As 2015 draws to a close, we might take stock of the year’s accomplishments and assess the outcome of desired goals. We look back at notable highlights and milestones celebrated. But the year-end survey might also reveal difficulties in relationships — that close friend who distanced herself, the extended family member who excluded you, your old school buddy who unfriended you, or a coworker or neighbor with whom you can’t seem to connect.
Strained relationships are hard no matter the reason. But when the underlying cause is Christ, there is a unique dynamic, one that may be rife with pain, yet abounding in blessing.
Peace on Earth?
Every year around this time, we hear “peace on earth” in connection with Jesus’s birth. The message resonates, as we all long for peace, including peace in our relationships. But the heavenly host’s proclamation had a qualification: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Luke 2:14). By God’s grace, believers have peace with God through Christ and an abiding peace within. But peace across the board in our relationships is not promised.
In fact, Jesus let us know that the opposite would be true. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). It is telling that when Jesus shed light on his statement, he spoke of intimate, familial relationships. Father and son, mother and daughter, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, members of one’s household — they would be set against one another because of Christ.
It’s a truth of kingdom life — Christ divides. Believing Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, being unashamed of the gospel, holding firm to eternal truth will cost us. Taking up our cross and following him puts us at odds with the world, and in our relationships in the world.
Thankfully, in his goodness and grace, Jesus told us what to expect. We shouldn’t be shocked that our devotion to him has cost us. And yet, the pain can be very real.
The Blessing in Sharing Jesus’s Suffering
When a childhood friend cuts ties, no matter how subtle, or a coworker invites everyone but you to an after-work gathering, the rejection is felt to the core. We may wonder what we could have done differently. Maybe we should have used words like “God” and “faith” rather than Jesus. Maybe we should have kept quiet or given a politically correct response when asked our opinion, rather than shared biblical truth.
But rejection should not drive us to dial back our devotion to Jesus. Instead, we lean into it. There’s no relationship more precious, none more important. Like the apostle Paul, the cry of our heart ought be to know him. Sharing in his suffering deepens that knowing.
Indeed, we are called to such suffering. We serve a Savior who suffered in the flesh for us. Though he committed no sin, he bore our sins on the cross, so that we might be saved. And as he lives in and through us, we too learn what it means to suffer. Unlike the suffering that comes from sin, suffering for the sake of righteousness makes us more like Christ.
Our pain helps us to abide more deeply with Jesus. We grow in our appreciation of the depth of his sacrifice, and in turn, grow in our desire to live more sacrificially for him. Having been rejected, Jesus understands our pain and loves us through it. Shared suffering fosters a holy kinship.
The Joy in Earthly Rejection
An interesting thing happens when man rejects us. It hurts, and we may hit an emotional low, but spiritually, we are positioned to soar. It’s as if, paradoxically, the more we are rejected because of Christ, the more we are able to abound. The contrast in these verses is astounding:
“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.” (Luke 6:22–23)
“But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:13)
When we are hated and excluded because of Christ, we do not feel like rejoicing. We focus on the hurt and betrayal, the slander, and whatever else has come against us. And we focus on the offending person, especially if it is someone we know and love. We wallow in our disappointment, wishing the circumstance could be different.
But from the Lord’s perspective, we could not be in a better place. We have held fast to our first love. We have laid down our life for the Savior. We have shown, maybe to ourselves for the first time, that we no longer live to please people but God. This is cause for rejoicing.
If Jesus says to “leap for joy” when we are rejected for his sake, we can believe that he gives grace for that glorious leap. He meets us in that low place and fills us with joy. And not only that, such suffering finds favor with God (1 Peter 2:20). He blesses us because of it, and will one day reward us.
The Blessing of the Body
We may have lost friends and even family members because of Christ, but he makes us a promise: We will receive many times as much both now and in the age to come (Luke 18:29–30). Our blessing in this regard is the body of Christ. As fellow children of God, this is our true family.
We have fellow brothers and sisters who understand the pain of rejection, because we endure the same suffering. We are able to minister comfort and encouragement to one another, to exhort one another to stand firm, and to pray for one another.
As aliens in this world, the only ones who truly understand us are fellow aliens. These are the people with whom we will dwell for eternity. They may look nothing like our blood family. They may not be the people we would naturally gravitate toward for friendship. But in Christ, we belong to one another. We need one another. The Lord knew, and gave us a holy bond that is unbreakable.
A New Mindset for the New Year
We do not hope for rejection, but in Christ, it may come. Let us resolve now to rejoice in that day, knowing that our hope is secure in Christ, and to pray for those who persecute us. Ultimately, they are not rejecting us, but Christ.
As we seek the Lord for their souls, we may be part of their future testimony of redemption through his grace and power.