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Suffering Has Benefits
1 Peter 4:1-8
Suffering Has Benefits
1 Peter 4:1-2
Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.
Intro: No one wants to suffer, yet that is the reality of life on earth. Peter points out that one aspect of suffering is the restraint of sin in our lives. Usually we do not know why we are going through a particular struggle and it leads some to doubt their salvation and God’s love for them. Paul helps in this area by pointing out that our suffering actually is evidence of our salvation not the absence of it. Romans 5:1-2 list several ways a Christian can be sure of this. Verses 3-5 give additional benefits of suffering. If we respond the right way in the face of trouble, trials and suffering then some positive things will develop in our lives.
Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
Christians do suffer, they are not immune because they are saved.
How should they respond to these trials? Peter and Paul are providing us what we need to face whatever comes into our lives and be victorious in our response.
Realizing God is at work in our lives should strengthen our resolve to handle things with confidence. When our faith is weak our response will be harder to handle, when we do not understand that God is working doubt and fear can grip our thinking and matters become even harder to handle.
Paul says that Christians should and can respond to their trials by rejoicing in them. This gets the attention of the unsaved. They look at our response as strange, abnormal, or even irrational but it gets their attention.
His exact words are: “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
Paul points out the progression of our development through suffering.
Each of the words in these verses is of great importance, and we are going to look at some of them in detail. But if someone should ask me, “What is the most important word?” I would say that it is the word know in verse 3. The phrase reads, “because we know. . . . ” “Know” is
important because knowledge is the secret to everything else in the sentence. Christians rejoice in suffering because of what they know about it. John8:32, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”
You have all heard the tired atheistic rebuttal to Christian doctrine based upon the presence of suffering in the world. It has been expressed in different forms, depending on which unbeliever you talk with. But one common form goes like this: “If God were good, he would wish to make his creatures happy, and if God were almighty he would be able to do what he wished. But his creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness or power or both.” That objection lacks any serious examination, it assumes that our lack of suffering is an ultimate good and that the only possible factors involved in our situation are the alleged benevolence and alleged omniscience of God. The Christian knows that there is more to the problem than this.
Whenever you are brought face to face with a situation that causes suffering, emotional, physical or spiritual, it is hard. So it is natural that Still, the problem of suffering is a big one, and it is not easy to answer.
Suffering is Always Hard
No matter who you are, suffering is not something that most people look forward to. We tend to want calm and peace in our lives. But, life if anything is unpredictable, we never know what a day will bring. The struggle can be in a wide area, our children, our job, our friends, our
neighbors, our health, the list is almost endless.
1. Corrective suffering. The most obvious category of suffering for a Christian is what we can call corrective suffering, that is, suffering that is meant to get us back onto the path of righteousness when we have strayed from it. God deals with us like you would deal with a child that is disobedient. If a child needs correcting, he should receive it, and if he has the right kind of father or mother, he does. Why? Is it because the parent likes to inflict pain? Not at all! Rather, they understand that a child has to learn that he or she is not free to do whatever seems desirable irrespective of the needs or feelings of others, and that there are painful consequences whenever anyone persists in wrongdoing.
It is the same in the case of the divine Father and those who are his spiritual children. The author of Hebrews quotes Prov 3:11-12—“‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as a son’”—concluding that we should: “Endure hardship as discipline. . . . For what son is not disciplined by his father?” (Heb 12:5-7).
This is always the first possibility I consider when things happen in my life. I ask God to show me if there is some sin in my life that needs to be corrected. If it is, we need to confess it and get back on track.
2. Suffering for the glory of God. A second important reason for suffering in the lives of some Christians is God’s glory. Therefore, although when we suffer we should always ask God whether or not the suffering is for our correction, we should never automatically assume
that this is what God is doing in the life of someone else. Actually another person’s suffering may be an evidence of God’s special favor.
How is that possible?
If you look in John 9 you will read about a man who was born blind. The blind man was at one of the gates of the temple when Jesus and his disciples passed by. The disciples made the mistake of thinking this man was a sinner, worse than most which resulted in his blindness. They asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). That is a strange question since the man was born blind, how could sin be an issue?
Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (v. 3). Jesus was now going to give them a lesson in suffering. The sole cause of this man’s having spent the many long years of his life in blindness was so that, at this moment, Jesus might heal him and thus bring glory to God.
That idea is hard for many people to accept, particularly non-Christians. But it is not so difficult when we remember that life is short when measured by the scope of eternity and that our chief end is to glorify God—by whatever means he may choose to have us do it.
It was this knowledge that enabled Hugh Latimer to cry out to Nicolas Ridley as they were being led to the stake in Oxford, England, in 1555, “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England as (I trust) shall never be put out.”
Only those who have their eyes on eternity can assume this perspective.
3. Suffering is part of Satan’s plan. A third kind of suffering is illustrated by the story of Job from the Old Testament. The story begins with Job as a happy and favored man, with a fine family and many possessions. But suddenly he suffered the loss of his many herds and the death of his ten children, and he did not know why. His friends came to try to help him sort it through. In fact, the Book of Job is a record of the limitations of human reasoning in wrestling through these tough problems. But we know why Job suffered, because the book tells us why at the very beginning. It was because of a conflict between Satan and God. Satan had made the accusation that Job loved and served God only because God had blessed Job physically. “But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face,” said Satan (Job 1:11).
