The Supremacy of Suffering

Aside

“Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me! Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:10-13, NASB).

With the commitment to follow Christ faithfully, the Christian sets upon a markedly different path than the rest of the world. It is within the confines of undeserved suffering for the sake of the gospel that we see a natural division; evil men and impostors will not suffer (in innocence), but proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived by their contemporary deceivers. They belong to their father, Satan; the father of lies.

Yet the one who suffers for Christ’s sake will not only find growth in godliness, but deliverance by the Lord from trials. However, this deliverance does not always mean the avoidance of a painful death, as we see that Paul even knows he will inevitably meet this end (2 Tim. 4:6).

Instead though, we find from many today the desire to avoid pain and suffering at all costs. Many who claim Christ even fall headlong into believing the foolish worldview that all suffering is evil, leading some to call the crucifixion “cosmic child abuse” because a truly loving God would not allow such atrocities to fall upon His Son.

For the one who truly follows Christ, suffering for His sake is unavoidable (Matt. 10:22-23; John 15:20). If we do not suffer in the least for professing His name, we ought to ask if we have truly followed Him, and not sought to “put our hand to the plow, yet look back” (Luke 9:62).

For any who are left wondering if we are called to prosperity and health, I would simply look at the life of those who profess and teach it. Have they grown in godliness through suffering – or – have they grown in wickedness, licentiousness, backbiting, adultery, deception, and any other practices of those whom cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:8-10)?

I have heard many who look at such teachings and teachers only to say, “I will do what God tells me to do” in response to any criticism. While we do well to “do what God tells us to do,” if what we believe He is telling us is not found within His Word in it’s proper context, we may well find that we are impostors, unwilling to suffer for the name of Jesus and inherit our reward in heaven, yet willing to “name and claim” our reward in this life. This belief is contrary to the gospel.

Cherry picking the scriptures in order to tickle our own ears will only lead to us rejecting sound doctrine and turning aside to myths and fables (2 Tim. 4:3-4). The deceived therefore turn into deceivers, heaping gasoline upon the stubble and hay that is their foundation already on course to be consumed by fire (1 Cor. 3:12-13).

One of the many issues on doctrines such as these is that they propagate a false view of Jesus Christ. They breed theologies that picture Jesus saying, Come follow me for your Beemer. Come follow me for your secure job. Come follow me for perfect health. Come follow me for your paid bills, stocked fridge, comfy bed, and children. Come follow me to be rid of any and all suffering on earth.

Yet Jesus did not promise freedom from pain and suffering in this life. He promised only that we would have freedom from the bondage of sin, and that this freedom would bring glorious joy in Him. Joy so insurmountable that when your daughter gets cancer, you can still say, the Lord is faithful, sovereign, and Lord over all, including my daughter’s cancer; that when your husband dies in a car accident you can say, The lord giveth, the Lord taketh. Blessed be the name of the Lord; that when you can’t feed your children lunch today because you’re living paycheck to paycheck to survive, you may plead, Lord, give us this day our daily bread.

We have become so fat and happy in our friendship with this world that we have believed many of the blessings we receive are what comes with following Jesus. We lack in contentment, seeking a new job every other couple months because we find something newer and better, only so we can amass more toys or buy a new home. We have delighted in building treasure on earth where moth and rust destroy. Is it any wonder then that even though we say we despise the prosperity gospel that we tend to believe it just a little bit ourselves?

Yes, all good things come from the Lord, in whom there is no variance (James 1:17); yet is it not amazing that immediately before James pens this, he urges for persevering and rejoicing in the midst of our trials?

Where is our treasure? Wherever it is, there the desires of our heart are also (Matt. 6:21). Is it Jesus? We know the good Christian answer is “yes,” but is it really Jesus? If it is, then we will desire godliness, and for the sake of this, persecution.

Now do not mistake that I mean we will outright seek to be flogged and beaten, but simply that to desire godliness is to desire persecution, for we know from Paul implication to young Timothy that they will go hand in hand. Christ even told us that if we follow Him, we will suffer as well. To desire to follow Christ is to desire to pick up the means of our execution and carry it to the place of our execution (Matt. 6:24). It is that radical.

Notice how closely in context here that we see Christ speaking about the desires of our hearts only to go on and say that if we desire Him, we will be willing to die to self – for He is the utmost treasure of our hearts. It is complete sacrifice. It is becoming the least of all men so that Christ may be made the greatest in the sight of those who look upon us. It is being willing to endure through all kinds of suffering and malevolent treatment for the sake of the gospel so that we may rejoice in it, counting every second as beautiful because the gospel has been evidenced and Christ has been exalted.

