Robert Murray McCheyne said, ‘The purest joy in the world is joy in Christ Jesus.’
In these posts, I want to share some reflections on joy and where, as Christians, we can find our joy.
Suffering for the Name
22nd March 2021
A missionary-colleague of ours that we served alongside in South Sudan came from Germany. Before the wall came down, he lived in East Germany and was part of a church there. He dedicated years of his life to smuggling Bible’s into East Germany and then sending them onto Russia. He crossed borders illegally on foot and by train; was harassed and searched by soldiers at the borders; had his movements and phone calls monitored by the East German secret police; and regularly faced arrest.
There is suffering and then there’s going looking for trouble.
This would certainly fall into the ‘going looking for trouble’ category. And the Bible speaks of suffering in these two terms. There is the general suffering and trials that I wrote about last week – the suffering that any of us can face in our lives and are faced by believers and unbelievers. Health difficulties, grief, family concerns to name just a few.
And then there’s going looking for trouble! Where suffering comes because we have deliberately and intentionally shared the good news of Jesus despite the risks. Or where we’ve stood by the truth of the Bible knowing it could be a very costly stance.
In Acts 5, Luke records that the apostles were hauled before the authorities, ordered not to preach, and given a beating. The next verse says this,
“Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name.” (Acts 5:41)
They counted it a joy to suffer for Jesus. They didn’t question whether it was wise to keep on preaching but instead rejoiced. Jesus’ path to glory was a path of suffering; the apostle’s path to glory was a path of suffering; the early missionary’s path to glory was a path of suffering. Do we accept that to follow Christ is to share in His sufferings? Or do we somehow think we ought to be exempt from what our Lord Jesus, and many of our fathers in the faith, faced?
Perhaps it is worth reflecting on areas of life that we would want spared from suffering as this often reveals what we value more than Jesus – our idols.
Our health? Our families? Our jobs? Our reputation? Our friends?
The fear of losing any of these is real and significant. We shouldn’t be dismissive of the impact that suffering in these areas has. Jesus, himself, encouraged us to count the cost of following him.
The cost to the apostles in terms of their health and reputation was great yet they rejoiced. Not in what they had lost but in what they had gained. Paul, in 2 Corinthians, talks about being ‘sorrowful but always rejoicing’ and this is what it can feel like when we suffer loss for the sake of the gospel.
Yet their joy remained. And it remained because to suffer for the gospel is to follow Christ. It is to do what Jesus called us to and ‘pick up our cross and follow him'. To suffer for the sake of Jesus, is to show our participation with him – we belong to him so we are ready to suffer like him. Jesus said,
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12)
Rejoice and be glad – perhaps not words you’d associate with suffering. But Jesus points out that there is joy in sharing in his suffering and reminds us of the eternal reward that is kept for us in heaven.
In his book, ‘God’s Smuggler’, Brother Andrew (who founded Open Doors) writes about a visit to Czechoslovakia in the days of the iron curtain. He had visited to see the situation of the church there and records an encounter with a young Christian there:
The young man handed me a box and said, ‘take this to Holland with you and when people ask you about it, tell them about us and remind them that we are part of the Body, too, and that we are in pain.’ I took the box and opened it. Inside was a silver lapel ornament in the shape of a tiny cup. I had seen several of the young people wearing them and had wondered what they were. As he pinned to it my jacket, the young man said, ‘This is the symbol of the Church in Czechoslovakia. We call it the Cup of Suffering.’
We have been praying recently for the persecuted church. They can teach us so much about what it is to gather to worship regardless of the cost, to live for Jesus in the knowledge that today could be your last day on earth, to pray like your life and the lives of your brothers and sisters depended on, and to be bold in telling people about Jesus! As Christians today, we must learn to wear the Cup of Suffering with honour and joy.
Next week - 'Finding Joy in the Church'