This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Bound to Be Free compiled by Jan Pit. In the following short message concerning Joseph Ton (Romanian Christian writer), there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation. (2 Corinthians 1:6)
What Paul wants to say is: I am suffering for your salvation.
To illustrate this, we must go back to the time when Romania was still suffering under Communism. In Joseph Ton's church, one Christian was a manager in a big factory. As a consequence of his conversion, all employees of the factory were called together by the Communist Party to witness his degradation from manager to the lowest job in the factory. 'How should I defend myself?' he asked Joseph. 'Don't defend yourself at all,' Joseph advised him, 'you'd use the time they give you to defend yourself better, by telling them who Jesus is and what He means to you.'
It was really impressive how he bore witness of this Savior in front of all those people. Afterwards, he was degraded and his salary lowered accordingly. But his faith was rewarded. His suffering brought salvation to other people, for later on, he told Joseph, 'everywhere in the factory, people take my hand and ask me to tell them about Jesus. Many of them ask me to get them a Bible.'
Because this brother was prepared to suffer for the Lord, other people were saved. Those who are prepared to pay the price (status, salary, defamation) will be a blessing to others and will also receive God's prize: eternal life.
A moment of introspection: In this respect, we consider Altruism ("the principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others (opposed to egoism)) [http://www.dictionary.reference.com]--the suffering of personal loss for another's sake; deferential concern for others' well-being in this life--and perhaps even more importantly, in the next life throughout eternity's passage. God's Word has numerous examples of what selfless love might teach us. In Luke's Gospel, Jesus told a story of a Samaritan traveler who, forgetting himself, sacrificed his plans for the sake of aiding an injured and suffering stranger (Luke 10:25-37). In John's Gospel, Christ laid the altruistic foundation in terms of no greater love existing than laying down one's life for a friend. (John 15:13) But Christ himself set the ceiling therefor in three ways: 1) 2 Corinthians 8:9 "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.", 2) Hebrews 12:3 "Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.", and 3) Romans 5:6-8 "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die--but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Christ died for us--for our salvation, but also for our abundance of life. (John 10:10)
The apostle Paul, both in his second letter to the church in Corinth and in his letter to the church in Philippi, acknowledged his own distress, and that of other apostles suffering for the sake of otherwise lost sinners. (2 Corinthians 1:6; 4:8-18; Philippians 2:17) But the suffering experienced by the apostles as they spread the Good News, did not hamper the promulgation of the message of Christ. Consider Tertullian, an early church leader, writing a bit later. In his book, The Apology (197 A.D.), Tertullian wrote to the Roman governor of his province, and noted that persecution was not able to destroy Christianity. He wrote:
"Kill us, torture us, condemn us, grind us to dust; your injustice is the proof that we are innocent. Therefore God suffers (allows) that we thus suffer. When you recently condemned a Christian woman to the leno (pimp, i.e., accused her of being a prostitute) rather than to the leo (lion), you made confession that a taint on our purity is considered among us something more terrible than any punishment and any death. Nor does your cruelty, however exquisite, avail you; it is rather a temptation to us. The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed."
If we suffer to bring the Gospel to a lost world--suffering for its salvation--we join with our worldwide body of faith and with the evangelical church throughout history in carrying a Light and a Gospel that no one on earth can destroy. Where do you and I work? Where do we live? Can we not be Light carriers into the darkness around us? What would we be willing to suffer, for the salvation of a few or many? How much distress might we tolerate, for the comfort of the hurting and of the lost?
If we should balk at or resist the possibility of suffering for the Lord, we would do well to consider the story of Jonah. Jonah, too, resisted God's call to confront the people of Nineveh for its sin--which "insulted" Jonah's pride and prejudice. He would not approach Nineveh, but ran instead towards Tarshish. His sea-going flight was fruitless, as Jonah was deposited back where God again asked him to go to Nineveh and preach so as to bring about its repentance. Jonah went and did so. In our lives, what arguments do we erect against leaving our ease and taking Christ's yoke on our shoulders (Matthew 11:29-30)...? Almost imperceptibly I hear the strains of "Children, go where I send you..." being sung, calling us from our torpor and resulting ennui. Escaping such disquietude, one might re-read the "Go To Everyone I Send You To" meditation on the Christians In Crisis web site, and take it seriously. With whom in our lives, do we have an appointment waiting, to offer Living Water? (John 7:38) The harvest is ripe (John 4:31-36); let us pray for laborers (Luke 10:2) such as ourselves, to aid in bringing in the harvest--and if we are distressed...