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Called to Suffer. Called to Die.

Greetings All,
     This week's "thought" comes to you, not from a book or magazine, but from a conversation that took place during a Bible study on Colossians which focused primarily on Colossians 1:24.  The dialogue was recorded by one of the participants present.
     The leader of the study was Josh Fairbaugh.   The study itself took place while training the incoming staff that particular year for Worldview Academy (a Christian instructional camp where Josh was serving as camp director).  It was just days before the students arrived.
     Josh attended my church here in Perkasie PA, and has filled the pulpit for me on a few occasions.  He presently resides in Charlotte, NC, with his wife Kristen where he is a student at the Reformed Theological Seminary campus in that city.
     I found the dialogue both insightful and challenging. Enjoy.
Called to Suffer. Called to Die.
"Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of His body, which is the church."
     "You are allowed by God to be a minister this summer," Josh said.  "You are going to struggle, and Satan is going to try to stop you."  Josh spent most of the session discussing what Paul meant by, "filling what is lacking in Christ's afflictions." (1:24)
     "We can go above and beyond by doing things that don't come naturally or are not comfortable," Isaac said when asked how they will suffer for the summer.  "Showing that we are there for them. Suffering for their sake. Well, I don't like using that word."
     Josh stopped him. "But it's what the verse says, so it's okay to say that you will suffer this summer. You will. It isn't bad to suffer."
     "Not only did Paul suffer, but he rejoiced in his suffering," someone chimed in from the other side of the room. "And in Philippians," Lauren added, "Paul talks about how to live is Christ and to die is gain."
     Kristen raised her hand and what she said brought new understanding to the discussion. "To love is to die," she said quietly. "Christ laid his life down for his bride, and Paul does that for the church in the same way that we must die for our students."
     Hands ceased to rise and Josh continued the session. "Our suffering is not a byproduct of preaching the gospel. It is an essential part of preaching the gospel and making it known. The only way to bring the suffering of Christ to people is to show them suffering. God has designed and appointed us for suffering, to be a minister of the gospel and a person who carries the word of God."
     Staff were silent as they processed Paul's message: Suffer to further the gospel, give to gain, die to love.
     "If you are going into the summer and you aren't ready to suffer as a part of preaching the word of God," Josh continued, "then you need to go home. Preaching the gospel isn't some high in the sky, fun thing. We are called to be Christ to people. When you think of being Christ to people, how did he do that? He died for them. In doing so, you will fill up the lack in Christ's afflictions."
     In a church culture where some suggest that preaching the gospel is the path to health, wealth and prosperity, it is good to be reminded that Paul never saw his own calling in that way. There is never even the slightest hint of it. He simply accepted and was content with whatever came his way (Phil. 4:11-13). 
     Paul wasn't in it to acquire worldly gain.  He had died to all such desires and determined that to live was Christ (not the earthly benefits he could get from Him) and to die was gain.  Love for Christ consumed his heart.  His Lord was his all in all, and merely serving Him by seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness was itself the greatest of all possible rewards in this life -- even when it included the honor and privilege of suffering or going without and finally dying for Jesus' sake.
     As one of my seminary professors one time noted in relation to our motivation for serving Jesus: "Serve Christ for a dollar and you'll serve the devil for two."  There's more truth to that statement than we'd often like to admit. Our service for Jesus must be unconditional. That is, it must never be conditioned on the benefits we hope to receive. After all, we are servants, not mercenaries.
Living in the grace of Jesus, Pastor Jeff