All the apostles emphasized suffering as the norm. Paul got the message even before his name was changed from Saul. The Lord told him through Ananias, “He is a chosen instrument of mine…I will show him how much he must suffer for my name“ (Acts 9:16). He told Timothy, who needed encouragement to stay faithful: “Suffer hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3). Wow. Thanks for the lift, Paul. But he didn’t preach the message and not live it. We are in a war, not on a picnic. Sure helps to know that when the fighting gets severe. Paul told the cranky Corinthians that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17).
Peter wrote that Christ’s death was an example for us. “For to this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps” (I Peter 2:21). Jesus died so we could live. But he also died so we could die! Peter had more to say about suffering per verse than any book in the Bible. He said that “since Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourself with the same thought. For he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin…” (I Peter 4:1). He taught that suffering was a legitimate way to strengthen a marriage (3:1-6), to deal with overbearing employers (2:18-21) or troublesome and worldly people (2:12, 3:9, 3:15). Peter sounds like Paul when he says, “In this [an eternal inheritance] you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (I Peter 1:7).
John was different, right? He was the apostle of love. He was softer on people. Hardly. He wrote the book of Revelation. He said that we overcome the enemy by proclaiming the victory of the Lamb and by not shrinking from death (12:11). Live or die—we’re on the winning team. Suffering without complaining offers us many gifts. It decreases sin in our lives (I Peter 4:1), increases fellowship with the Lord (Phil. 3:10; I Peter 4:13), teaches us obedience as it did Christ (Heb. 5:8), causes comfort to abound (2 Cor. 1:4-6), and decentralizes us to prepare us for eternity. Let us maximize this gift by thanking God in the midst of our hardships!
Jesus came not to be served but to serve. Same for us. You are not here to be served but to give yourself away and to get hurt doing it. You will be misunderstood. It doesn’t matter. You are a slave, and you have responsibilities but not rights. Christ’s words are exactly the opposite of our culture, where we are entitled to sue those who step on our toes. We major in rights and forget about responsibilities. You don’t have the right for people to appreciate you. They will get offended, but you can’t—or you will stop working or complain while you do. Welcome to the cross-centered life. Nothing is more powerful!