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Suffering, Please Enjoy

…a contemplation by Mads Bak Pedersen

Suffering

What a suffering task to write about suffering! Hopefully not, because the Bible is full of it. I believe that there so many dimensions inside the suffering realm, but I also believe that suffering without a cause is waste of time and does not lead to any good at all. The great thing for me to reflect on and find out is how suffering and pain are presented in Bible in 2 Cor. 1 and if it works anything good into anything. Can you praise while experiencing pain? Does it make sense for those experiencing it? At last the question: how can I then apply it to any kind of church?

We know from the OT prophecy about Jesus Christ in Isa. 53 that he in many ways was meant to go through all these sufferings according to Gods will (vv. 10). He experienced our pain and suffering, was crushed, pierced, oppressed and afflicted. He was then raised, lifted and exalted. After he had suffered, he saw the light of life and was satisfied vv. 11. It seemed foreseen that this indeed was the will of the Father. So this was how Christ lived and we are called to live like him (1st letter of John 2:6). It is not only in holiness and righteousness, but in death and in life (2nd Cor. 4:10-12). It is appointed for a Christian to suffer in light of scripture.

The two main reasons for it in 2 Cor. 1 is; for God to comfort and those comforted by Him to be comfort others, and secondly to not trust in our own, but in God. In Paul`s situation, suffering did not seem like something, he was questioning God about. We know from chapter 12 in the same letter, that Paul three times asked God to take away the torn in his flesh but he got the confirmation that “My grace is enough”.

In Ph. 1:19-21, we see that he knew that no matter if he died or lived his main purpose was to display Christ in everything he did, and that’s why he knew the great reason for his suffering. He also knew that other Christians were meant to suffer (that’s why he writes that his comfort will help his brothers and sisters).

Gods compassion

in Scripture

Paul proclaims God´s compassion and comfort before talking about suffering. In the midst of suffering, suffering does not stand out as the main outcome. Paul wanted the fellowship of suffering with Christ (Ph. 3:10). Why? To be one with him and so close to him that nothing else mattered.

God especially is known as a God of compassion. Psalm 145:9 says “the Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made”. Even those who are not reconciled with God, he shows compassion. “His compassion never fails” (La. 3).

in 21st century

In 2007, 23 South Korean Christians were kidnapped by Taliban. Some of them died down there, while others were set free. This is a summary (my own) from the teaching on “suffering” by Francis Chan, where he takes up the situation from Afghanistan with the Taliban.

francis-chanEverything was taken from them. But one of the girls still had a bible or some scriptures she handed out to her fellow brothers and sisters, so they could be encouraged. They stood in a circle and surrendered their lives to Christ and some of them were saying: “no matter what brings you glory and honor, I will do it. If my death brings you honor, let it be so. If my life brings you honor, let that happen to me”. They experienced sacrificial love towards each other. Nobody wanted to be the last to say: “I will die first”. The amazing thing about this story is not that some of them died (we know that Christians die for their faith every day). But here is the thing: When those who survived came back to South Korea, one of the pastors experienced people from the trip to come to him, saying: “don´t you wish that we were down there in the hands of Taliban? Because I was so close to Jesus, so intimate with Him. I have tried to pray and fast, but it is not the same. I want to go back there””.

It blows my mind hearing and writing this, because I want it. I want to experience as Stephen said: “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Ac. 7:56).

“You gotta see this (suffering with Christ) as a good thing, because it brings you closer to Christ”.                                                                                                                         Francis Chan

When I look at churches in general in Denmark, I am asking myself this question: Why are we not experiencing the same kind of persecution as in the Bible, the First Church and in other countries today? Could it be that people around us do not even know we are Christians? And if they do know, are they then confronted with our faith? I believe that each individual person have to ask him- or herself these questions. An application could look like this:

Did Jesus say that people following him would suffer? (Mt. 16:24: Mt. 10) Are you suffering?

Do you only read those scriptures that you want to read?

Or do you also take them in, you do not even want to believe in?

Are you living for this life or the next? (Php. 1:21)

Did Christ come to save, so you could have the best life ever now? (John 14:6)

My conviction and what I believe the Bible testifies is that to suffer for Christ is biblical for all Christians. That does not mean we cannot be happy and rejoice. Gods comfort and compassion, the Gospel itself and that all the means of suffering are serving us to conquer by him, “who have loved us” (Rom. 8:31-37). As John Piper puts it, “What I think more than conquers means is that a conqueror has his enemies lying subdued at his feet. More than conquers do not only mean that they are at my feet, they are serving me. They are not only in chains, in prison, they are serving. My persecution, my famine, nakedness and my loss as painful and tearful they are, they work as my servants. God works them all together for my good (vv. 28). That good is the foundation of my happiness.

