Privilege of Suffering

We live in extraordinary times. The other day I thought how magnificent of an era in which we live. It was 110 degrees and truly unbearable outside; however, I was able to eat ice cream in relative comfort. Now I say relative comfort because my air conditioner has been unreliable. Yet I am still able to live in comfort, which translates to 80 degrees, a difference of 20+ degrees. At no other time in human history have these two phenomena been so readily available. To have frozen dessert whenever I want it and not have to suffer the intensity of an eastern Washington summer is a modern marvel. For anyone who lives in the United States in the year 2022, you must realize that we have won the economic lottery. Yet, even with all of these amenities, I can still find an opportunity to complain. I wish it were one-degree cooler, or I wish it were a different flavor of ice cream. After these outlandish considerations, I must stop and realize how incredibly spoiled I am. In fact, the most routine flavor of ice cream, vanilla, was only available to royalty until the 16th century. Most spices were luxuries until the turn of the last century.

Perhaps we have it too easy. I am almost unacquainted with real suffering. In our society, we deaden ourselves to any sense of discomfort. If I feel a headache coming on, I’ll grab a dose of acetaminophen. If I am starting to feel bored, I’ll plop down in front of a TV screen. Everything is readily available and easily obtained. Even the thought of menial labor seems too distressing to consider. It is no wonder that Christianity has become so watered down; it has become counter to our culture that the thought of picking up our cross and following Jesus is foreign to us. When we think of Christianity, we believe that Jesus’ sufferings were all the sufferings that will ever happen, but that is not how the New Testament writers thought of our existence.

2 Corinthians 1:3-7
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”

1 Peter 4:14-19
“If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” 19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”

For these apostolic authors, suffering was a certainty. Paul, in a topsy-turvy passage, states that we can gain comfort from our sufferings. And Peter informs us that everyone will suffer, either as a criminal or for the sake of Christ. Nevertheless, he was sharing that it is far better to suffer for doing the will of God because of the final judgment that will one day visit us all. And so, in a society that avoids suffering at all costs, perhaps the best thing we can do is reminisce on the words of Paul in his letter to the church in Philippi.

Philippians 1:29
“For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him.

We should interpret our lives under two privileged banners. The first is that we trust in Christ. Trusting in Christ is, without a doubt, an essential mark of a Christian. It is best to comprehend that regardless of what difficulties may come into my life, I have the blood of Jesus and the love of God resting on me. But I should also reinterpret suffering, especially for the Kingdom’s sake, as a privilege. We may think the best thing we can do is to eliminate suffering for ourselves, but if we avoid every discomfort, we slip into a state of lethargy and complacency. As a result, we cease to suffer, even for God’s Kingdom, and that is the greatest tragedy of all. 

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