Why do Christians Suffer?William Gray<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
Many Christians and non-Christians as well believe that God would not let any bad thing happen to them. They are therefore disillusioned when they incur suffering. They have grown up hearing stories where the ending is regularly "they lived happily ever after." There have been many books and articles written, some by well-meaning individuals, where the implication is that God would not let anything "bad" happen to His people. I heard a preacher recently relating a story of a young missionary couple who were excitedly awaiting their first child. The child died during birth, and the mother died a few days later. The preacher reported that he "comforted" the devastated dad/missionary by telling him that God had "nothing to do with the tragedy." The truth is that scripture clearly states that the Lord God is all powerful, always able, always present, and can and does control all things. He is sovereign.
The absolute fact is that the Lord Jesus works all things after the counsel of His own will. It is not an afterthought, and it is not an accident. The Lord God is in control and He reigns! It is also an absolute fact that "all that will live Godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (II Timothy 3:12). As we look at pertinent portions of God's Holy Word, Scripture reveals that suffering is sure to occur, and the Lord has chosen to reveal some of the reasons to His people.
A. THE SUFFERING OF JESUS
The first and perhaps the most significant reason which the Lord has revealed to His people for the answer or answers to the question of why people suffer is because Christ suffered. Obviously, the disciple is not above his Master nor the servant above his Lord. Jesus Himself said, "If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you." Indeed, in the 10th chapter of Matthew, we see that Jesus sent forth the disciples with the following warning:
"Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: Be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to the counsels, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; and ye shall be brought before governors and kings for My sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what you shall speak, for it shall be given you in that same hour what you shall speak. For it is not you that speak, but the spirit of your Father which speaks in you. And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death and the father of the child; and the children shall rise up against their parents and cause them to be put to death. And you shall be hated of all men for My namesake: but he that endures to the end shall be saved." (Matthew 10:16-24)
So we see that because they hated Jesus, they will also hate us. It is recorded that the wicked gnash their teeth on the righteous. So, you may ask, why is it that Jesus was persecuted? It is recorded in Isaiah 53: 1-10:
"Who hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation: for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And He made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand."
So the suffering of Christ was necessary according to God's divine plan.
God's Word also sets forth in the book of Hebrews additional revelation to aid our understanding. In Hebrews Chapter 2, it is written that Jesus, having been made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, was crowned with glory and honor that He, by the grace of God, should taste death for every man (verse 9). And then we see these astounding words: "For it became Him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings." Clearly, Jesus is the Captain of our salvation. God is delivering men today through his Captain, His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Why then is it necessary that the "Captain" suffer? Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, has always been perfect, hasn't He? The answer is yes, of course, in His divinity. Jesus was morally perfect, but as Pastor Emeritus Frank M. Barker, Jr. at Birmingham's Briarwood Presbyterian Church says, "He was morally perfect, but He was not perfect for the task of being the perfect leader, . . . the perfect Captain, . . . until He had suffered." In order to be the captain of us guilty rebels, deliver us from our guilt and the hell we deserved, He had to suffer as our substitute.
We read in II Corinthians Chapter 5 that "He who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." And then we also read in Peter's First Epistle in verse 21-24:
"For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps: Who did not sin, neither was guile found in His mouth: Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously: Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed."
This then tells us affirmatively that Christ suffered for us as our substitute, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. This reveals that suffering is part of God's eternal plan for the Great Substitutionary Atonement of Christ for His people. In Isaiah 53, we see that even though Christ was always morally perfect, "yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin. . . ." Thus, the suffering of Christ was necessary so that we and all of His children could be brought to glory. It was fitting that God should do it this way to demonstrate for eternity and for the whole world that God truly is offended by sin. Sin is serious business. It killed us and it killed Jesus. However, the really good news is that the tomb is empty, and Jesus conquered death and sin for both you and me. The grave could not hold Him. Nevertheless:
"It is in the cross of Christ we see
How God can save, yet righteous be.
It is in the cross of Christ we trace
His justice and His wondrous grace."
Salvation for God's children could not be done any other way. It is imperative that we understand that seemingly simple fact. Once we understand that it was necessary for Jesus to suffer and to die and to be resurrected from the dead to "bring many sons to glory," then we also readily come to the correct understanding that Jesus is the only answer for sin. He is the only way to the Father. It could not be done any other way. How do we know? Because Jesus prayed to the Father: "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me." Three (3) times the Son prayed to the Father, and three (3) times the Father said there is no other way, it is not possible, You, my Son, are the way, and this is the only way.
