This blog records my transition from the Churches of Christ to Eastern Orthodoxy.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Forgotten Christian Values: Suffering

i did think of one value that i didn't put on the original list.   The first century church clearly seems to have had a different attitude toward suffering than we do.  Christians in the early church seemed to value and pursue suffering for Christ's sake.  In fact, they deemed it as an honor to undergo such an experience--an experience for which a person must be worthy.

The apostles were interrogated, commanded to stop preaching Christ, and then flogged by the Sanhedrin.  And Luke records:

"Then they left the presence of the council rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name" (Acts 5:41).

Paul says, "We rejoice in our sufferings.." (Rom 5:3).

After recounting a long list of his own hardships, Paul talks about his "weaknesses."  We typically refer to this verse as though it's talking about sinful-struggles.  But that's not how Paul caches out "weakness."  Instead, Paul sees "weakness" as the various abuses he's suffered while following Christ.  And what does he says about those weaknesses?

"for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2Cor 12:10).

Paul tells the Philippians:

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

Paul speaks of getting to suffer for Christ as a privilege that hand been granted to the Philippians.

Paul says of his own personal goals:

"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain the resurrection from the dead" (Phil 3:10-11 ).

Peter tells his readers who were undergoing persecution:

"Rejoice that your participate in the sufferings of Christ" (1Pet 4:13).

And then there's Jesus who always seems to say the exact opposite of common sense.

"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matt 5:11-12).

Blessed!  Not pitied, not stupid, not "Gee, man, that sucks," not "That's so wrong! I'll come down and zap the people who are hurting you," but blessed.  That's how Jesus describes suffering and persecution.

In what ways is the 21st century church different from the 1st century church on this point?  In what ways do our values about suffering obviously differ from the values of Jesus and the apostles?  Should we have such different values about suffering than they did?

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