Rejoicing In Suffering

by Reagan McClenny


Scripture: James 1:2 Jan 28, 2024

Christians are commanded to rejoice in times of suffering and persecution, following the example of Christ. There are many reasons to rejoice in suffering, including that it makes us more Christlike, it can answer prayer, and it keeps our focus on eternal things. If we see suffering as an opportunity for growth, we can rejoice and be an influence on others, even in the midst of trials.


My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings. These three verses are far from alone in our New Testament, but they provide some of the most clearly worded examples of a concept that is found over and over.

In both the Old and New Testaments, but especially in the New Testament, that we are to rejoice in suffering and persecution and trials. Yes, rejoicing in suffering. Rejoice? Rejoicing? That's such an odd concept for us, isn't it? To rejoice when going through these things. And we have questions. I think especially we have questions when we, or maybe even more when someone we love, is going through a period of persecution.

Why? Why should we rejoice? How? How can we rejoice? And I think a great place to answer some of those questions is in Acts chapter 5. If you'll turn to Acts chapter 5, please, this will provide kind of the stake in the ground, the jumping off point and basis for the rest of our sermon this evening. Acts chapter 5.

And we'll begin reading in verse 40. This comes from our daily Bible reading from just a few weeks ago, and so it should be familiar to most of us. As you're turning there, as has been said already, thank you for being here tonight, and I hope the things that I have to say will be helpful to you as you strive to be more who God has called you to be.

Even in difficult circumstances, even when it's hard, even perhaps when you have to suffer. So in Acts chapter 5, we see that the Apostles at least some of the Apostles have been arrested for the third time in just two chapters, in Acts chapters 4 and 5. And on a couple of those occasions, they're released once miraculously by some angels.

And they're being pressured by the Sanhedrin Court, which is the most powerful court under Jewish law, to not preach and teach in the name of Jesus anymore. And their response is bold, their response is biblical, their response shows great faith, that they say we ought to obey God rather than men. And yet they're punished.

They're punished a couple of different times for the things that they're doing, for the things that they're saying. And after one of those punishments, the third of three, in verse 40, and they, the Sanhedrin, agreed with Gamaliel in saying, Hey, let's release them. If we're fighting against God, there's nothing we can do.

If it's not God's will, it's going to be destroyed anyway. They agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus and let them go. So, verse 41, they departed from the presence of the council. Rejoicing. That they were counted worthy to suffer.

They departed from the presence of the council rejoicing on this occasion. Why? Why were they rejoicing? How were they able to rejoice? Well, we know passages like Philippians chapter 4 and verse 4. Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say rejoice. And you've heard me preach. You've heard Harold preach.

You've heard other people preach. You've seen in your own study, no doubt, the concept. That we know as Christians, we have hope, we have peace, we have contentment, yes, we have joy, even, no matter our circumstances. Because we are Christians, because we are in Christ, we can rejoice in any circumstance, in every circumstance.

Whether things are going great in our life, we can have joy. Whether things are going really, really poorly from a physical perspective in our life, we can still have joy no matter our circumstances. That the idea of joy and contentment and peace is an inner quality that we should have no matter what's happening outside of ourselves.

And certainly this verse applies here. It applies to this idea of rejoicing in suffering. But may I suggest this evening that this verse, and this idea of rejoice no matter what our circumstances are, though it applies, and we'll come back to it, that's not the full story. That's not the full story of those three verses that we read, and others like it in the New Testament.

It's not the full story of what we see in Acts chapter 5. And in Acts chapter 5, we see them rejoicing in suffering, or maybe even because of the circumstances of suffering persecution and shame for His name. Do you see that distinction? It's not rejoice in any circumstance no matter bad things are happening to you.

You are actually rejoicing in and because of the bad circumstances of suffering because of His name. So how do we do that? I would suggest in many ways that's even harder. We ask, in thinking about persecution and shame for his name, we ask what persecution do we suffer for Christ? We've had others come in and give reports from different parts of the world and the very real, often very physical, often very painful, suffering that our brothers and sisters in Christ go through throughout the world.

What about us? May I suggest that probably our primary kind of persecution, suffering for Christ's name, relates to shame. And that's why I picked the picture that I did up on the board. We, and sometimes our children and other loved ones, are made fun of, are looked down upon, are talked bad about at work, at school, among friends, are spoken evil of, sometimes even in our own families because of who we are, what we do, and what we stand for in Jesus Christ.

