CONFLICT AND SUFFERING
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.
It is human nature to try to avoid suffering and conflicts. They're 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 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.
"The Fellowship of His Suffering"
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, but the second? Here, many hesitate. Complete conformity to Jesus Christ requires that we suffer "for His sake." Like Paul — who endured persecution wherever he went and suffered from deprivation, distresses, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, long hours of laboring, sleeplessness, fastings — 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:
• "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)
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
Blessing #2: Suffering Accomplishes Our Conformity
Blessing #3: Suffering Brings Greater Joy
Blessing #4: Suffering Draws Us Closer to God
Blessing #5: Suffering Strengthens and Affirms our Faith
Blessing #6: Suffering Sanctifies Us, Makes Us Holy
Blessing #7: Suffering is a Witness to Others
Blessing #8: Suffering Enables Us to Sympathize with Others
Blessing #9: Suffering Shares in Christ's Glory
Yes, conflicts and sufferings are unpleasant and 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."
Be encouraged. Be blessed.