The Apostle Paul said to the Corinthians:
“Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
~2 Corinthians 12:10 (NRSV).
Also, about Jesus, the Apostle Peter spoke:
“When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.”
~1 Peter 2:23 (NRSV).
Here, above, we have the examples firstly of Paul, and secondly of Christ. Paul had become a past master of “delighting” in his pain—the “thorn... in the flesh... a messenger of Satan” sent, in Job-theology, to torment him—because he recognised it as a way of submitting his weakness to God. Obedience thus broadened him.
The Lord, of course, was both the “author” and “finisher” of this practical faith of suffering well (Hebrews 12:1-3).
We too have these same opportunities.
This is an astounding gospel truth. If we can glory in our insults, betrayals and rejections—which is not resisting the pain of them, but honouring them—we’ll experience the Presence of God to embellish life in courage, hope and amplified faith.
A Very Practical Theology
Perhaps the reason the Sermon on the Mount has so much difficulty about it is, it’s intensely practical—whilst rubbing vociferously against the grain of our human nature.
It clearly is nonsensical to the populace. For instance, why—logically—would you turn the other cheek? There are no instant results apart from volitional shame. No right-minded human being is settling for such despicability.
But this theology of Jesus’ is the grace-bound truth.
There can be no reconciliation unless it commences with bold and magnanimous claims against the self and for others. It’s how it must start. This is a rubber-hits-the-road theology. It requires sacrifice, but not just any sacrifice; it’s a loving sacrifice, meant at the level of the heart.
Condemning Ourselves to Second Place So God Will Raise Us to First
In faith, the sacrifice means something. We make it because of our love for God, for we cannot repay this gift of grace that we’ve received bountifully and can issue bountifully.
When we give ourselves away without condition, the Lord is the one who gives to us our reward.
But it’s not a flat out, commensurate transaction. We cannot expect it.
Condemning ourselves to suffer well is the wisest thing we can do because we know that the last will eventually be first (Mark 9:35). It is blessed to choose to be last, as it is to observe the signs when we’re placed last—even if both realities are still painful. When others win, so ultimately do we.
Glorying in our insults, betrayal and rejections is no sycophantic or sadistic vision. It’s about honestly taking God at his Word.
The very weird thing is we don’t have to wait until we reach eternity to receive our blessed rewards for these loving sacrifices of authenticity; they come back to us quicker than we might imagine. Besides, when we do engage in such gospel-congruent behaviour our fears are dealt with; they go down to the abyss. That is reward all its own.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.
Graphic Credit: Loaves-and-Fishes.org.