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Commission on Religious Liberty

Empowered to Suffer

by Randy Hurst, Director of Advancement for Assemblies of God World Missions

During an all-night prayer vigil on New Year’s Eve 2008, 200 men armed with clubs, machetes, and bows and arrows approached an Assemblies of God church in Kenya. Some congregants ran; others stayed to care for the children and hurried inside the church.

Within minutes, the mob swarmed into the compound, piled mattresses and clothing in front of doors and windows, doused the mattresses with flammable liquid, and lit them. The church was engulfed in flames. The people inside pleaded for mercy and screamed for help. A few escaped, only to be beaten and hacked with machetes.

The pastor helped four children out of the burning building before the flames kept him out. As the pastor turned to flee, a young boy cried, “Pastor, rescue me!” but it was too late. The attackers surrounded the pastor, viciously beating and stabbing him before police arrived. He spent more than a week in the hospital.

More than 50 people died, including women, children and several church elders.

MORE THAN PROCLAMATION

“EMPOWERED—so all can hear” was the 2015 Assemblies of God World Missions theme. While we commonly think of power to proclaim the gospel of Christ, it involves much more, including being empowered to serve Him regardless of the cost.

From a prison cell in Rome, the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, his son in the faith, “Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God.1

After Paul told Timothy to “join with me in suffering,” he went on to say, “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”2 These two verses in 2 Timothy are the only uses in the New Testament of sugkakopatheo, a Greek compound word that describes suffering together with someone.

Paul was not asking Timothy to join him in his prison cell. He was speaking spiritually to encourage Timothy to have the same submission to God and even joy in suffering for Christ that Paul himself had.

Two thought-provoking words connect in Paul’s appeal to Timothy: suffering and power.

When Paul spoke of suffering in the power of God, he used the same Greek word for power, dunamis, used in Acts 1:8: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses” (NASB). The Greek word for “witnesses” in this verse is martureo from which we get the word “martyr.” The power Jesus promised is not merely power to speak for Him. It includes power to live as a true disciple of Jesus — no matter the cost.

Dunamis, the word translated “power,” simply means “ability.” Because we all have different abilities and needs, God gives different empowerments for different people and different circumstances. Just as different kinds of power are needed in witnessing, different kinds of power are needed in suffering.

POWER FOR DELIVERANCE

Many people believe suffering should never happen when the power of God is manifest in our lives. A well-known faith teacher on television a few years back said, “If the apostle Paul could have sat under my teaching and understood faith as I do, he would never have needed to spend one day in prison.” Immediately, the Scripture verse came to my mind when the Lord Jesus himself said to Ananias about Paul, “For I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.”3

In his letter to Timothy from prison, Paul spoke of his persecutions and sufferings at Antioch, Iconium and Lystra. With confidence, he testified, “Out of them all the Lord delivered me.”4

Paul testified that the Lord delivered him out of his sufferings, not from them.

POWER FOR ENDURANCE

Until deliverance comes — or even if it does not come in this life — hardship and suffering can be endured in the power of God. And through that endurance God’s purposes can be accomplished.

Paul wrote to the Philippians: “My circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.”5

Paul told the Corinthians that “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.”6

In addition to whatever purposes God is accomplishing through sufferings, He promises His comfort. Paul also wrote: “For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.”7 God never promised we would never suffer; instead He promised that His grace and power are sufficient for us.

After Peter and the other apostles were persecuted by the council in Jerusalem, they went on their way “rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.”8

Many of our brothers and sisters around the world are not asking us to pray for their deliverance. Some even say, “Don’t pray for our release from persecution. Pray that God will give us strength and an open door to witness for Christ.” They want to accomplish God’s purpose in their lives, not escape their problems. Like the Early Church believers, they are rejoicing that they are worthy to suffer for Jesus’ name.

An Assemblies of God pastor in a restricted access country served three prison terms for preaching the gospel. During his third imprisonment, he led 42 prisoners and two prison guards to Christ. One of the 42 prisoners became an evangelist who led more than 700 people to Christ during the first month after his release from prison.

The apostle Peter wrote, “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. … If anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.”9

May we experience the Spirit’s power in a measure equal to whatever challenges lie ahead of us.


Notes:
  1. 2 Timothy 1:8, NASB
  2. 2 Timothy 2:3
  3. Acts 9:16
  4. 2 Timothy 3:11, KJV
  5. Philippians 1:12-14, NASB
  6. 2 Corinthians 4:17
  7. 2 Corinthians 1:5
  8. Acts 5:41
  9. 1 Peter 4:14-16

— RANDY HURST serves on the World Assemblies of God Fellowship Commission on Religious Liberty and is Director of Advancement for Assemblies of God World Missions.