Many people believe that real success is to manage to have a stress free life, a life free of troubles. This belief is normal for man who seeks his own pleasure and rest, without seeing the big picture in life. However, the fact is that no human can have a stress free life; but when a man is born of God by faith in Christ, then he knows he has God as his Father in Christ, who cares for him and goes with him through the stresses and troubles of life for His Glory, and thus the Glory of God is revealed through his weakness.
Real success in Christ is not like the success that we find in the world. Ask anyone today: “Would you feel successful if you are beaten unjustly?”, and they will answer you: “No way! I will be successful only when I take revenge for that unjust act towards me, or at least when justice is re-established in any other way!” Yet, look what happened with the Apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ: “and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.” (Acts 5:40-41) The world is after self-esteem, while the Apostles preferred shame for Christ’s Name. The world would not rejoice in the distress of failure, but the Apostles rejoiced when persecuted for Christ’s sake. The world says those people are fools, because they rejoiced in the distress of failure, yet God says they are very successful, as that’s what the world did to all the prophets and righteous people before them: “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12) “Blessed” practically means “happy”, and “exceeding glad” means being in feast!! The psalmist said: “Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased.” (Psalm 4:7) Yes, the world rejoices with the visible unstable successes of life, because that’s where their hopes are built, but our hope of Glory is Christ Jesus (see Colossians 1:27)! The prophet Habakkuk, after the Lord taught him the lesson of true faith which looks to the real hope, said that he will rejoice in God even when everything fails and even if the normal things of life do not work in the right way! Look what he said: “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.“ (Habakkuk 3:17-18) No, Habakkuk was not insane; he had his hope rested in the right place. We also, just like Habakkuk, we should have our hope in the right Person, Jesus Christ. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (1 Corinthians 15:19) But no, we rejoice, because our hope in Christ is not only in this life: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” (Philippians 3:20-21) Worldly people do not understand this hope; they think in Heaven we will be “just praying and saying glory! glory! to God”… They don’t understand what they are talking about! After we were sinners, falling short of God’s Glory (see Romans 3:23), we now “rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:2), now that we have been justified by faith (see Romans 5:1)!! After we were separated from God and we could not have any relationship with Him, oh and we were even unable to do anything to have that relationship fixed, “now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)!! “Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” (Galatians 4:7)!! THIS is the hope of glory that we have! We seek to glorify God in all our walk here on earth, as we shine His Holiness in the holiness of our lives which is by His Grace alone, and when we will see the Lord, we will be completely in that holiness, having finished our fight of faith and reached glory! We will have glorious bodies in conformity with the body of Christ’s Glory! We will be like Christ! We will see Him AS HE IS! We will be so unified with Him in all of the inheritance of God (the inheritance of Grace) that we will perfectly think like Jesus, feel like Jesus, see like Jesus, without any presence of that foe called sin! This is the true hope that the world cannot understand, therefore they can’t rejoice, for they are miserable in their earthly toys that give them pleasure for a time and then vanish, for “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2) The ambitions of the world all are vanity of vanities! Those Apostles who rejoiced and were exceedingly glad when beaten had their hope in the right place, as they followed in the steps of their Lord, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2) In the same verse (Hebrews 12:2) we are told to look on this Jesus and to imitate Him! The Apostles told us this again and again, because it is very essential in the Christian life: “For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” (1 Peter 2:19-24) The Apostle Peter is practically saying: the world sees it as a failure that Christ died, and yet His death was a big success, as by that suffering and death we were healed from sin; we have to follow in the steps of our Lord.
Yes, the most successful moment in the lives of the Apostles was when they gave their lives for Christ’s Name, something which the world considers a big failure! The Lord said we should rejoice when we are persecuted; the world would not rejoice in the distress of persecution, because they consider it a failure. In Christ, our troubles become a great way to success, because we have the coming glory before our eyes, and our hope cannot fail. It was given to us in Christ Jesus not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake; and that’s a great privilege, a great success! “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29). In Christ alone, and not in any other ambition in life, death itself becomes a GAIN, a success: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)
Of course, the world misunderstands us and misunderstands the Lord; when we talk about joy in Christ through the troubles and sufferings of life, they imagine that we seek troubles and suffering, and they call us masochists… Yes, the world always finds a psychological term to stick it on Christians in order to avoid the seriousness of their holy experience… But it is normal when the world does not understand us, for the world does not know us: “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.” (1 John 3:1) It is normal for a Turk who doesn’t know English to think an American is talking about something dirty when he says “peace”, because “pis” in Turkish means “dirty”… The Lord and His Apostles are not saying that we should seek troubles and sufferings; they are not saying that we should rejoice in suffering, but in the Lord! “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4) We rejoice in the Lord when suffering comes. Note it well: he says that we should rejoice in the Lord always; so this includes also the times when we have peaceful conditions in the world, and not just suffering! Actually, some peaceful conditions may tempt us to rejoice in worldly conditions and in earthly ambitions! We should be careful not to put our hope in worldly ambitions and hopes, but to always rejoice in the Lord alone. Suffering will surely come, because “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12) When suffering comes, — and it is coming for sure — then we should rejoice in the Lord, because we know that He is in control and He is using that suffering to make us more Christlike, the thing to which we are predestined (see Romans 8:29). So no, we do not rejoice in suffering, we rejoice and delight in the Lord: “Delight thyself also in the LORD: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” (Psalm 37:4) To delight in the Lord is very different from delighting in suffering (or in any other condition of life) for the Lord’s sake. When we delight in the Lord, the Lord is the very Source of our happiness; while when we delight in suffering, then suffering is the source of our happiness. We are taught by God to delight in the Lord when we suffer, and not just bear suffering as a heavy burden only to please a sadistic god who wants to make us suffer. That’s not our God. When we say that we rejoice in suffering, we mean we rejoice during suffering in the Lord. But the world does not understand, of course.
