Meditation on “Are We Part of the Fellowship?”

This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Bound to Be Free compiled by Jan Pit. In the following short quotation from Joseph Ton (Romanian Christian writer), there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for Him.  (Philippians 1:29)

Suffering is not something strange.  Actually, it is not even a tragedy, but a favor.  ‘To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps’ (1 Peter 2:21).

According to Peter, suffering is our calling.  It is even a favor.  Peter and John were flogged, which is a terrible punishment.  But when they were sent away with bloody backs, they rejoiced ‘because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name’ (Acts 5:41).

Peter and John considered it a special honor to be flogged, as if they realized that they had received something which was not granted to everyone.

A Christian must be found worthy to suffer for the Lord.  Such suffering is a calling, a favor and an honor.

A moment of introspection:  In this unique and difficult message, God relays that not many would choose to suffer for any cause—whether secular or Christian.  A life of ease has become a standard for many living under western democracies.  Yet many Christians around the world know that serving God, or even living godly lives, can and does easily carry with it the opportunity to share in the biblical calling to suffer for the Name of Christ (1 Peter 2:21).  For these, suffering is not something strange (1 Peter 4:12-13).  That said, let us look more deeply at the apostle Peter’s understanding of being “counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”

Is suffering for Christ beneficial to Christians?  Matthew Henry, in his Concise Commentary on Acts 5:41, said “Reproach for Christ is truly to be preferred, as it makes us conformable in conforming to his pattern, open to focusing on the interests of Christ and not ourselves.”  Notice, he did not say that it makes us “comfortable” in conforming to Christ’s example.  Rather, he averred, “it makes us conformable” to the pattern Christ set before us in and through His life here on earth.  Conforming to the example set for us by Christ Jesus may indeed not be comfortable.  Peter described our calling of suffering as a favor.  What would that favor have been?  The Holman Bible Handbook states that “Peter and John were assured by now that although they might suffer disgrace and bodily punishment, God’s word would prosper.”  Might we not think that God would place importance on the prospering of His Word?  And would He not value the promulgation of His Word more than our comfort and ease as His followers? 

It is interesting that, according to the Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary, “This verse provides the first instance of physical persecution against the followers of Jesus Christ—in this case against the leaders of the Christian movement. The apostles’ response would set a precedent for other Christians who would be persecuted. Instead of complaining or feeling sorry for themselves, they rejoiced that they were counted worthy by God to endure the abuse. The apostles knew that more important things than preserving their health and life were at stake. God was using the suffering of the disciples to bring people into His kingdom (Matthew 5:10–12; Philippians 1:29; 2 Timothy 2:12).”  Note that in this commentary, mention is made of “…Christians who would be persecuted…”, not referring to Christians who are being persecuted.  Consider seriously the coming persecution of Christians in the Western hemisphere and elsewhere.  Nelson addresses his commentary to us Christians who well may be persecuted in days ahead.

There are benefits to following in the exemplary life and style of Jesus.  But why must a Christian be counted…?  Let’s look at some other testimonies from Holy Scripture.  In Matthew 5:10-12, Christ Jesus instructed His followers thusly:  “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  Christians who are persecuted for Christ’s sake are blessed; they/we are told to rejoice and be glad for being reviled, defamed and demeaned by the world.  Such treatment is extremely hard to bear; Christ knows.  This is a blessing few would want.  But perhaps this, too, is why a Christian must be counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.  Christians interested in their own safety and comfort may miss the roll call of those counted worthy of suffering for righteousness’ sake.

The apostle Paul, in writing to the church in Philippi, told his hearers that ...“it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake”. (Philippians 1:29)  Paul told them and us, that “for the sake of Christ”, we are to do two things:  believe in Christ, and suffer for His sake.  We who rest in the safety of the Church and its building, may miss the roll call of those counted worthy of suffering for righteousness’ sake.

Apostle Paul also left instructions for Timothy, his co-laborer in the mission field:  “if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us;” (2 Timothy 2:12) what are we to endure?  Could it be suffering for the Name of Christ, in the example of Christ, toward the end that God’s Word might prosper?  Enduring signifies surviving, remaining faithful despite, strengthening ourselves in God’s Word, and seeing the struggle through to the end.  We who shrink from suffering because of the Name of Christ, may miss the roll call of those counted worthy of suffering for righteousness’ sake.

In the testimonies of these three witnesses, we find reasons why each of us may face the roll call, must be counted worthy of enduring suffering.  Not all Christians will be blessed when persecuted for righteousness’ sake.  Not all Christians will make use of the full armor of God to defend against the flaming arrows of reviling and false/evil accusations on Christ’s account.  For some, the gift of belief in the Savior is accompanied by suffering “...for His sake”; these have been counted worthy of suffering for the Name.  For these, such tribulation is a favor, if through it the word of God prospers.  For others, the world would compel them “...don’t do us any favors.”  Not all will endure suffering that would make the normal man or woman or child despair of life.  Those who do endure and do not deny Christ amid the pain, the agony and the tribulations, shall claim the promise of reigning with Christ.

Joseph Ton remarked, “Peter and John considered it a special honor to be flogged, as if they realized that they had received something which was not granted to everyone.”  Honor is received in this capacity, through being part of the fellowship of suffering that Christ, the apostle Paul, and the apostle Peter describe.  This honor is not granted to everyone.  The apostle Paul, for example, in his letter to the young church in Philippi, (Philippians 3:10-11) remarked on living his life so that he “may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”  Paul was motivated highly to become like Jesus Christ as much as he possibly could.  He was a willing member of the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings.  Indeed, Paul endured to the end, remaining faithful to Christ and His message of redemptive love.  In his letter to the church in Corinth, (2 Corinthians 1:5) Paul stated that, “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”  Paul shared in Christ’s suffering and in His comfort as well. 

Those who open their lives to the love of Christ and are willing to endure through suffering and tribulation, will be blessed, will rejoice and be glad, and will share in the comfort of Christ Himself.  They are counted worthy of suffering disgrace, hardship, suffering and all the attacks of Satan--for the Name above all names, even Jesus Christ.  May we say that we are counted worthy ... ?

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