Usually, every Monday morning, I post a short review of what I was able to teach on Sunday and what I learned from it. Since I was spending the day with my wife for her birthday on Monday, I did not get to writing that article. So today, I wanted to that opportunity. I suppose you could call this one "Three mornings after", but you understand...
On Sunday, our ABF was continuing our series through the book of Colossians, a series I have called It's All About Jesus! As I read and study this book, one thing has become very clear to me about American Christianity. Our view of Jesus and the gospel is soft and sheltered. We hardly ever suffer for the name of Jesus and when we do, it usually hinders our future gospel proclamation. My main thought from Colossians 1:24-27 was that afflictions are not meant to keep us from sharing Jesus, but should motivate gospel proclamation!
I think that in order for me to be motivated by the suffering I experience, there are a few things I need to understand. I need some perspective in my life. This is what Paul said when he rejoiced in his sufferings for the sake of others (vs. 24, 25). This is what he had when he realized that he was "filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions." Now, I know this is a highly debated statement by Paul. I do not believe that Paul meant by this that there was something lacking in the depth of the afflictions that Jesus suffered. As if there was something that Paul did or I do when I suffer that makes the atonement more applicable to my cause before a holy God.
What I do think Paul meant by this was that when he suffered afflictions for Jesus, he was extending the suffering of Jesus to those who have not heard. John Piper has really helped me understand this when he wrote:
“What is lacking in the afflictions of Christ is not that they are deficient in worth, as though they could not sufficiently cover the sins of all who believe. What is lacking is that the infinite value of Christ’s afflictions is not known and trusted in the world. These afflictions and what they mean are still hidden to most peoples. And God’s intention is that the mystery be revealed to all the nations. So the afflictions of Christ are ‘lacking’ in the sense that they are not seen and known and loved among the nations . . . God intends for the afflictions of Christ to be presented to the world through the afflictions of his people. God really means for the body of Christ, the church, to experience some of the suffering he experienced so that when we proclaim the cross as the way to life, people will see the marks of the cross in us and feel the love of the cross from us. Our calling is to make the afflictions of Christ real for people by the afflictions we experience in bringing them the message of salvation" (Filling Up The Afflictions of Christ, 22-4).
The perspective I need in suffering for Jesus is that when I endure it in a godly way, I am showing those that are persecuting me, as well as a watching world, that Jesus is worth being afflicted for. He is worth it because He was afflicted. When I say that Jesus came and suffered for the sins of people and then I am willing to suffer for that message, I am in some way a living message to a watching world. And in so doing, I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ--that others will come to know and see the afflictions of Jesus through the suffering I endure.
This puts a new perspective of suffering in my life. I know that if I were to endure suffering for Jesus, it will encourage, motivate, purify, and focus the church. It also will make the church dependent upon Jesus, driving them to pray. But it will also encourage others to share the message. This is the perspective that I need to have to endure sufferings for Jesus' sake.
I love my country. I love the fact that I have religious freedom. I really do not want to suffer or be persecuted. Do you? But there are times (probably when I am feeling really bold for Jesus) that I want the American church to endure some persecution. Some of the persecution that we hear about in Turkey, India, China, and other countries. Why? Because I think that if the church here was persecuted more, it will only go to produce more solid believers in Jesus! That is my hope, that is my prayer.