Unless A Grain of Wheat Falls into The Earth and Dies…
“. . . unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies. . .”
I have done much thinking on the issue of suffering and discipline over these last few weeks and even months. I have watched many in our church go through one or both of these events and have endured some myself. This was seen very clearly when I preached through Psalm 30 where David’s sin resulted in the turning away of the face of the Lord. Life hurts and I am more convinced that life hurts the most when it is clung to. We are sheep being led to the slaughter. We lay down our life to gain our life. We are aliens and strangers. We are in this world but not of this world.
We are called to live for our Lord. It is as simple as that and we are called to suffer in His name. We are expected to fill up that which is lacking in Christ’s sufferings (Col. 1:24) and we to have a fellowship in His sufferings if we are to expect to be heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:16-17). On top of that we have the reality of a Father in heaven who diligently disciplines all His children, as Hebrews 12:5ff makes abundantly clear. And all of these texts we have looked at and studied in detail in several of my sermons.
Yet, in spite of this, there is a tremendous reluctance to enter into suffering that we naturally have. Pain and suffering is not the delight of humans. It runs contrary to our nature. But the avoidance of suffering is simply sin. It is making comfort and pleasure gods to worship, and some people frankly pant after those gods. The slightest hardship, the smallest call to endure, the tiniest expectation to show diligence in the midst of adversity and they fall.
Add to that the fact that the typical American Christian’s sense of what is to be the lot for Christians. We have so psychologized the Christian faith that God has become the great Caregiver rather than Creator and Lord. We present the faith as a faith that is to fix your ills and struggles and to make you feel whole again. Over and over people reject biblical instruction that is designed to make them wise and faithful servants because it threatens that comfort zone that they have established. Repeatedly the commands of our Lord, which the church is commanded to teach all who profess Christ to obey (cf. Matt. 28:18-19), are simply ignored, or compared to worldly standards and found to be too harsh.
All of this is written to direct you to a link to read a fascinating account of a man who is preparing to be killed for his faith. Allow me to introduce you to a man who shamed me in the span of the 3 minutes it took to read his letter to the Roman church. His name is Ignatius and he was the bishop of Syria and lived from 30 AD to 107 AD. Here is a quote from the link:
His final letter from Smyrna, Ignatius writes to the church of Rome. Unlike his other letters, this one is not concerned with questions of heresy and Church unity. Rather is it an intensely personal document. In it he reveals most clearly the spirit of the Oriental martyr; and in a double way it is a letter to prepare his martyrdom. It is, on the one hand, a plea to the Romans not to interfere with the fate in store for him; and on the other hand it is, as it were, a letter to himself to brace him for the coming ordeal. It betrays an excess of zeal which is strange to most of us, and even repugnant to some. It must, however, be read in the light of the fact that Ignatius was tormented by the brutality of his Roman guards (his “ten leopards” as he calls them, ch. 5:1), and reacted with the intemperance of a man who had already given his life away. Some will find in the letter a perverted masochism; others will discern in it all the splendor of the martyr spirit. No one, however, will miss its burning sincerity or the courageous zeal of a disciple to suffer with his Lord.
Here is a man who has been truly brought to the end of himself. He sees himself as already dead and is eager to see that come to pass! He has embraced his suffering and even in the midst of grossly unrighteous treatment by his captors, seeks to give them a blessing rather than an act of resistance. We need more in the American church to be like this man.