When Saul of Tarsus came to Jesus he was called to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. Ananias, the man who Jesus sent to Saul, had misgivings about Saul and even questioned the Lord’s assignment to go to Saul. Jesus gave Ananias clear instruction: Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel. Then Jesus laid bare another aspect of Saul’s future. In verse 16 of Acts 9 we read it. Jesus said about this Saul of Tarsus, who had up until now persecuted Christians, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
Is it possible that those with saving faith must not only share their faith, but also suffer for it?
The theme of suffering for God in this world runs throughout the New Testament. It is embedded in the gospel as the very means of our salvation. It is enjoined upon everyone who would come after and follow Jesus. Jesus said, “Whoever would come after me, must take up his cross and follow me.” Let me say those words again slowly: “Whoever would come after me… MUST TAKE UP HIS CROSS AND FOLLOW ME.” Who are the whoever? Are we among the whoever? Are we among those who have come after Jesus to follow Him? In this lesson, we will just touch the surface of what God’s word says about this. But I am convinced that the Bible clearly teaches us that saving faith is willing to suffer. And more than just willing, saving faith is actually proven and refined by suffering. In fact, suffering is directly involved in almost everything that is good, and unwillingness to suffer is directly connected to almost everything evil in this world.
Jenny and I have been reading stories of recent martyrs and persecuted Christians who live in places like Pakistan, India, and China where Christianity is oppressed by the governments and sometimes violently opposed. Tuesday I was listening to Christian Radio about a 26 year old man who was killed when he went to an island off the coast of India. John Chau wanted to bring the gospel to the people of this island, and when he arrived he will shot to death with arrows.
Many responded by saying, “What a foolish waste of his life!” He should never have gone there in the first place. But others, some who knew John Chau, responded differently. They knew that this young Christian man had prepared for this for a few years. His prayers and preparation were under the guidance of missionaries who help prepare others to go into difficult mission fields to share the gospel.
This reminded me of another young American missionary who died before being able to share the gospel with those he hoped to evangelize: Jim Elliot. While at Camp Wycliffe, Elliot practiced the skills necessary for writing down a language for the first time by working with a former missionary to the Quechua people. The missionary told him of the Huaorani – also called the “Auca”, the Quichua word for “savage” – a group of Ecuadorian indigenous people considered violent and dangerous to outsiders. Elliot’s parents and friends wondered if he might instead be more effective in youth ministry in the United States, but considering the home church “well-fed”, he felt that international missions should take precedence.
While working with Quechua Indians, Elliot began preparing to reach the Huaorani.
Elliot and four other missionaries – Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and their pilot, Nate Saint – made contact from their Piper PA-14 airplane with the Huaorani using a loudspeaker and a basket to pass down gifts. After several months, the men decided to build a base a short distance from the Indian village, along the Curaray River. There they were approached one time by a small group of Huaorani and even gave an airplane ride to one curious Huaorani whom they called “George” (his real name was Naenkiwi). Encouraged by these friendly encounters, they began plans to visit the Huaorani, without knowing that Naenkiwi had lied to the others about the missionaries’ intentions. Their plans were preempted by the arrival of a larger group of about 10 Huaorani warriors, who killed Elliot and his four companions on January 8, 1956. Jim Elliot was the first of the five missionaries killed when he and Peter Fleming were greeting two of those attackers that showed themselves pretending they were interested in taking plane rides with them. Elliot’s body was found downstream, along with those of the other men.
His journal entry for October 28, 1949, expresses his belief that work dedicated to Jesus was more important than his life (see Luke 9:24. “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.”) He wrote, “he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
People all over the world today are facing hardship and persecution because of their faith, particularly when they confess it and seek to share it with those who do not believe. Most persecution today is not against the silent Christians who do not share their faith. It is against the Christian who confesses faith and shares the gospel of Christ. It has always been this way.
Let’s look at a few passages from the Pen of Paul on this subject:
Romans 5:1-5, 8:16-17
2 Corinthians 1:8-9, 4:8-18, 6:3-10, 11:23-29
The sufferings of Christ that we participate in are part of the biblical path to glory. When we come to faith in Christ we join the ranks of Christians throughout the centuries who have taken Jesus words seriously when He said, “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and say all many of evil against you falsely for my sake, rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they also persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Is your faith such that you believe, therefore you speak it? Is it such that you not only share it, but are willing to suffer for sharing it? Those with saving faith, share their faith and are willing to suffer in doing so. Do you need prayers to have such a faith? Will you come today and say so, and let us pray with and for you?