At the heart of God’s missional engagement with humanity is a profound humility and a willingness to suffer rejection and pain. We see this all the way through the Old Testament narrative as God reaches out to his beloved people who repeatedly reject him to follow after other gods. The prophecy of Hosea, married to an adulterous wife, captures the commitment, humiliation and pain of the creator faced with his ungrateful creation.
This willingness to suffer on behalf of humanity reaches its climax at Calvary. Paul captures the extent of God’s cosmic humility in his poem of praise in Philippians 2:6-8
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
It is true that Christ’s humiliation was followed by an exaltation, but suffering and death was an inescapable part of God’s mission.
Jesus taught that his followers would also suffer if they were faithful to him and Paul outlines an impressive list of hardships that he went through. The subsequent history of the Church has been an illustration of this Biblical principle that suffering and sacrifice is a part of spreading the Christian Gospel. As Tertullian said, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.
However, in our present age (particularly in the Western world) we tend to de-emphasize this aspect of discipleship. The idea of sacrifice and suffering do not feature very highly in a world in which Christianity is often presented as a way to worldly success and the avoidance of pain.
When we invite people to be involved in God’s mission, we must not minimize the fact that it will inevitably involve some sort of sacrifice. Those who pray, give or go will almost certainly find themselves facing some sort of hardship if they are truly involved and truly effective.