"For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake," Philippians 1:29I have often heard people pray, thanking God for the privilege of being able to worship him without fear of persecution. What, then, when we lose that privilege? It is only a privilege in human terms. Let us praise God all the more when we receive the privilege of sharing in the suffering of Christ, and let us prepare with eagerness for that time, striving to be worthy of the name of Christ, that those who hated our master would see us as so similar to him that their hatred would be applied to us as well. If we believe that the enemy is strong, then why do we give thanks for the privilege of having him ignore us, as if we are no threat to him? Instead, give thanks that we have time to prepare, and that we are, in our weakness, hid from the thorns which might so thoroughly devastate us. Let us, then, grow in the strength of Christ, though we may then grow into his suffering.
Do not grow weary of godliness, rather be weary of sin. Our joy is in the Lord, thus our suffering will be happy. Let us worry, for our safety from persecution is not what was promised. Let us strive, then, that we might, by the power of God, appear as Christ: a danger to those who love darkness. What stops us from striving like this? It is not as though we are helpless to appear as our master, for he lives in us. Our life is hid with Christ, and we are joined to him. Therefore we have the power of Christ by which he raised the dead and the wisdom of Christ by which he refuted pharisees. Let us not be afraid of the world, but rather have the boldness of Christ who raises the dead, making disciples of all nations, for the glory of God.
Let us praise God for those who are persecuted, who are showing, whether in life or death, how great the glory of God is. These are examples to us, as the cloud of witnesses, showing how worthy Christ is of our lives by showing how much our brothers have given up for him. Let us thank our God that there are those, even in our time, who have been counted worthy to share so greatly in the suffering of Christ.
But what does this look like? What is it to be in the strength of Christ, and thus appear like him? It is nothing more than to have him as our joy and hope, and to depend on him for our salvation. If he is our strength, then our own weakness does not matter, except as far is it shows that it is God who works in us. Thus our weakness, even in how greatly we fail in depending upon him who is our strength, is merely another cause to go to him for the strength to depend on him. This salvation he brings is not limited merely to our being made righteous such that we may enter into the presence of the Most High, but extends even to salvation from the bondage to sin, so that we may continue the work of the ministry of Christ. Because we are freed from sin, and are no longer captive to it, we need no longer obey our sinful nature which calls us to act as if we were never saved from it, but since we died to it, instead we may, by the life of Christ in which we were raised, do that which we are both made and commanded, by the grace of God, to do: glorify God in our being, whether in life or death or whatever we do.
Must we suffer, though? We must be ready for it, but is it guaranteed? Some may suffer less, or in other ways, I will not guarantee that those who appear most like Christ will suffer most like Christ in their body. Christ's suffering was not limited merely to his body, and thus neither should we expect ours to be.
"Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." Matthew 5:11-12Yet we will suffer, as we share in the agony of Christ as he wept over Jerusalem, since he wept over Jerusalem for the same reason that we pray for the salvation of others. Some suffer in mind, some in body, some in their inmost being, but all Christians suffer for Christ to the degree that they are counted worthy in Christ to bear the suffering of Christ.