Summary: Part 1 of a 3 part series on suffering.
The Joy of Suffering
I preceded this series by examining the false view that God guarantees us health, wealth and a carefree lifestyle. This was absolutely necessary for a number of obvious reasons. We are to uphold truth. The belief that our inheritance is in this life distorts the scriptures, therefore, it is impossible to understand the higher purposes of God without first correcting the misunderstandings many are taught to believe. If we are taught that we are guaranteed a healthy, prosperous life in tranquility, then suffering can only mean failure of our own spiritual lives or frustration against God for failing to meet our expectations. Many teach that suffering is the result of sin, a lack of faith, or the anger of God. If this were true, each time we suffer we would have to ask, “Why me?” or, “What have I done?” What Christian can thrive and spiritually mature under the constant fear of falling out of favor with God? The faith of many Christians are overthrown because they view trouble as the disfavor of God. If this were true, all the apostles were under God’s judgment. Consider this passage from 1 Corinthians 4
9 For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.
10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored!
11 To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless.
12 And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure;
13 being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now.
If these men did not understand suffering, then they would have given up and could never have endured to the end. If their only hope in this life was suffering and then death, how could they endure? Even the apostle Paul stated that if there was no eternal hope, they should eat and drink to live it up until the time to die. Instead of men of sorrow, defeated in this life, in Acts 5, we see the apostles rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Jesus’ name.
It is a travesty and an injustice to every believer that the church has avoided the topic of suffering as though it were a plague. Human nature longs for comfort and peace. We, by nature, will avoid suffering at any cost. I don’t want to suffer and I don’t know anyone who does want to suffer. However, suffering is a part of life. We live in a fallen world and we dwell in a world that is at war with God. Both spiritually and physically, creation is not as it was created to be. One day God will restore all things, but the road to eternity passes by many hardships. The travesty is that the church does not equip believers to expect suffering. Jesus made it clear, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world”. It is the responsibility of the church to disciple others to understand the purpose behind trouble and to equip them to find joy in the midst of their suffering. Let’s examine the joy of suffering.
Examples to Follow
Begin by looking at James 5
10 My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience.
11 Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord -- that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.
The prophets, the apostles and Job were all examples of suffering. The twelve apostles were men who gave up everything for the sake of the Cross. They lost their property; they lost their freedom; they lost health and were beaten; and ultimately they lost their lives. The prophets were no different. They were imprisoned, beaten and murdered for proclaiming the word of the Lord. The churches that flourished under the apostles also were plundered and impoverished and the Bible repeatedly encourages them to endure and look ahead to the end result. Our supreme example comes from Christ Himself.
Hebrews 12:1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,