As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2Ti 4:5)
In this verse that we looked at in the last Monday Missions post, we saw that Paul, the missionary, exhorted Timothy, the Pastor, to do mission work. In this verse we also see a glimpse of what Paul teaches us elsewhere about mission work. This is the element of suffering.
In Paul's mind, enduring suffering ranks in equality with being sober-minded and doing the work of an evangelist as it regards to the completion or 'rounding out' of ministry. We will look at two more texts that relate suffering to the work of missions.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Col 1:24-29)
Paul write to the Colossian Christians to remind them of the progress of the Gospel. Part of the progress of the Gospel is seen in Paul's sufferings. In other words what takes place through our sufferings is not a new propitiation for sins, but rather a means that God has ordained for the health of His Kingdom. Suffering for health seems like a contradiction in terms, but we know that the foolishness of God is wiser than men. As the early church father, Tertullian, wrote in 'Apology',
"The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow. The blood of martyrs is seed." (Apology, chap. 50, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III)So in what way does suffering spread the Gospel for the gladness of all peoples? Let me illustrate. In the above quote, Tertullian, saw a principle that is recognizable in Christian life. This is the principle that is stated in Psalms 126:6
He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.And again in, Matthew 20:16
"So the last will be first, and the first last."
To give a human illustration of this principle, without rain there is no harvest. We can't have sunshine all the time. Everything would die. As much as rain ruins our plans at times it is necessary. A Christian missionary example of this principle is told by Michael Card,
"One day Joseph, who was walking along one of these hot, dirty African roads, met someone who shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with him. Then and there he accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. The power of the Spirit began transforming his life; he was filled with such excitement and joy that the first thing he wanted to do was return to his own village and share that same Good News with the members of his local tribe.
Joseph began going from door-to-door, telling everyone he met about the Cross [suffering!] of Jesus and the salvation it offered, expecting to see their faces light up the way his had. To his amazement the villagers not only didn't care, they became violent. The men of the village seized him and held him to the ground while the women beat him with strands of barbed wire. He was dragged from the village and left to die alone in the bush.
Joseph somehow managed to crawl to a water hole, and there, after days of passing in and out of consciousness, found the strength to get up. He wondered about the hostile reception he had received from people he had known all his life. He decided he must have left something out or told the story of Jesus incorrectly. After rehearsing the message he had first heard, he decided to go back and share his faith once more.
Joseph limped into the circle of huts and began to proclaim Jesus. "He died for you, so that you might find forgiveness and come to know the living God" he pleaded. Again he was grabbed by the men of the village and held while the women beat him reopening wounds that had just begun to heal. Once more they dragged him unconscious from the village and left him to die.
To have survived the first beating was truly remarkable. To live through the second was a miracle. Again, days later, Joseph awoke in the wilderness, bruised, scarred--and determined to go back.
He returned to the small village and this time, they attacked him before he had a chance to open his mouth. As they flogged him for the third and probably the last time, he again spoke to them of Jesus Christ, the Lord. Before he passed out, the last thing he saw was that the women who were beating him began to weep.
This time he awoke in his own bed. The ones who had so severely beaten him were now trying to save his life and nurse him back to health. The entire village had come to Christ." (Michael Card, "Wounded in the House of Friends," Virtue (March/April 1991): 28-29, 69.)
For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles-- assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. (Eph 3:1-13)
Paul in these verses tells us that his own suffering was for a good reason. It is for the propagation of God's Gospel. It is a reminder that all who live as Christians must suffer, but that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us.
I would encourage you to look in your Bibles for this theme of suffering. Notice how many times suffering is spoken of as a negative for Christians. It is nearly always a positive thing. Now notice how many times suffering is mentioned in relationship to the Gospel and Joy. You will be surprised I think.
I also recommend John Piper's book titled, 'Let the Nations be Glad!: The Supremacy of God in Missions'.