So often we try to run away from the suffering and persecution around us. But if we look in the bible, we find a different response to such trials and difficulties. What was Paul’s revelation and attitude to persecutions and suffering?
You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 2 Timothy 3:10-12 ESV
Explaining about his persecutions, Paul came to recognise that his weakness was not hopeless when coupled with God’s strength.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV
Weakness and persecutions are not to be seen as bad; instead Paul explains how they show God’s strength. The persecutions which Paul went through kept him weak of himself, so that Christ could be strong in him. It is only when we are weak that we learn the most important lesson of all, without Him, we can do nothing.
“Get your life from Me. Then I will live in you and you will give much fruit. You can do nothing without Me.” John 15:5 NLV
And again, he explains more about his experiences with suffering too.
For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:5-7 ESV
Paul learnt that when we partake in the sufferings of Christ, we also partake in His comfort. Paul saw suffering and God’s comfort as being there to give us compassion for others when they suffer.
Paul understood what persecution looked like. He had a most interesting scenario unfold in Antioch. He and his friends went into the synagogue and were given invitation to share an exhortation. They were all travelling together. And on the Sabbath day, they went into the synagogue as all devout Jews did. After speaking on the first week, they were asked to come back the following week and share again.
But there were those who were jealous and abused Paul and his friends. The people there began to speak against Paul and abuse him because they were jealous of him and afraid of his influence over the people in their city. The Jewish leaders of the city influenced the leaders and respected community leaders to persecute Paul and his friends. They succeeded in getting them banned from not just the synagogue, but the entire area. Because the word of God was being spread to both the Jew and Gentile, the Jewish leaders wanted to shut it down as quickly as possible. (Acts 13:14,45,50)
Why do we think that we can somehow escape any persecution and suffering? Jesus told us that we would drink of the same cup that He did.
Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized. Mark 10:38,39 ESV
What was this cup of suffering that Jesus was inviting the disciples to drink? It was the very cup which he was about to partake of Himself, the cup of suffering and the cup of joy.
"Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine." Luke 22:42 NLT
"You haven’t tried this before, but begin now. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and your cup of joy will overflow." John 16:4 TLB
Now He is inviting us to partake of Himself, to drink this cup, the cup of suffering and the cup of joy. He invites us to enter into His sufferings so we may enter into His beautiful joy.