Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Reward of Suffering

"Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory" (Romans 8:17).

The theme of sharing in Christ’s sufferings is an important one in Paul’s letters. As Christians, we are baptized into the death of Christ, and we are called to participate, in a certain sense, in the sufferings of Christ and the tribulations of the kingdom of God. Our sufferings do not earn us merit, but rather their purpose is to solidify our identification with Jesus and to work out the redemptive purposes of God.

Paul states in Colossians 1:24 that Christians fill up in their flesh “what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions.” Some theologians, especially in the Roman Catholic community, have deduced from this that the sufferings of believers are meritorious, adding to a kind of deficiency that exists in the value of the sufferings of Jesus.

Christ’s sufferings, of course, have infinite value, and we can add nothing to them in this regard. What is “lacking” is not lacking in value, but lacking in the full measure of God’s “plan of redemption” as it works itself out in history. God’s method of redemption comes through suffering. Principally (exclusively in the area of merit) this occurs in the person of Jesus; but secondarily in us, as we call attention to the uniqueness of His death and passion by our willingness to participate in it.

Paul goes on now to say that if we suffer with Him, we will also reign with Him. We will participate in the glory that the Father gives the Son. But the glory we receive will be far greater than the suffering we have experienced. “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (v. 18).

As Christians we love life and comfort; this is how God has made us. Thus, we naturally shrink back from suffering. The Bible assures us that our suffering is brief compared to an eternity of glory. However, suffering is important for the development of the kingdom of God and the character of the believer. Is there some area in your life where God has, through suffering, already produced character and strength? Do not be surprised if you discover an entirely new dimension to the work of God in your life.