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Joy Beyond Understanding: Common Ground in Suffering and Worship among Eastern European Christians During the Communist Era

Joy beyond understanding from the New Testament perspective

As soon as the Christian community was born, during the first century, the sufferings and persecution of the Christian Church was felt first from the Jewish leaders and then from political leaders. These leaders had forbidden the Apostles to spread the Gospel News, and because they did not obey them, they were beaten with rods, but they rejoiced instead to complaining because this harsh treatment, they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus (Acts 5:41).

The joy in suffering for the sake of Jesus Christ has direct connection with the spiritual presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. Jesus promised to his disciples that during the process of persecution they will not be alone because the Holy Spirit will inspire, will accompany, will sustain them in their testimonies and will enable them to share the Gospel of the Kingdom (see Matt. 10:18-20, Mk. 13:11; Luke 12:11-12, 21:14-15). This close connection between person of Holy Spirit and joy in suffering is highlighted in Acts 13:52 when “the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit” even if they had been persecuted for their faith. Also, Christians in Thessalonica, receiving the word of God “in much affliction with joy of the Holy Spirit” (I Thes.1: 6).

In his evangelistic mission, Paul experienced many trials and persecutions, but his attitude of joy in suffering, paradoxically and incomprehensibly understood by many, was an experience which Paul did not regret, he was glad that it was worthy to suffer for the sake of Gospel (2 Cor. 6:4-10). Those who persecuted them considered Paul and his companion as impostors who deserve to be punished but actually they were rejoicing and blessing people, making many people rich and possessing everything (2 Cor. 6:10).

Paul also experienced the joy beyond understanding, which did not depend on external circumstances when he wrote his Epistle to the Philippians. Probably in his cell he remembered about the first imprisonment in the jail of Philippi, when after he and his companion Silas were beaten with rods, were immobilized with his feet in the stocks, but they didn’t lament, instead they were praying and singing hymns to God. It was a joy of the Holy Spirit which Paul and Silas received to be able to sing praise God in the underground prison in Philippi (Acts 16:22-25). The Holy Spirit sustains Christians in the most difficult circumstances and gives a special joy, it is a joy that erupts into a full joy and praise toward God even in the midst of persecution and suffering.[1]

After more than ten years from the experience from the prison at Philippi, Paul wrote the Epistle to the Philippians from another prison, this time in Rome.[2] Alec Motyer shares the same perspective with F. F. Bruce “without claiming any ultimate certainty in the matter, Rome will be assumed to be the place of imprisonment referred to in Phil. 1:13.”[3] Even though Paul was in jail, imprisoned for the Gospel, he found the strength to encourage Christians to rejoice always (Philippians 3:1, 4:4). He put the same emphasis on the relationship between all endurance, patience and joy in the letter to the Colossians (Col. 1:11) while he says explicitly that “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake” (Col.1:24).

The Apostle Peter referred to a kind of Christian joy “unspeakable and full of glory” in the midst of trials, a joy that is based on the promise of the “salvation of souls” (I Pet. 1:8-9). In the same letter he put together in a direct link the mockery from the unsaved with happiness of Holy Spirit’s presence in their lives: “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you “(1 Peter 4:14).

Joy beyond understanding manifested in suffering.

Joy beyond understanding was experienced during the period of 45 years of the Communist regime in Romania by some Christians when they suffered persecution for their passion for the Gospel, for their desire to distribute Bibles in a clandestine manner. In spite of their suffering in prisons they were not intimidated by the Communist political regime, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “A miraculous power dwells in sufferings of disciples.”[4]

Joy in suffering is as difficult to understand as it is to explain

Evangelical theologian Joseph Ton, who wrote a thesis titled “Suffering, martyrdom and reward in heaven”, said that usually suffering and finally the martyrdom cause pain and fear; in anticipation of these great troubles people are despair and discouraged. According that someone to have joy in these circumstances which normally kills joy, means that those people really have very serious reasons for that.[5] Stanley Horton pointed out that besides that the Holy Spirit gives us power to bring salvation to the end, He also gives us joy and power to praise God even in the midst of persecution and suffering.[6] The Christian community has experienced suffering and persecution for Christ’s sake because “The Spirit does not form a community of triumph without scars, but rather a community of transformation, of forgiveness, of the healing of memories.”[7]

The Holy Spirit is the one who offers courage to Christians who faithfully witness their faith in Christ. Holy Spirit bring consolation in suffering, hope and also encouragement toward a bold confession.

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About the Author: Eugen Jugaru, Ph.D. (Lucain Blaga University, Sibiu, Romania), is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at the Pentecostal Theological Institute in Bucharest, Romania. He has pastored a Pentecostal church since 1993 and is the former President of Operation Mobilization Romania.

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