First century Christians suffered greatly for their beliefs in Jesus Christ. About 313AD Emperor Constantine gave relief to the Roman Christian community by legalizing Christianity at the Edict of Milan. Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire under Theodosius in 380AD. However, the developing Catholic Church still held the average citizen in bondage and many suffered for minor violations of church rules and dogma. Misdeeds by the Roman church grew to a point that in 1517 Martin Luther, a Catholic priest, pinned his ninety five thesis’s to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Battle lines were drawn and many on both sides suffered punishments for their beliefs. After the invention of the Gutenberg printing press in 1455, complete bibles were available for the first time and the common folk sought to read the scriptures only to be persecuted by the churches.
The Christian church grew on both sides and expanded across the new found continents and missionaries and itinerant ministers traveled into foreign lands and suffered rejection and sometimes death as they attempted to convert the unchurched to Christianity.
While substantial progress has been made in spreading the Word, many wars have been fought between competing nations and competing religions and many have suffered and given their lives for their religious beliefs.
But now we live in a modern society and religious persecution is prohibited by our Constitution or the laws of other nations. Suffering for one’s Christian beliefs in a modern society takes on a different form from that of our Christian ancestors. As successful, happy and comfortable living Christians, how do we or how should we suffer for the cause of Christ? God’s special servants, our missionaries, continue to labor under difficult conditions and many are still suffering servants. But they are the precious few, and we are the vast majority. In our own secure communities as Christians, how shall we suffer? Maybe “suffering” is too harsh a descriptor? Each of us is faced everyday with choices to “step out for our Christian faith” or duck quietly into selfish activities that consume and fill our comfortable existence. But what does it mean to “step out for our Christian faith?” Does it have to mean an earth shaking event? Maybe, but most likely it takes on a quiet and gentile form. Could it be, for most of us, that suffering for the kingdom is simply committing to:
- Praying earnestly everyday.
- Calling a friend or neighbor and supporting their needs.
- Visiting a sick person at home or in the hospital.
- Attending church and Sunday school on a regular basis.
- Financially supporting our churches and other worthy causes.
- Helping a disadvantaged person in some loving way.
- Teaching Sunday school or singing in the choir.
- Serve on important Sunday school and church committees.
- Taking seriously the selection of our elected officials.
- Being a good parent or grandparent.
- Taking care of some lonely animal.
- Support worthy civic groups that provide for the needs of the sick, poor and underprivileged.
- Just be positive and kind to everyone you meet.
Well, shall we label these as examples of “ modern suffering” or would they be more appropriately called “stepping out for our Christian faith”? These and many other examples of Christian service are continuously available to you and me. The key question is what path of life shall I choose to follow?