We tend to associate suffering with punishment or a curse but Acts chapter 5 presents a bold idea: that suffering is somehow a higher calling. Acts chapter 5 details an early persecution where the disciples are thrown into prison. This appears to be the first recorded incident in the entire Bible of the jailing of the disciples—something that would later become a frequent experience. As the story goes, the disciples left the Sanhedrin “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer” (Acts 5:41). Worthy to Suffer This phase in Acts begs the question: so what does it mean to be “counted worthy to suffer”? Is the text literally suggesting that the more worthy you are, the more likely it is that God will have you suffer? These are tough questions but fortunately there is a lot of material across multiple related New Testament narratives that can help us get closer to some understanding. Suffering of the Disciples in Acts The books of Acts details the suffering of the disciples at a number of time points. One of the most striking sections is Acts chapter 12, which details the execution of James and the arrest and deliverance of Peter. With regards to suffering, Acts 12 raises some interesting questions, namely: why did James die while Peter was saved? There’s a lot to explore here, but first, the passage: 1 About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. 2 He killed James the brother … Read More
The last chapters of Acts detail Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem and eventual transport to Rome, where he is believed to have been beheaded during the reign of Nero. Acts chapter 21 tells of Paul’s journey from Ephesus to Jerusalem, his final journey before his arrest. One particularly interesting thing about Paul’s journey to Jerusalem is that the other believers he meets along the way weep for him and/or warn him of serious harm—first the Ephesians, then the Tyrians, then the Caesareans.
Paul’s statement that ‘To live is Christ and to die is gain’ is one of the boldest sentences in Scripture. As Christians, it’s a passage that we often quote and that we readily intellectually assent to; however, most of us—if honest—sense that we are not really living it the way that Paul was. Our lives (time, money, passion) are not wholly given over to serving; and we do not face death fearlessly, longing for union with God. I’ve wanted to really understand these words. And as someone who now has an illness, I feel it’s imperative. This statement of Paul is found in the book of Philippians, which though a short letter, has some of the most recognized and poetic passages in the Bible. And much to my surprise, when I took a deeper look, I found that this book is all about suffering. So why does Paul write an entire letter addressing suffering?