How many of you read the title to this article and thought to yourself, "How in this life could suffering ever be a privilege? Suffering is a pain, that's what it really is. It hurts, especially when there is no reason for me to be suffering at all." I know how you feel. Why did I have to suffer with the sexual abuse I had to go through as a child? And why did I have to suffer the consequences of the abuse well into my adult years? What was the reason for it other than the pleasure of a sick individual who did those things to me? I know exactly how you feel. How could I ever call any of that suffering a privilege when it took so much of the best years of my life away from me?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a privilege as "a right granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor; a right or benefit that is given to some people and not to others; a special opportunity to do something that makes you proud; the advantage that wealthy and powerful people have over other people in a society." Let's explore each one of these definitions to see what we can learn from them before we talk about how the Bible relates to suffering as a privilege.
First: "a right granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor." Notice the word "peculiar." To us, something peculiar could mean odd, different, or strange. We are used to suffering, but deep down inside, we know that we were not created to suffer. Suffering was not supposed to be a way of life for us for God didn't create us to suffer. Others would say that we are peculiar when we believe that suffering is a privilege. Suffering can be an advantage to you if you will see it as God sees it (See my article "Why Do I Suffer—The Purpose"). You need to see it as a stepping stone to growing deeper in Christ. And suffering is a favor that we sometimes do for others, just as Jesus did us a huge favor when He went to the cross to die and to take on our sins upon Himself. Can you see the privilege in suffering yet? Let's continue.
Second: "a right or benefit that is given to some people and not to others." Suffering is a benefit? That depends on your point of view. Isn't pain a benefit when your body is healing from an injury? Isn't that your body's way of telling you it is in fact healing? And why is the privilege of suffering for Jesus given to some and not others? Only God knows the answer to that question. Only God knows who is strong enough to carry the weight of suffering on their shoulders for Him out into the world. How is suffering a "right"? Let me just say that some people can handle being abused and some cannot. But for those of us who have personally met Jesus Christ, we have the strength to endure the suffering because it is the strength of Jesus that helps us to carry on. I have experienced family and friends who have committed suicide because they didn't have the strength to deal with the pain and depression from their suffering.
Third: "a special opportunity to do something that makes you proud; the advantage that wealthy and powerful people have over other people in a society." To Jesus, dying on the cross was a special opportunity for Him to make His Father proud of Him, because Jesus did as His Father asked, and gave His life up for us all. For us it is a special opportunity to show the Father that we really do love His Son, Jesus. Like any living father, God is proud of us when we do what He has commanded us to do. Are you wealthy? You are if you have asked Jesus into your life. This gives us a power that those who do not know Jesus do not have. As followers of Jesus, as Christians, we have the power to influence our entire society in ways that the unsaved person cannot, for only God knows how to bring everlasting change to a society that will stick, as long as the people want the change that God can bring.
As Christians, we know that we will suffer at the hands of the unsaved as we go about trying to change the world to better reflect the way God wants the world to be. That is why it is a privilege to suffer for Jesus. The suffering we experience as we spread the Gospel message is far short of the suffering Jesus endured while He spread the message around the world personally. Yet, Jesus considered it a privilege to suffer for His Father, and we can do nothing less than adopt the same way of thinking.
I asked earlier how I could ever call any of the suffering from the sexual abuse a privilege when it took so much of the best years of my life away from me. The answer is this: the articles I write are not just based on head knowledge I learned from reading the Bible and other books about Christianity. They are based on what I have learned while in the trenches of the suffering I had to endure, and from watching Jesus Christ take me from a childlike state-of-mind to thinking and acting like a man that He and I could both be proud of. I write from my heart, my soul, my bones, my muscles, and every ache and pain I still have from all of those years of depression and fear. Every part of my existence is put into every word and every sentence. When I type the period at the end of every sentence you can rest assured that the ink I use is my life's blood, cleansed and purified by the hand of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I will always love Him and allow Him to do what ever He wants with the rest of my life. I pray that you will, too. I am truly privileged that Jesus will let me suffer with Him. Praise the Lord!
Now, let's see what the Bible has to say about this upside-down concept of suffering being a privilege.
It is a privilege to suffer for Christ
Philippians 1:29 tells us: For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him (NLT). In this section of Philippians, Paul is talking to the church about the fact that, since we are saved, we will have enemies. Yes, we must fight against these enemies in a way that is honoring to God, but we must not be intimidated by them. As Paul says in verse 28 --This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself(NLT).
When we show that we are not frightened by our enemy's actions, we show them that the peace of Christ resides in us and not in them. This will in turn frighten them, which will in turn destroy their courage and cause them to be destroyed. It is at these times when we should consider it a privilege to suffer for Jesus as we spread His peace and His love all over the world. We as Christians are a stumbling block to those who do not accept Jesus Christ as their Lord. The truth we have will cause them to stumble thereby giving us an opening for us to parry their shots with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If they still do not accept the truth that is before them, they will be destroyed in the ignorance of their souls, and may never understand how and why it happened.
