Why Do Christians Suffer?
As Pastor Parkey continues to minister with a missionary team we support in Cuba, longtime member Bill Fischer takes to the podium again, this time to teach on why Christians suffer. The more he dug, the more scripture supported the suffering of Christians for the edification of God’s kingdom.
Suffering is anything which hurts or irritates. In God’s design, it is also something to make us think. It is a tool God uses to get our attention and to accomplish His purposes in our lives in a way that would never occur without the trial or irritation.
Illustrations of Suffering
All Christians suffer. Why me? Why now? What is God doing? Either you have, you are, or you will (Acts 14:22 (NLT)). This reality is a stark reminder that we have not reached the new heavens and new earth. The New Jerusalem of no tears and no pain, of no mourning and no death, hasn’t arrived yet. The New Jerusalem of no tears and no pain, of no mourning and no death; it hasn’t arrived yet. But just because we experience suffering as we await the redemption of our bodies, it doesn’t mean that our suffering is random or without purpose. And neither does it mean that Scripture doesn’t tell us how to think about our suffering now.
Suffering is a tool God uses to get our attention and to accomplish His purposes in our lives. It is designed to build our trust in the Almighty, but suffering requires the right response if it is to be successful in accomplishing God’s purposes. Suffering forces us to turn from trust in our own resources to living by faith in God’s resources. It may be cancer or an illness. A call late at night from the police about a loss of someone close to you. It might be a note on the kitchen table from your spouse asking for a divorce. It may be a personal failure or disappointment in your job or schoolwork. It may be a rumor that is circulating in your office, damaging your reputation, bringing you grief and anxiety. It can be anything that ranges from something as small and irritating as the bite of a mosquito to facing a lion in the lions’ den as did Daniel.
General Causes of Suffering
- We suffer because we live in a fallen world where sin reigns in the hearts of men.
- We suffer because of our own foolishness. We reap what we sow.
- We sometimes suffer because it is God’s discipline.
- We may suffer persecution because of our faith—especially when we take a stand on biblical issues, i.e., suffering for righteousness sake.
Of course, all of these do not apply at the same time. All suffering is not, for instance, a product of our own foolishness, self-induced misery, or sin. Suffering can reveal areas of need, areas of weakness, and wrong attitudes that need to be removed like dross in the gold-refining process.
Purposes and Reasons for Suffering
1. We suffer as a testimony, as a witness.
When believers handle suffering joyfully and with stability, it becomes a marvelous testimony to the power and life of Christ that we claim and name. Suffering provides key opportunities to manifest and magnify the power of God through His servants in order to verify and confirm the messenger and his message. It provides opportunities to reveal our credentials as ambassadors of Christ. This includes the following areas:
- To glorify God.
- To manifest the power of God to others. Each time he said,
- To manifest the character of Christ in the midst of suffering as a testimony to win others to Christ
2. We suffer to develop our capacity and sympathy in comforting others.
3. We suffer to keep down pride.
The Apostle Paul saw his thorn in the flesh as an instrument allowed by God to help him maintain a spirit of humility and dependence on the Lord because of the special revelations he had seen as one who had been caught up to the third heaven. Trials keep us humble and centered.
4. We suffer because it is a training tool.
God lovingly and faithfully uses suffering to develop personal righteousness, maturity, and our walk with Him. In this sense, suffering is designed:
- As discipline for sin to bring us back to fellowship through genuine confession
- As a pruning tool to remove dead wood from our lives (weaknesses, sins of ignorance, immature attitudes and values, etc.) The desired goal is increased fruitfulness. Trials may become mirrors of reproof to reveal hidden areas of sin and weakness
- As a tool for growth designed to cause us to rely on the Lord and His Word. Trials test our faith and cause us to use the promises and principles of the Word.
- As a means of learning what obedience really means. It becomes a test of our loyalty (Heb. 5:8). Illustration: If a father tells his son to do something he likes to do (i.e., eat a bowl of ice cream) and he does it, the child has obeyed, but he hasn’t really learned anything about obedience. If his dad, however, asks him to mow the lawn, that becomes a test and teaches something about the meaning of obedience. The point is, obedience often costs us something and is hard. It can require sacrifice, courage, discipline, and faith in the belief that God is good and has our best interests at heart regardless of how things might appear to us. Regardless of the reason God allows suffering into our lives, rarely does it not reveal areas of need, weaknesses, wrong attitudes, etc., as it did in Job.
Suffering itself is not the thing that produces faith or maturity. It is only a tool that God uses to bring us to Himself so we will respond to Him and His Word. It forces us to turn from trust in our own resources to living by faith in God’s resources. It causes us to put first things first. Ultimately, it is the Word and the Spirit of God that produces faith and mature Christlike character.
The key word is “the proof of our faith.” “Proof” is the word dokimion which looks at both the concept of testing which purifies, and the results, the proof that is left after the test. The Lord uses trials to test our faith in the sense of purifying it, to bring it to the surface, so we are forced to put our faith to work.
5. We suffer to bring about continued dependence on the grace and power of God.
Suffering is designed to cause us to walk by God’s ability, power, and provision rather than by our own. It causes us to turn from our resources to His resources.
