For the past few weeks, we’ve been talking about sharing in Christ’s suffering. While suffering, it can be easy to judge ourselves or others based on how much they suffer. Being connected to God’s plan for your life is the best way to stay away from this type of judgment.
As we saw last week, when we surrender to Christ, we become one spirit with him, and somehow through that connection, we suffer as Jesus suffered. And according to Paul, this type of suffering was so real that he saw the scars on his body as reflecting and participating in Christ’s sufferings. This wasn’t just a reality for Paul and Jesus. It is a reality for all of God’s children.
Our suffering is not a pre-condition for sharing in Christ’s glory. That is to say, we do not have to somehow earn Jesus’ glory by suffering. Rather, our suffering is a natural effect of following Jesus. When we choose to reject this world and follow Jesus, we begin to suffer as Jesus did. Yet, we share in his glory, which is the beautiful radiance of his self-sacrificial love. The suffering is not the end of the story. In fact, we join the story of so many people before us when we choose to follow Jesus.
Throughout history, Christians have suffered. The earliest Christians proclaimed that Jesus was Lord, and Caesar was not. This often got them killed or beaten/imprisoned. In the 16th century, the Anabaptists were a group of people who followed Jesus and refused to pledge loyalty to any government. They also refused to use violence to defend themselves, and they were under physical attack from governments and even other Christians. Many were killed by drowning because their killers felt it was fitting for those that believe in baptism by immersion. Even today, there are 30 million Christians living in 40 different countries that are openly hostile to Christianity. When we look at the story of these Christians, we can easily ask ourselves the question of “how do I suffer?” We feel like losers when we compare ourselves to these Christians.
In America, we often have the opposite experience of many Christians throughout the world. Many American Christians believe that wealth and power are the signs that God is with us. We fight for our rights. In a land where suffering isn’t the norm for Christians, we can easily get lost when it comes to suffering like Christ. We can easily feel like a loser when we compare ourselves to other Christians. And while that is a distinct possibility that we are losers on the scale of suffering, we must be extremely careful with this thinking because the enemy can jump on that and drive us into the ground of self-loathing.
There is no point in comparing lives, because that is a form of judgment, and judgment is always from the Devil. Whenever we assess our lives in relation to others, we are either judging them or judging ourselves. In the Kingdom, there is no place for judgment. Instead, we need to discern, by ourselves and in community, the ways in which God has called us to suffer in our specific context. The only relevant question is “what sacrifice does God want me/us to make?” Perhaps we buy a cheaper house than we can afford or shop at thrift stores instead of brand name stores. Maybe we give a kidney to a stranger who needs one. We may choose to spend more time serving others instead of watching TV shows or going on vacation. These sacrifices are not to be compared with others’ around the world. Instead, we need to live the life that God is calling us to. Are we bleeding the way God calls us to bleed? Are we sharing in Christ’s sufferings in our context?
As we sacrifice and let God work on our character, we will discover that our sacrifice turns to joy. This is the sharing in the glorious richness that Paul was describing. We don’t share, however, if we are constantly judging others or ourselves based upon the sacrifice. Jesus gave his life. A rich man gave all his money, and an old woman gave only a few pennies, but every sacrifice was honorable to God. When we are attuned to what God wants in our lives, we can begin to share in the sacrifices and glory of Jesus’ life.
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