“Do your best,” the apostle Paul writes to protégé Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God has one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Paul is promoting a kind of eager, committed persistence for the...
Do you ever wonder why so many Christians endure incredible suffering? Nearly every day I hear of another believer or Christian family facing a tragic, heartbreaking, or dire situation. It’s hard to push away the immediate question: “Why?”
Why does there have to be so much pain? Why is life so heavy for so many of those who are following Christ? Why isn’t God protecting his people?
I’ve wrestled with these questions many times in my own family’s trials. Sometimes, it seems, the deeper our faith-roots go, the more the trials come.
However, as I have seen the deep work Christ has done in our family through the trials, I’ve grown in my understanding of why God allows so much suffering for those he loves, and why the Church needs to learn to suffer with the hope of Christ.
Reflecting Our Savior’s Suffering
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. (1 Peter 4:1)
If the Church follows a suffering Savior, we should prepare ourselves to suffer with him. If even Christ learned obedience through what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8), then how much more do we, as his people, need to learn obedience through suffering?
God’s Word says clearly that, since Christ suffered in the flesh (to the point of death) for the sake of our freedom from sin, we too should expect to suffer as we follow him: suffering for the name of Christ; suffering to learn obedience; and suffering to cease from sin.
Yet we have hope the suffering world doesn’t know:
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (5:10)
Just as Christ’s suffering had an eternal purpose, every moment of our suffering has a purpose and is preparing us for our promised eternity with Christ (Romans 8:28). We have this hope and joy in even the most despairing of circumstances; it’s what declares the infinite worth of following Christ to the world—and most powerfully as we share in his sufferings.
Reflecting Our Savior’s Comfort
Not only do we share in Jesus’ sufferings, we share abundantly in his comfort (2 Corinthians 1:5). In the words of Charles Spurgeon,
It is a blessed thing that when we are most downcast, then we are most lifted up by the consolations of the Spirit. One reason is, trials make more room for consolation. Great hearts can only be made by great troubles. The spade of trouble digs the reservoir of comfort deeper and makes more room for consolation. God comes into our hearts—He finds it full—He begins to break our comforts and to make it empty; then there is more room for grace. The humbler the man is, the more comfort he will always have, because he will be more fitted to receive it. Another reason why we are often happiest in our troubles is this—then we have the closest dealings with God.¹
Suffering with hope also proves our faith genuine.
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)
When suffering hits, it either drives us away from Christ or drives us to him. As believers, suffering is used as the “pressure” to reveal what is inside us and to teach us endurance. As we are strengthened by Holy Spirit, we endure. As we endure, the Spirit grows in us the character of Christ. And as we grow in the character of Christ, we experience hope, a hope that is found in our faith being proven genuine.
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The truth is, it’s easy to follow Christ when everything’s going according to our plans and life is comfortable. It’s often not until we pass through the furnace of affliction that our faith is proven genuine, and as we see the evidence of Christ at work within us, we grow in hope.
As the church, we shouldn’t seek out suffering, but we also shouldn’t fear it. When we see a fellow Christian suffering a senseless tragedy or carrying a burden that we can’t imagine carrying, we may be tempted to ask, “Why?” But we can pray and trust that Christ will be near to them in their pain, sufficient in their weakness, and will use it to accomplish his good purposes.
Reflecting our Savior’s Gospel
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (2 Corinthians 4:7-10)
We live in a world that tirelessly pursues comfort, success, and happiness. If we, as believers, experience nothing but these benefits, why would anyone take notice of the treasure we have in Christ?
When we are broken, yet hope-filled, the treasure of Christ shines through our brokenness. For this reason, when the church suffers for the sake of Christ, it shows what a treasure the true gospel is and exposes the emptiness of false gospels, like the prosperity gospel.
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Millions are being sucked into the lie that if we have enough faith, God will prosper us in an earthly sense. But when suffering hits, they don’t know how to reconcile their reality with what they’ve always believed about God, which often leads to anger, despair, and rejection of the “goodness” of God.
However, the true gospel says that, in God’s goodness and love, he sacrificed his only Son to give us forgiveness of sins and eternal life with him, not heaven on earth. In God’s grace, he allows trials to separate us from a love for this world and from seeking our happiness in its shifting sands, in order to free us to love him more and find eternal security, hope, and joy in him alone.
For this same reason, we shouldn’t see suffering as a hindrance to our ministry to others, but as the very means God may use to minister the life-giving hope of the gospel to those around us. The treasure of the gospel is most powerfully displayed through our broken cracks, and the power of Christ is most greatly seen through our weaknesses.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, our suffering is never just about us. It is meant for our growth, the growth of the body, and to magnify the power of the gospel through weak and broken vessels.
Reflecting Our Savior
Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. (Romans 12:10-12)
Suffering has a way of setting aside our differences and drawing people together in a common goal. Christians are “one body,” which means we should be always be marked by unity and love in Christ. But the reality is, the Church is filled with redeemed sinners.
We are commanded to love one another with brotherly affection. But that doesn’t come naturally, does it? So how does Christ grow this love in his children?
Whether we like it or not, this happens most often on the road of suffering.
The reality is, the body of Christ needs suffering because it has a way of stripping away our false pretenses, our outward goodness, and our independence from Christ and each other. As Christ reveals our weaknesses, shows us the depth of our need for him, and comforts us in our affliction, we will grow in humility, unity, and love towards one another.
The church was never meant to be a place filled with perfect, whole, lukewarm people. Rather, it is made up of broken sinners who have been redeemed and are in the process of being made whole into the image of Christ.
In his goodness and love, we can trust the Lord to use our trials for the purpose of identifying with him, uniting us to each other, and using us to witness to a hurting world the life-giving hope of the gospel.