This idea of suffering shame for his name certainly is a biblical concept, and that's exactly what we see there in verse 41 of Acts chapter 5. They were counted rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. They were suffering this shame, and it would have been insulting, it would have been embarrassing, shameful, In the Jewish culture, and to a certain extent in ours too, to be dragged to court three times over the course of just perhaps a few weeks, if not months.

I mean, think about that. Think about that for just a moment. Wouldn't there be some shame, some embarrassment that would be involved in that? Imagine You've done nothing wrong, but the authorities come to you on three different occasions over just a few months and arrest you and take you to prison take you to jail, you stay there for a little while and then you're released and you can say till you're blue in the face, I did nothing wrong, I'm exonerated, you know, nothing came of it.

Or maybe even worse, you're falsely convicted. Even though you know you're innocent, I mean, there's some shame involved in that, right? And so you can imagine the shame that they felt. The highest court in the land in Judaism has, has brought us before them three times. And yet they were grateful that Christ considered them worthy to go through this for Him.

They considered it an honor. To suffer for the cause of Christ. How, how would we react to some great injustice like this? From the Sanhedrin court, no less. Perhaps we would react with anger. Perhaps with grief. I, I hate it when things are unjust or unfair. Don't you? Especially when those abuses, that, that unfair action is taken by someone or a group of people who are in power.

I read here not too long ago. About a contractor in Atlanta, Georgia, in that area who is charged 30, 000 on a water bill. Now the problem was, he was charged 30, 000 on a specific lot, and it was an empty lot that didn't even have a water hookup yet. And so it was impossible, literally impossible, for him to use any water on this lot, and yet he had received a bill for 30, 000, I forget what it was, a million gallons, it was this huge amount of water.

So he he calls them and says, Hey, there's a mistake here, so on and so forth. And they say, No, you're going to have to pay it. And so he goes through some legal channels. He, he appeals it to some governing board. He goes before them and they reduced it to 200. Great, great outcome. I mean, 200 still when you've not used any doesn't sound great.

But it's better than 30, 000. And then, apparently, this guy gets a letter in the mail saying that the board has reversed course and they've decided to reject his appeal and he still has to pay 30, 000. I mean, how do you feel hearing that story? At last check, I checked it earlier this afternoon just to see if there was any resolution on this.

He's still in the process of appeals. And part of what he's doing, part of how I came to know about it is because he's getting it out there so that other people will see this so maybe it'll put some pressure on them. I mean, you hear about something like that and how, how upsetting is it? That's not fair.

For a group with power to act in such a dishonest way. I, I can't rejoice in that. How much more if it were happening to me? How would I feel about it? But not the disciples in Acts chapter 5. They rejoiced. And when that same sort of unfairness crops up against me or someone I care about, because that person is trying to serve God, I feel a sort of righteous indignation, and that's appropriate to a certain degree.

But may I suggest that the more appropriate response is to rejoice in that suffering. Well, it's one thing to say it. Another thing to do it. May I give you some reasons why? Some reasons why we should rejoice in suffering this evening. We're going to run through these fairly quickly, but I think maybe if we can see the reasons the Bible gives us for something, if we can see that intellectually, I think it might help us as we make application.

And perhaps, as I go through these reasons, perhaps one or another, all of these are biblical, but perhaps one or another appeals to you more than it might appeal to me, and vice versa. So I want us to give I'm not claiming that this is an exhaustive list, but it is a pretty complete list of the reasons why the Bible gives us that we should rejoice in suffering.

So why rejoice in suffering? Number one, we are told to rejoice. Turn to Matthew chapter 5, marking your spot there in Acts 5, perhaps. Turn to Matthew chapter 5. So, Jesus is introducing. What it's like to be in his kingdom and to be a citizen of his kingdom.

And at the end of the Beatitudes in verse 10, this is what he says, Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad.

I mean, that's even harder, isn't it? Be exceedingly glad for great is your reward in heaven for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Jesus commands right here at the beginning of his sermon. In fact, in many ways, this is the That's the first command that Jesus gives in the Sermon on the Mount.

He's talking about, blessed are all of these people, and obviously what's implied by that is we should be those kinds of people. But when it gets to commanding you to do something, the first thing that He really commands is rejoice and be exceedingly glad when you go through persecution and suffering for His name.

