By Bill Hall
One will find little joy in any cause for which he has never suffered. A nation that has not had to fight for freedom will hardly appreciate freedom as it ought; but those who have fought, suffered, and risked their lives for freedom know its values and even find joy in their suffering in its behalf. So it is with the cause of Christ. Paul could say to the Philippians — and he obviously saw their condition as a blessed one — “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Phil. 1:29).
A major element in the joy of the early Christians was their suffering for righteousness’ sake. They did not rejoice in spite of their suffering, but because of it. Had one taken away their suffering, he would have greatly dampened their joy in the Lord and their enthusiasm for His cause.
The secret of their joy can be seen in the wording of Acts 5:41: “They departed from the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.” Counted worthy! They had not always suffered shame for Jesus for they had not always been worthy. There had been times when they had fled in fear and had proven themselves to have been cowards, unworthy to suffer. But now they have been tested again, tested severely, and this time they had passed the test. Their suffering in fact was proof of their loyalty; they were now worthy to suffer shame for His name.
Those early Christians viewed their suffering, then, as an opportunity to demonstrate the reality of their faith; they saw it as a sharing in the suffering of Christ; they recognized it as a trial of their genuineness, and found great joy in the proof of that genuineness. They knew that their suffering was working for them “a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17); that it was an “evident token . . . of salvation” (Phil. 1:28).
Besides, their suffering no doubt enhanced their anticipation of heaven. Place a man in prison in Philippi, his back beaten and his feet in stocks, and he will view heaven from a different perspective than will that man who is in luxury and ease. That was exactly the position of Paul and Silas when, at midnight, they sang praises unto God. We do not know the songs that they sang while in that prison, but had they had access to today’s songs, one of them might have been:
“O Zion, Zion, I long thy gates to see;
O Zion, Zion, when shall I dwell in thee?”
– L. H. Jameson
and no doubt they could have sung it with real meaning. Whereas, it is entirely possible that in our absence of suffering, we are only giving lip service to such a statement.
We do not court persecution. In fact, we readily confess our thankfulness for the peaceful conditions in which we serve the Lord. But we make a mistake if we try to “offer unto the Lord that which costs us nothing.” Only when we learn true devotion and sacrifice in the Lord’s cause will we come to appreciate the true value of the cause and its ultimate reward. We will not likely see a restoration of the joy and spirit of early Christians until we see a restoration of the sacrifice and suffering that characterized them.
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 18, p. 553
September 19, 1985