When I read the Bible, I’m often very aware of how different my perspective is from God’s. There are many passages and principles that I bristle against. The ways of God’s Kingdom aren’t comfortable. And I don’t always want to follow the ways of Christ.
In the book of Acts, we read about the early church. The apostles were left to walk out this life of faith. They faithfully followed Jesus’s instruction to make disciples. They had the privilege of figuring out how to replicate their experience of walking with Jesus in those who were now following them. It’s fascinating to read through the book of Acts and try to identify the ways the apostles were imitating Christ. Many of their actions mirrored what they had learned from his incredible ministry on the earth.
In Acts 5, we see a clear example of this. Because of the practical application of their faith in God, they drew the ire and jealousy of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, just like Jesus had. These powerful religious leaders conspired together and threw the apostles into prison.
Then, one night an angel appeared to them, opened the door to their cell, and told them to go and continue to preach. The next morning, the apostles obeyed. They were at the temple at the break of dawn, telling people about Christ.
Of course, the Pharisees and Sadducees weren’t pleased with this. They plotted to kill them! But, because the religious elite feared the response of the people, they refrained. Instead, they decided to wait and see if this movement fizzled out like so many others had in the past.
“…and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they [the disciples] left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” Acts 5:40-41 (ESV)
When I read through this story, I realize just how different my response to life is. The apostles were unjustly arrested, beaten, and threatened because they were following Christ. It was their devotion to the life and ways of Jesus that made them a threat to the religious elite at the time and, as a result, the apostles were in constant danger. Yet they rejoiced.
The apostles didn’t enjoy their suffering—Jesus doesn’t call us to be masochistic—but they rejoiced because they shared in the suffering that Jesus experienced. Their lives looked like his, and that was a cause for celebration.
I tend to rejoice at the parts of my life that are good, safe, or profitable. I celebrate when I experience what I perceive to be a blessing—a raise, a new opportunity, some type of provision. Then, when something I don’t like happens to me, I perceive it as a bad thing. I can think that it’s an attack. Or I can believe that an unpleasant thing shows that God is displeased with me. But I think that’s a poor thought process.
We know that because we are in Christ, God is pleased with us. He loves us. Of course, he disciplines his children, but that doesn’t mean that he’s mad at us. He’s not punitive or manipulative. Of course, there are attacks of the enemy, and it’s up to us to discern what a particular event in our lives is.
I think, especially here in America, we’re too quick to label any momentary discomfort as something bad. After all, suffering for Christ is part of the sanctification process. It’s a sharpening that we go through. It’s part of the refining process of the fires of circumstance. When we suffer for Christ’s sake, our priorities are shifted and we develop endurance. I believe that our devotion to God and our love for him will grow as we follow him more. And, as a result, we will suffer with him.
Just like we discussed last week, suffering isn’t something that we should seek out. Instead, this is a natural by-product of our faith and devotion to Christ. Our lives should be Jesus-focused and, when we do that, suffering will naturally come to find us. And, when it does, we can choose to rejoice because of who our God is.
One final thought on this particular subject: I wonder if our rejoicing is weak because our suffering is low. I can’t help but wonder how our joy in Christ might increase as we die to ourselves more and more. Things will be hard—Jesus warned us about that—but maybe we would become quicker to rejoice. Maybe our joy as the American church is shallow because we haven’t shared in the suffering of Christ. It’s just a thought I had while writing this post, I’m not sure that I have an answer. But I think it’s an interesting hypothesis.
Let’s choose to fix our eyes on Jesus again today and follow his words. Though uncomfortable and even unpopular, his way of life will lead to suffering. And, in that fiery furnace, we can choose to rejoice because we know who our great God is!
When do you rejoice?
Do you think a lack of suffering is connected with shallow rejoicing? Why or why not?