Suffering, Adversity, and Controversy
Though many may not know this by looking at me, I like to workout. I often say that the gym is the only place I feel like I can turn my brain off and just lift heavy things. I am not the best athlete. It is often a long hard slog, but for the hour that I am in the gym, I enjoy it. Usually, as the day moves on, I find that my muscles are sore and I feel the repercussions of having had a hard workout, yet I go back the next day to do it again. During the workouts I often want to quit, yet it is the encouragement of those around me and the knowledge of the end goal that keeps me going.
I have been thinking about working out (whether it be running, lifting weights, biking, swimming), as I have been listening to the sermon series at Parish Presbyterian Church. The series currently is going through Mark. While listening to this series, I have read through the Gospel according to Mark a few times. What has struck me is the amount of controversy, adversity, and suffering that takes place in the life of Jesus as he ministers to the people. Everywhere he goes, he experiences adversity. People rise up against him and his disciples. Controversy seems to follow him.
This is an arresting thought in our day and age. It is astounding how often people are surprised when controversy arises in Gospel ministry. The default in our day seems to be that controversy is the exception not the rule. The logic goes: if we faithfully preach the Gospel, we should expect acceptance not adversity and controversy. The only reason controversy happens is because two sinful people are disagreeing about something. However, what we find in the life and ministry of Jesus is that controversy is the rule and not the exception. Suffering, adversity, and controversy seem to be the inevitable result of faithfulness in preaching the Gospel.
The funny thing is that we can make the fact that controversy follows faithful Gospel ministry into an excuse for our own offensive behavior. We can see people rejecting us as a marker that we are preaching the Gospel faithfully. Yet we are warned in Scripture that we are not to be the offense. The Gospel is to be the offense not us. The Gospel causes the offense and we are called to remove every other excuse for people's rejection. (If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. - Romans 12:18) Mark shows us time and again that if we are faithful in Gospel ministry, controversy, adversity, and suffering will follow.
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it." - Mark 8:34–35
If I am actually going to workout and push myself, I will feel the pain before, during, and after the workout. However, the goal is being able to play with my child and grandchild long into my life. I set that goal before me and press on knowing that the pain is but a temporary thing. As we faithfully minister in our families, neighborhoods, churches, communities, we will come up against suffering, adversity, and controversy. In those moments, we need must remember that this is inevitable. In those moments, we must examine ourselves and make sure that we are not the offense but that the Gospel is the offense. In those moments, we must set our eyes toward the goal and press on.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. - Hebrews 12:1–2