Lesson #26: Learning the Value of Suffering for Righteousness

by J. R. Cuevas

I’ve been mentally consumed with athletics ever since I re-started my career as a personal trainer. In my daily pondering, I’ve discerned five categories of people with respect to athletic ability and endeavors. 

People and Athletics: Five Categories
Category 1: The people who simply aren’t athletic enough to make it to the Olympics, and thus never make it there. The vast majority of humanity falls into this category.

Category 2: The people who make it to the Olympics, and possibly even prosper, but do so unjustly. Knee-whacking figure skaters and PED-using sprinters fall into this category. It’s the most pitiable of categories, as their members face life-lasting consequences and live the rest of their lives in infamy. 

Category 3: The people who are athletically gifted enough to make it to and compete at the Olympics. A small majority of humans, but the vast majority of Olympians, fall into this category. This category is satisfying to observe, as they seem to be enjoying the rewards of their hard work while simultaneously competing pressure-free, unlike those in category 4.

Category 4: The athletes who compete as medal-contenders in the Olympics. The categories are getting smaller and smaller.

Category 5: The Olympic gold medalists. This is the smallest category—and most coveted. The levels of discipline, dedication, sacrifice, and resilience it requires to find oneself in it are off the charts. It is their members, however, who leave the legacies that shape their sport.

Since the Bible in several places analogously links competitive athletic rewards with eternal rewards for righteousness (ever heard of the crown of righteousness?), I began to ponder the different categories of people with regards to righteousness and suffering. 

The parallels are striking.

People and Righteousness: Five Categories
Category 1: Wicked people who suffer for their wickedness. The vast majority of humanity falls into this category. Before God’s eyes, all men are wicked. And, in this lifetime, most of them reap what they sow.

Category 2: Wicked people who seem to prosper. From the Bible, men like the rich man (who taunted Lazarus) and the Pharisees fall into this category. This is the most pitiable of the categories. Their members are in the most perilous of states, for their present and earthly prosperity blinds them from the eternal wrath stored up for them. Blessed are those who laugh now, for they will weep.

Category 3: Righteous people who prosper for their righteousness. This is the most satisfying of categories. I’m speaking of believers—those clothed with the righteousness of Christ through His atoning work—who, for the most part, prosper in their lives and reap the fruits of their righteous sowing. The world rejoices with these folks. 

Category 4: Righteous people who suffer and deal righteously with suffering. The categories are getting smaller. These include those believers whose lives seem to be filled with affliction and misfortune, though they do all they can to honor God. But, contrary to the worldly, they respond to suffering in a God-honoring way. They handle all that life throws at them with a godly perspective. This is the most admirable of categories.   

These categories cover the majority of the planet’s population, both historically and geographically.

And then there’s Category 5: 

Righteous people who suffer for their righteousness. 

It’s a special category—a unique one that God has set apart in a distinct manner. 

Unlike those in category 4, members of category 5 are those who suffer not just while pursuing righteousness, but because of their pursuit of righteousness. Righteousness is not just the result of their suffering, but the cause of it. It is this category that consists of righteous people who suffer unjustly. For their choice to honor the Lord, they not only experience affliction and misfortune, but persecution. It is this category whose members the world esteems with great pity and shame, but who God esteems with great favor.

Unlike those in category 4, members of category 5 are those who suffer not just while pursuing righteousness, but because of their pursuit of righteousness.

Christ mentions these people in the Beatitudes, and Peter encourages them in his first epistle (1 Pet 3:13-4:6). It is to this category that Christ—the Author and Perfecter of faith—belongs, as well as his apostles. Men and women who leave lasting legacies and shape the Christian community belong to this category, and their shed blood still speaks (Heb 11:4). This category includes the men and women who have been called to experience a unique depth of fellowship with Christ. It is this category whose members know the Savior most deeply. These are the gold medalists of God’s people—the ones for whom heaven’s greatest rewards and highest esteems are reserved (2 Pet 1:6-7). 

Members of category five, you are the ones whom the Lord Jesus considers the most blessed—the most fortunate of humanity.

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great.”

Matthew 5:11-12

And you belong to that category because the Almighty God, in his sovereign wisdom and lavish grace, elected you to it. For such a dignified calling, an unworthy man cannot summon upon himself. But for those who have been counted worthy, may they rejoice greatly—knowing that God gave the same lot to his most greatly utilized servants. 

I first studied these passages when I was born again over ten years ago. And, as hard as life has been, I know full well that God has not yet considered me as a candidate for that special category. My life, for the record, hasn’t been immune from affliction and suffering. And I’ve learned to deal with suffering in a more God-honoring manner than I had previously. But day after day and with eternity in mind, over these last ten years, I’ve wondered if he will ever grant me the privilege of being a part of that golden group. I’ve wondered if I will be able to personally testify to the reality of 1 Peter 2:20: “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.” It is, after all, his choice—not mine. I will never be an Olympic athlete. But I do hope that, by the end of my life, he would have considered me worthy to be part of special category 5.

So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.

Acts 5:41

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