You know what that tells me, Jesus commanding that? It tells me two things. Number one, we can rejoice. Number two, we must rejoice. This is a command, so we better figure it out. How am I going to rejoice? And, and I think maybe this point, This point is less accepted in today's culture and time than it would have been in times past.

I've, I've seen over the past month or so, I've seen a number of interviews with recorded interviews with World War II veterans. And it's amazing to me, it's amazing to me their attitude going into the midst of this meat grinder where in all likelihood they're not going to return home where all of them are going to come home changed in some way.

And how their attitude was just, this is what I had to do, and so this is what I was going to do. I can, therefore I must. That kind of attitude, perhaps, is not as prevalent in today's society, but among us who are Christians, I think it very much should be. If God tells me to do something, that means that I can do that thing, and therefore I must do that thing.

I think maybe we underestimate what we are capable of doing if we just decide, this is right, and I'm going to do it. And as I think about what the command is to rejoice, It's interesting that this is not primarily an emotionally driven decision. We think about the feeling of joy, but it's not really the feeling of joy that is primarily commanded.

It is a verb, to rejoice. And where we need to begin with this idea of rejoicing and suffering is to know that we are told to rejoice, and so do what we can to rejoice. It's to take that action. Whether we feel it or not. Because in taking the action, so often the emotions and the feelings follow after it.

So, why rejoice in suffering? Because God commands you to. Jesus commands you to rejoice. Secondly, why rejoice in suffering? Because we are following Christ's example of enduring persecution. We are being Christ like when we rejoice in suffering. He was despised. He was rejected. He was persecuted. And yet he faced all of those things with joy over the outcome of those things.

And so, those in Acts chapter 5 are following in his footsteps. And we can follow in their footsteps and other faithful servants of God throughout history. What is it that Jesus says there in verse 12 of Matthew 5? For so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. This is something that we see with the prophets as well.

And if we go back to Acts chapter 5 and verse 41, they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name, the name of Jesus. And daily in the temple and in every house they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. So they are following in Christ's footsteps, following in His example.

Peter was one of these apostles who was arrested on this occasion and notice what he says as a much older man in 1 Peter chapter 4. We're going to look at a few passages in 1 Peter this evening because 1 Peter talks a great deal about suffering and glory, how we can glory in suffering and how suffering leads to glory and even rejoicing, finding joy in suffering.

In 1 Peter chapter 4 let's start reading there in verse 12 if you'll read with me. 1 Peter chapter 4, beginning in verse 12. Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial, which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you. But rejoice to the extent that you partake in Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad.

With exceeding joy. So this idea of being exceedingly glad, having exceeding joy, that sounds a lot like Matthew chapter 5. It sounds a lot like what they were doing in Acts chapter 5. Notice verse 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. The people who persecute you, that's a, in some ways, a blasphemy against God and against the spirit of glory. But on your part, it's glorifying them because you are enduring those persecutions with patience. Verse 15. But let none of you, you Christians, suffer as a murderer.

a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people's matters. Yet, if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God. They rejected Christ and now we are counted by God worthy and able to endure some small taste of that rejection and persecution. And thus we imitate Him and we shine the light of Christ.

So we are following Christ's example. Number three, we rejoice in suffering. Because it is evidence of our faithfulness, of our love and commitment to the truth. It is the fulfillment of what we are told to expect by Jesus as he spoke to his apostles. Don't you think the apostles were thinking back to Jesus words in John chapter 15 and verse 20?

If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. And that was true of the apostles, and by extension, it's true of us as well. There is evidence of faithfulness here if we are persecuted by those who are against Jesus. Back there, thinking again of Matthew chapter 5 and verse 12, Great is your reward in heaven.

This is showing that you are living the kind of life that you ought to live. Now, obviously, this is not the only standard. That there are people out there who perhaps claim persecution when maybe there's not much persecution actually there. There are others who claim persecution when that is really self inflicted.

They're being persecuted because of the things that they're doing that's wrong. Maybe they're not a murderer or a thief, but maybe they are a busybody in other people's matters or something along those lines. And that's why they're suffering those things. And so just because we're persecuted doesn't mean that we are faithful.

