Why Christians suffer: Divine revelation on a perplexing subject

Why Christians Suffer


Grantley Morris



* * *

What comforting advice does Scripture offer slaves suffering under non-Christian slavemasters?

Like persecution, slavery is a type of suffering that the Bible mentions with what to us is surprising frequency because it was more common back then. More accurately, slavery was less secretive in those days. Slavery is actually becoming appallingly common in our own society in a dark underworld exploiting hapless people desperate to migrate to safer, richer countries. Tragically, many are treated far worse than most slaves in Roman times.

Imagine the humiliation of being a first-century slave. Maybe you were born a slave or become one through defeat in a war or maybe through falling hopelessly into debt caused by things beyond your control, such as drought, or perhaps through your own stupidity or even addictive behavior.

Once enslaved, you could languish in defeat and despair, or let bitterness hollow you out, or you could do as Scripture exhorts. Before plunging into what the Bible advises, however, let’s first acknowledge what it does not tell slaves. It is rather astonishing.

Many of today’s preachers would quote all sorts of Scriptures about our spiritual authority and tell slaves to pray, fast and believe God for instant deliverance from the oppression of slavery. In bewildering contrast, the inspired Word of God says nothing like that to the vast number of first-century Christian slaves. (Remember, the Bible addresses slaves about as often as it does married couples or children.)

There is only one New Testament passage that gets even close to suggesting one should try to extract oneself from slavery, and even this begins this way:

    1 Corinthians 7:20-21 Let each man stay in that calling in which he was called. Were you called being a bondservant? Don’t let that bother you . . .

If you were a slave when you came to Christ, “Don’t let that bother you”! “Well, never mind,” is how The Good News Translation puts it. Just lie down and accept it? Is this for real? In fact, it refers to slavery as a calling. The verse then goes on to say, almost as an after-thought:

    1 Corinthians 7:21 . . . but if you get an opportunity to become free, use it. . . .

(Most slaves, through faithful service, could eventually work their way to freedom.)

It’s interesting that this, the only suggestion that being free is even desirable, is in the very chapter that almost no one wants to take seriously. This is the chapter that says that denying oneself marriage, sex and children is better than being married.

When we find ourselves at odds with the Bible (and this will grow increasingly likely as we proceed) our mind cleverly goes into overdrive, trying to twist Scripture into conforming to our preconceptions. Or we try to shove it out of our thoughts like an embarrassing secret, or treat it like an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise exquisite masterpiece. Or, whilst being far too holy to dare use such words, we might even flatter ourselves by secretly congratulating ourselves on being more ‘enlightened’ than God’s Word. But when biblical thinking clashes with our own thinking, could it actually be time to reassess our thinking?

Are we as smart as we suppose, or more worldly than we dare think? As tempting as it is to sideline Scriptures we don’t like, let’s shock ourselves out of our deluded stupor with an icy confrontation with reality: it is God, not us, who is the greatest mind in the universe. He is the one whose ways are “unsearchable” (Psalm 145:3; Isaiah 40:28; Romans 11:33). Or did we suddenly gain that title? “No one is good – except God alone,” said Jesus (Mark 10:18, NIV). We, on the other hand, are so easily deceived that Scripture says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

Consider this: what’s the point of being given a book crammed with divine revelation if it’s what our own heads would have come up with?

With this in mind, let’s see what the rest of the New Testament says to slaves (using the NIV):

    1 Peter 2:18-21 Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. . . . if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (Emphasis mine.)

    Ephesians 6:5-7 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart . . . like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men

    Colossians 3:22-24 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

If referring to slavery as a calling is startling in 1 Corinthians 7:21, the quote above from 1 Peter 2 is even more so, as it refers to unjust suffering as a divine calling or vocation and “commendable before God.” That anyone could be divinely called to be a slave seems bewildering until we peer behind the gloss of every calling.

It is an overwhelmingly immense honor to be called of God to serve the Lord of glory in any capacity. Just, however, as the Son of God’s earthly assignment ended in eternal glory but involved unspeakable agony and humiliation, there is almost inevitably a grueling side to every divine mission. Fake heroes might have it easy, but nothing fake enters heaven. There is nothing cushy about true heroism. With heroism, the more grisly the ordeal, the greater the acclaim. The hazards are not futile. On the contrary, they are the very thing that creates the glory. In the words of 2 Corinthians 4:17, our “affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison”. (NASB and NET Bible, emphasis mine). Still more scriptures speak of the inseparable connection between suffering and eternal glory. As fire generates light and warmth so, for Christians, arduous times generate eternal acclaim.

Consider Joseph’s harrowing route to Pharaoh’s court. Think of Moses before the burning bush, shrinking from his call. Obediently forcing himself to do what he recoiled from not only infuriated the Pharaoh but the people Moses was trying to help ended up suffering more than ever and turning against Moses (Scripture). Think, too, of David fleeing from Saul like a hunted animal. Think of Elijah wishing he were dead (1 Kings 19:4). Think of Jeremiah complaining that he was ever born (Jeremiah 15:10; 20:18). On and on, I could go (for more, see The Cost of Service) but must I? Our exalted Lord, the beloved Son in whom the Almighty was well pleased (Matthew 3:17) was not only called to suffer as the lowest criminal (Philippians 2:5-8), he declared:

    Luke 6:22 Blessed are you when men shall hate you, and when they shall exclude and mock you, and throw out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake.

    Matthew 10:22, 24-25 You will be hated by all men for my name’s sake, but he who endures to the end will be saved. . . . A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be like his teacher, and the servant like his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more those of his household!

Asking, what comforting advice Scripture offers slaves suffering under non-Christian slavemasters, might have you scratching your head. Scripture’s directives to slaves, however, are not only comforting but thrilling – and not just for slaves, but for all who practice it. Dare to live this way, and you will discover that turning anything oppressive into an act of service to God, turns a tragedy into a triumph. Let me explain:

Attitude changes everything. Turn something into an expression of your love for God, and everything turns around. It not only lifts us; it impacts heaven. Love shines the mundane – even the catastrophic – until it gleams with eternal glory. It transforms everything. “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God(Romans 8:28, emphasis mine).

The Story So Far

Scripture insists that, stripped of love, even the noblest acts – martyrdom, giving all one owns to the poor, mountain-moving faith, or whatever – are a useless waste (1 Corinthians 13:2-3). Love for God, however, lifts what might otherwise be a useless waste – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, physical disability, chronic pain, terminal illness, or whatever – and transforms it into something noble. Without love for God, even the highest is pathetic, but with such love, even the most pathetic things become priceless.

This raises the next question.

Continued: Part 8

Not to be sold. © Copyright, Grantley Morris, 2018, 2019. For much more by the same author, see www.net-burst.net   No part of these writings may be copied without citing this entire paragraph.


Bible Versions Used

(Unless otherwise specified)

King James Version

Place mouse or equivalent over a Bible reference on-line

New International Version

Appears in the text

For more information, see Bible Version Dilemmas