Suffering for the Lord?

The apostle Paul embodies what it means to suffer for Christ. He’s the one who wrote, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). He also wrote, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17). And also, “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).

Is there any doubt that part of the Christian life involves suffering? It’s one of the main ways that we identify with Christ. It was Jesus Himself who said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Paul even encourages his protege Timothy, “Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3).

A few different times Paul gives his churches his resume of suffering to show that he is a worthy apostle to follow. To the Corinthians he wrote:

“I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”

(2 Corinthians 11:23-28)

What is conspicuously absent in this list of suffering is physical illness. Paul seems to be physically worn down from persecution, sleeplessness, hunger, thirst, physical danger and travel. But if Paul listed so many different forms of suffering for Christ, one would think he would list at least one physical sickness or illness. But we don’t see a single one. Not that Paul never got sick, but Paul doesn’t seem to believe that sickness is a way to “suffer for the Lord.”

Sickness, in other words, is not from God but from the enemy. While it may honor God for us to endure persecution, it does not bring him honor for us to suffer from sickness. The way we handle ourselves while sick will definitely bring him honor, but sickness itself does not.

This is in line with what we see in Jesus. Jesus was the perfect representation of what the Father is like. “The Son is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). Jesus suffered in many ways while on the earth. Yet, we have no indication or record of Him ever being sick. This reaffirms the truth that sickness is not from God but is a product of a broken world and sometimes the result of a direct assault from the enemy.

In other words, sickness is not God’s will. It is not what God wants for us. If Jesus is the perfect picture of the will of God, and not only did He never get sick but healed every person who came to Him for healing, then we have in Jesus a pretty clear idea of how God feels about sickness.

As followers of Jesus we have to stop saying things like, “I’m not sure why God gave me this illness, but…” Friend, God did not give you that sickness. That sickness is a result of the brokenness of our world. Or, it may be that your illness is a direct attack on your life from the enemy. But that illness you are going through is not from God. Do not receive it as such! Believe, instead, that God wants you free from it! Do not passively receive it as the will of God. It’s not! Persevere in your fight against it!

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