Why Must Christians Suffer?

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Why Must Christians Suffer?

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What is the benefit, many ask, of trying to live according to God’s instruction if we all have to suffer? A best-selling book states the dilemma in its title: When Bad Things Happen to Good People .

The book of 1 Peter deals specifically with the suffering of Christians. Peter understood the significance of the suffering of people who live righteously in the light of Jesus Christ and His suffering. Peter notes two categories of suffering. One is for righteousness’ sake and brings us nearer the Kingdom of God. The other is largely unnecessary because it is usually the result of problems we bring on ourselves. We earnestly need God’s help, however, during both types of suffering.

Does God have a purpose in allowing Christians to suffer?

“For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps” (1 Peter 2:21 1 Peter 2:21For even hereunto were you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow his steps:
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).

“For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29 Philippians 1:29For to you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;
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).

“For this is commendable, if because of conscience towards God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully” (1 Peter 2:19 1 Peter 2:19For this is thank worthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.
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).

How should Christians view suffering at the hands of others?

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10 Matthew 5:10Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
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).

The Bible explains a great deal about why the righteous suffer in this present evil age. Most misery is brought about by Satan’s pervasive influence over people and their ideas and attitudes. (See “Satan’s Role in Human Suffering “).

Just before His crucifixion, Jesus explained to His disciples: “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you . . . If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also” (John 15:19-20 John 15:19-20 19 If you were of the world, the world would love his own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.
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).

Paul tells us that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12 2 Timothy 3:12Yes, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
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; compare 1 Peter 3:14 1 Peter 3:14But and if you suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are you: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;
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; Matthew 5:11-12 Matthew 5:11-12 11 Blessed are you, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
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). Much of the persecution Christians endure is really directed against Christ Himself. The life He lived and taught is the real target. Peter explained this clearly: “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy” (1 Peter 4:12-13 1 Peter 4:12-13 12 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you: 13 But rejoice, inasmuch as you are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, you may be glad also with exceeding joy.
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).

Have righteous people always endured suffering to serve God?

“My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience” (James 5:10 James 5:10Take, my brothers, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience.
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; compare Hebrews 11:24-26 Hebrews 11:24-26 24 By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; 25 Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; 26 Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect to the recompense of the reward.
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).

All of God’s prophets suffered for their faithfulness to Him. Some survived; others gave their lives. Daniel was thrown into a den of lions because of his beliefs and practices, but God delivered him (Daniel 6:15-23 Daniel 6:15-23 15 Then these men assembled to the king, and said to the king, Know, O king, that the law of the Medes and Persians is, That no decree nor statute which the king establishes may be changed. 16 Then the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of lions. Now the king spoke and said to Daniel, Your God whom you serve continually, he will deliver you. 17 And a stone was brought, and laid on the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet, and with the signet of his lords; that the purpose might not be changed concerning Daniel. 18 Then the king went to his palace, and passed the night fasting: neither were instruments of music brought before him: and his sleep went from him. 19 Then the king arose very early in the morning, and went in haste to the den of lions. 20 And when he came to the den, he cried with a lamentable voice to Daniel: and the king spoke and said to Daniel, O Daniel, servant of the living God, is your God, whom you serve continually, able to deliver you from the lions? 21 Then said Daniel to the king, O king, live for ever. 22 My God has sent his angel, and has shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me: for as much as before him innocence was found in me; and also before you, O king, have I done no hurt. 23 Then was the king exceedingly glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found on him, because he believed in his God.
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). His three friends—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego—were condemned to death in “a burning fiery furnace” because they would not bow to an idol, but God miraculously spared their lives (Daniel 3:8-29 Daniel 3:8-29 8 Why at that time certain Chaldeans came near, and accused the Jews. 9 They spoke and said to the king Nebuchadnezzar, O king, live for ever. 10 You, O king, have made a decree, that every man that shall hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of music, shall fall down and worship the golden image: 11 And whoever falls not down and worships, that he should be cast into the middle of a burning fiery furnace. 12 There are certain Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; these men, O king, have not regarded you: they serve not your gods, nor worship the golden image which you have set up. 13 Then Nebuchadnezzar in his rage and fury commanded to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Then they brought these men before the king. 14 Nebuchadnezzar spoke and said to them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, do not you serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up? 15 Now if you be ready that at what time you hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of music, you fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if you worship not, you shall be cast the same hour into the middle of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands? 16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer you in this matter. 17 If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods, nor worship the golden image which you have set up. 19 Then was Nebuchadnezzar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego: therefore he spoke, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated. 20 And he commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace. 21 Then these men were bound in their coats, their hosen, and their hats, and their other garments, and were cast into the middle of the burning fiery furnace. 22 Therefore because the king’s commandment was urgent, and the furnace exceeding hot, the flames of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. 23 And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound into the middle of the burning fiery furnace. 24 Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished, and rose up in haste, and spoke, and said to his counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the middle of the fire? They answered and said to the king, True, O king. 25 He answered and said, See, I see four men loose, walking in the middle of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God. 26 Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the mouth of the burning fiery furnace, and spoke, and said, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, you servants of the most high God, come forth, and come here. Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, came forth of the middle of the fire. 27 And the princes, governors, and captains, and the king’s counsellors, being gathered together, saw these men, on whose bodies the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed on them. 28 Then Nebuchadnezzar spoke, and said, Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God. 29 Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, which speak any thing amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort.
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).

