James 1:2-4 – My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (NKJV)
Let’s review our major points so far:
- Life is tough simply because we live in a fallen, sin-cursed world. (Gen 3)
- We frequently suffer because of the consequence of our own sin. (Gal 6.7-9)
- The Bible contains ALL the answers we need concerning adversity. (Psalms 19; 2Tim 3.16-17; 2Pet 1.1-3)
- We are not in control of life. (Habukkuk 3.17-18)
- If you walk in the Spirit, God will cause adversity to work for your good. (Romans 8.28)
- Suffering turns head knowledge into heart knowledge. (Job 42:5)
- Adversity brings an opportunity to display the character of Christ so that others might be saved. ( 2Cor 4:8-11; 1 Pet 3:14-15)
- Prayer and singing are a Godly response to tough times. (Acts 16)
- Hardship should make us long for Heaven and to be with Jesus. (Rev. 7:16-17; 1Pet 1:3-5 )
- God uses adversity to transform us into the image of Christ (Heb 12.11;1Pet 1.6-8)
- Tough times pull us back on the right path when we have strayed away (Psa 119.67)
- We accept suffering for Jesus sake and His glory (Luke 6.22)
- Hardship allows us to better relate to and sympathize with others (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)
- We should always respond to adversity with thanksgiving (1 Peter 4:12-13; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
- Tough times give us an opportunity to see God’s faithfulness (Psalm 119:75-77; 1 Thessalonians 5:24)
Suffering Can Restore Our Obedience To and Fellowship With God
Sin separates us from God before we are saved and it is an ultimate, eternal separation. After we are saved by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, sin continues to separate us from God in the sense that we can create distance between ourselves so that we do not enjoy close fellowship with the Lord on a daily basis. Losing that fellowship is critical because it is fellowship with God that empowers us (through the Holy Spirit) to live a sanctified (holy) life, which then draws us even closer to God, resulting in an even greater holiness; and so on and so on. It is a positive cycle of sanctification.
Just the opposite is true as well. When we sin, we diminish our fellowship with God, which decreases our power to overcome sin and live a holy life, which results in more sin, which results in even greater deterioration of fellowship. This is a negative cycle that feeds on itself, and can grow into a great storm generating its own momentum and destruction. Only God can stop the cycle. And frequently He uses suffering to do so.
1 Corinthians 11:30 – For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. (NKJV)
What is the “reason” spoken of in this verse? If you read the preceding verses you will find the topic to be the Lord’s Supper. The apostle Paul tells the Corinthians to examine themselves before partaking of Communion. He then warns them that their failure to do so had resulted in negative physical consequences… even death.
By not participating in the Lord’s supper with a pure heart and an attitude of self-examination, they were treating the Memorial of the greatest event in history with casualness, disrespect and dishonor. Of course this is a great insult to God and would logically result in immediate diminished fellowship with Him. In fact it was such a great affront to God (and no doubt still is) that many in the congregation had become weak, sick, and some had even died. This leaves us with something very serious, and admittedly very touchy, to think about when we look around at churches today that are filled with the weak, sick and dying.
Could it be that some of this physical affliction is due to a flippant, shallow attitude towards the things of God? Of course, only God knows, and only He can judge the heart of the individual. But when something this plain is proclaimed in Scripture we should sit up and take notice. It would be both foolish and tragic for us to somehow think that this could ONLY apply to those people back in Paul’s day.
1 Corinthians 5:5 – deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (NKJV)
Here is another example of God ordaining (not causing) suffering as a result of sin. The previous verses speak of one consumed in immorality who should be turned over to Satan for the “destruction of the flesh”. In our modern time of being taught to “love ourselves” and “forgive ourselves” this seems to be a terribly harsh and unloving act on God’s part. But in reality it is the most merciful of acts. Notice the end of the verse. What is the purpose behind the destruction of his flesh? It is to save his soul. And what could be more merciful than that?
Suffering Can Preserve and Increase Our Obedience To and Fellowship With God
2 Corinthians 12:7 – And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. (NKJV)
God even allowed the apostle Paul to suffer in order to increase fellowship with Him and keep Paul from self pride. If God in His wisdom knew that the Apostle Paul needed suffering to ensure his fellowship with God, how much more do we need it? What if the Lord Jesus himself had to suffer to learn obedience? Then would you agree that we should have suffering as well for the same purpose? Of course, you might think the idea that Jesus “learned obedience” to be nonsense. Surely Jesus didn’t “need” suffering , right?
Hebrews 5:8 – though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. (NKJV)
Hebrews is filled with tough verses. I can’t even begin to scratch the surface of understanding how the Son of God, the Spotless Lamb, who was and is fully and completely God, somehow needed to “learn” obedience through suffering. But there it is in Scripture plain as day. And while that is an infinite truth well beyond my ability to ever grasp or comprehend, I accept God’s word by faith and come to the conclusion that if the Savior of Mankind learned obedience through suffering then how much more do I need to suffer to learn obedience?
If you never studied anything about suffering again, these four verses alone should completely revolutionize your viewpoint and result in some very significant self-examination of your life. Suffering can restore, preserve and increase our obedience to God and result in greater fellowship with the Lord.
Lord God, Help us to see that the tough times in life can restore, preserve and increase our obedience and fellowship. What a small price to pay to enjoy being close to You! In Jesus name, Amen.
Contemplation: If you’re in the midst of suffering and affliction (or recall the last time in your life that you were) did you stop and ask God if the adversity was occurring because you had drifted away from Him? This is not ALWAYS the reason as we have discussed in this series, but I would personally believe from my experience that it is probably the reason more often than we are willing to admit. Do you truly see adversity as a blessing, because it increases your fellowship with God? Or because it pulls you back into a fellowship that has been diminishing over time? Are you weak, sick, or dying? Have you asked yourself if it is because there is something concerning God that you have taken lightly or had casual disrespect for? I’m not declaring that IS the reason. I’m declaring it MIGHT be the reason. Those are very tough questions. Sometimes we don’t ask because we don’t want to know the answer. If Paul needed suffering to stay humble, how much more do you need it? It Jesus learned obedience through suffering (even if we don’t understand it) how much more do we need suffering to learn to be obedient?
Application: When we think of suffering, we immediately think of it as “bad”. It would be more accurate to say that suffering is always “painful.” But to say that it is “bad” is a gross misunderstanding of God’s Word. It is not bad, it is not to be avoided, it is not to be immediately alleviated every time it occurs. It is a blessing from God. It has many uses and when viewed from God’s perspective, always results in good. No, we’re not to go looking for it, God will bring it to us when we need it. The more we began to truly see suffering the way God sees it, the less we will see it as “suffering” and the more we will see it “blessing”.
- What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
- What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
- What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?