Persecution as “life-blood”: Why God allows us to suffer
Ps Michael Ross-Watson // October 6, 2019, 2:13 pm
God promises us that He will not allow us to be tested above that which we are able to bear, writes Pastor Michael Ross-Watson. Photo by Kenny Luo on Unsplash.
When Paul writes about suffering in this passage, he is talking specifically about suffering for Christ, and for the sake of the Gospel (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).
One of the verses of Scripture that has often challenged me personally is Paul’s word to Timothy: “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).
We are in a spiritual battle! At various points and in various ways, the enemy will seek to attack and hurt us. This might be through inward attacks, or outward attacks by people who oppose the Gospel. One of the ways that this attack comes is through persecution. There will be opposition when, however gentle we may be, we uncompromisingly share our faith in Jesus, and the meaning of salvation.
Jesus warns: “Woe to you when all men speak well of you” (Luke 6:26).
God comes alongside
The early Church knew a lot about persecution. We see it from the very beginning in the book of Acts. Several books, including Hebrews, James and the epistles of Peter were written against the backcloth of persecution and suffering. Writing to the Thessalonians, Paul spoke of their being appointed to afflictions (1 Thessalonians 3:2-3).
However great the trial, God promises His presence and encouragement.
On several occasions Paul spoke to the Corinthians about his suffering. Here is one such passage:
“Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort. I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation. For indeed, when we came to Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears. Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus.” (2 Corinthians 7:4-6)
Notice that there were physical attacks, but Paul also experienced fear and was downcast.
“Please don’t stop the persecution. It is our life-blood!”
The Greek word translated as comfort in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 is ‘parakalesis’ meaning consolation, encouragement and comfort. The prefix ‘para’ means to come alongside. God comes alongside us to encourage us. The Greek word that we translate as ‘tribulation’ (NKJV) or ‘trouble’ (NIV) is ‘thlipsis’ and depicts a crushing pressure and immense trial.
However great the trial, God promises His presence and encouragement and will bring us through. He will speak to us through His Word, promising us that He will not allow us to be tested above that which we are able to bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). He will also minister His comfort to us through others, as in the coming of Titus to Paul.
Why God allows us to suffer
Some years ago I remember that Brother Yuen (known as the Heavenly Man) was invited to speak to a large legislative body in the United States. He was asked how they could best stop the persecution of Christians in China. Brother Yuen’s response was: “Please don’t stop the persecution. It is our life-blood!”
I often worked with Brother Yuen and remember how he spoke of himself and Peter Shu joking about whose turn it was next to have a rest in prison!
So why does God allow suffering?
#1: That we in turn might comfort others who suffer
When we have experienced God bringing us through a crushing experience, our testimony can become a powerful means of strengthening the faith of others. Over the years, my wife and I have proven that the stories of brokenness and suffering, and God bringing us through, are far more powerful than the exciting stories of our successes.
#2: Because He wants us to grow and become strong in Him
For something to become strong it must go through fire and be tested.
Praise God for His mercy, for both the testing times and the easier times.
I have noticed that many Christians who have a lot of the physical comforts of life do not grow so well spiritually. Job said: “When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). Both James 1:2-4 and Romans 5:3-4 speak of spiritual growth through trials and tribulation.
Jesus promised us: “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Praise God for His mercy, for both the testing times and the easier times. Paul said: “I have learned to be abased, and I know how to abound. I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:12-13)
#3: Because this is what it costs to follow Christ
“It is the way the Master went; should not the servant tread it still” (Horatius Bonar, 1843).
Writing to the Philippians, Paul said that he wanted to know the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings (Philippians 3:10). In our Bible he says, “as the sufferings of Christ abound in us” (2 Corinthians 1:3-7; 11:22-33).
The sufferings of Christ to redeem us are unique and cannot be repeated, but Paul suffered for Christ as he obeyed and imitated Him.
These articles were first published on Ps Michael Ross-Watson’s website and has been republished with permission from his family.
Reflection and Discussion
- Why do you think God allows us to go through times of great trial and sometimes crushing pressure?
- Read James 1:2. What does James say about our attitude to trials? Why does the Church so often grow more quickly and strongly when it goes through times of persecution?
- Do you remember a time when you experienced a great trial and God comforted you and brought you through? Why not thank Him today?