There is a suffering that a Christian must indeed endure if he is to be used of the Lord. The book of Hebrews describes this suffering when we are told of Moses, who “chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, esteeming the reproaches of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt…” (Heb. 11:24). To suffer the reproaches of Christ is characteristic of a Christian who has willingly chosen a path of suffering for Christ’s sake and affliction on His behalf. The Christian who is not willing to suffer the reproaches of Christ and to endure affliction for His Name’s sake will find, at the end of his labors for Christ, superficiality in the spiritual harvest. Bearing reproach for Christ’s sake deepens our faith in God, diminishes our self-sufficiency, and releases the power of God to work mightily. This biblical truth makes us uncomfortable in our comfortable age. But it is, nevertheless, unquestionably true. Those whom the Lord chooses to greatly use will know something of the divine hammer, and chisel from the hand of the Lord. The sculptor must strike the stone with many carefully measured blows before a formless shape becomes a thing of beauty. In like manner, Job tells us of the ways of God when he writes, “Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty: for he maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole.” (Job 5:17-18). Our Lord uses the crucible of suffering to mold our character, refine our obedience, and strengthen our passion for God. It is striking to note what suffering will do in the life of a follower of Christ. All seasoned servants of God have known something of suffering. Our minds turn to the prophets Jeremiah, Elijah, Isaiah, and on to the apostle Paul in Rome, and John on the Isle of Patmos and down throughout the annals of church history, to the reformers, and the innumerable missionaries, and servants of God who have suffered profoundly for Christ’s sake. There is nothing like this kind of experience with God to radically transform our lives forever. Those who have suffered deeply know well the frailty of the flesh, the faithfulness of Christ, and need of dependence on Him. Frank Holmes, in his book “Brother Indeed”, the biography of Robert Chapman, illustrates this truth with the story of the conversion of Eliza Gilbert. This young factory worker, upon hearing the gospel powerfully preached in the almshouses at Pilton in Barnstable,was wonderfully saved. Soon she expressed a desire to honor the Lord in baptism, yet her mother forbade her in the strictest of terms. Eliza confided to Chapman, “My mother declares that when I go out of the house to the service it will be to leave home for the last time.” Despite the threat Eliza was baptized. As the congregation broke up, many followed her as she walked home; in a few moments she was out again. “The sight of her wet hair had infuriated her mother who now stood on the threshold barring her entrance, and cried, ‘Go away. Never come back. I’ll have no dissenters in this house.’” Afterwards, Eliza became gravely ill and her mother refused to visit her for three years; speaking of Chapman she once remarked, “I wish the chapel would fall on his head.” Eliza was eventually restored to full health and through efforts in the gospel many in her family were also saved. But her mother would resist the pleadings the Spirit of God and was not saved until she was past the age of eighty. (1). Suffering the reproach of Christ is a holy fire whose refining flames burn away the dross of prayerlessness, spiritual indifference, and a compassionless Christianity. Suffering is also an indispensable part of a Christian soldier’s armor, fitting him for spiritual warfare. Peter writes, “ Forasmuch, then, as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind…” (1 Peter 4:1). A “mind to suffer” is the piece of armor which will protect us against the Adversary when he attacks us at our weakest point. If we lack this piece of our spiritual armor we will be woefully unfit for true spiritual battle. There are Christians who enter the heat of battle unprepared, and when they experience a season of suffering, are greatly surprised at adversity and hardship, and the devil gains the advantage. Such Christians often fall in battle and do not continue to profitably serve the Lord. Others, who endure affliction for Christ’s sake, do so with the conscious understanding of its preciousness and eternal spiritual value. Those who are armed with a mind to suffer will go on steadfastly for the Lord, despite intense hardship and adversity. Such Christians realize that scholarly acclaim, prominent position, wealth, and title all pale in contrast with the Lord’s commendation , “Well done my good and faithful servant.” William Kelly, an early leader among the so-called “Plymouth Brethren”, understood this truth well. He was recognized as an outstanding Greek scholar and a learned Hebraist. C. H. Spurgeon, in his book “A Guide to Commentaries”, commenting on Kelly’s intellectual