In the last post, we look at three things that we should consider (or question) when we are going through suffering, or when we know someone who is: that (1) Some sufferings are caused by our sin, (2) Some sufferings are caused by other people’s sin, and (3) All sufferings are because of sin. We looked at the cause for our sufferings. In this post, we shall look at two other points that will help us understand the purpose of sufferings, that (4) Christians will suffer, and (5) Our sufferings are ultimately for God’s glory.
4. Christians will suffer
If you are a Christian, then suffering because of Jesus’ name is not an option. The good news is that this is a promise, we have certainty, and we don’t need to guess. Well, perhaps not so much a good news. Anyway … Jesus promised it. The early believers went through it. The apostles cautioned us about it. There is no way around it. However, it does not mean that every Christian will suffer at the same level, and it does not have any correlation whatsoever to the size of your faith. If anything, perhaps the more you trust in God, the more you will be persecuted by this world. Jesus, in John 15:19-20, says,
“If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”
Apostle Peter also tells us in 1 Peter 5:6, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” and he is talking about suffering for being a follower of Christ. A friend recently asked me, “Must all Christians suffer? Can we live our lives without undergoing suffering at all? My answer was, “Yes.” Before he got some relief, I quickly said, “But only under two conditions. One, you don’t tell anyone that you are a Christian. Two, if you do, don’t share the gospel with anyone.” He then replied, “How could he then still claim to be a Christian?” That’s exactly the point.
If you call yourself a Christian, then you are the prey of the roaring lion aka. the devil. The gospel is offensive because it calls sin ‘sin’, calls people ‘sinners’, and urged sinners to turn and repent. The world will hate that. His sheep will respond. But the unrepentant sinners will loathe and insult you. However, if you don’t share the gospel at all, how can you still resonate with Apostle Paul who said in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel”? Jesus said in Matthew 10:32-33,
“So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
How can you say that you do not deny Him if you never open your mouth about your allegiance to Him? So, if you are a Christian, you cannot help but proclaim Jesus. If you do, then you will suffer. Nobody can become His disciples if he or she does not want to pick up the cross. I don’t think Jesus is referring to weight-lifting here. This is full-blown suffering in the hands of this world who rejects Jesus.
Many people theorise that persecuted churches are growing because they are persecuted. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” Tertullian said. However, I think it’s more correct to see it another way. The persecuted churches are growing not because they are persecuted. The persecuted churches are growing because they are radically unashamed of the gospel and they unapologetically proclaim Jesus against the cultural grain of the society, and because of that, they are persecuted. The growth is not the result of the persecution. The growth is the result of their radical faithfulness to the gospel. The persecution is simply what the world will do, as Jesus has predicted, to His faithful followers.
So, Christians will suffer. No question about it. However, if you know that you suffer because of your identity as Jesus’ follower, then you should rejoice like the Apostles did because they “were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” of Jesus (Acts 5:41), and Peter even claim that you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you (1 Peter 4:14). Interestingly, suffering becomes for us the mark of being His disciple. Therefore, it should ironically serve as an encouragement for us.
Don’t get me wrong, though. We must not then go out and ‘look for’ suffering. We are not sadistic or fatalistic. What we need to do is to simply be faithful. Focus on that, and suffering will come, and be ready.
5. Our Sufferings are Ultimately for God’s Glory.
“Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Such was God’s introduction to Satan in Job 1:8. That was the beginning of Satan’s multiple blow on Job. His wealth was stripped away mercilessly, his children was taken from him, his health was not spared, only his life and his wife were spared. Obviously, Satan knew that Job’s wife would serve Satan better alive than dead. All of these, for what? For God to prove to Satan that there is still someone on earth who trust in God for who God is, not for what God can do for him. And that brings God immense glory. God is pleased to use Job both to refine him and to prove Satan wrong. To use Philip Yancey’s word, it was ‘cosmic contest waged in heaven’ between God and Satan. Job did not know this. But we do. So, never rule out this possibility when you go through suffering for no reason whatsoever. Although, of course, if He ever considers me blameless and upright, I am tempted to urge God to keep it to Himself and don’t boast about me in front of Satan.
Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 1 that he boasted about the Christians in Thessalonica for their steadfastness and faith in all their persecutions and in the afflictions that they are enduring. Paul encouraged them to continue to resolve to do good works in the midst of their suffering so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in them, and they in him. Peter said that if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name (1 Peter 4:16).
“It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” That was Jesus’ verdict as to why the man was born blind in John 9:3. The man was born blind, suffered through all his childhood and early adult life, for one reason, that God’s glory will be manifest in him.
Suffering will unearth our true aspiration, whether we are really living for God’s glory, or whether we are shooting for our own glory. You can pretend to praise and to love God when things are well. But the pretension is quickly dissolved when suffering comes. What’s left is the real you. If you are living for your own glory, then suffering will bring you down, will humble you, will reduce you to nothing so that you cannot help but acknowledge, willingly or reluctantly, that God is glorious in His own right. If you are living for God’s glory, then your perseverance in suffering will magnify His Name before the watching world, and as your reward, your suffering will produce character and hope (Romans 5:3-4).
In conclusion, do not let suffering stray you away from God. Allow suffering to remind you of the reality of sin. Allow suffering to teach you a lesson about your own sin. Allow suffering to be an evidence of your faithfulness. In the end, allow suffering be a tool in the hand of a loving God to bring Him glory. God is ultimately about His glory.
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)
The lyrics of “Bring the Rain” song by MercyMe has been an encouraging reminder for me from time to time. With that, I conclude this post.
I can count a million times
People asking me how
I Can praise You
with all that I’ve gone through
The question just amazes me
Can circumstances possibly
Change who I forever am in You
Maybe since my life was changed
Long before these rainy days
It’s never really ever crossed my mind
To turn my back on you, oh Lord
My only shelter from the storm
But instead I draw closer through these times
I am Yours regardless of
The dark clouds that may loom above
Because You are much greater than my pain
You who made a way for me
By suffering Your destiny
So tell me what’s a little rain
So I pray
Bring me joy, bring me peace
Bring the chance to be free
Bring me anything that brings You glory
And I know there’ll be days
When this life brings me pain
But if that’s what it takes to praise You
Jesus, bring the rain