Actually the reason God allowed Satan to go after Job was sin in his life (Job 3:25) there we read that Job greatly feared, not just fear but great fear. Job was right with God on many levels but when it came to his children Job lacked faith in God. This was one area that Job had not committed to the Lord. God knew that Job would stand the test from Satan and as a result glorify the Lord. But, God was also dealing with Job in this area of trusting Him. God allowed Satan to have his way knowing that Job would handle the situation. Job lost everything, but in a posture of complete suffering he worshiped God, saying: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised” (v. 21). Then we are told: “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (v. 22).
God allowed Satan to attack Job with limitations and protections in place by the Lord. The result was the spiritual growth of Job, Satan defeated and God honored.
This story explains a great deal (perhaps most) of the suffering some Christians endure. I imagine that for every believer who is suffering with a particular form of cancer there is also a nonbeliever in exactly the same condition and that the Christian praises and worships God in spite of his afflictions while the unbeliever curses God and bitterly resents his fate. God is showing that the purpose of life lies in a right relationship to him and not in pleasant circumstances. For every Christian who loses a son or daughter there is a non-Christian who experiences the same thing. For every Christian who loses a job there is a non-Christian in like circumstances. This is the explanation of life’s struggles. It is the ultimate reason for the drama of history. In the end it is a powerful witness to our faith, our God and our hope. All of which helps the Christian endure the suffering with a measure of calmness. At the same time the unsaved are angered, bitter and driven from God, failing to understand the difference.
4. Constructive suffering. The fourth purpose of God in suffering is what Paul presents in Rom 5, namely, that God uses our troubles, trials, and tribulations to form Christian character. Evangelist Billy Graham illustrated this by a story from the Great Depression. A friend of his had lost a job, a fortune, a wife, and a home. But he was a believer in Jesus Christ, and he hung to his faith tenaciously even though he could see no purpose in what was happening and was naturally oppressed by his circumstances. One day in the midst of his depression he was wandering through the city and stopped to watch masons doing stonework on a huge church. One was chiseling a triangular piece of stone. “What are you doing with that?” he asked.
The workman stopped and pointed to a tiny opening near the top of a nearly completed spire. “See that little opening up there near the top of the spire?” he said. “Well, I’m shaping this down here so that it will fit in up there.” Graham’s friend said that tears filled his eyes as he walked away, for it seemed to him that God had spoken to say that he was shaping him for heaven through his earthly ordeal.
Having approached our subject from the perspective of God’s purposes, we are now ready to see what Paul says suffering will do in the lives of Christians, and why this is reassuring. What benefits does suffering bring?
First, it produces perseverance. The full meaning of this word is clear when we consider it together with the word for “suffering.”
So the word as a whole means to “live under something.” If we take
this word together with the word for tribulation, we get the full idea, which is to live under difficult circumstances without trying, to get out from under them. We express the idea positively when we say, “Keep on keeping on.” It is hanging in when the going gets tough, as it always does sooner or later.
So here is one thing that separates the immature person from the mature one, the new Christian from one who has been in the Lord’s school longer. The new believer tries to avoid the difficulties and get out from under them. The experienced Christian is steady under fire and does not quit his post.
Second, just as suffering produces steady perseverance, so (according to Paul) does perseverance produce character. Other versions translate this word as “experience.
Paul is saying that he does not want to be disqualified, but rather to be judged “fit” as a result of his sufferings and self-discipline.
It is the same in our Romans text, where Paul says that the sufferings of life or the pressures of merely trying to live for Christ in our godless environment produce endurance, which in turn proves that we are fit.
A nine-year-old-boy was asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
The boy said, “A returned missionary.”
He did not want to be just a missionary, but a returned one—one who had been through the fires, had them behind him, and was shown to have been of real value in God’s work.
We saw why we can rejoice in them. It is because they lead to endurance, endurance to an approved character, and character to an even more steadfast hope. Finally, Paul indicates that the steadfast, approved character created by perseverance in its turn produces hope. Here we have come full circle. We started with hope. We saw it as an assurance of what will one day be ours, though we do not possess it yet. Then we looked at our sufferings. And all this is further evidence of our security in Christ—when we share in Christ’s sufferings and embrace them in like fashion.
If you look at a comparison between the growth of the Chinese church during the relatively peaceful years of the nineteenth and early-twentieth century’s, and the years since 1950, when the Communists took over. By the end of the “missionary period,” there were approximately 840,000 Christians in China. Today, however, after forty years of the most intense persecutions and suffering, the Chinese church, numbers over fifty million. It was the suffering of the church that produced character, the ability not only to survive the persecutions, but also to win many others even in hard times.
Let me leave you with this, according to the Bible, suffering is not harmful; on the contrary, it is a beneficial experience. It is beneficial because it accomplishes the beneficent purposes of Almighty God. It is part of all those circumstances that work “for the good of those who love him . . .” (Rom 8:28).
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