In 1 Thessalonians Paul is concerned for his recent converts to Christianity because they are suffering great conflict, just as he had and just as he had told them they would. He is writing to encourage and strengthen them in their faith so that they will not be shaken. Paul writes,
“Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.” (1 Thes. 3:1-4)
We know that Paul had seen many come to saving faith and had been run out of town by a jealous, angry mob for preaching Christ (Acts 17:1-9). And here we see again Paul’s heart of love for these believers. He does not avoid the subject of suffering but he sees himself as a pastor who has a job of preparing his people to suffer.
For us, the topic of suffering is one we often avoid. I mean, no one wants discomfort and pain. And some even go so far as to teach that Christians are not supposed to suffer. They teach that if we are suffering then we have a lack of faith or have some sin in our lives. But is this true? Is suffering really from a lack of faith or is suffering supposed to be a part of the normal Christian life?
Christians do suffer, but why do they suffer? And since it does happen, how should we respond to suffering? Those are the three main questions that we are going to look at in this blog series: 1. Is suffering supposed to be a part of the Christian life?; 2. Why do Christians suffer?; and 3. How should Christians respond to suffering?
Is suffering supposed to be a part of the Christian life? Or is it a lack of faith? In other words, should Christians suffer?
Let’s think about it. Did the apostle Paul lack faith? How does the Bible portray him?
Philippians 1:21 “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Philippians 3:8 “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
It would seem pretty clear that Paul did not lack faith, so then did Paul suffer? In 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 Paul describes some of what he had been through, “with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.”
Ya, I think Paul suffered.
Here’s the truth: suffering is God’s will. I’m just going to put up a few texts that I think show this truth quite clearly:
1 Thessalonians 3:3, “that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.”
Philippians 1:29, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake”
And think of the words of Jesus in Luke 9:23-25, “And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?”
Or in John 15:20, “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”
Or Paul’s words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:5, “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
It is God’s will that His children suffer. It is not about a lack of faith, but in a sense you could say it is because of their faith.
BUT WHY?!? What is the purpose of Christian suffering? Why is suffering God’s will? We’ll look at the “why” in part two of this blog.