Suffering with Christ

“For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow in his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.” —I Peter 2:21-23

IT IS a mistaken idea that Christians should except to be exempt from trials, and that the degree of their Christianity would be manifested by the material prosperity and happiness with which they are blessed. Apart from an understanding of the divine plan, however, this view represents what obviously should be the result of faithfulness to the Lord. In fact, there are many scriptures which show that ultimately those who are in harmony with God will indeed be blessed with material good things; but these texts of Scripture apply to the future kingdom period in the plan of God and not to the present.

The disciples who left their fishing and other businesses to follow the Master did so because they believed him to be the Messiah of promise. They expected that through the Messiah there would come deliverance to Israel, and blessings to all nations. They visualized Jesus as becoming a mighty King over all the earth, and hoped that they might share in some manner in his kingdom glory. There were many messianic promises in the Old Testament which, wrongly applied to his first advent, seemed to justify such an expectation. But there was one important thing which they overlooked, and this Jesus explained to them after his resurrection; namely, that Christ must suffer and die for the world before the promised kingdom blessings could come.

Just as those original disciples of Jesus overlooked the prophecies pertaining to his suffering and death, so many since have failed to realize that these foretold sufferings of Christ were not completed at Calvary. Failing to see this, they have mistakenly supposed that the next thing in order after the death and resurrection of Jesus should be the establishment of his kingdom and the bestowing of material blessings upon those who accept him as their Redeemer and King. This lack of understanding has led to all sorts of misconceptions of the Christian life, and the manner in which the faithful followers of the Master should expect to be blessed.

In his first epistle, Peter leaves no doubt in the mind of the attentive reader that when the Holy Spirit testified through the prophets concerning “the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow,” the followers of Jesus, as well as Jesus himself, were included in their testimony. He says, for example, “Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings.” (I Pet. 1:11; 4:12,13) This, then, is the true significance of Peter’s words in our text in which he explains that in Jesus’ persecution, suffering, and death he left us an example that we should follow in his steps.

Yes, the sufferings of Christ are still going on, and the true followers of the Master should expect no different treatment from the world and from nominal churchianity than that received by the Master. “For even hereunto were ye called,” asserts the apostle. Yes, we are called to suffer and to die; to be reviled and persecuted; to sacrifice comforts, time, strength, means, friends—all that we love and hold dear as natural men and women—in order that we may devote ourselves to the one purpose of following the Master into death.

Jesus’ suffering was not a case of doing penance, with no practical good resulting there from. He suffered because he went about doing good. So selfish and fallen were the unbelievers with whom he mingled that his good was misconstrued by them as being evil; and they reviled him, speaking all manner of evil against him. The Christian is called to endure the same kind of treatment, and largely for the same reason. If we suffer as evildoers, or as busy-bodies, or for any other reason than that we have been faithful in doing the good works of God, then we have no cause for thankfulness. But if we do good and suffer for it, as Jesus did, then we can rejoice, “for even hereunto were ye called.”

Jesus was not reviled because there was anything about him which could properly be reviled, for he was perfect. But Jesus was willing to be reviled because he knew that it was a part of the suffering he was undergoing on behalf of the fallen race. He knew that the world was out of harmony with God, but because he loved the people, he was laying down his life that they might be reconciled to God; so he reviled not again. He suffered it and rejoiced in it.

There is much in the fallen flesh of the Christian that merits criticism; but, as nearly as possible, our lives should be such that it can be said of us as it was prophesied of Jesus, and as he said, “They hated me without a cause.” (Ps. 35:19; 69:4; John 15:25) And if we catch the true inspiration of the call to fellowship in the sufferings of Christ we, like Jesus, will not want to revile when others revile us. We will look at the experience rather as evidence that we have been accepted for sacrifice, and that the Lord is permitting the necessary experiences to train us for the glorious future work of blessing mankind. When the sufferings of The Christ are complete, then the promises of material health and happiness and everlasting life on the earth will be fulfilled on behalf of all who then obey “that prophet.”—Acts 3:23

Mercy and Forgiveness

In the divine economy the “sufferings of Christ” afford each one in the body an opportunity to develop and practice the divine qualities of mercy and forgiveness. Every infraction of the divine law, beginning with the transgression of Adam, has been an act of opposition to God; some acting in ignorance and some willfully. But God’s mercy has been displayed. He sent his Son to redeem the rebellious ones, and he is preparing the church, in association with Jesus, to be the channel through which the blessings provided by his love are to be dispensed. It follows, then, that those who are co-workers with God in these loving arrangements must themselves be like him in character. They must be merciful as he is merciful.

And how important it is that the Heavenly Father’s mercy be extended toward us! For do we not ourselves often trespass against the Lord in thought, word, and deed? Realizing our own need to be dealt with upon the basis of mercy should help us the more willingly to bestow mercy upon those who trespass against us. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matt. 5:7) They received the blessedness of the Father’s mercy extended toward them, and they are also blessed in their exercise of mercy toward others. A full following of the will of God in this respect cannot help but bring a realization of that blessed peace of God which passeth human reasoning and understanding.

While the worldly-minded imagine that to exercise mercy and forgiveness is a display of weakness, yet the Christian knows that the very opposite is true. It takes strength and courage to forgive; but oh the blessings which are derived through the exercise of mercy! What greater joy is there in the Christian life than that which accrues to the one who extends mercy and forgiveness toward those who have reviled or otherwise endeavored to injure him!

The spirit of forgiveness should be from the heart. A mere outward act of mercy to which the heart does not assent does not fill the divine requirement. On this point the Master said, “If ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses,” we need not expect our Heavenly Father to forgive us our trespasses against him.—Matt. 18:35

We are confident that God forgives from the heart. His mercy is thus manifested toward us, and toward the whole world of mankind. What a privilege it is to be invited into a partnership with him in the outworking of a plan through which mercy and forgiveness is to be extended to all. All who receive life, whether in the church, or in the restored earth, will do so because mercy has been extended to them. Shall we not, then, rejoice in all the experiences which help us to develop this godlike characteristic!

But if when we are reviled we strike back in like manner it shows that we have not yet fully learned this important lesson. We are in the school of Christ to learn; and primarily that which we are learning in this school is to be like Christ, and like the Heavenly Father. Let us, then, earnestly endeavor to root out of our hearts every selfish, vengeful motive, and be filled with the spirit which filled the Master—the spirit which enabled him to bless those who despitefully used him. We need thus to be filled with the spirit of divine love and mercy, that we may be qualified to share in the future kingdom work of bestowing God’s promised blessings upon the world.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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