Step 1: Self-Examination
If you are indeed suffering for being a follower of Jesus Christ, then how should you handle it? The prerequisite question you must ask yourself is: Am I suffering for Jesus’ sake or my own sake? Many Christians avoid asking themselves this hard question. It requires a deep look in the mirror, deep self-examination.
“If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. 16 Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.” (I Peter 4:14-16)
First, we must ask ourselves are we suffering for Jesus’ sake or our own sake. Does your character meet up with God’s standards? The apostle James says, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” (James 1:22) It is self-deception to think that hearing and believing is the only thing you need to do. In fact, a lack of action is proof that you do not really believe God’s word (James 2:20). Peter points out there is a difference between suffering as a Christian and suffering as someone who violates God’s law. To suffer as a murderer, thief, evildoer, or busybody is just to receive the consequences of your actions. To suffer as a Christian is to suffer as a result of following what Jesus said.
There should be no mistaking this point. Do not deceive yourself by thinking you are suffering because you IDENTIFY as a Christian. Using the title and living a sinful life actually gives God’s enemies occasion to blaspheme His name (II Sam. 12:14). Again, whose sake are you suffering for? Are you receiving the consequences of your sin or is your righteous living an offence to others? If you are currently suffering some trial, please carefully and prayerfully consider these questions.
On numerous occasions, I have had to ask myself these hard questions. No one wants to do it, but it must be done. In doing so, I have discovered many times my suffering was a self-inflicted wound and not a consequence of living like Jesus Christ. Upon acknowledging this fact, I repented and accepted the consequences of my actions. Self-examination is one of the hardest things to do because we all want to see ourselves as good people. I had to learn to use the word of God as the mirror in which I examine my face regularly (James 1:23-27).
Ruling Your Tongue and Staying Unspotted
Have you learned to bridle your tongue? Are you unspotted from the world? I know I struggle at times to keep my tongue contained. Read James 3:1-12. Just the use of the wrong words can kindle a fire against you. This does not mean to be politically correct or sugarcoat the truth. We have to learn to differentiate between speaking the truth in love versus speaking out of vanity and pride!!! Read through the gospel accounts and notice how careful Jesus was with His words. On many occasions, He declined to speak. At other times, He may have seemed rude or insulting. Jesus bridled His tongue. He had full control over what to say, when to say it, and how to say it. Sadly, many of us have not grown to this level. As a consequence, we suffer for saying things out of vanity and pride rather than suffering for Jesus’ sake.
Do you keep yourself unspotted from the world? Recognize that the apostles taught that Jesus was presented before God the Father as a lamb without spot or blemish. Jesus was unspotted because He abstained from sin though He spent time preaching, teaching, and eating with sinners (Matt. 9:10-11; Luke 15:1-10). Jesus spent time with sinners to encourage them to come out of sin and into repentance. Jesus did not spend time with sinners to join them in their deeds. It is perfectly acceptable to spend time with unbelievers if you are ministering to them like Jesus Christ did. It is NOT acceptable to spend time with unbelievers to become spotted by sinful activities.
Notice this very specific command of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matt. 28:18-20)
In order to keep this command, we must be involved with unbelievers to some degree. Our involvement should be limited to teaching what Jesus taught. We are not to engage in sinful behavior as a means of gaining acceptance amongst unbelievers. Jesus specifically trained the disciples to do this work prior to His resurrection. Read Luke 10:1-12 and Matt. 10:5-15 for confirmation.
Sidenote: Evangelism as outlined by Jesus is far different from what many teach and practice. The goal is to say the truth and let God the Father draw whom He will into His church. We are not to debate, argue, convince anyone with clever and enticing sayings, phrases, and analogies. If someone refuses the truth, we are to move on and leave the consequences to God.
We are not to treat the world with hostility and malice as this is opposite of the teachings of Jesus and the apostles; however, we are to limit our participation in worldly fraternization. Read James 4:4. We are not to make friends with the world, but we are to show people how to come out of the world.
So, I ask again, are you learning to bridle your tongue?!?! Are you keeping yourself unspotted from the world?!?! Are you following the teachings of Jesus to the best of your ability?!?! Can the world recognize that you are a Christian because of character?!?! Please consider these important questions. Depending on the answer to these questions, you may cause yourself to suffer because of hypocrisy rather than for Jesus’ sake.
Suffering is Unique to Christians?
Suffering is not unique to being a Christian. In fact, many oppose Christianity because they blame God for the suffering in this world. They fail to identify their contribution to the suffering in this world. Every time we sin, we negatively affect ourselves and others. Now, consider that we have billions of people sinning every day which results in a compounding effect. The catastrophic levels of suffering in the world are largely the fault of every person who has ever sinned; this includes Christians. This is an undeniable fact. Consequently, a Christian must be more circumspect about analyzing the cause of his suffering.
