This is a simple title for a complex subject. In this study we search the Word to see what God has to teach us. The perspective of this study we can easily draw from the epistle which instructs so very much on suffering, I Peter. We remember who and what we are and where we are headed. Peter writes that we are born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inherited blessedness which is imperishable. We are born anew through the imperishable, living and abiding Word of God. I Pet. l:3,4,23 We are not pilgrims mired in Dismal Swamp! No, rather we are progressing forward to the time of our upward call, moving on to our heavenly home through this admitted veil of tears. Our perspective is – from the Cross, through time, into eternity. In this study the goal is to reinforce this perspective with ample doses of Scripture.
Focus on God
Our starting point has to be our God revealed in the Word. He is: merciful, gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Ex. 34:6, Ps. 86:15, 103:8, 145:8, Neh. 9:17 This repeated description of our God bears our remembering as we view suffering. Our God does not mean us harm, but good and that always so. The only basis upon which we can practice the principle of “love covers a multitude of sins,” is because it finds its origin and compass in His love covering over our or my own personal multitude of sins. To see the epitome of this we focus on the Cross of Calvary and that suffering figure upon it. He suffered torments of body and soul as evidenced by His own words, “I thirst…My God, My God why have you forsaken Me.” Then he willingly yielded up His holy life that we might have forgiveness and life eternal in Him. “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.” I Pet. 2:24 And in doing this He has secondly given us the direction of the Way which leads to suffering or better yet through suffering. ”For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps.” I Pet. 2:21
We stare in horror and amazement at what happened on Golgotha. Our focus on it may be blurred by tears welling up in our eyes, tears first of all of joy at seeing what He did for me and you, and secondly by tears of pain as we endure the inevitable suffering that accompanies the faith. But focus we must with all we have, for He is the starting point, the power of life, the comfort and assurance and the ultimate success for us.
So dear Christian as we study suffering may we yearn with the hymnwriter:
Rise again, ye lionhearted Saints of early Christendom.
Whither is your strength departed, Whither gone your martyrdom?
Lo, love’s light is on them, Glory’s flame upon them,
And their will to die doth quell E’en the lord and prince of hell.
Would to God that I might even As the martyred saints of old
With the helping hand of Heaven, Steadfast stand in battle bold!
O my God, I pray Thee, In the combat stay me.
Grant that I may ever be Loyal, staunch, and true to Thee. Amen TLH #470 st. l,4
Three Case Studies
What we are not looking at is that suffering brought on by disobedience. For instance Jonah brought on his suffering in the deep by his open disobedience. We are not considering then repentance and any differences between worldly or godly sorrow. The sorrow we examine is brought on by doing right or it simply happens due to circumstances of our living the Christian life. Digging into the Word we examine the situations of: Job, Joseph, Jeremiah.
Job – “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” 1:21 This is his expression of faith at the dreadful announcement of the loss of his children and his wealth. In the face of severe physical affliction his faith is also expressed, “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” 2:10”…his suffering was very great.” 2:13
There is much to be learned in the exchanges between Job and Bildad, Zophar and Eliphaz. In these exchanges we have Job verbalizing what goes through his mind, and ours. In the midst of Job’s suffering we have his words that express the inner workings. Some highlights follow. Eliphaz says rightly that, “man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.” 5:7 Job concurs, “Has not man a hard service upon the earth and are not his days like the days of a hireling?” 7:1 Bildad points out, “He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouting.” 8:21 Job agrees, “Truly I know that it is so.” 9:1 Zophar pointedly asks, “Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?” ll:7-8 There is no question that in the face of disasters utter, simple faith is called for. Paraphrasing Job, ‘Come what may I appeal to Him.’ 13:15 Job’s statement of “man…of few days and full of trouble…” is an expression of not only our frailty of the flesh, but of spirit. In 27:2-6 Job maintains his faith and integrity with God. In verse two there he acknowledges it is God who has “taken away justice…who has made my soul bitter.” Yet he calls Him still the Almighty, the one who can turn things around and bring good out in the end. The problem in the midst of suffering is, as we shall ask later on, ‘How long…?’ Simply put, daily repentance and trust in God are called for. While three friends may try to pin Job’s suffering on some specific sins, it cannot be done.
