Following Jesus wholeheartedly means you will meet with resistance from the people around you. Jesus told His disciples: “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). Jesus never created false hope that His followers would have an easy life. Never believe people when they tell you that once you have God in your life, everything will go smoothly, you will become rich and always be healthy. But Jesus added something: “But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Even though people around you might want to discourage you from following Jesus, or even try to harm you because of that, Jesus tells you to lean on Him and believe that He is bigger than the biggest bully. He dealt with the world, with Satan and with sin on the cross, so take heart!
Affliction in the New Testament
In the New Testament, sufferings, tribulation and affliction are a normal part of the Christian life. Consider the opening verses of the second letter to the Corinthians: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). This affliction is the kind of trouble brought on by people around believers who oppose them. It is part of the Christian life, it is sharing in Christ’s sufferings. Paul makes it sound like a privilege, and that is what it is, because it reveals our intimate bond with Christ. These verses also give a beautiful promise: Those who endure affliction will get intimately acquainted with God’s comfort. And they themselves will be able to comfort others who are in difficult situations.
Suffering brings out precious qualities
Suffering is instrumental in bringing out precious qualities in the Christian life: “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5). Suffering teaches the believer to endure, to have a straight back, to have strength when the going gets tough. Suffering creates the kind of character that is able to hope – the kind of hope that will not lead to disappointment. The key to this is found in Romans 5:5: it is through God’s love that is poured into our hearts that we can take the suffering and become better people, instead of bitter people.
Even though suffering for Christ is a privilege, nobody enjoys suffering. But the Bible puts suffering for our Lord in a glorious perspective: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). If you want to know what Paul understood to be ‘light affliction’, look up the impressive list of misery in the very same letter: in 2 Corinthians 11:24-28. Even all this is nothing compared to ‘the weight of glory beyond all comparison’. Even more so, all this affliction is instrumental in creating eternal glory for those who follow Jesus!