But this is one indication of that. It is one way that we can tell that we're on the right track when those who are clearly on the wrong track, who are against Jesus, take issues with the things that we say and do for Him. And so great is our reward in heaven if we are persecuted in this way. It can be evidence for our faithfulness.

Why rejoice in suffering? Well, it is, or again can be, an answer to prayer. Who here has prayed? That God would make you more what He would have you to be. Raise your hand. Have you ever prayed something along those lines? I pray to God and I say, Father, I fall short. Please, please help me to be more who You have called me to be.

Conform me to the image of Your Son. That's the phrase I like best, right? I want to be like Jesus. Amen?

Well, don't be surprised if in order to get there you have to go through some of the same things Jesus went through. So many of the qualities, characteristics, and opportunities that we desire are found and grow out of times of difficulty, times of trial, times of suffering, times of persecution. The suffering that the apostles went through, and by extension other disciples as well, in Acts chapter 5.

Have you ever thought about how that was almost a direct answer to a prayer they had made? If you'll turn back to Acts chapter 4, we see that there is a lengthy prayer. The first time that they are released from the Sanhedrin court, released from prison, In Acts chapter 4,

in verse 21, now things are getting weird, things are getting difficult for the Jewish leaders because they're performing these miracles and everybody sees that the power of God is with them, but they're still trying to, to hold this thing together. They're trying to keep this from really getting out of hand, and so they're threatening them they're punishing them.

And in verse 19, verse 18, So they called them and commanded them, this is Acts 4, 18, So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all, nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than God, you judge.

For we cannot but speak. The things which we have seen and heard. So, when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way of punishing them because of the people, since they all glorified God for what had been done. Specifically, this is the occasion where they healed that lame man there in the, at the, that lay at the beautiful gate.

For the man was over forty years old, on whom this miracle of healing had been performed. Verse 23, And being let go, they went to their own companions, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, You are God who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of your servant David have said, Why did the nations rage, and the people plot vain things?

The kings of the earth took their stand, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ. For truly, against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever your hand and your purpose determined before to be done.

Now, Lord, we get to their request. Look on their threats and grant to your servants that they make no more threats.

And grant to your servants that with all boldness they may speak your word. by stretching out your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of your holy servant, Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.

They prayed that they might be bold, speak the word of God, even in the face of threats that were made by others. And God answered that prayer. Yes, in that moment, as they're speaking with boldness among other disciples, but how much more by giving them the opportunity to grow in boldness when they receive further threats from people in power.

Boldness in the face of persecution is similar to the biblical idea of patience, or stick to it ness. We read earlier from James chapter 1. If you want to turn back over there, James chapter 1. Beginning in verse 2, this is a broader term than just suffering persecution for Jesus. And yet it certainly applies to what we're talking about tonight.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be complete. Perfect and complete, mature and complete, lacking nothing. So this is exactly what God is talking about. They prayed for this and God is giving them the opportunity to do what they prayed for.

It gave them the opportunity to demonstrate and grow in the godly qualities that they desired. It was an answer to their prayer, and so often suffering can be an answer to our prayer as well. Now, just about everybody raised their hands a moment ago when I asked if you prayed that, but it was interesting to me, this is what I asked Jerry on my way up here, did you hear that last song that we sang?

I want to be, I want to be ready to meet Him in the glory land. I want to be ready to meet Him I want to be ready to meet Him in the sky. Oh, I want to be more like Him and do His best, blessed command, for I want to be ready to meet Him in the glory land. How do you get ready? How do you get ready to meet Him?

As God refines us into who it is that He's called us to be. How do we become more like Him? By going through and responding to the things that happen to us in our lives in such a way that Christ is more and more living. And so by extension it is an answer to prayer, but what is the prayer for? Well, these sufferings are an opportunity for us to grow.

Expanding on the idea that's found there in James chapter 1, turn to Romans chapter 5, if you would. Romans chapter 5,

another passage that deals with this idea that we quoted from a moment ago. Romans chapter 5 let's read the first five verses together.

Paul says, Romans 5 and verse 1, Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace, or let us have peace, perhaps your translation says, with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope. of God. So we have peace, we have hope, we rejoice.

