The Intermingling of Witness and Suffering

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.” (Matthew 10:16-18)

In Jesus’ words of commission to the Twelve here, we already see the connection between witness and suffering. The mindset of Jesus’ disciples must be shrewd and innocent at the same time. There is an expectation of difficulty, even vicious persecution, that Jesus commends to His disciples, requiring wisdom, innocence, and, as He says in the next few sentences, reliance upon the Holy Spirit. These are bracing words for these first followers of the Messiah. Who would really want to hear them?

But we need to re-hear them today because we have disconnected witness and suffering. In our comfort culture we have sought to avoid trouble as much as possible. We often water down Jesus’ words until the sharpness of the flavor cannot be tasted. Because of this, our witness also has been watered down. We avoid the realities of persecution, even though church history has taught us that persecution is often the soil in which the church most often grows.

Tertullian, one of the greatest teachers of the church, wrote: “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” While we should not seek needless suffering, may God help us be ready to suffer for the sake of His name and witness.

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