Most people reading this are doing so from North America, and most of them from within the United States. Which means few, if any, of us have suffered for the gospel.
Facing Adversity for the Gospel
While we might talk about persecution for our faith, the reality is that what we experience is a mild form of persecution—more along the lines of adversity. We are free to gather for worship, preach the gospel, and live the gospel without fear of arrest or death. We have tremendous religious liberty as compared to many other places around the world.
But we do recognize at least the shadows of this potentially eroding. Might there be a day when all of the Bible cannot be preached in our churches? Perhaps. Might there be a day when a church’s hiring practices are subject to the standards of our culture? Perhaps. Should we be aware of these and do what we can to prevent these changes from happening? Sure.
But where we are right now—today—is far from what we worry might happen. For most of us, the most adversity we face is rolled eyes when we talk about Jesus or a snarky post on social media. These are not unimportant—I don’t want to make it seem as if I am dismissing them all together. But I do want us to keep perspective. We need perspective when we study passages like the one in this week’s session that talk about suffering for Jesus. We cannot water down suffering to mean mild discomfort. We need to preserve what it means in full. And Paul helped us do that.
Enduring Suffering for the Gospel
In this latter part of 2 Corinthians, Paul took some time to defend himself and his ministry as it related to the “super apostles.” That sounds like a pretty bad Marvel movie spin-off, but it wasn’t. The super apostles were individuals who claimed that they were the elite. They were eloquent. They were sophisticated. And that appealed to many Greeks.
Paul, conversely, wants nothing to do with this silliness. And as he helps the Corinthians remember where true gospel power comes from, he shares his spiritual “resume,” one that was vastly different from those of the super apostles:
24 Five times I received the forty lashes minus one from the Jews. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked. I have spent a night and a day in the open sea. 26 On frequent journeys, I faced dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, and dangers among false brothers; 27 toil and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, cold, and without clothing. 28 Not to mention other things, there is the daily pressure on me: my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation? (2 Corinthians 11:24-29 CSB)
Notice what Paul boasts in: suffering. Which is what he would go on to say right after this.
But here is where we need to recognize that Paul suffered in ways we have no, and likely will not.
He was whipped. He was beaten. He was stoned.
He endured three! shipwrecks.
He traveled in danger. He experienced poverty.
And we know that Paul would be arrested and tradition holds martyred for the faith.
When we think of persecution, this is what we need to think of. We need to be students of church history—the persecution the early church faced, the persecution the Reformers faced, the persecution the Anabaptists and others faced. And we also need to be aware of the persecution much of the church faces today—where believers are being arrested and they are being killed for their faith.
Developing Resolve for the Gospel
My intent is not to develop a wedge in the church between those who are “really” persecuted and those who are not. Far from it, I want to help us develop a deeper heart for the church. Our adversity, suffering, and persecution should fuse us together. It should not be a contest or barometer of spirituality. We are all to lay it all on the line—whatever that might be—for the gospel. For some of us, that means we endure challenging conversations with our neighbors; for others that means worshiping in secret to avoid arrest.
At the same time, we should not seek out persecution with a martyr complex. Neither should we run from it. And perhaps that is greatest take-away. While we face adversity for our faith, may we pray for our brothers and sisters who endure suffering—that they might bear up under it. And at the same time, may we seek to strengthen our faith so that if we ever do face more acute forms of adversity and persecution, we too might be found faithful.
Amazing love, how can it be? That God should plunge the knife in his heart for me—all the while, me, dry and indifferent, cool and detached. That he, the God of life, should conquer death by embracing it. That he should destroy the power of sin by letting it destroy him.” — Joni Eareckson TadaJoni Eareckson Tada, “Share His Sufferings,” in Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross, ed. Nancy Guthrie (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009), 143.
Tips for Teaching this Week’s Session
Every week, Karen Jones and I offer guidance to help you as you prepare to teach every session of The Gospel Project for Preschool and Kids. Listen in as we discuss:
- The big idea of the session
- Any areas of caution or requiring additional prep time
- What we hope God will do through this session
This training is available on Ministry Grid, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and other podcast platforms.