David constantly cried out to God for deliverance from his enemies (Psalms 7:1-2 Psalms 7:1-2 1 O LORD my God, in you do I put my trust: save me from all them that persecute me, and deliver me: 2 Lest he tear my soul like a lion, rending it in pieces, while there is none to deliver.
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; Psalms 18:17-19 Psalms 18:17-19 17 He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from them which hated me: for they were too strong for me. 18 They prevented me in the day of my calamity: but the LORD was my stay. 19 He brought me forth also into a large place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me.
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). But we should especially notice his confidence in God: “Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His mercy, to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine” (Psalms 33:18-19 Psalms 33:18-19 18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is on them that fear him, on them that hope in his mercy; 19 To deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.
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). In general, God’s will is for the deliverance of His servants. Some, however, have been martyred for the sake of the Kingdom of God, and others are yet to end their lives as martyrs.

Isaiah is traditionally said to be a prophet who was killed by being “sawn in two” (Hebrews 11:37 Hebrews 11:37They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented;
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). We read that “others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection” (Hebrews 11:35 Hebrews 11:35Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection:
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), and some “had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment” (Hebrews 11:36 Hebrews 11:36And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yes, moreover of bonds and imprisonment:
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). Stephen, just before he was martyred, cried out to those who were ready to stone him: “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One [Jesus Christ], of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers” (Acts 7:52 Acts 7:52Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom you have been now the betrayers and murderers:
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).

It has always been this way. It began with Cain and Abel. “For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, not as Cain who was of the wicked one [Satan] and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous” (1 John 3:11-12 1 John 3:11-12 11 For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And why slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.
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).

The Scriptures explain that “he who walks in his uprightness fears the LORD, but he who is perverse in his ways despises Him” (Proverbs 14:2 Proverbs 14:2He that walks in his uprightness fears the LORD: but he that is perverse in his ways despises him.
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). People whose ways are not of God indirectly express their hostility toward Him by venting their contempt and anger on His servants. Peter describes this attitude so well: “In regard to these, they [who love the ways of this world] think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you” (1 Peter 4:4 1 Peter 4:4Wherein they think it strange that you run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you:
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).

Which apostle learned that his ministry would be filled with suffering?

“. . . I will show him [the apostle Paul] how many things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:16 Acts 9:16For I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.
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; compare 2 Timothy 1:11-12 2 Timothy 1:11-12 11 Whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. 12 For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him against that day.
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).

When God first called and converted him, the apostle Paul learned that a part of his service to Christ would be to suffer. Paul’s sufferings were directly related to the great purpose of his calling. He was commissioned by the resurrected Jesus Christ to go to the gentiles “to open their eyes and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God . . .” (Acts 26:18 Acts 26:18To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.
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). His mission attracted intense opposition and persecution.

What types of suffering did Paul encounter?

“. . . Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; . . . in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, . . . in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things which come upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:25-28 2 Corinthians 11:25-28 25 Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 In journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by my own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brothers; 27 In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. 28 Beside those things that are without, that which comes on me daily, the care of all the churches.
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).

