How Do You Prepare for Suffering?

Ayear0703ecHow do you, as a Christian, prepare for the increasing suffering that is directed towards those who believe in absolutes? The same way that Hebrews 10:32-39 shows first century Christians dealing with that issue.

Prepare for suffering. What you have suffered shows that your faith is genuine. Endurance in persecution is a fruit of faith–and that is why Hebrews reminds his readers of it. Its memory is an encouragement that you are in the covenant community and are living as God’s people. (Does the persecution, see 12:4, indicate that the church was outside Jerusalem?) While they may not have been martyred, they had suffered imprisonment and loss of property. Not only did they suffer, they endured it joyfully. As God’s people, you have displayed confidence as you have walked obediently because you realize the value of Christ, see Hebrews 11:25,26.

Don’t be surprised by suffering. Increasingly Christians in North America need to realize that the suffering we will face is becoming more blatant and more costly. You are united by faith to a Savior who suffered for you. Do not expect the world to treat you better than it did him. The suffering comes from living as one who belongs to the age to come—living in a sin-cursed world. The world is not satisfied with simply being allowed to do its own thing. It demands conformity to its values and beliefs. Pray for both wisdom and boldness.

As you suffer, remember, Christ is coming! His return is certain. Christ is the sum of your heavenly possessions, v. 34. He is your confidence and reward, v. 35. The exhortation here contrasts the eschatalogical fascination of the readers, who were so interested in the last times, but wanted to see it, to walk by sight, not by faith. The reward of v. 35, is, of course, union and fellowship with Christ. Hebrews modifies the quote from Habakkuk 2:3,4. The Old Testament reference to the vision of God’s deliverance here becomes a personal Redeemer. Looking for Christ’s return is not fuzzy other-worldlyness. Rather, it means recognizing that he sits now as King at the right hand of the Father. He is coming to bring in the new heavens and new earth.

Not only is he returning, he is coming soon. He is not far off. Delay does not mean absence. Christ’s day is approaching, v. 25, for the entire New Testament period, including today. Christ will not be late. This is a motive to live as a member of the covenant community, encouraging one another, increasing one another’s faith, not as an excuse for speculation.

Walk by faith. Do not shrink back. Those who shrink back, perish. This may be a form of idolatry–the choice is too hard (the opposite of Moses in Hebrews 11:25,26). It may be a love of self-righteousness, similar to the Judaizers of Galatia. (Remember that there tends to be something of a Pharisee in each of us.) The result is that God has no pleasure in such. Refusal to trust means cutting oneself off from the covenant community. But you are of those who believe. Hebrews is addressing the covenant community, like you, the people of God. If any fall away, it is evident that they do not belong. You are those who continue to trust in the Savior and his righteousness. You persevere in turning to him–each time that you sin and need his forgiveness. These words are intended as an encouragement to persevere, to grow in holiness, as well as to comfort you in your relationship with your Lord. “Since there is nothing more contrary to faith than shrinking back, it is the nature of faith to bring man back to obedience to God when he has been drawn away by his own nature.” (John Calvin, The Epistle to the Hebrews.)

By faith in Christ is how you live. Hebrews refers to Habakkuk 2:3-4. The Apostle Paul expands on this Old Testament text. All of Romans can be seen as a commentary on it, see Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11. Hebrews uses the term faith in a similar fashion. What is it to believe? Faith is a saving union with Christ. Faith is the realization of and participation in the heavenly realities. The result is that God has pleasure in such. Faith (a faith working in love) includes the life of obedience, see Hebrews 11. The believer is the one who is righteous. This is not because of himself or his works. Rather, he trusts in the Savior and his righteousness.

You are united by faith to a living Savior, who is returning. Don’t give up! Don’t give up, even when facing suffering. Persevere in your Christian life.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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