6. We suffer to manifest the life and character of Christ (The Fruit of the Spirit).
The production of the character of Christ. This has both a negative and a positive aspect:
Suffering helps to remove impurities from our lives such as indifference, self-trust, false motives, self-centeredness, wrong values and priorities, and human defense and escape mechanisms by which we seek to handle our problems (man-made solutions). Suffering in itself does not remove the impurities but is a tool God uses to cause us to exercise faith in the provisions of God’s grace. It is God’s grace in Christ (our new identity in Christ, the Word and the Holy Spirit) that changes us. This negative aspect is accomplished in two ways:
- When out of fellowship with the Lord: Suffering becomes discipline from our heavenly Father. This involves known sin, rebellion and indifference to God.
- When in fellowship: Suffering becomes the loving and skillful handy work of the Vine Dresser to make us more productive. It involves unknown sin, areas we may not be aware of, but that are nevertheless hindering our growth and fruitfulness. In this case, suffering often constitutes mirrors of reproof (John 15:1-7).
when believers live under suffering joyfully (i.e., they endure and keep on applying the promises and principles of the faith), Christ’s life or character will be more and more manifested as they grow through the suffering. This means trust, peace, joy, stability, biblical values, faithfulness, and obedience in contrast to sinful mental attitudes, blaming, running, complaining, and reactions against God and people.
7. We suffer to manifest the evil nature of evil men and the righteousness of the justice of God when it falls in judgment.
Suffering at the hands of people (persecution, violent treatments) is used of God to “fill up the measure of their sins.” It shows the evil character of those who persecute others and the justice of God’s judgment when it falls.
8. We suffer to broaden our ministries.
In the process of producing Christian character and enhancing our testimony to others, suffering often opens up doors for ministry we could never have imagined. Paul’s imprisonment (chained daily to Roman soldiers in his own house) resulted in the spread of the gospel within the elite imperial praetorian guard. The Apostle was undoubtedly continuing to rejoice in the Lord, but if he had been complaining, sulking, and bitter, his witness would have been zero.
In conclusion, here are five important biblical truths about suffering every Christian should have ready:
1. Suffering is multifaceted.
Suffering has many faces. The Bible doesn’t whitewash our experience of suffering by saying that it’s all of one stripe. Rather, it recognizes the multifaceted ways that suffering can come upon us. The apostle Paul wrote, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8–9). In these two verses, Paul lists several types of suffering — mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual. Each of these are different ways that we can suffer, and when suffering comes, often several of these types of suffering are involved.
2. Suffering happens in community.
Christians still suffer as we wait for Jesus to return, but none of our suffering is random or without purpose. The church is not meant to be a loosely bound association of functional Lone Rangers. Paul confronts that type of thinking when he writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
The church is meant to be a refuge for those suffering. When a member is hurting, the church applies the bandages; when a member is down, the church encourages; when a member is in need, the church comes alongside to help.
3. Suffering equips us for ministry.
Firsthand experience in suffering is essential in equipping us for ministry. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:4 that God “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” But how? And what is the link between experiencing suffering and equipping for ministry?
When you’ve passed through your own fiery trials and found God to be true to what he says, you have real help to offer. You have firsthand experience of both his sustaining grace and his purposeful design. He has kept you through pain; he has reshaped you more into his image. What you are experiencing from God, you can give away in increasing measure to others. You are learning both the tenderness and the clarity necessary to help sanctify another person’s deepest distress.
4. Suffering is a battleground.
Wherever there is suffering, there is a battle for your soul. The book of Job shows us there can be two ways to respond to suffering: one that curses God because of suffering and one that praises God, even in the midst of suffering. (Job 2:9-10)
5. Suffering prepares us for more glory.
God says a lot about suffering in Scripture so that you know where to look when the pain comes to you. One of the counterintuitive truths about suffering is that it prepares Christians for more glory. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:17–18, “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.”
These verses are like sandpaper on our modern sentiments about suffering. We naturally try to avoid suffering at all costs. But God brings suffering in our lives for the sake of our eternal joy — yes, even glory.
As the words to the well-known hymn, “How Firm a Foundation,” remind us (from God’s perspective):
When through the deep waters, I call thee to go
The rivers of grief shall not thee overflow
For I will be with thee, in trouble to bless
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie
My grace all-sufficient shall be thy supply
The flames shall not hurt thee, I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine
- Acts 14:22(NLT)
- Revelation 21:1 (NLT)
- Galatians 6:7-9
- Hebrews 12:6
- 2 Timothy 3:12
- 1 Peter 1:6-7
- 2 Timothy 2:8-10
- 1 Peter 4:16
- 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
- John 9:3
- 2 Corinthians 4:8-12
- 1 Peter 3:14-17
- 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
- 2 Corinthians 12:7
- Hebrews 12:5
- 1 Peter 1:6
- James 1:2-4
- Psalm 32:3-5; 119:67
- John 15:1-7
- Psalm 119:71, 92
- Psalm 4:1
- Psalm 62:1-8
- Hebrews 5:8
- Psalm 119:67, 71
- Ephesians 6:10
- Philippians 1:19
- Hebrews 5:8-10
- John 15:1-7
- 2 Corinthians 4:9-10; 3:18
- 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16
- Philippians 1:12-14
- 2 Corinthians 4:8–9
- Galatians 6:2
- 2 Corinthians 1:4
- Job 2:9-10
- 2 Corinthians 4:17–18
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