Following Our Savior Into Harm’s Way

Dear Companion of Christ,

Some destinations are not worth what the journey entails. No doubt you have experienced such disappointment. Perhaps that prompted you to more carefully count the cost of your next sojourn compared to the expected benefits, which are not always guaranteed when you get there. When it comes to following (walking in the steps of) our Lord Jesus, the Word of God clearly tells us what the journey will be like, and also promises us that our guaranteed destination will be unimaginably marvelous.

This month we Christians celebrate the glorious RESURRECTION of our Lord Jesus Christ, the only human being ever to defeat death, our ultimate enemy. It’s all about “a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed is alive.” So said the Roman governor Festus to King Agrippa in regard to the furor Paul had caused by preaching his Resurrection (Acts 25:19). The next day Paul was brought before them to state his case, and when Festus told him he was nuts, Paul boldly declared: “I am not insane, most excellent Festus. What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner” (Acts 26:25-26). God made sure that The Miracle of all Miracles was very public—and He wants us to keep it that way!

So, where are we going with our faithful Lord? In essence, he is calling us into a crucible similar to that through which he walked with God. We have chosen to walk a path strewn with the same kind of responses Jesus experienced, including both being hated and being loved. When you and I made Jesus our “Lord” (boss), we “signed up” for both suffering (part of the journey) and glory (all of the destination). We agreed to follow our Savior into harm’s way, but we did so with the assurance that no matter the cost, even death, he will raise us to newness of life and forever astound us with his glory. He made that clear:

Luke 9:23-24 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.

By the way, in this letter you will find more scriptures than usual because it is vital to understand what God says about this critical topic. Take a look at the following verses and see if they sound like “the more abundant life” as some Christian teachers represent it.

2 Corinthians 11:23-29 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,  I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

Not exactly, huh? Some Christians today are being deceived by a short-term “health and wealth” gospel that is out of touch with reality, i.e., the Truth of God’s Word. They misunderstand that the “more abundant life” of John 10:10b has virtually nothing to do with the material realm. For many brethren, the unrealistic expectation of “cruising with Christ” in perfect health and material prosperity has been dashed by the cruel reality of “life,” and they have turned away from the Lord, disappointed by thinking that he did not come through for them. Some have blamed God for not keeping His promises; some have blamed themselves (or their spouse) for not having enough faith.

Yes, faith is key to receiving the promises of God, and faith, which comes by hearing the Word (Rom. 10:17) can grow (2 Cor. 10:15), but in this spiritual battle there are also other factors in play beyond the realm of our five senses. We see this in records like Daniel 10, when it took a big-time angel three weeks to reach Daniel with the answer to his prayer. We do not fully grasp all that, but we never abandon what we understand from the written Word in the face of circumstances we do not understand.

Some years ago I did a teaching called What Do You Expect? In it I said that having the biblically proper expectations in regard to God, Jesus, the Devil, and people is absolutely critical if we are to maximize our Christian potential during our days in this “present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). We must always be expecting nothing but good from God and the Lord, nothing but bad from the Devil, and a mix of both from humans, depending upon their mindset and behavioral track record. To “expect” means to be “looking out” for something, and thus you are not caught off guard when it happens—and you can prepare yourself however you need to.

Because Jesus (Matt. 5:11-12; John 15:18-21, 16:33), as well as Paul and Peter, knew that the “world” under Satan’s domination is hostile to godliness, they prepared their followers to endure short-term suffering and hardship in this life that would bring them long-term rewards in the next life. If we want to maximize our spiritual potential, we too must prepare our minds and hearts to live with “PMS” (Persecuted Minority Syndrome). Our May 2013 WWF teaching, Living With PMS, elaborates on these indispensable truths.

2 Timothy 1:8, 11-12 So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God… And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

1 Peter 3:13-17 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

God’s will is for us to obey Him, and that will bring about opposition from His enemies.

1 Peter 4:12-16 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

Philippians 3:7-10 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them dung, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the [out]resurrection from [among] the dead.

Verse 11 has nothing to do with a physical resurrection, but is saying that when we lay down our lives (“die to self”) in service to our Lord, we then experience a subsequent “resurrection” of sorts, a newness of life in terms of spiritual growth (cp. 2 Cor. 4:10-12).

In Colossians 1:24, Paul writes: “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering 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.” The Greek word for “fill up” means, “to complete for someone else,” and it appears only here. About this verse, the Holman New Testament Commentary insightfully says:

“Paul isn’t saying that Jesus’ suffering on the cross was insufficient. Paul was enduring suffering on behalf of Christ. The world hated Jesus Christ; and now that he is not around to persecute, they persecute his followers. Paul’s attitude is: Jesus took the blows meant for me; I’ll take the blows meant for him. Suffering brings about an [intimate] identification with the Savior that nothing else can.”

