God calls the Church to the difficult task of taking the message of Jesus to the ends of the earth. Some suffering will be required of all those brave enough to accept the challenge. The Church is called to suffer.
“To be a Christian is not to live a life free of suffering, but rather, suffering should lead us to identify with Jesus, who suffered more than anyone on our behalf.” –Mark Driscoll
New believers living throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Communist countries were interviewed and asked what they learned from Christians from the West about handling hardships. Their response? Fear![i] When the going got tough, Westerners often evacuated, leaving new believers behind. It is common for believers in the Western Hemisphere to strongly value safety and security. What should the Church value? What does the Bible call believers to?
As Christ followers and church members, we have been called to the wilderness, to community, and to love. The letter to the church in Smyrna shows this can involve suffering.
“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’”
Are you afraid of facing hardships? Have you allowed fearful pressures to affect the way you live as a follower of Jesus? Or are you living fearless and faithful with a willingness to trust and obey? Do you have a “sail on,” persevering attitude?
The Church can face the future without fear by taking an eternal view about circumstances. There is a crown, a reward, when we come to the finish line. In the end the Church wins. Persecution may come, but trust the First and the Last who promises eternal life to those suffering. As Nik Ripken writes,
Before we can grasp the full meaning of the Resurrection, we first have to witness or experience crucifixion. If we spend our lives so afraid of suffering, so averse to sacrifice, that we avoid even the risk of persecution or crucifixion, then we might never discover the true wonder, joy and power of a resurrected faith. Ironically, avoiding suffering could be the very thing that prevents us from partnering deeply with the Risen Jesus.[i]
Endure suffering and hardship as part of Kingdom living. Chuck Swindoll pointed out, “The problem with living sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar.” Do not climb off the altar that Jesus has you on. An eternal reward is promised to those remaining faithful until the end.
Small Group Discussion Starters
- Follow-up from previous discussion: Did you have an opportunity to display love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, or self-control this week? Did you schedule intentional time to abide in Jesus? If so, how did it affect your week?
- How can you keep a heavenly perspective on life rather than an earthly fear?
- Has your character been shaped through difficult circumstances? If so, in what ways?
- Have you ever suffered for reasons connected to following Jesus? If so, did it grow your faith or leave you with some unresolved bitterness?
- Are you in the habit of crawling off the altar? If so, what can you do to persevere and ensure Christ completes the good work He is doing in you?
As a group hold each other accountable to keep a heavenly perspective during times of trial. Pray for God to give you strength to endure suffering so that you might experience the power of resurrection in your life.
[i] Nik Ripken, The Insanity of God, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013), 231.
[i] Ripken, 308.