Therefore, we recognize that Scripture affirms that it was necessary for Jesus to suffer and to die for us in order to bring "many sons to glory." However, in order to be one of those sons, you must appropriate the finished work of Christ by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and by repentance toward God. This means surrender your will to the Lord's will in true repentance to the Lord Jesus Christ as your captain, as your sovereign and place your trust in Him alone to forgive your sins on the basis of His substitutionary atoning death. Have you done that?
B. The Suffering of Believers
The Privilege to Suffer
Most of us do not like to suffer. It is difficult for many to believe that we would suffer as a result of being a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. In Paul's letter to the Church at Philippi, the Lord's Word specifically tells us that the privilege of suffering for Christ's sake is a gift. Certainly, we recognize that salvation is a sheer gift, "For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God. . . ." In Philippians, Paul affirms to the Church at Philippi that salvation is a gift, but that suffering is also a gift. In verse 29 of the first chapter, Paul says, "For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake." While faith is a sheer gift, the realization of the fact of the gift does not alter the responsibility of the individual to receive the Lord Jesus Christ. "Today is the day of salvation." "Today, if you will hear His voice, harden not your hearts as in the provocation." Thus, we see that there is a command for us to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; we are the ones who are responsible if we do not believe. Of necessity, this involves surrender of my will to the Lord's will in true repentance - a real turning from doing things my way to a real decision and purpose to do things the Lord's way. Then, in an act of faith, we place our trust in Jesus alone for our salvation, relying on Him and trusting in Him to do what He has said He will do and give us eternal life.
Just as salvation is a sheer gift, we see in this 29th verse in the first chapter of Philippians that suffering is also a gift. This means, of course, that we stop looking at the second cause of our suffering and remember that the Lord God is the first cause. He does ordain and establish all things whatsoever that come to pass. Suffering may even be at the hands of evil men, but it is given as a gift from the lord God. God rules in the kingdom of men and gives it to whomsoever He will. The Lord God does His will in the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of the Earth, and none can say unto Him what doest thou, and none can stay His hand. He rules over the affairs of men, and nothing can touch you until it has gone past His shield. Notice also that the suffering is for Christ's sake. Charles Simeon once said that we can think of this as Jesus approaching His Father and saying, "Father, I want to ask the highest honor that can be given, the highest blessing, for a particular individual. I want this particular person to be given the honor of suffering for Me." So if you think about it, that would be like Jesus saying, "Father, I ask that you would allow Bill, or Tom, or Susan, or anyone else to suffer for My sake." This is the great privilege that is given. Clearly, this is what we are to think when we do suffer. Clearly, this is how we should regard suffering. The Apostle Paul even says that there is an eternal reward as a result of this suffering. In II Corinthians 4:17, Paul says, "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."
Jesus Himself says in the Gospel of John in the 15th chapter that "He is the vine and we are the branches and that every branch that brings forth fruit, shall be pruned that it bring forth more fruit." Persecution and suffering is one of the ways in which the Lord God actually prunes us. This results in spiritual boys becoming spiritual men, when babes in Christ grow into men of God. Indeed, the Apostle Paul urges these Philippian Christians and us to "have the same conflict which you saw in me, and now here to be in me" (verse 30). What Paul is saying to them, of course, is that they had seen him beaten and thrown into prison. He is telling them that if they are true to the Lord, they will also suffer with the same type conflict which they saw occur to him. Indeed, as we have seen above, all who live Godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. Can you say in the sincerity of your own heart, "Lord, help me to live Godly in Christ Jesus?" Can you say in the sincerity of your own heart, "Lord, let me suffer for your sake?" Of course, the Lord Jesus never leaves us nor forsakes us. Of course, we can ask Him to strengthen us in our inner persons by His Holy Spirit, that Christ would dwell in us by faith, that we, being rooted and grounded in love, would be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, and know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that we would be filled with all the fullness of God. Of course, we may and should ask Him to help us to have on the whole armor of God, that we would be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
C. THE PURPOSE AND RESULT OF SUFFERING
We have already seen that it is a privilege to suffer for Christ. We have also seen that there are eternal rewards that result from suffering for Christ. In his letter to the Church at Rome, Paul says in the 8th chapter as follows:
"For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For you have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but you have received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father, the Spirit itself bearing witness with our spirit that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. 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." (Romans 8:14-18)
§ So, If We Suffer With Him, We Shall Also Be Glorified Together!
It is truly amazing that we, who are by nature children of wrath, are made alive in Christ Jesus according to God's holy will. We have been blessed with spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world. One of those blessings is that after we have been made alive in Christ, we are adopted into God's family. We are made His children. Here, in verse 17 of the 8th chapter of Romans, we see that if we're children, then we are heirs and joint-heirs of God with the Lord Jesus Christ. He adds that if we suffer with Him, we shall also be glorified together.
