Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Should Christians Suffer? Part 2

In the last blog I endeavored to show from Scripture that suffering is part of the normal Christian life, in fact it is God’s will for His children. In this posting I’ll seek to explore a bit of the purpose for the suffering of God’s people.

Why do Christians suffer? Why would God will that His children have pain when He has the power to stop it?

First I want to remind us that suffering comes in all shapes and sizes. In 2 Corinthians 4 Paul lists afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hungers, treated as imposters, being unknown, dying, punished, sorrowful, poor, and possessing nothing. Wow, not a pretty picture. And James simply says that we face trials of various kinds.

But again, why? Why do we suffer? I want to mention two big reasons for Christian suffering: 1. It is for our spiritual growth; and 2. It is for our Gospel witness.

1. For our spiritual growth:

Romans 5:3-4, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,”

James 1:2-4, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Hebrews 12:10-11, “he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Painful discipline from God is for our good.

Think about what Hebrews is telling us: without God-ordained struggles we won’t be very holy – very set apart. And notice what it says – it’s not fun BUT it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those trained by it.

Trials will come; will you be trained by them or fight against them? When you plant a seed what do you do? You have to break up the soil so the seed can go down in it. That’s the kind of picture we have here. God kind of breaks up the worldliness in us to implant His holiness deep within us.

And one last place I want to look at to see this idea is 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

How serious were Paul’s sufferings? They were massive as we’ve already seen. And yet what does he call them? “Light momentary affliction.” Compared to what he will gain his struggles are as nothing. But how can he think this way? Look at those last verses again – all the comforts in this world are not going to last anyway. He lived for what would last – “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”

Again, we are reminded that suffering is part of normal Christian experience and it is designed for our spiritual growth.

2. Not only do Christians suffer for our spiritual growth but we endure suffering for our Gospel witness. When believers endure hard times with solid faith in the goodness of God in Christ Jesus unbelievers take notice.

Colossians 1:24, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,” – Paul suffered to bring the Gospel to people.

Acts 9:16, “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” In order for the Gospel to go out it will take some discomfort. This doesn’t mean you go looking for pain but for the sake of God’s chosen people you are willing to joyfully endure pain.

In fact one church father, Tertullian, wrote that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. And we’ve seen this over and over again.

Many have seen the movie, The End of the Spear, that gives a brief picture of the missionary work and martyrdom of Nate Saint. Here we see a vivid picture of how God used the death and sufferings of His children to bring many people unto Himself.

Our suffering shows the world that Jesus is more valuable than all that this life can give and all that death can take.

Suffering is God-ordained for our growth and our Gospel witness. But is suffering easy and fun? No. Then how are we supposed to respond to it? We’ll look at this in my next posting.

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