Called to Conform

Conflict and Suffering

By Denise M. Kohlmeyer

Called to Conform
An in-depth series on the practical outworkings of Christ-like Conformity

A Messianic Mindset
A Heart Like Jesus
The Obedience of Christ
A Life Poured Out
Conflict and Suffering
Final Thoughts

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord...that I may become like Him in His death. Philippians 3:7-8, 10

It is only human nature to try to avoid suffering and conflicts. They are distasteful, disruptive. Yet they can't be helped. They happen, even to "good" people. There is an age-old question: Why does God allow "good" people suffer? Why is there evil in this world? Why do innocent people sometimes undergo terrible tragedies, injustices, sufferings?

This is one reason why a lot of people shy away from Christianity. They just cannot — will not! — accept or believe in a God who "stands idly by" while so much pain and suffering goes on in the world. Conform to Christ? No, thank you! Not if it involves sacrificing, servitude, and especially suffering!

But without suffering redemption — eternal life — would not be possible. Without Christ's sufferings — hunger, thirst, loneliness, abandonment, betrayal, mockery, insults, false accusations injustice, scourgings, piercings, pain, public humiliation, deep sorrow, distress, and ultimately, dying — we would all be left in our sins, with no hope of reconciliation, with no chance of redemption for our sorry souls. Our default destination would be Hell.
Suffering is the way God has chosen to bring redemption to a fallen world. Jesus suffered for us and gave us His example to follow. We cannot "die to ourselves" without suffering. Suffering has as its goal the sanctification, the purification of our souls and spirits. Nancy Missler; "The Fellowship of His Suffering
"The Fellowship of His Suffering"

And, once redeemed, true believers understand that conflicts (such as persecution) and sufferings (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual) are an expected part of their spiritual journey. "For to you it has been granted [dóreomai, "to give freely," as a gift] on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake" (Philippians 1:29). First Peter 2:21a says it is even a "calling."

The first gift, or calling, we've been given is salvation ("to believe in Him"); the second is suffering ("to suffer for His sake").

The first is easy enough (relatively-speaking), but the second? Here, many hesitate. But complete conformity to Jesus Christ requires — no, demands! — that we suffer "for His sake." Like Paul — who endured persecution wherever he went (Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, 2 Timothy 3:10-11) and suffered from deprivation, distresses, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, long hours of laboring, sleeplessness, fastings (2 Corinthians 6:3-10) — we too will suffer persecution in various forms: jokes, insults, snide remarks, bullying, rejection, betrayal, abandonment, perhaps even physical abuse.

Persecution will look differently for everyone, but it is persecution nonetheless, as long as it is for "the His sake."

But our response to suffering must be the same, the same as the gracious, God-honoring response of Jesus Christ, who set us an example (1 Peter 2:21b):

• "He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth" (Isaiah 53:7)

• "When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly" (1 Peter 2:23)

• "And Jesus said [during His crucifixion], "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34)
We are to respond to unjust suffering in the same way that Jesus responded. When we decided to follow Jesus, submissive suffering was part of the deal. Suffering and struggles are normative in the Christian life, and our job description is to respond righteously to them, in submissive obedience to the Lord. Pastor Doug Goins; "Submission and Suffering," 1992
Suffering Brings Blessings

Our suffering is not for naught. There are many, many blessings that come from suffering. What the world would consider a bad thing (to suffer) (and even some Christians see suffering as incurring God's disfavor), we know that God can — and does — bring about blessings through our conflicts and suffering.

Blessing #1: Suffering Manifests God's Glory to Others (2 Corinthians 12:9-10; John 9:3; 1 Peter 4:16)
Blessing #2: Suffering Accomplishes Our Conformity (Romans 8:28)
Blessing #3: Suffering Brings Greater Joy (James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 4:12-14)
Blessing #4: Suffering Draws Us Closer to God (Psalm 51:10-12; Matthew 28:30)
Blessing #5: Suffering Strengthens and Affirms our Faith (1 Peter 1:6-7)
Blessing #6: Suffering Sanctifies Us, Makes Us Holy (Hebrews 12:7-11; Romans 5:3-4; James 1:3-4)
Blessing #7: Suffering is a Witness to Others (2 Timothy 2:8-10)
Blessing #8: Suffering Enables Us to Sympathize with Others ( 2 Corinthians 1:3-5)
Blessing #9: Suffering Shares in Christ's Glory (2 Timothy 2:12; 1 Peter 4:13, 5:10)

Yes, conflicts and sufferings are unpleasant, unwanted; but they truly are "light and momentary afflictions" compared to the glory it brings our great God and the blessings it bestows upon us.

When next you suffer for the sake of your Savior, keep in mind 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, "We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."

For more on suffering for the sake of Christ, please read "Is suffering for Christ always going to be a part of being a follower of Christ?".

Image Credit: Grant MacDonald; "holding on to the cross"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  |  Christian-Life  |  Hardships  |  Jesus-Christ

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Published on 7-19-17