Suffering: Will we as Christians somehow escape it?
Many Christians falsely assume that God will somehow protect them from intense suffering. Such is by no means necessarily the case. What God does promise to all of us is the availability of inner strength by which to cope with it.
We always need to be mindful of the fact that we live in a sinful world. This makes us subject to suffering of every kind. History shows us that God has allowed even intense suffering and death to come to many who have gone before us, including believers. Even though it is possible, we have no right at all to assume we will somehow be exceptions to this. The Apostle Paul, who was probably the greatest of all God’s people, went through some very intense suffering.
II Corinthians 11:22-28
22 Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I.
23 Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.
24 Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.
25 Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;
26 In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;
27 In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.
28 Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. [Emphasis added]
Suffering became something common in Paul’s life. It is highly beneficial for us to learn from his example in how he handled it. Please look carefully at his comments that express his thinking.
II Corinthians 4:16-5:1
16 For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.
17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;
18 While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
19 For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle [our body] were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. [Emphasis added]
Even our Lord Jesus Christ who was sinless suffered greatly. His enemies did everything they could to put Him to death, and ultimately created the situation that brought that on. But right before that, He prayed for deliverance from it.
39 And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. [Emphasis added]
When Christ prayed this prayer, He knew of the suffering that was coming to Him. Yes, He knew that the agony of His crucifixion was only hours away. It is important for us to realize that while He was truly undiminished deity, He was also a man, true humanity. This means He was subject to the pain of all kinds of suffering just as we are. However, He also knew that a magnificent plan was in play. He was able to see the big picture. In other words, He knew His suffering would be for the good, even the salvation of all those people who would ultimately put their faith in all He was about to accomplish for their eternal blessing.
Then we have the situation with the Apostle Paul. Think of it! In a roughly 35-year ministry, Paul suffered shipwreck three times, merciless beatings, nearly 200 lashes, one stoning, and even false believers causing him trouble and heartache. But while he endured all this suffering, his focus was on our Lord and all the converts that would ultimately be blessed by all he was doing. Such knowledge enabled him to maintain a positive attitude through all the pain he suffered, both mental and physical.
II Corinthians 4:8-9
8 We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;
9 Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; [Emphasis added]
As we face any kind of suffering, we are told clearly what our thinking is to be. These following words were written by Paul when he was a prisoner of Rome.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.
5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. [Emphasis added]
The word “moderation” in the original language speaks of a positive, mild mannered, and confident attitude. It is to do with having the appropriate mindset that reflects a responsive, rather than a reactive, mindset. Why? Because “the Lord is at hand.” This means the Lord is right there with you as you go through the suffering. He will see you through it as you represent Him with a great attitude that reflects the understanding God’s Word provides. Through it all, Paul was constantly looking for opportunities to represent Christ and His Word to those around him. By his graciousness, the gospel of God’s grace was being presented at every opportunity.
12 But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel;
13 So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; [Emphasis added]
Furthermore, believers who learn about his situation are highly encouraged by his attitude and the work he was doing. Note this next verse in that same passage.
14 And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. [Emphasis added]
Even death from suffering represents a promotion for the believer. Paul knew this principle and lived it. Heaven is to be eagerly anticipated. All suffering for us is painful, but it is temporary. Note also what he says at the end of this letter, clearly showing the kind of response he was getting from some.
21 Salute every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren which are with me greet you.
22 All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household. [Emphasis added]
Our focus must not be on our suffering and our present circumstances. Instead, we must focus on the impact we need to have on others as we address those circumstances. Are we looking for and pursing opportunities to present the gospel of Jesus Christ and the things of His Word that would be helpful to others? That is a question we should always be mindful of.
The older I get the more I am reminded that life here in our present body is temporary. But the progressing believer’s “inward man,” the spiritual nature, is being renewed and should be getting healthier every day. Finally, the day will come when even physically we will be transformed to gain a new and perfect body to live in and enjoy for all eternity. Note Paul’s words to the Philippian believers about this.
20 For our conversation [our citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:
21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself. [Emphasis added]
As believers, we have that body and that new status to look forward to enjoying, regardless of what we experience now. Again, everything now is temporary. Time may seem to drag on, but it is short. It is nothing at all in comparison to eternity and all we should look forward to enjoying then. Our attention is to always be on that, instead of our present situation. God’s Word reminds us that our current situation is temporary. Wonderful things await us in eternity.
18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
19 For the earnest expectation of the creature [a reference to us and to all creation] waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.
20 For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,
21 Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
22 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.
23 And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
24 For we are saved [delivered] by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?
25 But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. [Emphasis added]
Aside from all this kind of suffering, we also know that Paul did some suffering strictly because of the role he played in God’s plan of introducing a whole new program for salvation and the Christian life. It was to Paul that God entrusted the revelation concerning this present “dispensation of the grace of God.”
2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God [a reference to this present age of grace and the principles of truth that relate to it] which is given me to you-ward: [Emphasis added]
To Paul alone was this message given. To him alone were these “mysteries” [secrets] revealed. These were the doctrines given to us through Paul’s writings—Romans through Philemon in the Bible.
25 Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, [this revelation that was first given to Paul to disseminate] and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,
26 But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets [literally the prophetic scriptures, the prophets knew and wrote nothing about it], according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: [Emphasis added]
The Lord gave Paul alone this message of grace he was to disseminate throughout the Gentile world of that time. He even got a glimpse of heaven itself, as recorded in II Corinthians 12. However, to keep Paul humble, God allowed him to suffer an ailment we know only as his “thorn in the flesh.” In other words, we are not given the specifics about the nature of this ailment.
II Corinthians 12:7
7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. [Emphasis added]
Paul diligently prayed three different times for the Lord to remove this suffering. In each case, God refused to remove it. Here is the record of what the Lord told him.
II Corinthians 12:8-9
8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. [Emphasis added]
Our Lord made it clear to him that this suffering would be to his advantage. The power of Christ would rest upon him. Paul’s response, as ours should be, was only positive. He realized God’s provision in addressing it would be adequate and ultimately a great blessing for his life for then and in eternity.
II Corinthians 12:10
10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. [Emphasis added]
God wants to use suffering in our lives to only make us stronger in our relationship with Him. What can possibly be wrong with that?
As in exercising, it is often said, “No pain, no gain.” The pain created in exercising creates strength. In this case, the suffering of pain we experience in this life can make us stronger and create a sense of satisfaction we would not have otherwise.
From all this and more we should be able to understand Paul’s words at the close of his life.
II Timothy 4:6-7
6 For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.
7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: [Emphasis added]
In that day, the form of execution for non-citizens in the Roman Empire was crucifixion. It is quite likely that because Paul was a Roman citizen, he was beheaded. Speculation has it that Paul was so excited about finally getting to arrive in his heavenly home, he ran to the place where he would be executed. Whatever the case, we know once Paul realized his mission on earth was done, he was excited about going to heaven, just as we should be.
Whatever time we have left here, we should all want to do our best to help others understand the way of salvation so they can end up in heaven, too. Such is our greatest mission in life.
14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher [a proclaimer]?
15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! [Emphasis added]
Let us not neglect this work that is even an opportunity for us. For we know that great reward awaits all those who diligently serve our Lord.
II Timothy 4:8
8 Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing. [Emphasis added]
Confession: Do we need to confess our sins for forgiveness?
Forgiveness: Are the sins of everyone forgiven?