 

“God had one son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering” – Augustine

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The Benevolence of the Post-Modern Man

Whether you are scrolling through a website like Buzzfeed or Upworthy, or even through the newsfeed on Facebook, you will generally see two types of things. One being a story that causes every person to outrage over the lack of morality shown, or you will see something that causes every person to smile in juxtaposition to the former.

The main crux we keep coming back to in both of these issues is that there has developed an ambivalent stance on morality. The same person that is outraged over the skinheads throwing a brick into a black family’s window is presupposed by their own world-view to label such an activity as amoral. While they are offended by this action, it is not classified as “evil” in postmodern intellectualism simply because morality is something that cannot be defined clearly with absolutes.

What I may classify as “moral” may not be considered the normal moral practice in another part of the world. Further more, the same is said of absolute truth. What is true to me is not necessarily true to another, unless preconditioned results yield scientific date with which one can say with certainty that something is true (i.e. mathematics, certain laws of physics, verifiable theories, etc.).

Yet even in the laws of philosophy, one could argue, rather vapidly, though we know something to act similarly each day, such as the rising and setting of the sun, we can only say with certainty on previous observation, “the sun shall rise tomorrow.” Based on the normal behavior of the sun and its calculated pattern, one can deduce that the sun shall indeed rise – yet the observer can’t say with certitude that it will actually happen; though results have frequently shown a normative pattern, differing variables can produce different results.

This same principle has been applied to various aspects of culture over time, especially within epistemology (the theory of knowledge). More clearly, the objective of epistemology is to develop a concise definition to what is true. However, epistemology is, generally speaking, subjected to one’s own idiosyncrasies. Thus, when this same application is made regarding Christianity, especially regarding the scriptures, it can’t fall within that theory of knowledge.

In other words, when a person quotes scripture correctly in defense of doctrine, the resulting response is fashioned by the recipient’s ideology, whether they are inside or outside of church walls. This is why apologetics, while profitable to the bible-believing Christian, ultimately serve no purpose in the evangelization of the lost.

The main issues within epistemological debate stem from two outcomes: there is no absolute truth; there is no absolute code of ethics or morality. Though this theory of knowledge tries to find a definition of truth, it has essentially led to postmodernism. There is no source from which wisdom comes, nor a source for ethical guidelines – besides the self. This introspection is influenced greatly by other thinkers, past conditions, and even sometimes a dubious, higher being or power – however, even this is subject to the merit one finds in these factors.

For the postmodern, there is no higher moral code than one’s self, thus it can produce hesitancy even in calling the holocaust evil based upon the grounds of it seeming morally good and acceptable to the Germans in that time period. Yet what has developed from this that is even more frightening than a lack of willingness to call something evil, is how flippantly many ascribe benevolence to all mankind. Generally speaking, all people have “good” inside themselves, and are generally predisposed to do “good.”

There are several problems to this. If nothing is truly evil, then “goodness” is just as irrelevant of a term as “evil.” If there is no such thing as absolute truth, “goodness” cannot be absolutely defined. The even larger problem to this is that the gospel is viewed as inadequate; such an act would be cosmological child abuse, void of true love, unnecessary, and without merit.

If man is generally good, what need does he have for a Savior? If evil is not a persistent problem of humanity, what need does one have for deliverance from it? If God is not storing up wrath for the unbeliever, wrath so insurmountable that it would cause mankind to fall prostrate if they even came close to understanding the fullness of it, to what end does man need deliverance?

Instead, what is echoed is the sentiment of Pilate as he looked the Messiah in the face, retorting, “What is truth?” Each man goes his own way, wandering, but not lost; stumbling, but not falling headlong, until the end of his life when he discovers the entirety of God’s wrath being executed upon him for all eternity. There will be no excuse, nor question of absolute truth in these times; in complete misery and anguish, he will know with absolute certitude the moral standards of God.

He will know the absolute truth of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ – and it will not save him from God’s wrath because he denied it whilst living. He will know that he was evil all the days of his life, even from his mother’s womb, and that the only redeeming part of his former life was that God was gracious to give him the common grace to live another day outside of this current wrath. There will be no relief, no expungement of his record, no justification, no forgiveness of sin, no beautiful Savior. He will be damned forevermore, and he will know and accept all of these truths without hesitation, all too late.