Suffering takes place in the lives of unbelievers and Christians, but the Christian response should be to fast, pray, and analyze what is happening. Step 1 of the Christian response to suffering and persecution is Self-Examination!!!
Consider the book of Job. Though he had some self-righteousness that needed to be dislodged from his thinking, he took time to analyze why he was suffering. Job and his friends sat in silence for seven consecutive days (Job 2:11-13). Prior to this, Job had bridled his tongue even when his wife tried to negatively influence him (Job 2:9-10). It appears that Job came to the wrong conclusion during this seven-day self-examination because of his grief. In the third chapter of Job, Job begins to speak, and we can see that his spiritual fortitude was crumbling because of the pain of his suffering. Fortunately for Job, God brought him through his trial and extinguished his self-righteous attitude.
Please prayerfully read Job 42:1-7. Here we can see Job coming to a sound analysis of himself after hearing directly from God. Job declared that he abhorred himself as a result, which means to reject with disdain. Job learned to reject himself as a worthless hunk of junk. His self-examination through the eyes of God brought him to the realization that he as a man amounts to nothing regardless of all the good things he has done in his life.
Everything in life has a cause. Nothing is random or spontaneous. This includes the suffering and persecution you have (and will) faced during your physical existence. Here are a few examples for your consideration:
- Suppose you are financially poor. Is it because you mismanage your income? Have you settled into a low paying career? Do you take on unnecessary debt? Do you share your excess with those who are less fortunate? Are you grateful for what you do have? Have you prayed to God for assistance? Do you acknowledge God when blessings come? Are you primarily seeking the kingdom of God? Matt. 6:33
- Suppose you haven’t received a promotion in 10 years. Do you work harder than others? Have you analyzed whether or not you meet the qualifications for the position you want? Have you talked to a supervisor concerning the matter? Are you a team player? Have you consulted God about the position? Would receiving the position cause you to prioritize your job over God? Does God want you to do something different?
- Suppose your car broke down the day of your job interview. Have you changed the oil, spark plugs, wires, alternator, brakes, axles, etc.? Do you know what it takes to maintain your vehicle? Do you drive in a way that may induce mechanical failures? Did you consult God before applying for the job?
- Suppose you were robbed. Where were you? Why were you there? Should you have been there? Is that area known for criminal activity? What time of day was it? Is it possible that your routine made you an easy target? Were you spending money unnecessarily? Did you pray for God’s protection before going?
- Suppose you are diagnosed with cancer or some other health problem. What is your diet? Do you consume unhealthy foods and other substances? Do you work with hazardous materials? Do you exercise regularly? Do you detox your body? If so, how often? Do you examine your body regularly? Do you consult a doctor about health concerns? Do you have a relationship with a nutritionist? Do you grow some of your own food? Does your diet align with the biblically prescribed diet? Do you ask God for His divine protection before eating? Etc.
Simply analyzing your current predicament can lead to very different conclusions than the easy position of self-pity and whoa-is-me-ism. If you take a deeper look at your life, you will discover how many times God the Father has spared you from the consequences of your actions or lack thereof. In His infinite mercy, God has intervened in our lives an unimaginable number of times; however, a good father knows that some lessons are only learned by letting the children suffer the consequences of their actions. If we simply analyze why we are experiencing something from an objective perspective, we will identify our contribution to our suffering.
Additionally, many of us are just like teenagers. We think we have experienced enough and gained enough knowledge to navigate through life without the assistance of our parents. In our arrogance, we ignore sound guidance from our heavenly Father. We also neglect to ask for support and guidance because we think we can handle whatever comes our way. We must recognize that there are things beyond our ability to control and that our knowledge through experience is immature compared to God’s knowledge.
Humility is essential! If we are the children of God, then we must humble ourselves before our loving Father (Matt. 18:1-4). He can and will give you understanding of your ways and help you avoid unnecessary suffering.
Thou art my portion, O Lord:
I have said that I would keep thy words.
58 I intreated thy favour with my whole heart:
be merciful unto me according to thy word.
59 I thought on my ways,
and turned my feet unto thy testimonies.
60 I made haste, and delayed not to keep thy commandments.
61 The bands of the wicked have robbed me:
but I have not forgotten thy law.
62 At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee
because of thy righteous judgments.
63 I am a companion of all them that fear thee,
and of them that keep thy precepts.
64 The earth, O Lord, is full of thy mercy:
teach me thy statutes. (Ps. 119:57-64)
Self-examination and turning to God for understanding is the first step to responding to suffering. In part two of this study, we will discuss the second step and how to handle persecution.