A flat tire… a tense argument with a loved one or friend, a financial cruch… When any of these happen singularly, they are aggravations or frustrations. However, if they begin to occur in tandem, with other stressors, Christians are quick to begin claiming scriptural promises about “suffering” for their encouragement.
Scott McKnight, in his commentary on 1 Peter says, “Such events are not true counterparts to suffering in the early church… we are not entitled to trivialize the suffering of that church by finding cheap analogies and then pretend that such things are suffering for faithfulness to the Lord.”
He says in the context of Western Christianity’s tendency to claim as suffering those events that are actually brought on by other circumstances or causes rather than instances of hardship and calamity caused directly by our faith in and proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Rather, he says, Western Christians do not suffer in comparison to Christians in other cultures around our world, nor can we easily relate the sufferings of Christians in the early church with our own as we bemoan a lack of finances while we watch our TVs and eat a #1 combo from Wendy’s.
“Our lack of suffering is, in part, due to a lack of nerve on the part of the church to challenge our contemporary world with the message of the cross and to live according to the teachings of Jesus with uncompromising rigor… Those who live faithful lives in an unbelieving world will find opposition to their ideas and their practices.”
Paul related to Timothy, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3.12)
McKnight further puts the Western church in a headlock when he comments, “The fires of commitment and unswerving confession of the truth of the gospel are too frequently set on low flame, as if the church grows best if it only simmers rather than boils.”
It is not as if our problems are irrelevant or that we should become stoic to setbacks. Rather, we should understand that scripturally, suffering for Christ occurs when in direct response to our testimony or commitment to Christ we are persecuted or maligned. The point is that everyone – believer and nonbeliever alike – encounters hardships. However, Christians must be sensitive to apply scripture about suffering accurately and not to trivialize the sufferings of our brothers and sisters in faith around the world who daily suffer significantly for their faith in Christ.
For instance, Peter tells us, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.” (I Peter 4.12)
It’s rather ironic that rejoicing occurs in the presence of suffering Christians in scripture while whining occurs more often in the presence of current Christians. The author of Hebrews urges us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (12.2)
It’s indeed a radical exercise of our mental faculties that enable us to focus on Christ rather than our circumstances. As we do so, let us rise above classifying our aggravations as suffering.