Elihu, who has been anxious to speak, reminds Job of the overall principle that God chastises with suffering, 33:19-28, in order that man says “I have sinned” v.27and then that God redeems his soul from the pit v.28. This certainly we see in King Manasseh who went to the dungeon and acknowledged his sin while deep down there and was consequently brought forth. In Nebuchadnezzar turning into the wild beast of the field
and acknowledging his pride we see chastizement’s work. But in Job’s case we learn of no unrepentant sin, no specific sin that brings on this overwhelming, depressing suffering. Job’s appeal from his suffering is the general statement, “I believe, help my unbelief.” The very fact of Job’s appeal to God as with the New Testament followers is evidence that commodity of faith is still present. Elihu is right in reminding Job and propounding the integrity of God. 34:10-15 God knows what He is doing. He does not make mistakes, for He is after all God. We see in a glass darkly for our understanding is marred ever since the fall. Elihu’s words in 36:15 (I think) are, “He delivers the afflicted by their affliction and opens their ear by adversity.” By the analogy of Scripture affliction and adversity, that is suffering, become instruments through which that merciful Almighty increases faith and ultimately blesses. Rom. 5:3-5, James l:2-4, I Pet.1:6-9
The key to Job facing what he must is faith in the ultimate. “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” 19:25-27 To face what must be faced means to know the living God and ultimate victory is in Him. In the midst of suffering this must remain the focus. Then it can be said, “But He knows the way I take; when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” 23:10
“I asked for strength…And God gave me difficulties to make me strong.
I asked for wisdom…And God gave me problems to solve.
I asked for prosperity…And God gave me brain and brawn to work.
I asked for courage…And God gave me danger to overcome.
I asked for love…And God gave me troubled people to help.
I asked for favors…And God gave me opportunities.
I received nothing I wanted…I received everything I needed!”
As the above points out, when the perspective is kept of who our God is, those who endure suffering, difficulties, pain, tribulation are blessed, made joyous and benefited. God does know best. In the spiritual economy in which we operate as Christians we go so far as to say that difficulties and all that attend them are needed. We know from the Word that “…suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts…” Rom. 5:3-5
Jeremiah – James encourages us, “As an example of suffering and patience, brethren, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” James5:10 Of the Old Testament prophets, the one who has recorded the longest list of incidents of suffering over the longest period of time is Jeremiah. His ministry may have lasted as long as fifty years. In the following notice that it covers from chapter eleven to forty-four. The suffering Jeremiah faced went from words to beatings to death threats. The cause of all of this was singularly the ministry of the Word as directed by the Lord. We have no evidence that
Jeremiah was at fault and thus brought on what he faced. In other words he suffered for doing right and that for God and in God’s name. Peter’s words certainly apply to Jeremiah. “For one is approved if, mindful of God, he endures pain while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it you take it patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval.” I Pet.2:19-20
Review with me his suffering due to his ministry. Men of Anathoth threatened his life. 11:21 And to make the words cut even deeper, Anathoth was his birthplace. Pashur, the priest, beat him and put him in stocks.20:1There would be no help from this supposed co-worker of God, but only opposition. Priests, prophets and people laid hold of him saying, “You shall die,” after he prophesied. The opposition seemed near total, except of course He who is with us is greater. 26:8 Even the king, Zedekiah, imprisoned him. 32:3 So much for help from the government. The princes of Judah beat and imprisoned him.37:15 Further the princes cast him into a cistern and threatened to kill him. 38:6 He was accused of lying. 43:2 He was actually kidnapped to Egypt. 43:6 The exiles of Pathros in Egypt said, “We will not listen to you.” 44:16 Those are not the kind of words a prophet of God wants to hear.
In all of this brought on by ministry, by doing right what sustained him? Perspective and focus. In commissioning him, God reminded him that He was in charge come what may,”…I formed…I knew…I consecrated…I appointed…” 1:5And most significantly in the midst of come what may, “Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” 1:8 This focusing upon the living God was reinforced, “They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you.” 1:19 Simple faith in God’s promise was called for. Jeremiah could look beyond the beatings, above the rim of the cistern, beyond the hate-filled faces of his opponents to the ultimate, the living God, his Savior. His perspective was a view that carried beyond the captivity of Judah and beyond his own sufferings. “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which He will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’” 23:5-6
In the eighth of the beatitudes, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” we can certainly see Jeremiah (and us?). The ninth is even more specific. “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Mt. 5:11-12 The ultimate is ours. Let us learn from those who have gone before. And in our perspective let us not lose sight of the element of joy. We are His; He is ours. Blessings now even in the midst of the worst sufferings remind us to keep looking to that great reward in heaven that THE Suffering Servant won for us.
Joseph – It is one thing to suffer at the hands of King Zedekiah, the princes of Judah and a mob of people. But what if suffering is brought on by many of those nearest and dearest to you, your own kin? That has to certainly intensify the pain at least of heart. And further, what if you appear to have been released from suffering only to have it engulf you once again, and again? Fourteen chapters of Genesis detail this for us. From this detail we can find no fault with Joseph that should have brought the suffering on him. Of course he was a sinner like Jeremiah and Job and us. “All men…are under the power of sin.” Rom. 3:9 As to specific sin on Joseph’s part that induced the ill treatment, we see none. Even in the circumstances surrounding the ill treatment at Potiphar’s hands, he suffers because he did right.
Follow along in a review of the narrative. Israel loves Joseph more than the others sons.
