“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4 NKJV).
It is nothing strange, unusual or uncommon in this fallen and evil world for Christians to suffer and experience reproach, hatred, abuse, injustice, deprivation, tribulation, or persecution for the sake of Christ. It is an integral part of your calling and heritage as a disciple of Christ to suffer for His sake!
The Lord Jesus clearly said to His disciples in John 15:
18 “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.
19 “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
20 “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.
21 “But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. (NKJV).
Apostle Peter also aptly states in 1 Peter 2:
20 For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.
21 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:
22 “Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”;
23 who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously. (NKJV).
Apostle Paul also writes in Philippians 1
29 For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake. (NKJV).
However, while going through suffering, reproach, tribulation or persecution for the sake of Christ, you are commanded, exhorted, and expected by Christ to display and maintain an attitude of calmness and cheerfulness.
The Scripture commands: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Philip. 4:4 NKJV).
“Rejoice always.” (1 Thess. 5:16 NKJV).
It requires no effort to be happy, cheerful or joyous when things are happening or going well as planned and expected. But, when things are going contrary to your plans and expectations, you are commanded by God to remain calm, cheerful or joyous.
As a Christian you are expected to rejoice at all times and in all situations!
You are supposed to remain calm and cheerful regardless of what befalls you or what anybody says or does to you. When things didn’t turn out the ways you have expected, God expects you to still rejoice.
When you are hurt, betrayed, jilted, or disappointed by family and friends, God does not want you to be sorrowful but to be cheerful.
When you suddenly lose a loved one, God still wants you to rejoice. When you are reviled, reproached or persecuted for Christ’s sake, God does not want you to be bitter or sorrowful, but to be calmed, cheerful or joyous.
Apostle Peter exhorts us in 1 Peter 4:
12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you;
13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.
14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.
15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters.
16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. (NKJV).
God is certainly not unrealistic, impractical, or insensitive to command and expect us to rejoice always, at all times and in all circumstances. There is nothing that we have gone through, or going through, or will ever go through that God does not understand and cannot identify with.
God has once lived among us in this fallen and evil world, not as God but as a man like us!
Our Lord Jesus Christ knows and understands all our sufferings for He has also experienced them. While in the world, He suffered and experienced hunger, betrayal, ridicule, rejection, injustice, deprivation of rights, opposition, and persecution. This is why Christ is qualified to be our High Priest!
The Scripture clearly states in Hebrews 2:
17 Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
18 For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted. (NKJV).
The Scripture also exhorts us in Hebrews 4:
14 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.
16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (NKJV).
The early disciples and apostles of Christ experienced all the sufferings and tribulations we would ever experience in this evil, fallen and hostile world for Christ’s sake.
The Scripture offers us a clear account and testimony of how they endured and rejoiced in their tribulations and persecutions for Christ’s sake, so that we may learn from them, have comfort and hope, and be encouraged, challenged and motivated to endure persecution for Christ’s sake and even rejoice in the midst of our tribulation (Rom. 15:4).
The Scripture testifies that the early disciples and apostles of Christ counted it all joy when they were beaten, imprisoned, and persecuted for the sake of Christ.
The Scripture records that when the apostles were beaten for Christ’s sake, “they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.” (Acts 5:40-41 NKJV).
Apostle Paul also writes: “Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort. I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation.” (2 Cor. 7:4 NKJV).
If the early disciples and apostles of Christ were exceedingly joyful in all their trials, afflictions or tribulations for the sake of Christ, then we don’t have any plausible excuse or just reason to be sorrowful today in our trials or tribulations for the sake of Christ.
Why did the early disciples rejoice always, even in the midst of severe trials, tribulations, and persecutions?
From where did they draw the strength to remain calm, undisturbed, and cheerful in the face of opposition, suffering and death?
Let us explore the Scripture to discover the source and cause of their unceasing joy!
First, the early disciples were able to remain calm and cheerful in all their trials and tribulations because they were not caught unaware or unprepared.
Were they always expecting or looking out for trial, tribulation, or persecution?
Not at all!
However, the Lord Jesus had sternly warned and fully prepared them for hatred, opposition, suffering, tribulation or persecution for His name sake.
While Jesus was with His disciples in the flesh, He told them in clear terms that following and serving Him would not be without any cost or suffering.
The Lord Jesus had warned them, saying: “These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. “They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.” (John 16:1-2 NKJV).
“Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” (John 15:20 NKJV).
While the early disciples were neither praying nor seeking for persecution, they were however well prepared and equipped for it. For they have been taught by the Lord Jesus that it was part of their calling and heritage in Christ to suffer for His sake (Mark 10:28-30, John 15:19, 1 Pet. 4:12-16, Phil. 1:29).
Therefore, they regarded it not as a strange or unusual thing when persecution came, but they embraced it with joy (Acts 5:40-41).
Many believers today have become confused, bitter, upset, discouraged, and completely overwhelmed by tribulation or persecution for Christ’s sake because most of our Christian leaders today shy away from teaching us about the true cost of discipleship or following Christ.
Sadly, our Christian leaders today only take delight in teaching us about the blessings and benefits of following Christ, but not the sufferings and sacrifices of following Christ and how to handle them.
If we are not bold enough to teach sound and scripturally balanced doctrines today in our churches, we should also not expect to have sound, balanced and mature believers in our churches.
Beloved, don’t be fooled or carried away by any enticing but scripturally unbalanced preaching or teaching. It is nothing strange, unusual or improper for you as a Christian to suffer losses, deprivations, reproaches, tribulations or persecutions for Christ’s sake in this evil, fallen and anti-Christ world.
Following and serving Christ in this anti-Christ world will not always be easy, smooth, convenient, pleasant and enjoyable!
This is why Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23 NKJV).
Discover more secrets of the unceasing joy of the early disciples of Christ in spite of the hatred, opposition, tribulation or persecution they suffered for Christ’s sake in second part of this piece.
Prayer: My Dear Holy Spirit, teach and help me to deny myself, to take up my cross daily, and follow my Lord Jesus Christ notwithstanding the hatred, opposition, tribulation or persecution I may suffer for Christ’s sake in this fallen and evil world, in Jesus’ name. Amen.