This week I have been feeling a little indignant. In the course of my ministry this week, someone accused me of being unloving, uncompassionate, and unsympathetic. Partly I am indignant because I have been trying so hard to love this person. Partly I am indignant because her words were unfair. Partly I am indignant because I think that I have the right to not be slandered. I am indignant because I think that I should be respected for preaching Jesus. I am indignant because I think that my work should be seen and valued.
Section 3 of Tim’s book helped me to see the pattern of thinking that led to my feelings above, and to see how deeply wrong my reaction is! (I did know, in my heart of hearts, that feeling that way was wrong. But sometimes I get very busy feeling something and don’t pause to examine whether my thought processes are God-honouring. Definitely something to work on.)
In chapters 9-12, Tim sets out how the cross and resurrection form a pattern that is for Christ’s ministry AND for the Christian life. Christ’s glory is intimately tied to the cross. His death was essential to his ministry – he came to die. Yes, he came as the Lord of glory – but he taught his disciples that he is the Lord of glory who suffers and dies. The pattern of suffering followed by glory is set out for Jesus, and is set out for any who would follow him – who would follow the way of the cross.
These are really meaty chapters to sink your teeth into, but I want to focus on chapter 12 – ‘Suffering Followed by Glory – the Pattern for Disciples.’ Tim opens this chapter by quoting from Joel Osteen, who preaches that Christians can expect total victory now – victory in health, wealth, and relationships. Tim points out just how alien this line of thinking is to the New Testament writers, and especially to Jesus. Tim explains that this way of thinking bypasses the critical step of suffering. This life is not a life of glory. If we follow the way of the cross, this life will be one of suffering. Tim puts it beautifully when he writes, ‘We follow the way of the cross, not the way of glory. But we follow the way of the cross, sustained by the hope of coming glory. The pattern of Christian experience conforms to the pattern of Christ’s own experience. The way of the cross is followed by the glory of the resurrection. Suffering followed by glory.’
Why was I indignant? On some level, I think I had overlooked that being slandered and rejected is par for the course for a follower of Jesus. On some level, I think I felt a little bit entitled to something like the life of victory Joel Osteen describes. I wouldn’t dare put it in terms of money or health, but I think maybe I felt as though I deserve better treatment as a follower of Jesus. After all, I am trying really hard! How completely daft! If I am taking Jesus’ gospel to the world, OF COURSE I will be rejected. Of course people will accuse me unfairly. After a few years in the warm and fuzzy bubble of Bible college, I think I had forgotten what it is like in the real world, where people hate the message of the cross. If I am preaching the cross, we then that means that sometimes people will hate me too.
But Tim goes on to explain that it’s the suffering-glory pattern that enables us to hope. There is a great quote from Richard Bauckham about the apostle Paul: ‘All the ups and downs of his ministry were for Paul experiences of God, events in which he experienced an identification with Jesus in his dying and rising.’ Next to this in my copy of the book, I have scrawled ‘I NEED TO REMEMBER THIS!’ To be slandered for witnessing to Jesus is to identify with him. What a privilege!
I know that my week wasn’t very significant. In the scheme of things, the persecution I experienced was minor. Really not a big deal. But I am encouraged to ‘suck it up’, as they say. To press on in ministry, confident that I can endure much worse for the sake of my Lord, and confidently hoping in his future glory.
Chapter 12 ends with these great words from 2 Corinthians:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18