“You ain’t from around here are ya’…”
I remember hearing that line in many a western i watched on Saturday afternoons as a kid. The saloon doors swing wide and the stranger enters the bar looking for a beverage to slake his thirst. some crusty local would notice something about the stranger that made him stand out.
When Paul wrote to the Jesus followers in Philippi he encouraged them to stand out with their way of living.
“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.”
Philippians 1:27-30 – NIV
Jesus told his disciples that they would be known by how much they love each other. But this following Jesus life, it’s not all cocoa and warm hugs. We are to love a world full of broken people, even if and especially if they don’t love us back.
Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter and he makes no apologies for his suffering nor does he sugar coat what life will be like for those who follow Jesus.
“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.”
As a follower of Jesus we can expect to suffer from the hands of the world we are trying to reach with the good news of forgiveness in Jesus.
So why does suffering still surprise me? As a 21st century American I have grown up feeling entitled to certain things, i have grown up on a steady diet of being told that I deserve comfort and rest and refreshment and recreation; I’ve been told I deserve the best the world has to offer. I have been brainwashed into believing that all pleasures are good and I deserve them whenever I want them and all suffering is bad and is to be avoided at all costs. I should not be surprised and I don’t have to allow myself to be fooled. I live in a broken world filled with broken people, myself included and in this world bad things happen. Add to that painting a target on myself by identifying myself as a follower of Jesus and suffering will come.
I started out talking about citizenship and belonging and sticking out as different for all the right reasons. How we deal with suffering can be one of those differences. One version of 1 Corinthians 13 when describing a God influenced and infused love says, love suffers long, and is kind.
We aren’t from around here. Our loving behavior should be our the sign that says our citizenship is from another place. We belong to God and our home is in heaven with him.