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Posted by on December 8, 2012 in Lifestories, Theology

 

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The powerful message from First Epistle of Peter

It might sound easy and simple, but returning good for evil is truly a very hard thing to do. That is most likely also the reason why Peter wrote to believers around whole Asia Minor letter called 1 Peter. Here he mentions seven times the word holy (hagios in Greek) which is always related to action or behavior. Likewise everywhere else, maybe not directly but out of context, we can read about pure conduct to which Peter urges us repeatedly. By holy he means to be worthy of God, to be free from impurity, without hint of moral or spiritual pollution. Basically it means not to have fund in anything that would offend a perfect God. This is apparently impracticable by one mans strength, yet Bible is not leaving us without a solution. Immediately in the first few sentences (1:2) Peter clarified source of our strength for such a conduct ”in sanctification of the Spirit”. We were never meant to accomplish sanctification alone, for only because of the power of Holy Spirit we can possibly be able to “abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (2:11). Only because of his purifying power working inside out we can be cleansed and kept away from all the evil devil is craftily putting around us (5:9).

           Besides the main message there can be found four other themes in this letter. Firstly he makes it clear that no one would think of life with Christ as to be trouble free, but to contrariwise expect persecution and tribulation just because of his name (4:12-14). Secondly to prevent inculpation or any kind of blaming among Christians he emphasized that the suffering they are experiencing they do not deserve, but it is only a part of their service to God and His kingdom (4:15-19). For in these days people in many surrounding religions were strongly convinced that anything bad that happened to a person is a result of his wrongdoings, which have called a wrath of god upon this person, which then would be sequentially something this person caused himself, and therefore it is something he deserves. And exactly this kind of thinking Peter was trying to obviate. In the end of all of this God would right every wrong and reward those who endured persecution for his name. Thirdly the theme of submission was brought up again to seal the main theme of blessing those who revile us (3:9). He mentions submission yet on several places in connection with submitting to governments, kings or masters of any kind (not only the good ones) (2:13-19), then submitting wives to their husbands (3:1-6) and lastly younger people submitting to their elders, finishing with general submission to one another clothed with humility (5:5-7). In last point we meet with a central truth of the gospel, that Jesus went through the agony of the cross to set us free from our bondage to sin (1:2-5, 7-11, 17-21; 2:21-24; 3:18-22). He is explicitly displayed as an example.
 
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
(1 Pe 2:21, ESV)
Greek word used here “hupogrammos” translated as “example” was commonly used in reference to a tablet that contained the entire Greek alphabet. Students would use this to pick up the alphabet, learning each letter from alpha to omega. Life of Jesus was compared directly to such a tablet. We are to trace his sinless life, his quiet endurance of suffering and commitment to the truth, for we are learners of Jesus reproducing his life in ours from the beginning, from alpha all the way to omega.
 
Background of the epistle
              Letter of 1. Peter was written into a very chaotic situation in which first Christians lived. As we read this letter was meant for regions of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia which we would today call all together Asia Minor (modern western Turkey). In these days cultural progress was because of Greek spreading slowly all over the Roman Empire, but yet it did not reach many of the cities and smaller villages in which Christians lived. Still hostility to the gospel and to Christians themselves was there. Christians had many problems with their neighbors and fellow citizens, for because of they did not take part anymore on worshiping local so-called gods and abandoned pagan religious practices they were blamed for all the evil that came to pass. All the natural disasters or even unfavorable economical development was assigned to Christians for their “deserted” conduct. Moreover these Christians were in a very different situation as we are today. They frequently had to flee due persecution from Jewish background, from their own cities in which they were brought up in since they converted to Christianity and then they became only common strangers without any securities or assurances in new cities into which they came. They were occupying the lowest social positions if not ending up in slavery without any hope for resort under government protection. And exactly to these people Peter wrote, to encourage pilgrims which were on a way full of suffering, aiming for their home in heaven (2:11). The Greek word for pilgrim (in different translations also aliens or strangers, NAS) is “perepidemos” which carries both the idea of alien nationality and temporary residence on this earth. This in a bigger picture was all called the anti-Christian persecution that took place around years 54-68 A.D. and as tradition says Peter died in Rome therefore year 67 A.D. is the latest year this letter could have been written in. The location is also somehow tricky, for Peter does not exactly states that he was in Rome while writing or sending this epistle. So why do we think that he was? Well in chapter 5 verse 13 he refers to Babylon. Out of this three conceivable locations are emerging. Firstly Mesopotamian Babylon of the Old Testament that represented a great power, fear and also hatred from Israelites. Still this city by this time was only a small trifling village about which furthermore are no records of Peter ever visiting this place. Secondly other city with a same name serving as a Roman outpost residing in Egypt nearby Cairo of today. Or finally Rome which was generally perceived as the heart of the opposition to Christianity, hence Peter most likely adapted the meaning of the Babylon of Old Testament and assigned it to the Rome, for this would be something to which Peter’s readers could easily identify with. Lastly there are few discussions about the polished nature of wording in the epistle of Peter in comparison to his own knowledge of Greek as a common fisherman, yet we know Peter was born in Galilee, which was a bilingual regio n. He also must have had developed satisfactory ability to express himself due his function in fisherman business world as well as later during and after time spent with Jesus as a teacher and preacher of the word he most likely improved his Greek to pure eloquence. If that still was not satisfiable argument maybe Silvanus could have perfected his words as he was dictating them to him (5:12).
 