ability, said, “Kelly has a mind born for the universe”. In 1860 William Kelly himself published a critical edition of the book of Revelation, which Professor Heinrich Ewald of Gottingen, a prominent German scholar, declared to be the best piece of English work of its kind that he had ever seen. In our own generation, Professor F. F. Bruce, formerly of the University of Manchester, praises Kelly’s knowledge of the original languages, writing, “It is the manifest mastery of Greek usage which make his commentaries, especially those on Paul’s epistles, so valuable. It was his wide and accurate acquaintance with Greek usage that made problem texts plain to him. It is not knowledge gained by a grammar book or dictionary but an acquaintance with Greek usage which is the fruit of long and patient study.” (2). However, a distinguished professor in Dublin once approached William Kelly and urged him to consider a religious professorship at one of the leading universities in the city by proposing, “Why don’t you settle here in Dublin, you could earn a great deal of money and you could make a name for yourself in the world?” To which William Kelly tersely replied, “For which world?—would I have a name…in the present one…or in the world to come?” Shortly before he passed away in 1906 William Kelly commented to a friend at his bedside, “There are three things that are real—the cross, the enmity of the world, and the love of God.” (3). God’s choicest servants have been those who have meant business for Him; they did not hesitate to deny self and give up name, position, and financial gain for His sake and glory . C. H. Spurgeon wrote to his son, “It would not please me if God meant you to be a missionary, and you were to die a millionaire. I should not like it , were you fitted to be a missionary, that you should drivel down to be a king. What are all the kings and all the nobles when put together, compared with the dignity of winning souls for Christ…?” Those who have had the greatest impact on the world “below” were those intimately concerned about the world “above”. The apostle Paul wrote, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things…” (Phil. 3:8). There is also a suffering of the reproaches of Christ because of our earnest convictions concerning New Testament church truth. There will be some who will misconstrue a passionate love for Christ’s church and our separation from all that dishonors His lovely Name, and assail us for being narrow-minded and unloving. There will be others who may misunderstand our sincere desire to gather unto the Lord Jesus Christ alone in simplicity, and thereby belittle our gatherings as those that are out of step with the current trends. There will be yet others who attend our efforts in the clear and simple presentation of the gospel and charge that our “Church Growth” methods are old fashioned. Others will observe the sisters’ covering of their heads in loving submissionto the headship of Christ in the local assembly, and harshly label their sincere obedience as legalism. Others yet will observe the absence of one ordained “pastor” and conclude that the assembly is disorganized and is not yet a “real church”. Some will criticize our emphasis on serious Bible study, spiritual fellowship, prayer and worship, while setting aside the newer trends of “Christian” drama, entertainment, and contemporary rock music, as a lack of concern for the social development and well-being of the young people in the assembly. Others may take note of our earnest spiritual discernment concerning the new evangelical movements and trends and condemn these efforts as being divisive and ungracious. However, the Scriptures counsel us that “If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:14). For our suffering the reproach of Christ honors Him through the holy desire to be conformed to His lovely image. This conforming work in our lives means that His convictions will become our convictions; those things which break His heart, will break our hearts; His priorities will be our priorities; and as He has suffered, we will also have a mind to likewise suffer for His sake. George Mueller of Bristol has set forth the essence of suffering the reproach of Christ when he writes, “There was a day I died, utterly died, died to George Mueller, his opinions, preferences, tastes, and will…died to the world, its approval or blame, even of my brethren and friends…and since then I have studied only to show myself approved unto God.” May these marks, of the refining work of bearing the reproaches of Christ, be fully manifest in our own lives. Let us, therefore, go “outside the camp” (Heb. 13:13-14) and joyfully take our place with Christ, bearing His reproaches in a hostile world.
(1). Frank Holmes, Brother Indeed, (Kilmarnock, Scotland, Ritchie, 1988), p. 27-28
(2). F. F. Bruce, In Retrospect Remembrance of Things Past, (Grand Rapids:Eerdmans, 1980), p. 293
(3). Hy Pickering, Chief Men Among the Brethren, (Neptune, NJ, Loizeaux, 1986), p. 105