Are you worthy to suffer?

by bzephyr

A year ago at the Ukarumpa International School book parade, Josiah (right) with two of his best friends demonstrating our natural human desire to not be on the receiving end of suffering

We just finished consultant-checking the first 6 ½ chapters of Acts this morning in the Onnele languages of Goiniri, Wolwale and Romei-Barera, and in the Bauni languages of Pou and Barupu. With 28 chapters in Acts and two weeks left in our time together, we are well ahead of schedule.

It was a bit bumpy on the first day to get comfortable with the process of checking five languages simultaneously. By the second day, the vernacular language consultants from each language had a much better idea of the process and what was expected of them. And PNG consultant Aluis Simatab has been doing a fantastic job of doing what he normally does with one language among a group of five languages.

Because these languages have worked closely together in producing their translations, and because we have utilized consultant input early and often throughout the translation process, these factors make these final checking sessions doable in multiple languages. We have done this before in as many as three or four dialects from one language family, but this is the first time we have tried doing this final checking process with as many as five languages from two completely unrelated language families. To be honest, I was approaching this week with a fair bit of fear and trepidation. After the first few minutes of the second day of checking, however, my fears were set at ease. I has really been working well.

Because Aluis came down with a consistent cough a few days before we arrived in the village, he asked me to take the lead for the the last two half days. This experience will contribute to me becoming a full translation consultant myself. This will really be useful not only for the 10 languages currently involved in the Aitape West project, but also for other teams working among the 820+ languages of Papua New Guinea. It is difficult for many teams to find available consultants. We need more workers.

Aluis and I are both very impressed with the state of these translations. There are not a lot of changes needed. The hard work that has gone into drafting and revising the lengthy book of Acts over the last 3 ½ years is really shining through in these consultant checking sessions. It is so satisfying to see that the vernacular language consultants from each community are able to hear and read the translations and repeat back to us in the Tok Pisin trade language every detail that is supposed to be communicated in the verses.

Here is the most significant opportunity for improvement that we have found so far…

The three verses in Acts 5:40-42 make for a really surprising and inspiring conclusion to the story of Peter and the other apostles facing opposition for teaching about the resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit to those who believe.

v. 40 – The ruling Council has the apostles flogged (READ: with whips that have metal shards that rip the skin right off their backs). And they are commanded never again to speak in the name of Jesus.

v. 41 – The apostles leave the Council rejoicing that God counted them worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus.

v. 42 – The apostles continue to teach that Jesus is the Messiah every day in the Temple and from house to house.

This is not normal behavior. Just reading those three verses makes me smile. Makes me laugh. It reminds me of Psalm 2 that the believers quoted in their prayer of Acts 4 the first time that Peter and John were released from jail and told not to speak to anyone in Jesus’ name:

“The kings of the earth prepared for battle; the rulers gathered together against the Lord  and against his Messiah.” (Psalm 2:2 in Acts 4:26)

God’s response to this in Psalm 2 (not quoted in Acts 4) is this:

“But the one who rules in heaven laughs. The Lord scoffs at them., terrifying them with his fierce fury.” (Psalm 2:4-5)

In the same way, when the apostles are ordered not to speak of Jesus any more, they go away rejoicing that God considered them fit to suffer for the name of Jesus. I’m sure the Lord in heaven must have been laughing along with his fit apostles as he guided them and strengthened them in this episode.

In our translations, the reason for the apostles’ joy was not understood clearly. It was difficult to convey the reason for their joy, and all of the vernacular language consultants thought the apostles were happy because they had been freed and allowed to go on their way. That would be too normal. But this verse is talking about joy that only the Holy Spirit can give. This verse is talking about the joy of suffering. The joy of being a living picture of Jesus, sharing in his purposeful pain. The joy of laughing in the face of persecution because you know that you serve the one who was raised from the dead and rules in heaven (Acts 5:30-31). The joy of saying,

“We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29; cf. 4:19)

When the translators and language consultants heard a clear explanation of this verse, they were also wide-eyed and laughing. They agreed that they needed to fix their translations so that the true meaning of this inspiring verse would come out clear.

How about you? Are you a picture of Jesus in the midst of suffering? Is God’s Spirit alive inside of you? Is your life directed by the authority of God rather than men? Are you worthy to experience shame and suffering for the honor and purposes of our risen King?

Lord, let your Spirit live and laugh in me.

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2 Comments to “Are you worthy to suffer?”

  1. Ben, how exciting to see the great progress your group is making in consultant checking Acts and the high quality of the translations that have been produced over the last 3.5 years!

    Rejoicing after flogging: “This is not normal behavior”! Thanks for this reminder to be “a picture of Jesus in the midst of suffering,” living in the power of God’s Spirit.

    • Dan, it’s been good getting to know you and your family a little. I’m glad you found our blog. Sometimes I feel like I don’t often suffer specifically for the name of Jesus and passages like these don’t really apply to me. But then I am reminded that no matter what kind of trials (big or little) I am facing — even if they are not directly related to me serving and proclaiming Jesus — if the Spirit of Jesus gives me power to live in faith during these times, then the image of Jesus is still being reflected in my life for others to see the light of God.

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