians wrestle with. For example, Philippians:1:29 says, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him but also to suffer for His sake.”
Tom: Now, there’s a gift we don’t hear about.
Tom: It says “given.” We’re talking about a gift here. But my concern here is I think of my own life. I think about these scriptures about suffering. And I’m thinking, “Wait a minute. When did I suffer last?”
Now, I’ve got a problem here, Dave, because I grew up Roman Catholic, and suffering was a way to expiate your own sins . . .
Tom: . . . because sometimes my head goes back to those old ideas. But still, we’re talking about what the Scripture says here. What does “suffering” mean? And do we use that as some kind of thermometer, or indicator, of our walk with the Lord?
Dave: Well, Peter says it similarly. He says (1 Peter 4), “Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial that is to try you as though some strange thing happened unto you,” but you’re going to be partakers of Christ’s sufferings. Now, he says . . . (if you suffer for your faults – if you do a lousy job at work; you’re a gossip or a busybody in other people’s affairs; or you’re just an obnoxious person – don’t say you’re suffering for Christ). And Peter says, “If you suffer for your faults, don’t be pleased with that. But if you suffer for Christ’s sake, happy are ye, because God’s blessing is upon you.”
In fact, Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, you remember, He said, “Blessed are you (happy are you) when men persecute you and speak all manner of evil against you falsely for My sake.”
Tom: So we don’t go out looking for this. We don’t go out trying to create this, as some – as I said, growing up Roman Catholic – you are looking for ways in which to suffer because you felt that was reparation for sins, for yourselves or for somebody else, or expiating your own sins through these rituals that were pretty harmful in some ways.
Dave: Well, let’s a moment about that, Tom, because this is Catholicism today. It’s in Vatican II that you always have offered – Vatican II says, “Holy people have always offered their suffering – their good works and their suffering – for the salvation of souls.” And you know that there are priests and monks and nuns today who will wear something very uncomfortable, put rocks in their shoes . . .
Tom: A hair shirt . . .
Tom: You name it.
Dave: Or even flagellate themselves . . .
Dave: . . . and they do this today, thinking that somehow they will earn their salvation. But the Bible – Peter says, “Christ once suffered for sin. He, the just for us the unjust, to bring us to God.” So there is no suffering for sins in order to purge ourselves of sin, like purgatory – the idea that the flames would purge you from sin. No! Flames don’t purge a soul. They don’t purge a spirit. And furthermore, Christ has paid the penalty! He suffered fully for sin!
So, what we would be suffering for His sake, now, is not in order to earn our salvation, but because of our identification with Him, because we have become like Him. We obey Him. We follow His Word. We stand firm for His truth. Well, that condemns the world. People don’t like that. But even religious people don’t like that.
So we have to be certain that we’re clear on that point. Suffering is not to expiate our sins. It’s not to buy our way into heaven. But it is because we are true to the Lord.
Tom: And when the Scripture says, “Happy are ye if ye be reproached for the name of Christ.”
Tom: We’re going to do things that please the Lord, but it’s not going to please other people. Even standing fast. I’ve not talking about confrontation or being in somebody’s face about something – just trying to live your life [in a way] that's pleasing to the Lord. That affects other people. Not always to the good!
Dave: Just what we were talking about on the last program, Tom, Halloween.
Say . . . it can be very difficult. You come from a large family; you’ve got brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles, and everybody wants to get together to have some Halloween party or something. You can’t be part of it. You have to make a decision. Am I going to compromise just in order to please them?
Or where you work – they’re partying or they’re telling really bad jokes. You don’t laugh at them. You walk away.
Well, pretty soon you’re “antisocial.” When you stand for the truth, and you do not compromise – which we can’t, because we are accountable to God and not to men. As you said, we don’t go out of our way to be obnoxious and be difficult, but still, there are certain things on which we can’t compromise – you’ll suffer for it. You may be passed over for promotion. In the Soviet Union – I can remember in those days, these people couldn’t even go to college. You couldn’t get a higher education. There was pressure. There was imprisonment. I have sat in a room with men who spent many years in prison who have suffered for their faith, who’ve been tortured for their faith.
