The Rugged Path: Called to Suffer
Bible Lesson: 2 Corinthians 1:3-11
Theme Verse: Vs. 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort
When the late Bishop of Madras was visiting Travancore, there was introduced to him a little slave girl called “The Child Apostle.” She had won this title by the zeal with which she talked of Christ to others and brought them to His grace. For this she suffered and was persecuted. When she was introduced to the Bishop, her face, neck and arms were disfigured and scarred by stripes and blows. As bishop looked at her, he said, “My child, how could you bear this?” She looked up at him in surprise and said, “Don’t you like to suffer for Christ, sir?”
Suffering is a part of Christian living. If we claim to be the true followers of Christ then we need to bear the cost. As Tertullian, the historian has said, ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.’ Right from St. Stephen (the first Christian martyr in the book of Acts) till today, Church history reveals that many God’s servants faced persecution and atrocities for the sake of Christ. At the time of suffering Satan plans to entice us to curse God and loose our faith in Him. Paul writes in Romans 8: 35 ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? In answer to this he shares that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Satan has no authority to snatch us away from God’s power, God’s presence and God’s protection.
Sometimes, we may feel lonely at the time of persecution but God’s hand is on us always. Dixon Hoste felt loneliness when Hudson Taylor retired and placed the leadership of China Inland Mission on his shoulders. After his appointment Hoste said, ‘And now I have no one, no one but God.’ Oswald Sanders writes, ‘Suffering involves self-sacrifice, loneliness, betrayal, fatigue, criticism, rejection, pressure and perplexity’
The word, ‘comfort’ means ‘to console’ i.e. to make someone feel less anxious or troubled, to relieve from distress. Paul encourages the believers that even in the midst of sufferings God is the source of all comfort. In Vs. 8-9, he explains the severity of troubles he and his colleagues faced: ‘we were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure’ further he says ‘but this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God.’ In all our circumstances our focus should be on God. Our Lord Jesus Christ took all our sufferings on the cross so that we may be comforted. 1 Peter 2: 24 says, ‘by His wounds you have been healed.’ In John 14 when disciples were perplexed about their future, Jesus assured them in vs. 16 that He will ask His Father to send another Advocate to help them and to be with them forever. This Advocate is the Holy Spirit who is our Counselor and Comforter. The Greek word used is parakletos meaning ‘burden bearer.’ In 2 Corinthians 1:10, Paul testifies that in past God had delivered them from deadly troubles and He will deliver them again. Friends if you are going through any type of suffering then you will find comfort in praying, in claiming the promises of the Word, and having deeper fellowship with our Lord. In Isaiah 51:12, God says ‘I am He who comforts you, why then you are afraid of mere mortal men.’ God is our Light and Salvation whom shall we fear? (Ps. 27:1); He will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5); Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will have no fear of evil, for He is with us and His rod and staff, they comfort us (Ps. 23: 4); As a mother comforts her child, similarly our God comfort us wherever we are (Isaiah 66:13) because the steadfast love of God never ceases, they are new every morning (Lam. 3:22-23).
In Verse 4, Paul expects from us as we are being comforted at the times of troubles, we may also comfort others with the comfort we have received from God. There are so many living stories and testimonies of the past about the sufferings of God servants which continue to comfort and encourage us. Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna is not mentioned in the New Testament but he ministered with Apostle John. John wrote the Revelation, addressing a portion of it to the believers in Smyrna: I know how much you suffer and how poor you are, but you are rich. … Don’t worry about what you will suffer. … If you are faithful until you die, I will reward you with a glorious life (Rev 2:9-10). Polycarp faced his greatest test in the mid-second century, during the reign of Antoninus Pius. A persecution broke out against Christians, and several of his church members were killed. On February 23, c. 155 a Roman officer publicly demanded that Polycarp should renounce Christ. The old pastor’s famous reply has echoed through history: “Eighty and six years have I served him and he has done me no wrong. Can I revile my King that saved me?” By hearing this Emperor shouted, “I’ll throw you to the beasts!” and warned him that he will throw him in the furnace. Polycarp replied, “You try to frighten me with fire that burns for an hour and you forget the fire of hell that never goes out.” As the flames leapt around him, Polycarp looked up to heaven, praising God and thanking Him that he was counted worthy to take up the cup of Christ. An hour later his body was turned into ashes and his soul was with Christ. In 2 Corinth 4:16-17 Paul encourages every believer, ‘so we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure.’ Jesus Christ assured in Matthew 5: 11-12 those who suffer for His sake will be rewarded at the end. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.
Dietrich Bonheoffer, Cost of Discipleship