For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.
Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. “
Suffering is only temporary, but not in the way we might hope.
I wonder why Jesus died so quickly on the cross. Two thieves may have hung there longer than He. Don’t get me wrong, He did not deserve any of it. Yet for those who claim He took our punishment upon Himself, I wonder if our own crucifixion would have been as short. Why does Jesus give a loud shout and die when most die slowly of suffocation? I don’t know.
One of my professors, Robert Tuttle once told me that the suffering of Christ did not begin on the cross, it began in the manger. If he was right, than Jesus really did have one of the longest punishments – 33 years worth! What all would that include then?
…and that is all before he actually starts any of his ministry. It also does not count much of the first 33 years of His life for which we have very little information on.
It was fairly downhill after that. Doubts, questioning, betrayals… people always around trying to use Him for their own agendas. Some of those were the ones He called friends. Most of them called themselves leaders and upstanding citizens. A few called themselves revolutionaries. Jesus called Himself the Son of Man). Those who knew Him best called Him the Son of God and the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Paul called Him Christ, which means messiah or “anointed one”. Somehow knowing the suffering of Jesus inspired Paul to carry on despite his own suffering. As far as starting new movements went, Paul was not terribly successful in his own lifetime. He was kicked out of more towns than he had friends, and even the places he was able to establish Christian communities were often corrupted by false teachers who followed after him. It was then and continues to be an act of God that the church perseveres.
In all this Paul wonders, would it be better to die and be with Jesus than to continue suffering through the day to day pains of trying to be a witness for God to a world that wants nothing to do with Him? That is a question we all have to answer for ourselves.
Paul found his answer in the same way Jesus found His own. He loved God, and he also loved all those around them. Well, he may have struggled to love all of those around him, but he certainly loved some of them. He knew that death might bring him some relief and maybe even some joy. But he also knew that those left here on earth would suffer without him. Even if he could not end or even ease their suffering, there was something powerful and loving about being willing to suffer with them. There is a word for that. It is called compassion(which literally means to suffer with).
What tough decisions do you face today?
What role does suffering play in these decisions?
What choice most reflects the compassion of Jesus?