“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. . . . So then death worketh in us, but life in you” (2 Corinthians 4:8–10, 12).
Are modern evangelicals the only Christians in history to experience the power of the Living God without paying a personal price?
No, I believe that God’s ways are still the same. There is still a cross for each of us. There is still a path of suffering and sacrifice for every Christian who wants to manifest Christ.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not promoting asceticism or the self-infliction of wounds. There are still flagellants in the Philippines and many other countries who practice this heresy today, but that is not the mystery of suffering the Bible teaches.
True Christian suffering comes because we live for God and are serving the expansion of His kingdom. It is a positive sacrifice for the good of others. It is not a morbid, introspective act that one does to oneself to feel or become spiritual.
Paul was betrayed, hated, rejected, insulted, persecuted and distressed. Like the other apostles and millions of Christians down through the ages, he eventually suffered martyrdom for his belief in Christ.
But in all his writings, Paul seems to accept this life of terrible suffering and sacrifice as normal and necessary. “Death works in us,” he reasoned, that life might come to others.
I will never forget the day I learned the meaning of these words.
Every year we try to take small groups of Church leaders to visit indigenous missionary teams in India and other critical Asian nations. On one such trip, a missionary welcomed our group at the airport. One look convinced me that something was terribly wrong with him. He looked emaciated, weak and sick—especially next to our robust, overweight guests.
“What’s wrong, brother?” I asked.
He answered with just one sentence: “Death works in me, and life in them.”
Tears came uncontrollably to my eyes as I recognized the allusion to Apostle Paul’s rationale for suffering in 2 Corinthians 4:12. I discovered that this brother had been traveling to visit the missionaries without proper food and rest for nearly a month. He was just skin and bones!
He was making a conscious choice to deny the normal, minimum needs of his body for the sake of others’ souls. For life to come to one, death must come to another. This is the biblical exchange from Genesis to Revelation. Somebody always pays the price, entering into the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. That’s the way the Gospel is always pioneered into new areas, unreached villages and lost tribes. As valuable as broadcasting and literature are, they are only long-range artillery in this war. The foot soldier of the cross must always go in to establish the Church by self-sacrifice and suffering. The exchange must take place.