Verse 3, and not only that, but we also glory in tribulations. ESV says we rejoice in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance character, and character hope. Now hope does not disappoint. Because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

And he describes Christ dying on our, on our behalf, and what we should do in response to that. And so we see this progression, don't we? We have faith, we have peace, we rejoice in hope. But these tribulations produce things in us. Perseverance, character. And hope as we go through these things. Persecutions allow us this opportunity to grow.

So often, you know, we want to we want to have the reward, sometimes without the work. And as Christians, we have to love practice as much as we love the game. We have to love the process just as much as we love the result. We have to, maybe this is the most cliche, we have to love the journey as much as the destination.

That there are things that we are going to go through, and we have to be ready to go through those things, and love those things. I think about playing basketball growing up. I loved practice. I loved games. Games were the best, but I loved practice. I loved practice because I loved basketball so much, but I also loved it because of of what a chance it gave me to get better.

To get better at something that I really, truly loved. And there were other sports that I played. Football, most notably, where I hated practice. I didn't wanna, I didn't wanna have to go through that to get better. But the reality is, if we're going to grow, if we're going to get better at something Well, we're going to have to have some pain involved in that.

There is going to be some, some trial involved in that. And it's the case with Christianity as well. If we love the idea of being like Christ, we're going to have to grow to love and rejoice in the process of being made like Christ. Number six, six of seven, it is an opportunity for us to be an influence as well.

We read back there in Matthew chapter five, this first command that Jesus gives to rejoice in our suffering. Do you remember what the very next section of scripture is in Matthew chapter five? Well, it is that section that talks about us being salt of the earth, verse 13. The light of the world, verse 14.

In verse 16, he says, let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven. And what an opportunity verses 10 through 12 give us to be that light, to be that influence. If we turn back to one Peter chapter three, we see Peter talks about this idea as well.

First Peter, chapter three and verse 13, beginning. First Peter, chapter three and verse 13.

1 Peter 3 and verse 13. And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? Now that's the general truth. That's the, the reality that's usually there. If you're a good person, people aren't gonna But there are exceptions to that, and in Jesus Christ we see those exceptions. But even if you should suffer for righteousness sake, you are blessed.

And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled, but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts. And always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you with meekness and fear. Having a good conscience that when they defame you as evildoers, Those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed, because the things they say about you ring hollow in the face of your rejoicing and hope in light of those things.

For it is better, verse 17, if it is the will of God, and sometimes it is, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. So we have an opportunity, a greater opportunity to be an influence when we are suffering. And so we should rejoice by thinking of others and saying, I can have an impact on somebody else in the way I go through these things.

So, six things. But I want us to circle back in the last thing to, to that first passage that we pointed out in Philippians chapter 4. Will you turn there with me, Philippians chapter 4?

I think the last reason why we must rejoice in suffering is because it's an opportunity for us to see things clearly. See this world. To see the world to come. To see the physical and the spiritual clearly. In Philippians chapter 4, beginning in verse 4, notice what Paul says. Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice.

Let your reasonableness be known to all men, the Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds through Christ Jesus.

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there's any virtue, if there's anything praiseworthy, meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do.

And the God of peace will be with you. But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last your care for me is flourished again. Though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not, not that I speak in regard to need. For I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound.

Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. How? I can do all things through Christ who strengthens. Going through these things puts life in its proper perspective. That what's really important, that what really lasts, are the things of God.

And Paul had not yet written these words, of course, when we see the events of Acts chapter 5. Paul, well, was still an opponent to Christianity, in fact. But we see that those people in Acts chapter 5 certainly lived their lives in in light of the concepts found that Paul talks about here. They kept their perspective of what was important.

They could rejoice no matter their circumstances because they knew their reward. They remembered what their life was about. And this physical persecution didn't change their spiritual focus. That ultimately I'm striving to be pleasing to Christ, to be like Christ, and to go and be with Christ someday.

Whatever I suffer, while I'm here in this world. And the same, the same should be true of all of us. My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad.

We rejoice in our sufferings that we are counted worthy.

And so if you're here this evening and you're going through a difficult time, may I extend an invitation primarily to Christians. If you're going through trials, even persecutions for the name of Jesus Christ, know that you're not alone in that. It has been experienced by your brethren throughout the world, both now and in times past and in times to come, if God allows this world to continue.

It's being experienced even by others in this very room. And God has given us one another to help and support one another in these times. And so if we can pray for you or pray with you or help you in any way, won't you come now while together we stand and while we sing?