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Christian Suffering

People ask all the time why they are suffering.

Scenario: A woman places her trust in Jesus.  The next thing is loss of peace in her home. Friends abandon her.  Possibly needs to change her employment. And with all of this there comes so often a lot of questions.

Today we often find as we travel and teach that so often suffering is either avoided in preaching and teaching, or it is poorly explained.

Suffering for many people is something to be avoided and because of that one of the most common prayer requests is to be relieved of suffering.

My most common question I ask people as a pastor is “How are you planning on honoring God in this situation?”  A second one that usually follows that is “What are you learning about yourself and God in this situation?”

Today we want to briefly give some basic reasons or purposes for suffering in a Christian’s life.

Number one, it was something promised by Jesus to us.

"These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." (Jn. 16:33)

“For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” (Matt. 10:35-37)

Note the purpose in the “I came TO . . . .”  

Note the purpose built into this in the final verse.  It is used to reveal where our true love is found.

Number two, God prepares us to enter into His presence through suffering.

"The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Rom. 8:16-18)


"Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." (Acts 14:22)

A good pastoral question would be, “Is this suffering you are enduring worth it, if heaven is at the end of it??

Number three, God uses suffering to humble us.

“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

(2 Cor. 12:7-9)

Paul was given a great vision but with it came great suffering.

We don’t know what the thorn is but it was enough to cause him to plead for relief.

This is a great passage to consider when you see people who make their whole so-called ministry about some grand vision they had.

In America we celebrate victory and strength.  But the bible more often celebrates weakness and dependence upon God.

Is it possible that you are suffering so as to humble you?

Number four, God uses suffering to bring out His strength in the midst of our weakness.

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  (2 Cor. 12:8-10)

This is something we should devote a whole episode to at some point because it is woven throughout the bible, but is often missed.

We want to minister in strength but God wants us to minister out of weakness.

We confuse ourselves and others, when we’re weak, and then when we’re healed, we think that this is what this passage is speaking of.  It isn’t.

Paul is not healed.  He is not delivered. This great thorn of suffering remains, apparently through the rest of his life.  But in doing so, God’s power then shines forth because the person is so weak.

You may be asking for deliverance when God is saying no, you will remain weak.

Number five, God uses suffering at times to discipline us.

“You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin;  and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him; For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives.  All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” (Heb. 12:4-6, 11)

The first point in verse 4 is worth noting.  The writer doesn’t give a lot of sympathy to his readers.  He tells them that they’re suffering as badly as they think they are.  Basically he is saying, “Get over yourselves.”

But what’s clear, is that our heavenly Father disciplines His children.  So to not be disciplined, is to not be loved by God.

Story about Erlan:

This was a failure I had as a young pastor. A real question asked, and I too quickly passed it by. The man apostatized.

There are good points here for parenting BTW.

God is interested in making us holy.  We can do this the easy way through submission and obedience.  But when we choose not to then discipline is the other pathway we experience.

So a person should pause for a moment, at the very least, and ask if they might be undergoing the discipline of the Lord.

Number six, suffering brings you to Christian maturity.

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (Jas. 1:2-4)

We don’t rejoice in the trial. Trials are painful.  But we rejoice in the purpose of the trial---which is to form in us, Christ-likeness.

Number seven, suffering reveals true faith.

“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 1:6-7)

We are promised in the prior verses that we have an eternal inheritance waiting for us after death.  And we are promised that we ourselves are kept utterly safe in Jesus. That is what verse 6 is speaking about.

Then he says that our faith is tested through this suffering and it burns away all of the “fake” faith, so that what’s left is the proven faith, the genuine faith.

In the midst of your suffering then, how is your faith being purified? How are you seeing aspects of your faith that you thought was true faith to be just dross?

Number eight, suffering reveals the false Christian.

The parable of the sower in Matthew 13.

The shallow soil (“rocky places”) is the heart that’s not changed.  So Jesus says, “he has no root in himself…..”

Therefore when the trials and suffering comes it dies.

Number nine, suffering reveals the true Christian.

The opposite of Matthew 13 is also true.

“We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater; therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure. This is a plain indication of God's righteous judgment so that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. (2 Thess. 1:3-5)

We should learn never to be impressed with anyone until we see them truly suffer.  It reveals the real person.

Paul rejoices and is filled with thanksgiving because he hears of their endurance in the face of hardship.

Number ten, A Christian shares in Christ’s suffering.

“More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ,  and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” (Philippians 3:8-10)

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) in filling up that which is lacking in Christ's afflictions.” (Col. 1:24)

So, in Philippians, as well as here, in Colossians, it’s speaking of the intimate relationship that Christians have with their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Paul was told by the Lord, in Acts 9:16 that he was being called by Christ to suffer for Christ’s name’s sake.

So, in this passage, then, he takes these ideas of suffering for the sake of Christ and having a sharing, or fellowship, in Christ’s sufferings, and enlarges it even more. Now he says that it is more than merely suffering, or sharing in suffering, but that he is also filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.

Now what is meant by this?

It would be wrong to assert that Paul was filling up what was lacking in the atonement.  In other words, that somehow Christ’s work of covering our sins with His blood was inadequate.  In fact, there’s no mention, here, of the atonement, but rather, of the afflictions—or the sufferings.

The answer, then, as to what the phrase means, lies in the middle of the verse, where it’s written,

“. . . and in my flesh, I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church). . .”

So what we have, here, is that intimate union between Christ, the head of the Church and His body, the Church itself.

In other words [listen carefully], though the work of atonement for our sin is a finished work by Christ, the suffering that’s attached to that atoning work is not finished.

So Christ has perfectly atoned for sin, but there’s an amount of suffering that’s ordained by God for His Body—the Church—to endure.

But it’s a suffering, in which Christ participates with us, just as our own head suffers when our bodies suffer.

Suffering is hard and we should not treat it lightly.

Suffering is, in part, simply a fact of life as a human in a world under the dominion of sin.

But suffering is also something uniquely given by God to His children by which we are purified, matured, affirmed and humbled.

More importantly, it’s the way God has ordained that His strength is seen in and through us.


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