Now, it’s not that way here in America. And sometimes I think maybe Satan is a little smarter over here, because he didn’t wipe out the church in China; he hasn’t wiped out the church in the Soviet Union. It’s when people are suffering for Christ that then you don’t get false professors. You don’t get people crowding into the churches because it’s popular. And we are trying to create a popular Christianity today and build huge churches, and success somehow depends upon how large the church is and how many people come. You didn’t find that in the days . . . the first century, the second century, and so forth. They didn’t come flocking into the churches. If you were not a real Christian – if you weren’t willing to die for Christ – you didn’t call yourself a Christian.
But now, we’re trying to make a Christianity that will be popular to the world. And we’ve probably quoted it several times before, but it bears quoting again: We have to be careful that in our zeal to get the world to accept the gospel we don’t manufacture a gospel that is acceptable to the world. And unfortunately, that’s one of the things that is happening in America, and, Tom, as I say these words, it speaks to my own heart. To what extent have I been willing to compromise just because I don’t want to offend people; I don’t want to seem to be peculiar? Now, on the other hand, I don’t have to dress peculiarly and act like, well, these dear people – and if any of them are listening, we’re not trying to run them down – but you get back to the Amish. Some of them have rubber rims on their buggy tires (some of them don’t – that’s too worldly). Some of them have electricity. Some of them don’t. I don’t think godliness comes by following those rules.
But there is a standing for the truth – an uncompromising stand for godliness, for holiness, for purity. You don't just go along. Young people that are listening out there, just because everybody else is fornicating or sleeping with one another and so forth . . .
Tom: Taking drugs . . . or whatever it might be.
Dave: Whatever it is, you don’t do that in order not to offend, in order to be popular, in order to have friends, because that is contrary to God’s Word, and you’ve could hardly call yourself a Christian . . .
What does John say, 1 John 2? He says, “He who says he abides in him [that is, in Christ] ought to walk [or live] as Christ lived.” How could I claim to be a disciple of Christ (and a disciple is a representative) – how could I claim to represent Christ and I do things that Jesus Christ would not do, and I a bring a reproach to His name?
Tom: Dave, you mentioned in the book – you talk about suffering by the martyrs, and then you compare that with this generation over here, which is “Christian-psychologized,” in a sense – this generation. I was thinking – you remember a couple of weeks ago, we viewed together the video on the Sudan – the persecution that’s going on over there. It brought us to tears. How do you compare one to the other? I might say, “Well, those are real Christians because they’re going through that, but here, the worst a Christian is doing is having a bad hair day, or feeling low self-esteem, or something like that.
Dave: Well, again – I guess I started to say it, and I didn’t finish the thought that maybe Satan is a bit smarter here in America. He didn’t wipe out the church with persecution.
And he didn’t, as those in the first century – the first two centuries – so he brought a guy along named Constantine, who made Christianity popular, and pretty soon you had what was called Christianity, but it was really paganism under a thin veneer of Christianity.
Tom: Well, quote Augustine – your favorite quote of Augustine’s, about the cathedrals in Rome.
Dave: Well, yeah – Augustine, back in the fourth century, said you go into a church today you meet fornicators, adulterers, sorcerers, people that consult fortune tellers and astrologers, people wearing amulets, magic trinkets that they have and fetishes, and so forth – he said the same people who frequent the pagan festivals are also in the churches.
So maybe Satan is a little smarter. Today he is corrupting Christianity in America by making it popular. There’s no persecution here. (Well, maybe there is some persecution, and we should be suffering for the sake of Christ – that’s what we’re talking about. But, by and large, Christians can be popular – but they have to compromise in order to be popular.)
But this is what people want today. This is what we consider to be successful Christianity – if we can be as much like the world as possible and get the world to come in and join us, and maybe we can sneak them into heaven somehow, and they’ll wake up, up there, and they won’t know how they got there . . .
Tom: And, Dave, the flesh, when it hears the word “suffering,” or “affliction,” even for Christ’s sake, it doesn’t set too well. But the Scriptures speak out! It not only talks about “consider it all joy” when you suffer reproach for the name of Christ, but 2 Corinthians:4:17 says, “For our light affliction . . .” – it doesn’t make any difference – it may seem light, it may not seem light . . .
Dave: No, Paul’s wasn’t, but he called it light . . .
Tom: “. . . light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. That’s what Christ has done for us and has for us.
Dave: That’s the secret – recognizing eternity lies ahead. You can give up and suffer a lot in this temporary life to gain the eternal “Well done” from the Lord.