Suffering and Sacrifice

By Floyd McClung

The value we place on something is determined by how much we are willing to sacrifice to have it and keep it. If we are willing to give up everything to have something, then it's worth is supreme to us.

In Matthew 13:44 a man was willing to sacrifice everything he had to buy a hidden treasure. The extent of his sacrifice and the depth of his joy displays the worth he put on the treasure.

"The cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise God-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." Dietrich Bonhoeffer (The Cost of Discipleship, Macmillian, p.99)

To take up one's cross and follow Jesus means to join him in all he went through with a resolve to suffer and die so that his supreme worth might be found by others.

Mark 8:34, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take us his cross and follow me."

THE PRIVILEGE OF SUFFERING FOR JESUS

Following Jesus means that we go wherever obedience requires, no matter the cost in sacrifice and suffering. It means following him to the garden in all the Good Friday's of our lives. Suffering is the privilege of every believer, but especially of those who are willing to pay the price of finding the hidden pearl of great price among an unreached people.

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

David Barrett estimates that in 1993  there were 150,000 Christian martyrs. ("Status of Global Mission, 1993" International Bulletin of Missionary Research, 17/1, Jan., 1993, p. 23).

The true sign that a person has died and their life is hidden with Christ in God is their willingness to suffer and make sacrifice for Jesus. The whole point of being crucified with Christ is not that it takes the place of physical suffering and sacrifice, but that it prepares us to take risks, suffer pain, endure abuse, give up rights and even die without despair.

His suffering for us does not mean we are to escape suffering for him. On the contrary, his sacrifice enables us to leave father and mother and houses and lands, for his sake and for the gospel. It would be a great mistake to say that since Christ died for me, I don't need to die for others, or since he suffered for me I don't need to suffer for others.

The reason he died for us is so that we would not have to die for sin, not so that we would not have to suffer or die for others. The call to suffer with Christ is not a call to bear our sins the way he bore them but to love people the way he loved them. Because he died in my place I do not need to cling any longer to the comforts of earth to find my security and significance. I can be content in his love and let things and people go for the sake of making  Christ known.

We must not water down the call to suffer nor translate the New Testament call to sacrifice in Western cultural terms, e.g., giving up coffee, a middle-class house, a new car, our hair dryer or curling iron, sports, etc. A few cultural adjustments do not match what Jesus meant when he called us to take up our cross. There is a great danger in making our comfortable lives and the few little things we occasionally give up the standard of sacrifice. Jesus example is the one for us to follow.

Jesus came into the world to die for others. "The son of man must suffer many things." Mk 8:31. Because this was his vocation, suffering also becomes the vocation of those who follow him.  It is implied in his commission, "As the father has sent me, even so I send you." John 20:21  He made it explicit when he said, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you." John 15:20

In his two letters Peter makes it clear that the death of Christ is a pattern to be followed by his disciples:

1 Peter 2:21, "For to this have you been called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps."

We have been called to suffer. It is the vocation of the obedient Follower of Jesus.  Don't make the mistake of saying that Peter's words were addressed to slaves with cruel masters, so it does not apply to us. In 1 Peter 3:8-9 Peter addresses all of us when he says, "Finally, all of you...for to this have you been called..."(See also 1 Peter 4:1,2,12, 5:9). Suffering involves loving those who are outcasts and unloved by society and by the institutional church.

PREPARATION FOR SUFFERING

1. We are prepared for suffering by being armed with this truth: suffering is the vocation of the obedient follower of Jesus.

Peter prepared the believers in his day for the suffering they were to endure by arming them with this thought: since Christ suffered in the flesh, we should not be surprised that we will also suffer. 1 Peter 4:1-12.

Richard Wurmbrand endured 14 years of imprisonment and torture in Romania between 1948-1964.  Wurmbrand stresses the tremendous need to get spiritually ready to suffer. He says,

"What shall we do about these tortures? Will we be able to bear them? If I do not bear them I put in prison another fifty or sixty men whom I know, because that is what the communists wish from me, to betray those around me. And here comes the great need for the role of preparation for suffering which must start now. It is too difficult to prepare yourself when ...they have put you in prison...

I remember my last confirmation class before I left Romania. I took a group of ten to fifteen boys and girls on a Sunday morning, not to a church, but to the zoo. Before thecage of lions I told them, "Your forefathers in faith were thrown before such wild beasts for their faith. Know that you also will have to suffer. You will not be thrown before lions, but you will have  to do with men who would be much worse than lions. Decide here and now if you wish to pledge allegiance to Christ. They had tears in their eyes when they said, "Yes."

We have to make the preparation now, before we are imprisoned. In prison you lose everything. You are undressed and given a  prisoners suit. No more nice furniture, nice carpets, or nice curtains. You do not have a wife any more and you do not have your children. You do not have your library and you never see a flower. Nothing of what makes life pleasant remains. Nobody resists who has not renounced the pleasures of life beforehand."

"Preparing the Underground Church," in Epiphany Journal,5/4, Summer, 1985, p. 46-48. Quoted by John Piper in Let the Nations Be Glad.

2. We are prepared for suffering by being aimed in the right direction: