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Suffering, Perseverance and God’s Infallible Plan

12/08/2019  |  Richard Chin 

 He was brutally executed for high treason. After being arrested and tried, he was stripped naked, dragged through the streets, hung almost to the point of death, pulled limb from limb, disemboweled, and beheaded. His body was then quartered and sent to the four corners of England as a powerful warning. On August 23rd, 1305, William Wallace became a martyr in the fight for Scottish independence. 

Wallace used many different tactics—raids on English outposts, guerilla warfare, and even assassinations. But his strategy remained the same: to unite Scots in a willingness to suffer for their freedom. He believed in the cause so deeply that he was willing to lead the way both in his life and in his death.

As has often been said, a person has only found something worth living for if they have found something worth dying for.

The apostle Paul found something worth living and dying for. In fact, he went so far as to say he rejoiced in his suffering: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church…” (Col 1:24)

But was there any purpose to his sufferings? Was he just a masochist, or was there a reason he could rejoice in his sufferings? 

God’s Infallible Strategy

The heart and essence of Paul’s ministry are captured in the wonderful words of Colossians 1:28: “Him [Christ] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” Paul repeats that crucial word three times: everyone. We warn everyone. We teach everyone. We long to present everyone mature in Christ. This gospel is for every person in the whole world.

That’s why he proclaims Christ with unending passion, determination and courage Proclaiming Christ, with the goal of presenting everyone mature in him, takes God-given boldness and an enormous amount of hard work and energy. But whose energy?

Paul toils and suffers to the point of exhaustion so that he can proclaim this gospel, but he doesn’t do this in his own strength. “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” (1:29) Paul’s agonizing struggle is only possible because he relies on Christ’s energy being at work in him.

Does this mean we ‘let go and let God’, or that there’s no need for us to work hard in ministry? Not at all. Paul is still able to say, “For this I toil”. The man worked hard and gave his all to make Jesus known. Yet he knew that undergirding all his toil was the powerful work of God enabling him to engage in the struggle. 

In other words, we can only proclaim Christ because Christ himself gives us the energy and the ability to do so. The successful proclamation of Christ does not ultimately depend on us and on our agonizing ministry, but on Christ being at work in and through our ministry. 

This is why, at the beginning of chapter 2, Paul makes the Colossians aware of his struggles: “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face…” (2:1). He doesn’t share his struggles so that they can focus on his efforts, but so that they can focus on Christ’s efforts. He wants the Colossians to understand his struggle so that they will come to see that God is at work. Christ’s purpose is to present everyone mature in himself. He does that through weak, frail servants like Paul, like me, and like you. He does this even—or perhaps especially—in the midst of our struggles and our sufferings. And it happens this way so that Jesus alone will get the glory.

Here, then, is God’s infallible strategy to reach the nations with the gospel of Jesus—to have a world that knows Jesus: the prayerful proclamation of Jesus to all the nations through suffering. 

Our tactics may differ from ministry to ministry or from church to church. For example, we may embrace particular evangelistic courses, or we may opt for a less structured approach to evangelism. We may have highly organised welcoming teams or a more informal method. You may organise Bible study groups corporately in the church building, or separately in people’s homes. All those tactical decisions are open to change and contextually fallible.

However, our God-given strategy is infallible, precisely because it is God-given. It will never fail. And God’s strategy is the prayerful proclamation of Jesus to all the nations through suffering.

‘A willingness to suffer and die’

Once you start to see Christ clearly, it will fuel you to persevere in godliness and in gospel ministry. Paul rejoiced that he had heard about the Colossians showing this kind of perseverance. “For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.” (2:5) We should rejoice every time we hear of someone putting their faith in Jesus for the first time, and we should rejoice when we hear of Jesus’ servants persevering and bearing fruit.

When we hear of God’s people persevering, it should make our hearts sing, for this is the fruit of God’s powerful energy at work in his suffering, agonized servants that he has sent throughout the world. Indeed, this is how Paul sees himself: as a ‘minister’ (or, more accurately, a ‘servant’) of the gospel (1:23), and a ‘minister’ (or ‘servant’) of the church (1:24-25). To be a servant of the church is to be a servant of the gospel. And to be a servant of the gospel is to suffer. Look at how John Stott captured these ideas: 

The place of suffering in service and of passion in mission is hardly ever taught today. But the greatest single secret of evangelistic or missionary effectiveness is a willingness to suffer and die. It may be a death to popularity (by faithfully preaching the unpopular biblical gospel), or to pride (by the use of modest methods in reliance on the Holy Spirit), or to racial and national prejudice (by identification with another culture), or to material comfort (by adopting a particular lifestyle). But the servant must suffer if he is to bring light to the nations, and the seed must die if it is to multiply.

This is simply staggering. Are we truly willing to suffer and die for Jesus? Are we truly willing to be unpopular, to humble ourselves, to cross cultural boundaries, and to give up our material comforts in order to proclaim Christ? Only when we can answer yes to those questions have we truly embraced the strategy of God: the prayerful proclamation of Jesus to all the nations through suffering.

This is an excerpt from Richard Chin’s new book Captivated by Christ: Seeing Jesus Clearly in the Book of Colossians (Matthias Media, 2019).

Richard Chin is the National Director of the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students (AFES). He also serves as a University chaplain at Wollongong University, seeking to proclaim Christ to local and international students. Richard is married to Jeanette, and father to four young adult children. His first wife, Bronwyn went home to be with Jesus in 2013.