Why Christians Suffer
This article was originally published in the July 2005 edition of our magazine.
Each of us will go through suffering of one kind or another. It might be physical affliction, persecution, or reverses. That suffering may be something very incomprehensible to us. God never told us in His Word that He would give us perfect understanding regarding our trials. Faith does not need perfect understanding; it just trusts in God.
In Peter's writings we read: "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you" (1 Peter 4:12). In the natural, when we are called to go through fiery trials, we wonder why. However, Peter said, "Think it not strange." The enemy will tell you that no one else has ever gone through anything like this. Do not listen to him!
Peter went on to give a wonderful formula. He said that when we suffer, we should "rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy" (1 Peter 4:13). Do not complain about your trial. Rejoice!
If the Lord is to use us, He may prove us by suffering first. He may test us and see whether we are willing to be made conformable to His death.
In writing to the Philippians, Paul gave a reason for suffering: "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death" (Philippians 3:10). Paul wanted to preach in Rome and in Spain—the thrill of reaching out for souls was in his heart. We would like to spread the Gospel, too, but the consecration must be there. If the Lord is to use us, He may prove us by suffering first. He may test us and see whether we are willing to be made conformable to His death.
Sometimes our suffering comes because we need to be chastened. The Bible teaches that parents should discipline their children, and that discipline may include chastening. Our heavenly Father sees that we, too, need chastening at times. We read in Scripture that whom the Lord loves, He chastens. (See Hebrews 12:6 and Revelation 3:19.) If we rebel against the chastening, we are rebelling against what we need.
Job is a wonderful example of one whose suffering was not chastisement. God told Satan that Job was "a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil" (Job 1:8). Yet look how he suffered! The devil will tell us "If you were perfect, you would not have trials. If you were where you should be spiritually, this would not be happening." Remember, the devil is a liar. We are to examine our hearts and ask the Lord to search us. If the suffering that comes our way is for chastisement, we want to take care of the matter. However, every time we suffer, it is not necessarily chastisement.
Job recognized that God had given him all that he had. If God saw fit to take it away, He had a right to do so. Job had worshiped before and he worshiped after his great losses.
Satan observed that Job was a man of wealth, and that God had put a hedge about him. He proposed that if God would touch what Job had, Job would curse God to His face. Possibly Job would have done so if he had been serving God for material blessings. However, God was going to prove Job, and He let Job's possessions be taken away from him. Tragedies happened, one after another. What was Job's response? We read, "Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, and said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:20-21). Job recognized that God had given him all that he had. If God saw fit to take it away, He had a right to do so. Job had worshiped before and he worshiped after his great losses.
Next, Satan suggested that if Job suffered physically he would forsake God, so God allowed Job to be smitten with terrible boils. Then, in the midst of that suffering, Job's wife told him to curse God and die. However, Job's faith remained steadfast. In Job 19:25-26, we find these words: "For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God." He stated, "When he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold" (Job 23:10). Down through the ages, these verses have encouraged Christians who were going through the fire. Because Job endured, we have some of God's most glorious promises to us. Job was suffering for your encouragement and for mine. Maybe you and I will have some suffering to bear for someone else. May the Lord help us if it comes!
When God directed Ananias to go to Paul, He indicated that Paul was a chosen vessel who would take the Gospel to the Gentiles. Then He added, "For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake" (Acts 9:15-16). If we think we are going to serve the Lord in order to have an easy life, we think wrongly. God was calling Paul to go and publish the Gospel. One would think that the Lord would prosper a man like that—would give him perfect health and keep His hand of protection over him. It did not work that way, but the Lord allowed all of Paul's suffering.
In Romans 8:28, we find a wonderful promise: ''And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." Circle that word "all." If you are a child of God, all things work together for good. We hear accounts of people who have been afflicted, some of them right to the point of death. Can we trust God then? Paul said, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?" (Romans 8.35). He gives the answer: "Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us" (verse 37). We are not just conquerors, but more than conquerors!
Paul gives another reason for afflictions: to keep us humble.
Paul gives another reason for afflictions: to keep us humble. Paul had a "thorn in the flesh" and he did not like it any more than the rest of us would. Three times he asked for deliverance. God did not deliver him, but told him, "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness." How did Paul respond? "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (2 Corinthians 12:8-9). Somehow it was revealed to Paul that this affliction was to keep him from being exalted, and Paul accepted this as being from God and for his ultimate good.
There is a benefit, a blessing, that will result from our suffering. "If we suffer, we shall also reign with him" (2 Timothy 2:12). Oh, what a day that will be! The Bible tells us that Jesus endured the Cross, looking ahead to the joy that was set before Him. That ought to be our goal also.
Suffering prepares us to serve. In Paul's letter to the Corinthians, he said that God "comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God" (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). We will not be able to preach the Gospel or to witness effectively unless we have first gone through something ourselves. We can better comfort the sick if we have been sick. We can better proclaim the promises of God if we have stood on those promises ourselves.
In the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, the writer tells how the heroes of faith conquered. However, in verse 35, the tenor of his discourse begins to change. We read of those who "had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented" (Hebrews 11:36-37). Were those who did not accept deliverance any less heroes than those who were delivered? No, for their names are listed in the same chapter of the heroes of faith.
Was Peter more of a hero of faith than James? Does Peter stand any higher in God's estimation than James? No! God can make us heroes of faith even if He never heals or delivers us.
Stephen was the first Christian martyr. Herod then slew James with a sword. Next he took Peter and was going to kill him also, but the Lord miraculously opened the prison gates, and Peter walked out a free man. Was Peter more of a hero of faith than James? Does Peter stand any higher in God's estimation than James? No! God can make us heroes of faith even if He never heals or delivers us.
In 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, Paul refers to a time when he felt "pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life." But he determined that his trust would be "in God which raiseth the dead." God is able to raise the dead; He is able take care of us when we are pressed beyond measure. God is able to take care of us when the last breath is leaving our bodies. Our God is able!
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus requested, "Remove this cup from me." However, He added a bit more to His prayer, saying, "Nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done" (Luke 22:42). It was God's will that Jesus go to Calvary; it was God's will that Jesus give the last measure of His physical strength unto death that we might be saved.
Today, can we say, "Thy will be done"? May God help us to anchor our faith in God, and trust Him when the times of testing come!