The Call To Suffer

“But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Acts 9:15-16)

These are the instructions of the Lord to Ananias concerning Saul of Tarsus. The Lord appeared to Ananias in a vision instructing him to go and lay his hands on Saul in order that his sight might be restored. Knowing the reputation of the man and how he has persecuted the Church relentlessly, Ananias, understandably, is surprised by God’s directions. Nevertheless, God assures Ananias that He has a plan for Saul of Tarsus that involves “bearing His name” before kings, Gentiles, and those of Israel.

Let us take note of two things in the Lord’s words to Ananias about the man who will one day come to be known as the Apostle Paul: 1.) Paul is chosen by God, that is, God has a calling for Paul to serve Him, to be an instrument or vessel of the Lord and, 2.) Part of that calling involves suffering. Thus, the Apostle Paul will simultaneously be in the will of God and also suffering trials and hardships as he does so.

We as Christians in this day and age often lose sight of the fact that suffering, to one degree or another, is an inevitable part of our walk with the Lord. Moreover, we also tend to think that suffering is a sign that something is wrong and that those who experience it must have drifted away from God. Some preachers and teachers lead us to believe that, if our faith is strong enough and we are standing firm on God’s Word, the trials and tribulations of this life will pass us by as we stand in the safe shelter of God’s loving arms. And in those occasions that hardship does befall us, we are exhorted to seek to discover what it is God is trying to “teach” us in the storm.

“For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:20-21)

Sin can and does break our fellowship with God and often brings with it earthly consequences. If the “storm” we are in is the result of our own sinful behavior, then we definitely should not only seek to know what God is trying to teach us but also confess that sin to the Lord and turn from it! But there is also the suffering that comes upon us simply for doing what is right, not that which is wrong. The Apostle Peter says that this is the purpose for which we have been called: to follow in the steps of Jesus.

Even so, trials, hardships, and sufferings have a way of catching us off guard. They’re certainly not something we make plans for, even though we know that they will occur from time to time. And rather than patiently enduring and accepting our situation, we grumble, complain, and even doubt and question the Lord. Never would we even consider rejoicing that we have been counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of the Lord (cf. Acts 5:41).

Virtually every person of God mentioned in the Bible bears the wounds and scars of suffering in the account of their life. Countless examples could be cited that demonstrate that those who walk the closest with God often suffer the most for Him. My message here is not that we should seek out suffering and embrace it as a masochistic martyr, but that we should understand that we will face hardships and trials when we seek to live the Christian life. Jesus Himself told us that we would have tribulation in this world but to be of good courage because our Lord has overcome the world (John 16:33). The good news is that we serve a God Who has already defeated sin, death, and Satan and that our eternal destiny is to live with Him forever! For all the sufferings that the Apostle Paul would endure, he had these simple words to say of them:

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)

Finally, I wish to close with the autobiographical account of Paul himself, looking back over years of service to Christ. Few of us will ever be called upon to suffer for the Lord the way this man did and yet his assessment in the end was that he regretted nothing (2 Timothy 4:7). Someone once presented to me a theory which states that the Christianity that Paul taught is different from the Christianity which Peter, John, and even Jesus Himself taught. The suggestion was that Paul had created a “false Christianity” born out of his own imagination and which he himself knew to be a lie. I referred the critic to the following passage and said that, if what he said was true, then Paul sure underwent a whole lot of suffering for a lie. People might suffer willingly for something they believe to be true, even if it’s not, but nobody is willing to suffer for something which they know to be false!

“[I have been] beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?

If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and so escaped his hands.” (2 Corinthians 11:23b-33)

To God goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

Reaping And Sowing

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” (Galatians 6:7)

Jacob in the Book of Genesis is one of the first examples we have in the Bible of the law of reaping and sowing in action. He took advantage of his brother Esau’s carnality and  pressed him to sell him his birthright for a bowl of soup (Gen. 25). He deceived his father, Isaac, and fooled him into giving him the blessing of the first-born son (Gen. 27:). It seems in his early life that Jacob sought to acquire those things which God intended for him through deception and guile.

Jacob sowed deception and only a few chapters later we see him reaping the same. Laban, his uncle, deals with Jacob deceptively throughout Genesis 29-31 and, no sooner does he escape than he finds himself having to pass right through Edom, the home of his brother Esau whom he deceived so many years before.

Jacob will eventually fall victim to the very same type of deception from his own sons culminating in the selling of his favorite son, Joseph, into Egyptian slavery (Gen. 37). Rather than dealing honestly with their father, the sons, of course, lie and deceive him about Joseph’s fate.