Gen. 37:3 The strength for Joseph is not his earthly father’s at times well-intentioned but unwisely placed love. His strength was that the Lord was with Joseph with His demonstrated love. 39:2-3The brothers hate for Joseph could in no way be brought on by the mere “ill- report” 37:2 that Joseph brought to his father of them. They hated him and would not speak peaceably to him. 37:4 Their hate intensified more 37:5 and more 37:8.The problem was in the brothers with their jealousy. 37:11 This culminated in conspiring to kill him and selling him to Ishmaelites. 37:18,28 From this God brings him into Potiphar’s house and release from his suffering. 37:36 In chapter 39we see Joseph refusing evil vv. 7-9 and that repeatedly v. 10. He is trapped, and in his doing righteousness he is imprisoned. 39:11-18,20 While in prison, he interprets the dreams of the baker and the butler. He appeals to the butler to remember him when the outcome for the butler is good as foretold, for Joseph says, “I have done nothing that they should put me in the dungeon.” 40:14-15 The butler forgot him. 40:23 Only after two whole years does release come. 41:1 We see Joseph exalted finally from his up and down difficulties and sufferings. 41:39-45 Throughout Joseph’s experiences he has spoken of his God. He kept the focus, though sometimes he must have seen dimly from the pit or the dungeon. This sustaining faith he expresses in that passage which reminds us that God, the gracious, merciful, slow to anger and abounder in steadfast love is in charge. “As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive as they are today.” 50:20
In the cases of Job and Joseph we have recorded the good that comes forth at the end of their sufferings here on earth. But even in the midst of suffering there is good. In Rom. 5 we see the factory of faith producing under suffering. It is even possible to say that without suffering there would not have been produced what came forth. There is the instrumentality of afflictions and adversities in Job.36:15. In Rom. 5 suffering works out, brings forth, produces. James says that the testing of our faith works out, brings forth, produces patience. I Pet. 1:2-4 says we should “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue…” l:5 His first epistle tells us how in ample measure to do this, through suffering. I Pet.l:6-7 Triumphantly, Paul (Rom.5:3), James(1:2) and Peter (I Pet. l:6)all bring in the element of joy along with suffering. As we view the cases of Job, Jeremiah and Joseph we rejoice to see our God be God in their lives, and simple faith
in Him be increased and sustain the sufferers. It will be no different with us, if we abide in the living and active Word of God (Heb. 4:12), that Word that abides forever(I Pet. l:25). Because it is the imperishable seed by which we have been born (I Pet. l:23) and continuing in it(Jn. 8:31-32), we are free to enter heaven and live forever. This is all because THE Suffering Servant, revealed in the Word, endured and bore and triumphed. This is our perspective and focus.
The Epistle of Suffering
We do not know exactly what the “fiery ordeal” (I Pet.4:12) was that the “exiles of the Dispersion” (l:l) faced, but we know what we face. Therefore the epistle speaks to us in our adverse circumstances. Suffering is a thread that is woven throughout the epistle. A good sixteen times it is mentioned. While in the poetic book Job with its historical sections and in the historical narrative on Joseph and Jeremiah there could conceivably be some who argue that God does not want us to suffer. But in the teaching passages of First Peter God states clearly that it is in accord with His will and has His approval.
May God teach us from the passages of I Pet.
1:6-7 “…now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” The earthly/heavenly perspective is given here. The “little while” perspective/comparison is also in Paul’s “This slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” II Cor. 4:17 Paul also reminds us that we are heirs of glory in Rom. 8:18,but heirs who now face suffering, “…heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may be glorified with Him. ”Here is the perspective again of from the cross, through time, to eternity. Notice from the outset of Peter’s letter, suffering is assumed as part and parcel of our Christian life.
1:11 “…the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glory.” It all depends on Christ on Golgotha giving His ultimate that we may ultimately share in His victory. And if they persecuted the Christ, why should we expect any less. And if Christ had to undergo that which is normal to this veil of tears, why should we expect different. The point is that He did and that now He turns it all into good for us, as for Joseph so for us, as for Job so for us. “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Rom.8:18 Since we are His, called according to His purpose, all will turn out for our good. Rom 8:28
2:19”For one is approved if, mindful of God ,he endures pain while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it you take it patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval.” Peter differentiates between these two kinds of suffering. We saw suffering for doing right especially in Jeremiah’s case. As in 1:6-7 we are reminded that faith is going to be strengthened through this. What could be more proper than for God to approve of
this? He means only good for us in this troubled world with its darkness.
2:21”For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” This is part of our call. And again if they did it when the wood was green, what naturally will they do when the wood is dry? He tells us that He is with us always. How important this is for He went through so much worse than we can. He knows so well what we are going through and how to help.