In His book, "Knowing God," J.I. Packer said:
"Do I, as a Christian, understand myself? Do I know my own real identity? My own real destiny? I am a child of God. God is my Father; heaven is my home; every day is one day nearer. My Savior is my Brother; every Christian is my brother too. Say it over and over and over to yourself first thing in the morning, last thing at night, as you wait for the bus, anytime when your mind is free, and ask that you may be enabled to live as one who knows it is all utterly and completely true. For this is the Christian's secret of a happy life? Yes, certainly, but we have something both higher and profounder to say. This is the Christian's secret of a Christian life, and of a God honoring life."
The writer of the book of Hebrews also tells us that Jesus, the Captain of our salvation, who was made perfect through sufferings, took flesh and blood upon Himself, that through death, He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil (verse 14). To what end?
To deliver those who, through fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
§ To Make us Like Christ
Wherefore, everything that occurs to us is to make us like Christ. In Romans 8:29, Paul writes:
"For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren."
Thus, we see that all that occurs to us is by the hand of God for the purpose of making us to be like Jesus for the purpose of producing glory to God.
§ To Produce Present Joy and Future Rewards
In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's account, Jesus says:
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you" (Matthew 5:10-12).
Wherefore, our attitude ought to be in accordance with Jesus' commandment. When we are persecuted for righteousness' sake, he tells us to rejoice and be exceeding glad. That's difficult for us to do sometimes until we really get a handle on what suffering is all about. This idea of suffering, persecution, rejection for Christ's sake is to make us like Jesus; to suffer as our Master suffered; to refine us and to bring about a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. It is reported that an old Puritan preacher once said: "The more the pot is scoured down here, the brighter it is going to shine up there!" Wherefore, we are to rejoice and be exceeding glad. We are told the reason why we are to rejoice and be exceeding glad is first, for our reward in heaven is great; second, because we are enabled to see the resemblance that we have to the prophets which were before us. Jesus tells them, "For so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." Pastor Emeritus, Frank M. Barker, of Birmingham's Briarwood Presbyterian Church said:
"If no one is persecuting you for righteousness' sake or saying all manner of evil against you falsely for Christ's sake, then you must not be making much of an impact as a Christian!"
As a Christian, we should be telling the truth in such a way that others are actually disturbed by hearing the truth. Remember that the preaching of a crucified Savior, the preaching of Christ crucified, is to those who are perishing foolishness. It is a stumbling block to the Jew. It is foolishness to the Greek. But to those who are being saved, it is the power of God and the wisdom of God. Are you making sure that you are speaking the power of God and the wisdom of God? Don't be ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. Be bold and be courageous. Make it known to anyone who will listen. Be a humble but disturbing influence among non-Christians.
§ The Ultimate Result
Ravi Zachirias, of Ravi Zachirias International Ministries, tells the story of a young lamb whose mother died giving birth. As it happened in the course of events, there was another mother sheep giving birth at the same time. In that instance, the lamb died. The shepherd who was keeping watch over the flock, thought that the ready remedy was to give the surviving lamb to the surviving mother so that she would adopt the surviving lamb, feed the lamb, and make the lamb her own. However, the surviving mother would not. She sniffed on the surviving lamb, did not recognize the scent, and rejected the little lamb. The shepherd prayed. He soon came up with the idea that he would take the coat off of the dead lamb and clothe the live lamb with the coat of the dead lamb. When he did that, the surviving mother smelled the little lamb, the little lamb smelled like her own, she accepted the little lamb, nursed him, and he lived. Is not this what our Great and Mighty God does for us? Jesus, the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world, clothes us with his righteousness. "He who knew no sin, became sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him". He covers all of our sin with His own precious blood and we are "made accepted in the Beloved". Our Heavenly Father then, who cannot bear to look on sin, looks on us as the little surviving lamb, clothed in the righteousness of Jesus and is satisfied.
"Because the sinless Saviour died
My sinful soul is counted free;
For God, the Just, is satisfied
To look on Him- and pardon me."
Zachirias' story aides us in understanding what the Father has done for us. "For God, so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life". Jesus died for us and took our punishment, our sorry record, gave us His perfect record and clothed in His righteousness, we are accepted in the Beloved.
Finally, perhaps now that you understand a little more about the nature of suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ and of His people, you can rejoice and be exceeding glad when you are persecuted for righteousness' sake.
May the God of all grace be and abide with you, particularly during this Christmas season, that you may know Him, the only true God, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Now, unto Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we even ask or think according to the power which works in us in the Church by Christ Jesus, to Him be glory, and praise, and honor both now and forevermore world without end, amen!
Your Friend and Brother in Christ,
Worldview Weekend Foundation
PO BOX 1690
Collierville, TN, 38027 USA