Why Do Christians Suffer for Their Faith?

Early Christians suffered for their faith in Christ. Some were incarcerated. Some were beaten and whipped. Some were stoned. Others were crucified or beheaded. Still others later were fed to the lions. Suffering, however, is not limited to New Testament times. Christians today will also suffer for their faith—whether it be facing disdain, rejection or ridicule; being called bigoted or intolerant; or perhaps even being jailed, tortured or killed—if they are preaching Jesus and living godly, Christ-crucified lives. Suffering for Christ and the Gospel is just as much a part of the Christian life as is love (cf. Luke 21:7; John 15:18–25, 16:1–4; Luke 21:12, 16–17; James 1:2; 2 Tim 3:12; etc.), but unfortunately, we hear little today from the nation’s pulpits about suffering in the lives of Christ’s followers and its purpose.

Second Corinthians 1:3–11 provides an answer to the question, “Why do Christians suffer for their faith?” Paul’s response in this doxology is not exhaustive, but it does give great encouragement. The affliction mentioned in this text is specifically suffering for the Gospel and presumes that believers in Jesus will take some knocks for their faith.

Paul writes 2 Corinthians from Macedonia about A.D. 56 to the church at Corinth, and in this church, a group of individuals is denouncing Paul’s apostleship while magnifying their own authority. They are saying that Paul is not qualified to do New Covenant ministry. So, in 2 Corinthians, Paul defends his apostolic ministry and authority. In 2 Corinthians 1:3–11, he praises God and speaks of his suffering for Christ’s sake—for the Gospel—and he has much to say about the affliction’s purpose in his life. We too can know that suffering for our faith serves a purpose.

Why do Christians suffer for their faith in Christ? First, Christians suffer for their faith so that they might comfort others who are suffering for their faith (vv. 3-7). In v. 4, Paul explains one purpose (εἰς τὸ δύνασθαι ἡμᾶς παρακαλεῖν) of suffering in his life. He notes it is possible to share with another sufferer the encouragement received in the midst of one’s own affliction. The picture here is one of Paul undergoing affliction for his faith, and he goes to God, and the Lord comforts him in the midst of his affliction. With the comfort that he has received from God, Paul is able to go to another person and share the same comfort with that person who is suffering for his faith. God is a God of comfort. Paul describes Him as “the Father of mercies” and “the God of all comfort” (v. 3). Comfort is an important word used several times in this context. The term comes from the same word-group from which we get the word “Helper” (παράκλητος) used in reference to the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). God’s comfort in the midst of affliction enables us to bear up under suffering for our faith. Paul explains that while he has suffered abundantly on behalf of Christ, so also is Christ’s comfort abundant (v. 5). He points out that the Corinthians benefit from his suffering, and that they would experience this kind of comfort as they endure the same sufferings he suffered (vv. 6–7).

Nikolai Kolbantsev, a father of seven, wrote to his family in February 1985 while serving a 30-month sentence in a Soviet prison for preaching the Gospel.[1] Through his indomitable spirit and letters written to family members on the outside who were also suffering for following Christ, Kolbantsev, while imprisoned, was able to use the grace and comfort of God that he had received to provide solace and encouragement to his family.

Second, Christians suffer for their faith so that they might depend upon God (vv. 8–10). In v. 9, Paul again gives a purpose (ἵνα) for why he suffers for his faith in Christ. The tribulation made him depend upon God. He does not specifically identify the problem of affliction that he was having in Asia, but he does mention its severity (vv. 8–9). He was “excessively burdened”— tremendous pressure was placed on him; he had a load too heavy for him to bear. Moreover, he mentions that the situation was “beyond our strength with the result that we despaired even of life.” He and his colleagues were in a position from which they could see no escape and perhaps anticipated death. He further says, “Indeed, we ourselves had the sentence of death within ourselves.” In the mind of Paul, an apostle who was always carrying about in his body the dying of the Lord Jesus, it seemed as though a death verdict had been adjudicated against them. Suffering for Christ reminded him much of the inadequacy of his own resources, but also pointed him to the great sufficiency of Christ’s resources. Paul placed his trust and hope in God, who raises the dead, and he was confident that the Lord would deliver him as He had delivered him in the past (v. 9b–10).

In February 1951, Southern Baptist missionary Bill Wallace, incarcerated on false charges and languishing in a brutal Chinese prison, was asked, “Bill, how are you holding out?” He weakly replied, “Trusting in the Lord.”[2] He was not relying on his own strength but depending upon God’s as he suffered for Christ.

When we take some shots for our faith, opportunity abounds to rely upon God. It causes us to pray and spend more time in His Word. The way that we respond to tribulation for our faith is a witness to those around us and indeed shows whether we believe that God’s grace is sufficient. Only in this life will we have the opportunity to demonstrate that God’s grace is truly sufficient because, in the next life, everyone will know that it is.

Third, Christians suffer for their faith so that others might thank God when He answers their prayers of deliverance for those who are suffering (v. 11). Paul gives a third purpose (ἵνα), or result, of suffering in his life. He explains that his suffering offered others the opportunity to partner with him in intercessory prayer and thank God for the answer to those prayers. Confident of God’s deliverance from his affliction, Paul encouraged the church to help in prayer. When deliverance took place—however it might come—Paul’s concern was that everyone especially thank God for the favor He showed that was bestowed through many prayers.

In 2001, Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer were held hostage in Afghanistan by Taliban forces.[3] They were apprehended for spreading the Christian faith. To complicate matters further, the 9/11 events occurred while they were in custody. When these young ladies were taken hostage, Christians all over the world, especially in the U.S., partnered in prayer, asking God for their release from captivity. In His mercy, God answered those prayers, and Dayna and Heather were released. When that event took place, churches all over the world gave an upheaval of praise and thanksgiving to God, seemingly like never before.

We are obligated to pray for believers in Jesus who are being persecuted. God hears intercessory prayer. Though many venues are appropriate for praying, corporate prayer meetings in your local church are especially fitting for this kind of prayer. Please pray for those you know who are suffering for their faith. Persist in praying, and when the Lord answers, give thanks to Him for the way that He has responded. We have a faithful God who deserves our praise, trust and thanksgiving.

God truly is the best source of comfort in the midst of affliction for our faith. Use the comfort He gives you when you are suffering for your faith in Christ to encourage others who are suffering for their faith. Let your affliction teach you to depend upon God. Pray for those who are being persecuted for their faith in Jesus, and thank God when He answers those prayers.

Thank you, Lord, for the privilege of suffering for Jesus and experiencing some of what He did. Thank you for conforming us into Christ’s image (cf. Phil 3:10). Thank you for being with us in the midst of our affliction “even to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).

[1] James and Marti Hefley, By Their Blood: Christian Martyrs of the Twentieth Century. 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 264.
[2] Ibid., 72. See also Jesse C. Fletcher, Bill Wallace of China (Bloomington, IN: CrossBooks, 2009), originally published by Broadman Press in 1963.
[3] See Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer, Prisoners of Hope: The Story of Our Captivity and Freedom in Afghanistan (New York: WaterBrook Press, 2003).