The position of the Bible is that Suffering for Christ is compatible with Joy, but not the joy of Disney Land, or American Idol, or a really nice car, but the joy of the Lord, that is, the joy that comes through knowing Christ and his Father through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we wrongly equate suffering for Christ with a joyless life. It is the sin in our hearts that blind us to see the truth that all losses in this life for Christ’s sake reap a greater joyful benefit than refusing to lose anything for Christ. The question that is put before us is this: Do you believe there is more joy in suffering for Christ than there is joy in what the world is able to give without suffering for Christ? Jesus does not ask his followers to forsake joy, only the lesser joy of the world! His joy is better than the worlds’ but it comes by a cross. Do you believe that the cross is worth it?
Jesus said in Luke 14:26-27, 33, that “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple.” Not hate in the sense of malice, but in the sense of priority and value, we forsake the lesser for the greater.
Also in John 15:11, 18, 20, 22:
“These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. . . If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you. . . if they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. . . But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent me. . . Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy. . . therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.”
So when Jesus said, take up your cross and follow me, he did not criticize those who had wealth, per se, as I am not criticizing owning a Benz – I’d be delighted if you bought me one! But he did mean to give a clear picture of discipleship: to follow Christ is to suffer with him – it will not be easy but it will be worth it – much more than any luxury in this life.
These texts and many others in God’s Word (contact me and I’ll send you a very long printed out list) teach us that we must be willing to suffer less material possessions and less worldly status in order that we may “store up treasure in heaven” where nothing can take it away. We must be willing to suffer in radical ways in fighting against lust in our hearts so that we do not go to hell; Jesus wants us to suffer and gouge out our eye and cut off our right hand in order to not lust after a woman in our hearts. Jesus wants us to be willing to suffer and obey God rather than man, when man commands or entices us to go against God. If need be, Jesus wants us to suffer distance and broken fellowship with our family members by putting him and his gospel first, like when confronting the sinful behavior in children; verbally questioning the salvation of an older child who obviously is no longer living for Jesus; accept the disappointment and even hostility from parents and grandparents when you tell them that you and your wife along with your children are going to be missionaries in Sudan and you’re not coming home anytime soon; and witnessing to a lost family member. Jesus wants us to be conformed to his image and to have his mind so that we will be able to suffer the loss of worldly praise and honor; we do this when we love the truth and righteousness of Jesus more than the half-truths and the multiple false paths to heaven.
Jesus wants us to suffer the loss of promotions in our vocations and our very jobs if need be because we refuse to be an aid to dishonest gain, or a cover-up for illegal activity, or a sexual trophy for the boss. Jesus wants teenagers to suffer the loss of friendships with their peers by refusing to share in their foul-mouthed language, their “safe-but-free-sex” relationships, their plagiarism of on-line term papers, their obsession with fashion and prestige, their unquestioned desire for stimulation through viewing sexually arousing movies.
Jesus wants the Church to get the gospel to the ends of the earth by suffering the consequences of gospel-preaching. In Jesus’ plan, a missions-minded church is a pro-suffering church: Missions is impossible without suffering! The best Christians and the best books and songs ever written have come from those who have suffered joyfully for Christ, and then have entered into the Joy of the Lord. Suffering for Christ is not earning salvation – but it is proving that we value our salvation in Christ over this world.