It brings joy: I should be happy to suffer for Christ
The Apostle Peter said "…be happy that you are sharing in Christ’s sufferings so that you will be happy and full of joy when Christ comes again in glory" (1 Peter 4:13/NCV). Whether we realize it or not, it brought Jesus great joy in knowing that He was going to suffer and die in our place for our sins so that we wouldn't have to. Yes, Jesus begged God to take away the cup of suffering that He was about to endure, but "He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him" (Hebrews 12:2/GW). Jesus knew how severe the beatings and the pain of the nails going into His flesh would be. Still, it brought Him joy because He knew that His Father would raise Him from the dead, bring Him back to Heaven to sit at the Father's right hand, once again to sit on the throne He had left behind to come here to earth to die for us. We, too, have that same joy in knowing that, no matter what happens to us down here, we will also rise up into Heaven where our joy will be complete, and our hearts will never suffer again. In our moments, even years, of suffering, we must remember where we are going. If we must die for the cause of Christ, then we die knowing that the pain was worth it to see our Savior face-to-face in our real home. Living for Jesus is a privilege, and so is dying for Jesus. As the Apostle Paul said, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice" (Philippians 4:4/NIV)! That includes in our sufferings as well. James imparted this command better than anyone else when he said, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (James 1:2-4/NIV). Never lack in the joy of the privilege of suffering for Jesus.
It pleases God when I suffer for doing good
It does not please God to see us suffer in general. If we suffer because of the consequences of a sin, or because we've done evil, God is not pleased. He will not call you a good and faithful servant when you do something you know you shouldn't have done, especially if that something was done out of anger. The Apostle Peter knew that he had done wrong when he denied Jesus three times. His grief was immediate and his guilt was ever before him. But after the Holy Spirit was given to him, he grew stronger because of his sin done in anger. He understood more fully that Jesus was the Lord of his life. When he penned the words to 1 Peter 2:20, he knew all about suffering for the Lord. Even though his prior guilt had not been a physical beating, he still knew that Jesus had not been pleased with him that night in the yard. But if you listen closely to his words you can almost hear and feel the joy he obtained after his guilt had been replaced with Jesus' love for him that day on the shore. He joyfully says, "If you are beaten for doing wrong, there is no reason to praise you for being patient in your punishment. But if you suffer for doing good, and you are patient, then God is pleased (NCV).
Peter knows what he is talking about. In the book of Acts, chapter 5, verses 40 -41, we find Peter and some apostles being flogged for preaching in Jesus' name. They had been warned by the ruling council that they would suffer if they didn't stop. This is the second time they had been threatened. The first time, they were put in jail, but an angel opened to doors of their cells and set them free to preach again. But this time they were beaten, then set free, and continued to preach Jesus everywhere they went. "The apostles left the council room. They were happy to have been considered worthy to suffer dishonor for speaking about Jesus" (Acts 5:41/GW).
God is pleased when we tell others about His Son, Jesus. If we suffer while proclaiming the Gospel, then He is doubly pleased because we are now more like His Son than ever before. When we suffer for Jesus we share in His sufferings, and that is the greatest honor a Christian can have in his walk toward bringing others the freedom that our Savior can give them. An honor and a privilege it is to suffer for doing good. As Peter remarked "…it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his wonderful name" (1 Peter 4:16/NLT)! The next time someone spits in your face because you are a Christian, remember that they spat at Jesus, too, when He was being beaten and scourged. Thankfully, and joyfully, Jesus made sure that we do not have to suffer as much as he had. But if we had to I hope that we would endure it as being the privilege that it is to suffer as He did.
I will receive the crown of life
One last word, if I may. James 1:12 tells us that "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him" (NIV). The crown of life is an extra-special blessing from God that we will receive in Heaven right after the Rapture if we have faced persecution for Jesus and remained faithful while we told the world around us about Him. To remain faithful during, or after, the persecution is important. God's promise to give the crown of life only holds if we do not deny our Savior because the suffering is too intense. Just think where we would all be if Jesus denied the Father as He was being torn apart by the whips of jagged glass and stones. Jesus proved to us that suffering only lasts for a very short time, but that the love of the Father will bring us great rewards when our lives of suffering are over, and we are back home in Heaven where we belong – forever.
As you walk along this earth telling all the people you know about Jesus and His salvation, count every large and small suffering as a great privilege that our Lord has allowed us to participate in with Him. As the Scripture says, "The greatest love you can show is to give your life for your friends" (John 15:13/GW). There is no other greater privilege than to lay down your life for another, because at that time your entrance into Heaven is immediate, and you will hear the words you have been waiting your whole life to hear – "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!" (Matthew 25:23/NIV)