The tale of Jacob is one wrought with pain, sorrow, and regret. At the end of his life, he tells Egypt’s Pharaoh:

“The years of my sojourning are one hundred and thirty; few and unpleasant have been the years of my life, nor have they attained the years that my fathers lived during the days of their sojourning.” (Genesis 47:9)

And what of King David, the man after God’s own heart? His adultery with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite, in order to cover up his indiscretion brought horrific consequences upon his household and would forever stain his life. The blood on David’s hands would severely limit the potential God had blessed him with and would alter the course which God had intended for him to walk.

Saul of Tarsus, the great persecutor of the early Church, would himself suffer greatly at the hands of those who would beat and cast stones at the body of the apostle, much as he had done to others. the Lord said of him when he was converted and became the Apostle Paul:

“For I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.”(Acts 9:16)

Paul’s own testimony in 2 Corinthians 11:24-28 attests to the validity of the Lord’s warning.

The Biblical law of Reaping and Sowing is seldom talked about in the Body of Christ anymore. Because the Lord forgives our sins, we tend to forget that there are often temporal consequences for the sins we commit. We relegate verses like Galatians 6:7 to the unsaved and unrepentant. It is the lost sinner who will ultimately reap what he sows in the fires of Hell, we conclude. Yet all of the examples we have considered were, in fact, the Lord’s people! Jacob, David, Paul, and many others mentioned in the Bible who suffered likewise were servants of God who would reap the harvest of their actions. And the Book of Galatians was not addressed to lost sinners, but to a body of believers in Christ.

God does forgive our sins and, for those trusting in Jesus Christ, an eternity in Hell is not a consequence of those sins. But there are other consequences that we may suffer here on earth for our actions. Just because we have passed from death to life and are saved by the blood of Jesus in no way means that we can expect to get away with behaving however we please.

As we begin a new year, may all of God’s people be mindful of the words we say and the deeds we do. Let us begin afresh to sow things pertaining to godliness and holiness into our own lives and the lives of those around us. It does matter how we treat others and may we never be guilty of supposing that our access to the forgiveness of Christ enables us to fulfill the lusts of the flesh with impunity.

To God goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

These Men Had Been With Jesus (Acts 4:13)

“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13 NIV)

Lord,

This verse of your Holy Word convicts me because I confess that there are not many “astonished” by my courage for You. We, the people of Your Body, are all ordinary men yet You have called us to do extraordinary things by the power of Your Spirit. For it was not the courage and confidence of Peter that gave him the strength to preach the Gospel before the very men who called for Your blood to be shed, but Your Word tells us that he was filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8). It is not many of the wise, or the noble of this world whom You have called to share the Message of Salvation with a lost and dying world but ordinary, weak and earthen vessels into whom You have poured Your power.

Nor is our courage and confidence to be found in the education and knowledge of this age, even if such things have their benefits. Though we might possess great acumen for scholarship, or a prodigious aptitude for philosophical and intellectual pursuits, these can do nothing to change a hardened heart except Your Spirit moves upon it. Neither must a lack of education or learning be cause for fear and anxiety because, after all, it was Your power present in those two fishermen that day that made the lame man walk — something which all the combined mental abilities of some of the greatest thinkers in Israel could not accomplish. Day after day that crippled man was set right before the door of the great temple as the most prominent religious leaders in the nation walked right by him and his legs remained as lifeless as they had been the day before; until Your Spirit raised him up at the word of two of the most unlikely men in the entire assembly. 

Perhaps, Lord God, it is the last words of this verse which bring the most conviction. Because after the miracle of the crippled man leaping up and walking and the untrained fishermen preaching boldly in the temple to the astonishment of the religious leaders of the Sanhedrin, it is said that those present took note that these men had been with Jesus. Their words and their actions did not reflect their own “glory” but pointed squarely to the One Who had sent them: You, Lord Jesus. Are those whom I encounter in my own day-to-day life taking note that I have spent time with Jesus? Are they hearing my words and seeing my actions and praising my Heavenly Father? Or do I even look and sound like I have spent much time with You at all? 

Lord, let my life be so lived that others may examine it and take note that I have been with Jesus. Let my own words and actions be saturated with a holy courage, causing others to be “astonished” that the power of God can work through even the feeblest of instruments. Let me sit and learn at the feet of the Master and enable me to proclaim with boldness those things which I shall hear there. 

In the name of Jesus I pray,

Amen