And I remind the brethren, me included, that suffering does not always need to be a physical suffering or death. At the beginning of the passage that I quoted above where Peter said we should imitate Christ in suffering for the right cause, he does not talk only about persecution when we go in a mission to a far land; he says: “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable.” (1 Peter 2:18) And he goes on to explain how glorious it is to suffer unjustly, following in the steps of Christ. So the main topic there is domestic suffering. Some of the greatest sufferings and persecutions are met by Christians in their household, in their jobs or in their everyday relationships and friendships. Those sufferings may not be physical, but psychological and emotional. What we learn from Christ’s unjust suffering is that we glorify God and we shine His Holiness as we bear those sufferings patiently and we love the people who hurt us, rejoicing in the Lord always, knowing that the Lord uses those sufferings to make us more Christlike. We should not miss this very important point; I say this because we tend to think that suffering is only for missionaries who go to hostile areas… A right understanding of this truth has a great impact on our sanctification. In our everyday relationships, when we bear patiently an unjust suffering or an unjust accusation or any unjust act towards us, rejoicing in the Lord and hoping in His glory alone, then we will shine God’s Holiness, and God will be glorified in our lives, for this will show the glory of His Grace which has created this holy patience in us. And His Grace does not stop at that point of making us bear patiently the suffering inflicted on us by others, but makes us love those who make us suffer and do good to them at the very moment when they revile us and make us suffer unjustly. Actually, that’s what the above quoted passage of Peter says: when Christ was reviled by the very people for whom He was dying, He reviled not in return and did not threaten, but did the highest good for those who reviled Him by dying for their sins: “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” (1 Peter 2:22-24) Yes, when we were crucifying Him with our sins, He died for us! We should meditate on this in order to follow in His steps. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
The same truth applies to natural negative events and hard conditions of life that always cause stress to worldly people. Worldly people may manage those stressful conditions by avoiding them or by any other selfish way, while the child of God learns to pass through them with joy in the Lord, because he knows that God is in full control, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Yes, ALL THINGS, whatever those things are, work together by God’s control for good to the children of God. We know this by faith, although often we may not understand it by our heads. Paul, who wrote this verse in Romans 8, knew this lesson well by the Lord’s Grace. He was planning to go to Rome with joy while going to Spain: “Whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you: for I trust to see you in my journey, and to be brought on my way thitherward by you, if first I be somewhat filled with your company. […] That I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed.” (Romans 15:24, 32) Although his plan was to go as a free man to Rome and then to continue to Spain to preach the Gospel there, yet he entered Rome as a prisoner of Caesar. Preaching the Gospel in Spain was a great godly purpose, so one would ask why God has not allowed that, and thus he would lose his joy because of that change in outward conditions, especially that this may tempt us to doubt God’s total control on all circumstances (why would God not allow a good work like preaching the Gospel in Spain?…) But Paul did not doubt the Wisdom of God, and he knew God knew what He was doing, and thus the outwardly negative conditions did not make him lose his joy and peace and contentment, because his hope was not in outward conditions, but in Christ alone. And indeed, it was from his prison in Rome that he wrote his Epistle of joy and contentment, the Epistle to the Philippians where he said: “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4) Again: “for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” (Philippians 4:11) When they were taking Paul to Rome as a prisoner of Caesar and they experienced hardship and shipwreck, Paul kept relying on the Lord, knowing that even the shipwreck is for his good, as God is in control of the conditions of nature also! The Lord can command the natural troubles (like waves of the sea) to stop and to be still! The waves of negative conditions cannot destroy the boat of our life, because the Lord Jesus is in it! Can a boat sink when the Lord Jesus is in it?? “And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” (Mark 4:37-39) Whatever happens outwardly, our hope is beyond! “Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.” (Psalm 46:2-3) Indeed, as Paul wrote: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39) Not just physical and/or emotional persecutions… not just any distress… not just any tribulation, not just hard material conditions… not just death… but ALSO life, and angels, and things present, and things to come, and any height or depth or anything whatsoever… all these cannot separate us from the love of God who loved us in Christ Jesus to the end with an eternal and undeserved love!
This is real success!