This is a follow-up to my post, Take Up Your Cross. In the previous post, I made the confession “I no longer believe taking up your cross is all about suffering. I find it has so much more to do with grace, humility, hope and love.” God has been churning that confession in my heart. As such, I believe it deserves expounding.
As Christians, we are familiar with Luke 9:23 “If any of you want to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” Most often, the most familiar teaching attached to this verse has to do with the suffering associated with following Jesus – and how we have to choose to partake in His suffering (i.e. taking up our cross.) We made suffering “the way” of Jesus.
I would suggest there is a greater lesson to be understood. I am not discounting any sermons associated with this passage or the fact that we are called to join Jesus in His suffering. However, we, or at least I, have often missed the bigger picture of Jesus’ instructions for following Him.
Does Following Mean Suffering?
Every time Jesus talks about others hating us or suffering as His followers (Matthew 10:22, Matthew 24:9, John 15:19-22 and Acts 9:16) He tells us it will happen as a result of following Him. I believe the reigning choice, is not to suffer, but rather to follow Him, which will inevitably include suffering. Most specifically, I suggest we may have been focusing on an outcome, when in fact the focus is on being His follower. Suffering will come, but after the choice to follow.
He never gave us the choice to suffer, except in following Him. Nor does He command us to suffer. He doesn’t say, “Follow me by suffering”. He never commands suffering, but tells us, if you choose me you will be hated and suffer. He also assures trials and tribulation. He doesn’t say we can avoid it, or that we can choose when, where or what. He is clear suffering will come. So suffering isn’t the choice, but taking up our cross is. Remember “If”?
I’ve been praying and meditating on what the practical and visible choice of taking up our cross looks like. I’m convinced it’s love. Jesus said love God, love others, love each other, and make disciples. I’m confident that our choice to love others is the cross Jesus meant for us to take up. Here’s why. Like I mentioned in the previous post, Jesus made it a habit of turning what we thought we knew on its ear. He routinely changed how we interpreted following God. The cross is no exception. He took an instrument of pain, suffering, and death and turned it into a vehicle of love, forgiveness, and life. Since His crucifixion, the cross hasn’t been seen the same way. We even wear them on chains around our necks!
Love, Not Suffering
Jesus didn’t come for the sake of suffering. He came for the sake of love. What happened to Him while on earth as a man should never overshadow why He allowed it to happen to Him. It was because of His love for us. Telling us to take up our cross has little to do with suffering. Instead, He asks us to choose to turn from our selfishness, love others (that is taking up our cross) and follow Him. Loving those that are lovable is easy, but try loving those that aren’t. It feels a lot like cross bearing when we have to CHOOSE to love someone we don’t want to love, or feel is undeserving.
Our choice is not to suffer. Our choice is to love God and love others, which sometimes brings suffering. Suffering is not the way of His followers; love is the way of His followers. We choose daily to love God, and everyone else that we come in contact with, regardless of how we feel about them. And every day we choose which cross we will bear.
Are you carrying the cross of suffering? Or are you carrying the cross of love?