I once attended a seminar where one speaker was a pastor who had lived through horrific trials while serving the church. Looking around the room at the faces of the ministers and leaders listening to him, you could see his story was impacting them. Everyone was listening closely because how could you not? This man had known some tremendous suffering. We learned an Arabic expression for someone like this during our time of missionary service in the Middle East; it’s “Dammu ti’iil” or “His blood is heavy.” People say it about someone who has walked through great hardship and, as a result, whose opinions matter.
When we say ‘orthodoxy,’ we simply mean right beliefs. The word ‘doxa’ in the original Greek, however, originally meant a simple opinion. It was suffering that made the opinion matter. Because the apostles suffered greatly for what they knew to be true, their orthodoxy had great weight.
However, I don’t want people to assume that any kind of hardship gives our opinions greater significance. The suffering of Jonah in the Old Testament and Paul in the New Testament is different. Jonah was suffering for his sin when he deliberately ran in the opposite direction from God’s command. Paul’s suffering was for obeying God’s command to spread the gospel to the Gentile world.
Here's a quick way to tell the difference between those two different types of suffering. God’s grace received should produce grace in us for others. If it doesn’t, we probably haven’t processed our sin appropriately with God. When we understand what God has done for us in Christ, we should be profoundly grateful and humbled, and that should overflow into the lives of those around us.
For example, God commanded Jonah to preach his message to the Ninevites. Jonah disobeyed, suffered in the belly of a fish, and then experienced grace when he was vomited up on the shore. None of this seemed to give him more compassion for the Ninevites. He was still bitter when God didn’t destroy them, despite the fact that God had graciously spared Jonah too.
On the other hand, Jesus spoke to Paul, and he immediately submitted himself to God’s will. He suffered beatings, persecution and ultimately death at the hands of the very people he was taking the gospel to, but this never dimmed his grace for them and determination to reach them with news about Christ. His letters to the church carry great weight because his suffering was a testament to the gospel’s importance. His sufferings also communicated clearly to those early disciples just how much he loved them.
May each one of us suffer for the right reasons. May our beliefs have heft to them because our dedication has cost us, and more importantly, him dearly.
Mark Renfroe and his wife, Amy, have been involved in field missions work for 30 years. Mark served as the area director for Assemblies of God World Missions and currently serves as the chief missions officer for World Challenge.