God Running is a place for anyone who wants to (or even anyone who wants to want to) love Jesus more deeply, follow Jesus more closely, and love people the way Jesus wants us to.
In our last post from the book of Acts we looked at how God’s arms are wide open toward you and toward me, and how important it is to God for you and for me to have open arms toward people who we find to be different than we are. If you want to learn more you can check that out here: God’s Inclusivity (and how He desires to connect with you)–Acts 11:1-18.
In today’s post we’ll see how God used suffering and persecution to accomplish good through His people.
Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.Acts 11:19-21
The word “Hellenists” there, means the early Jesus followers were sharing Christ with Gentiles as well as Jews.
So there was persecution and suffering. The believers in Israel were persecuted. We’ve already seen how the apostles were taken into custody and beaten, how Stephen was stoned, and how Paul was breathing threats and murder against any who professed to follow Jesus. (Acts 4:3, 5:40, 7:54-60, 9:1-2)
So this persecution and suffering that God allowed to occur, it had the effect of scattering the followers of Jesus’ way. According to Keener: “The Jesus movement shifts from a predominantly rural movement in Galilee to an urban movement in Jerusalem to a cosmopolitan movement in Antioch. Such a rapid transition is virtually unparalleled in antiquity and indicates considerable social flexibility.”
In today’s passage we see how good it was that the early believers shared Christ with these people far from home. “…a great number who believed turned to the Lord.” And here’s the thing, it’s something they wouldn’t have done as quickly or in the same way (if they would have done it at all) had God not allowed the suffering and persecution.
God allows persecution and suffering. In fact, we were promised persecution and suffering. Jesus said it: In this world you will have trouble. (John 16:33) And is it possible, that we’re better off with it than without it? C. S. Lewis wrote,
“All arguments in justification of suffering provoke bitter resentment against the author. You would like to know how I behave when I am experiencing pain, not writing books about it. You need not guess, for I will tell you; I am a great coward. But what is that to the purpose? When I think of pain—of anxiety that gnaws like fire and loneliness that spreads out like a desert, and the heartbreaking routine of monotonous misery, or again of dull aches that blacken our whole landscape or sudden nauseating pains that knock a man’s heart out at one blow, of pains that seem already intolerable and then are suddenly increased, of infuriating scorpion-stinging pains that startle into maniacal movement a man who seemed half dead with his previous tortures—it ‘quite o’ercrows my spirit’. If I knew any way of escape I would crawl through sewers to find it. But what is the good of telling you about my feelings? You know them already: they are the same as yours. I am not arguing that pain is not painful. Pain hurts. That is what the word means. I am only trying to show that the old Christian doctrine of being made ‘perfect through suffering’ is not incredible.”C.S. Lewis
I have people in my life who are suffering right now. And of course I too have experienced suffering. There are those of us who have, and those of us who will. Suffering is inevitable. But the older I get, the more I realize, we’re better off with suffering than we are without it. God didn’t connect us to Himself through His Son Jesus because we’re good. God connected us with Himself through His Son Jesus to change us into good, into good people. People who are becoming more like Jesus. And that involves suffering.
Most of my family and friends are Christ followers and they love God and they love people. So I’m blessed to only know a few individuals who spoil themselves. Like an indulgent mother spoils a child, these few people I know indulge themselves at every opportunity. They tend to avoid anything that might cause discomfort and they live for entertainment. And the results are similar to what happens to a child who’s been spoiled by their mother, or father. The fruit of love for others becomes scarce. And if it goes on long enough, the slightest breeze will blow them over. Their self indulgence ultimately results in a selfish and fragile personality.
God loves us too much to allow that to happen to you or to me.
He allows suffering.
To quote Lewis once more:
“If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you will find it quite intolerable; think of it as a place of training…”C.S. Lewis
“Father, please help me and the dear person reading this right now. Send Your Holy Spirit Helper to help us. We say we want to be more like Your Son Jesus but then we forget how he suffered. So help us to remember Jesus’ suffering and help us to recognize Your goodness in our suffering and help us to look at it as preparation for our time in eternity with You. Help us not to be surprised at our suffering. Help us to count it all joy when we meet trials of various kinds. Father have mercy on us and help us.
“In Jesus’ name we ask this of You.
Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament,
InterVarsity Press, 1993, p. 354
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Love Like Jesus begins with the story of how after a life of regular church attendance and Bible study, Bennett was challenged by a pastor to study Jesus. That led to an obsessive seven year deep dive. After pouring over Jesus’ every interaction with another human being, he realized he was doing a much better job of studying Jesus’ words than he was following Jesus’ words and example. The honest and fearless revelations of Bennett’s own moral failures affirm he wrote this book for himself as much as for others.
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- How to love unlovable people the way Jesus did.
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- How Jesus didn’t love everyone the same (and why you shouldn’t either).
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Excellent Post, Kurt!