As Jesus suffered, so will we, the Body of Christ. “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). In effect, he is still suffering as he goes through ours with us. Only a passionate relationship with our Lord Jesus will generate the kind of Christianity we see in Paul, our paramount example. The Lord Jesus told Ananias to tell Saul that he was signing up to suffer (Acts 9:15-16), and he did suffer great persecution throughout his ministry. When Paul besought Christ to take the persecution of wicked people off of him, what did the Lord say to him?

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

In other words, when we allow opposition to drive us into the arms of Christ, he infuses us with his strength and we experience his grace, which enables us to go further than we ever thought we could.

In truth, the “more abundant life” is all about relationships—first with our Father and our Lord Jesus, and then with our brethren in the Body of Christ. As one stalwart saint said to me: “The more abundant life is being in the trenches with Jesus Christ”—and others who also love him.

In 2 Timothy 1:8, Paul encouraged his young protégé as follows: “…join with me in suffering by the power of God.” That aptly describes true Christianity in this world ruled by the Devil and his minions, both demonic and human (1 John 5:19). When we realize that we volunteered to stand in harm’s way for Christ’s sake, we are prompted to press deeply into his heart for comfort, strength, and endurance (Matt. 11:28–30). And that is when we can see his mighty hand of deliverance, just like Paul did time after time.

Yes, I too do my best to expect immediate deliverance, and that sometimes happens, but we know that there are some things God cannot totally put an end to in this fallen world. As per the following verses, He was often able to deliver Paul, though not always without physical harm. But, like Paul, our once-and-for-all deliverance is assured. Like every promise of God, that too is written in the very blood of Christ, so to speak.

2 Timothy 4:16-18 At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

The skewed “more than abundant life” mentality carries with it the idea of always being “victorious” in the sense of overcoming circumstances, always coming out on top. But that’s not what Scripture communicates. It’s not about always being delivered from suffering, but instead living with a victorious mindset amidst trials and tribulations. Properly translated, which it seldom is, Romans 8:28 assures us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.”

Speaking in tongues is your indisputable proof that, no matter what happens, you will have everlasting life in Paradise. It is also proof that you are filled with power from on high and that you can heal the sick, raise the dead, and perform miracles. Amidst relentless persecution, that is what the first-century saints did, and that is what we can do today. Biblically, we see that our faith plays a huge role in accessing the power of God.

Faith (trust) is not a force; faith accesses The True Force. Faith is the simplest thing God could require of people so as not to make us robots. Faith comes by hearing and obeying the Word, and one’s faith can grow or become shipwreck. As per Job, Paul, and Jesus, great faith does not totally exempt one from suffering and hardship. As Hebrews 11:32ff vividly expresses, faith in God’s goodness is what gets us through such trials, often with an evident miracle, the possibility of which we never give up on. And the bottom line is that we are assured of the ultimate deliverance, healing, and victory “when Christ, who is our life, shall appear” (Col. 3:4).

In the meantime, the “more abundant life” is about loving and being loved by our Father, our Lord/Big Brother, and our Christian family members. It is about joyous self-sacrifice and interdependence, sharing our own strengths and partaking of the gifts of our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is about finding true love in the camaraderie of the committed. It is about understanding that people will either love us or hate us (2 Cor. 2:14-17), and choosing to love even those who hate us. As Paul said to the Philippian brethren—and to us:

Philippians 1:27–30 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

With the truth of God’s Word and the inherent power of the risen Lord Jesus, you and I can not only endure whatever comes our way, but also manifest the joy of the Lord as our strength. Consider the following verses:

Acts 5:40–42 His [Gamaliel’s] speech persuaded them [sort of—he actually said to let them alone]. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

That is the more abundant life! There is no CO-EXISTing with evil. Rather, we must meet aggressive opposition with aggressive faith, and count on our GREAT BIG WONDERFUL GOD for all things. Stop for a moment and consider this fun fact: GOD ALMIGHTY, THE CREATOR, is your FATHER. If you are a parent, think about how much you love your children, and how passionate are you about doing anything you can to help them. Multiply that love by infinity, and that’s how much GOD LOVES YOU. Always remember that your prayers are like sweet smelling incense to God and the Lord Jesus, who absolutely love to hear from you any time about anything.

I recently heard that in light of the statistically mind-blowing increase of loneliness, depression, climate-change fears, lack of morally upright leaders in government/business/religion, opioid abuse, hopelessness, and suicide, Great Britain created a new government post called “The Minister of Loneliness.” I guess the guy qualified for the job by never having had a friend. You and I know that the only true Minister of Loneliness is the Lord Jesus Christ, who promised that he would be with us always—and do all he can to help us re-present him in this insane world. Until he comes for us, we absolutely need intimate relationships with others in the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-27).

In closing, let the Lord’s words (via Paul) touch your heart. “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, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor.4:16-18). See you at the Bema!