Read 2 Corinthians 11:23-33 2 Corinthians 11:23-33 23 Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. 24 Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. 25 Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 In journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by my own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brothers; 27 In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. 28 Beside those things that are without, that which comes on me daily, the care of all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? 30 If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern my infirmities. 31 The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for ever more, knows that I lie not. 32 In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: 33 And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands.
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for Paul’s vivid description of the many humiliations, dangers and injuries he endured in carrying out his commission to spread the gospel far and wide. He records how he suffered continually while proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Feeding the flock of God, the members of God’s Church, was also a vital part of his mission, and Paul’s loving care for the churches weighed heavily on him.

Paul tells us to “be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 1 Corinthians 11:1Be you followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
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, KJV). Therefore we too will find that it is not possible to spread the gospel to this chaotic and sin-sick world without encountering opposition and persecution. Not all will experience such resistance in the same way and to the same degree. Christ knows our capacity; He understands the talents and limits of each member. Yet suffering for the sake of spreading God’s truth is the lot of all true Christians. It was a constant factor in the life of Paul and his companions (1 Corinthians 4:11-12 1 Corinthians 4:11-12 11 Even to this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place; 12 And labor, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it:
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).

How did Paul’s persecution affect his reputation?

“For which [the gospel] I suffer trouble as [if I were] an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the word of God is not bound” (2 Timothy 2:9 2 Timothy 2:9Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even to bonds; but the word of God is not bound.
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).

Paul worked under a cloud of suspicion and false accusation. Most of the Jewish leaders regarded him as a traitor, and the Romans were often uncertain whether to treat him as a misguided Roman citizen, chronic troublemaker or criminal. In the end he died for his beliefs.

Can showing Christian concern for others be risky?

“Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life . . .” (Romans 16:3-4 Romans 16:3-4 3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: 4 Who have for my life laid down their own necks: to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.
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; compare Philippians 1:25-30 Philippians 1:25-30 25 And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith; 26 That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again. 27 Only let your conversation be as it becomes the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; 28 And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. 29 For to you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; 30 Having the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.
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).

Early Christians risked their lives to assist Paul and other Church members. They suffered for the sake of the Kingdom of God and their service to fellow Christians—for diligently practicing the Golden Rule.

The book of Romans tells us to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15 Romans 12:15Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.
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). If we truly love others, we will sometimes suffer for and with them—vicariously or in painful reality. Since Christians are “members of one another” (Romans 12:5 Romans 12:5So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.
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) and part of the same body, this is a way to serve each other and honor God (Romans 12:1 Romans 12:1I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
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). “. . . Your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (1 Peter 5:9 1 Peter 5:9Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brothers that are in the world.
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, NIV).

What is the proper Christian response to unjust treatment from others?

“Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter” (1 Peter 4:16 1 Peter 4:16Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.
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).

“Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19 1 Peter 4:19Why let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as to a faithful Creator.
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).

Jesus explained to His disciples why they should respond to mistreatment with love, kindness and good works. “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:44-48 Matthew 5:44-48 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you, and persecute you; 45 That you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love them which love you, what reward have you? do not even the publicans the same? 47 And if you salute your brothers only, what do you more than others? do not even the publicans so? 48 Be you therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
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).

Christians are called to be the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:14 Matthew 5:14You are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
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). They are always to reflect the character of their heavenly Father, who provides the necessities of life for even the unjust. Christians are to live as examples even under difficult circumstances. “And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe” (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7 6 And you became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost. 7 So that you were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia.
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).

How should a Christian feel about suffering for God’s Kingdom?

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18 Romans 8:18For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
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).

No one understood a Christian’s lot better than Paul. In addition to the afflictions described earlier, he endured a “thorn in the flesh”—possibly a chronic health problem—that he had pleaded with God to remove on three occasions. Christ’s reply: “. . . My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. 8 For this thing I sought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 9 And he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest on me.
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).

Having a clear perspective of the future, and an understanding of God’s purpose for us, is crucial in facing life’s difficulties. Only when we earnestly look forward to the glories of the Kingdom of God can we view our own sufferings in a proper perspective. Certainly our trials and difficulties are real and cannot be wished away. Yet their long-term importance pales into insignificance when compared with the sure realization of our great calling (Philippians 3:11-14 Philippians 3:11-14 11 If by any means I might attain to the resurrection of the dead. 12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. 13 Brothers, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth to those things which are before, 14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
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). (For a clearer understanding of God’s purpose for you, be sure to read What Is Your Destiny? )