Application (sort of)
            When likening the environment which this letter was originally meant for I can joyfully affirm that environment in which I was growing up was never dealing with nothing of this sort, yet I am deeply convinced that despite that also we stands and fall on the same issues and struggles which this epistle is addressing. I have often experienced demotivated or even disgusted youngsters in youths around for who I am speaking now. Some of my close friends undergone falls which they eventually could not resolve, which concluded in stopping ministry or never even entering one. For they, in my eyes, properly understood the gravity of sin, although they did not receive cleansing ability of Christ’s blood which covered them after they have accepted him as their personal savior. For we still live in this world even though we are not of this world and failures are invariably something we will encounter to lesser or higher extent, for it is not through our deeds we will by justified, but through only and just his purifying blood in which we are covered.
            Then there is another phenomenon present in many contemporary churches. Some believers expect that life with Christ will be easy without a problem or bigger tribulation (so called prosperity gospel perception), unfortunately direct contrast is the truth. We are promised that because of his name we will experience extra suffering and torment (4:14). That as Peter says it is something completely normal and we should get ready, we should prepare ourselves for that. As Olympians are overcoming pain barriers one by one from the age of five, six all the way to twenty two so one day they could in front of millions run, jump or throw something in total period of 5 minutes, win a medal and then victoriously hang it on a wall. How much more effort should we put into it then, be willing to fight for things eternal, to overcome afflictions and pains for Christ, than these Olympians that do this only for temporary earthly things. As we are to be ready to live in the midst of even persecution for him as he did, we must also keep in mind loving attitude which he did. We are to follow his example from alpha to omega, to take up his cross and endure mockery, scorn and execration with a loving face which blesses everyone around who we pass. We must love our enemies! It is diabolic to do evil to one who does good to you, it is earthly do do good to one who does good to you, but it is heavenly to repay good for evil (as saying remarks). And we as heavenly citizens should act accordingly.
            Further on today there are still many people who blame themselves for their current situation, for all sorts of reasons. Maybe not mainly for the one that populace in Minor Asia did, but other. Wrong decisions in life or subtlety that caused death of someone precious. There are numerous reasons for blaming oneself and then subsequently believing that current situation is only something that they rightfully deserve, even today in 21st century. Bible again reproves this way of thinking and underlines that suffering is never a punishment for things foregone, but a tool which God is often using in a process of shaping us and as Peter here announces a natural part of Christians life that brings glory to God.
           After all submission in all three levels mentioned in 1. Peter should be applied in everyday life. Not only on Sunday morning. Whether it is submission of slaves to their masters, which today we would interpret as subordinates to their supervisors or bosses, or wives to husbands, or younger people to elders. We all should be of submissive spirit that works through us and makes us “resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” identically to our God. I personally see a great challenge in fulfilling this one, particular, central truth of this sharp-edged epistle.
 
Conclusion
Letter to Asia Minor from Babylon written by Peter called 1. Peter around year 58 A.D. was primarily meant for appeasement. To encourage scattered Christians that what they were going throw is fully part of Gods plan, that he is fully in control of the situation. One called this epistle an epistle from the homeless to the homeless. On this day we are in a same way homeless as people then
 
Bibliography:
Dr. Constable’s Notes on 1 Peter – http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/1peter.pdf 
Dockery, D. S., Butler, T. C., Church, C. L., Scott, L. L., Ellis Smith, M. A., White, J. E., & Holman Bible Publishers (Nashville, T. (1992). Holman Bible Handbook. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
Thomas Nelson, (1997); The Nelson Study Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, USA.
written by Peter Makovíni
 
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Posted by on February 22, 2011 in Theology

 

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