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What Is Suffering With Christ?

By Paul E. Billheimer

    "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:17-18).

    We usually think of the afflictions which Paul says are "working for us an eternal weight of glory" as probably in the category of severe persecution or martyrdom. It has been said that in the last twenty-five years more people have suffered severe persecution and martyrdom for Christ than in any other similar period of history. Some of us may yet be called upon to prove our faith and love by accepting a martyr’s crown.

    But at this point, in many countries, the adversity to which most believers are subject is not the danger of martyrdom or other types of persecution practiced in lands strongly opposed to Christianity. Today the afflictions of many believers are mostly physical, financial or in the area of personality conflicts. Is this type suffering included in "these light afflictions" which Paul said are working for us? Is this what he meant when he said: "If we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him: if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him" (2 Tim. 2:12), and "…if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together" (Rom. 8:17)? The answer may be that it is not always the character of the affliction which determines its spiritual value but rather the length of its continuation and one’s reaction to it.

    Whether the suffering is for and with Christ may be determined not so much by its nature and severity as by the quality of one’s spirit in which it is faced. For example, to live sweetly with a brute of a man, or a contentious, faithless woman, or an ungrateful, contemptuous, wayward son or daughter or to live self-sacrificially with a helpless invalid for years or for a lifetime, may provide the opportunity to develop martyr strength and a deep dimension of love as truly as severe persecution for Christ’s sake.

    All affliction is intended to drive one to God. It is intended to work a fuller submission, a more utter devotion, an increasing patience, a greater beauty of spirit, a more selfless love toward both God and man. When it accomplishes this, then it may be classified as suffering with Christ and for His sake, because it has enabled Him to achieve His end and purpose in that one. It may require a lifetime of God’s dealing in discipline and chastisement to produce the true martyr spirit. When suffering of any character is allowed to work in one a deeper dimension of agape love, is it not indeed to "suffer with Christ"?

The Triumph of Submission

    May affliction which one is now suffering, and from which he has long and earnestly sought relief, enable him to join the noble army of the heroes of faith in Hebrews eleven? Is it possible that one may join that noble band by facing his illness or other self-crucifying situations in submission and triumph? It seems that Madame Guyon did just that. If the spirit in which she faced and triumphed over her afflictions and sorrows brought more glory to Christ than her deliverance would have, is it not possible that others who are not delivered may do likewise by the way they face their difficulties? May not the multitudes who seek and fail to receive healing, by a proper subjective attitude of submission and courage in their afflictions, transmute them into "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" as did those in Hebrews eleven? The answer is "yes" when they demonstrate a like victory over tribulation.

The Heroism of Patient Plodding

    It seems to some that a life which is ended swiftly by an act of martyrdom may be more heroic and a greater testimony of deathless love than a long life of faithfulness in the ordinary trials and tribulations of daily life. But may it not be that God is obtaining a similar quality of selfless devotion and sacrificial love through patient endurance of the routine sorrow, suffering, disappointments, heartaches, and pain which He permits as a part of His loving child-training?

    If so, then those who suffer triumphantly, accepting the "things that hurt and things that mar" with submission, thanksgiving, and praise, may be enhancing their eternal rank in a similar way as did the martyrs. By a proper reaction while in the school of suffering, they may be learning and demonstrating a quality of agape love which is preparing them for rulership as truly as though they had suffered martyrdom.

    On the other hand, yielding to self-pity, depression, and rebellion is a waste of sorrow. Those who have unsuccessfully sought healing and who submit to resentment, discontent, impatience and bitterness against God are wasting what God intended for growth in love and thus for enhanced rank in the eternal kingdom.

    – From Don’t Waste Your Sorrows by Paul E. Billheimer. Copyright ©1977 CLC Publications. Used by permission.

    The above excerpt from Don’t Waste Your Sorrows will be helpful to many readers who are facing unexpected, painful trials and sorrows, or who want to prepare themselves should they be called upon to suffer persecution or martyrdom. Herald of His Coming is privileged to have Don’t Waste Your Sorrows available in magazine format. Interested readers are invited to request a copy of this helpful book when they write this month. Please make requests to:

Herald of His Coming
P.O. Box 279
Seelyville IN 47878 U.S.A.