2:23”When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten; but trusted to Him who judges justly.” It was on the cross that above all, “By His wounds you have been healed.” V.24 Then secondly He beckons us to return good for evil as He did. The example He set gives us a challenge in the midst of our suffering. The late Pastor Wurmbrand wrote, “Christians therefore face not the problem of evil, but its challenge. Problems depress, challenges spur us to activity. Christians in Romania saw no possibility of solving problems, but they learned to transcend them, to view them from heavenly places. For us, it was enough that the communists tortured us. We decided not to add self-inflicted torments…Every torment was only a challenge to surmount the biggest obstacle: to win the tormentor through love. Let us love our enemies, and our reward will be great (Lk.6:35).” )from VOM and Suffering to Triumph) Stephen’s last petition was “Do not hold this sin against them.” He followed the example accepting the challenge.
3:14”But even if you do suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, (v.15) but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord…” It comes back to Christ over and over again.
3:17-18”For it is better to suffer for doing right, if that should be God’s will, than for doing wrong. For Christ also suffered/died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God…” The end of suffering is not death but victory and glorification. This is God’s will.
4:1-2”Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same thought, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of time in the flesh no longer by human passions but by the will of God.” God’s will is mentioned again in connection with suffering. Going through suffering puts us in a different frame of mind, charts a different course than the worldling follows.
4:13”But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. ”These are two sides of the same coin. We share in His sufferings and His glory. Peter with Paul and James mention joy in connection with suffering because of the outcome.
4:15-16”But let none of you suffer as a murderer…yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God.” To be a Christian means
to suffer. While so many think of suffering as bad and in connection with tears and even wailing, the Word connects it with glorifying God.
4:19”Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator.” God’s will will be done in our suffering. Our bodies can be wasting away, but our souls meanwhile can be renewed and soar up as on eagle’s wings. We trust in the work of Christ on Calvary and commit our all to the one who made us and sustains us and will glorify us.
5:1”So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed. ”Sufferings are real. Peter points out that the end of suffering is just as real, even though it has not happened yet, our glorification. We need to encourage one another as Peter exhorts his fellow elders. We need to pray for one another committing each to our loving Lord.
5:9”Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world.” We are in this together. While the immediate cause of suffering may be the devil, ultimately it is the Lord who trumps
him and turns it into good, as was His loving goal always.
5:10”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, establish, and strengthen you.” Perspective, perspective, perspective, we just dare not lose sight of it. Rom. 8:18, II Cor. 4:17
In this I Pet. study we see the multiple outcome of suffering. The list follows with the I Pet. passages and related ones: l) Faith is strengthened –l:6-7, James l:2-4, Rom.5:2-5, 2) God is praised – l:6-7, 4:16, Ps. 66:8-12, 3) He prepares us for glory or gives us perspective, here travail/there bliss – l:3-9,l4, 5:10, II Cor. 4:16-18, Rom. 8:17-18, 4) Joy is brought forth to share with Christ and know the vindication is coming – 4:13,5:10, Jamesl:2-4, Rom. 5:2-5, 5) It prompts a deeper prayer life – 4:19,Ps. 77:2, 6) Love is demonstrated to God and our neighbor – 4:13, 2:23-24,Mt. 5:44. You can likely add many more passages to this list from your own experiences in the crucible of suffering.
Even though up to this point we have considered a lot of passages, there still remain questions and will due to our weak condition since the fall. Let’s explore a few.
What really should we expect as Christians? Paul expected suffering. “Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…yet from them all the Lord rescued me.” II Tim. 3:12,11 This did not deter Paul from being active to his end in the service of Christ.
Suffering is a cause of joy? We need this reinforced from the Word. Our sinful flesh fights hard against this notion. The world ridicules it, while the devil does his worst to dissuade us. But the Bible is clear as we have seen repeatedly in James, I Peter and Romans. The final beatitude our Lord taught is clear “Blessed are you… Rejoice and be glad…” James says toward the end of his epistle as he does at the beginning that we should rejoice in the face of suffering. “Behold, we call those happy who were steadfast…Job…purpose of the Lord…” 5:11 Remember the scene of joy with the apostles after they had been beaten and warned not to speak of Jesus. They walked away “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” Acts. 5:41
Do we really have to take our ‘share’ of suffering? (or if we do, do we think a little share please?) Paul wrote to the Philippians, ”For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake.”l:29 Paul counted all as loss to know Christ Jesus, and with the result that he says, “I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death.” 3:10 Paul’s words are backed up by his experiences. II Cor. 6:4-5, ll:23-28 In addition he had the thorn in the flesh and mental anguish. Think of his words in Romans 5:3-5 then. Would you forsake the blessings that come through suffering? Think of a large factory building. From a distance it looks impressive as we see it silhouetted against the horizon. In those shadows at a distance it is writ large on the skyline. But now approach and see it up close. It has broken windows. The once productive assembly line is still and in shambles. Trash is strewn about. It is only a haunt of bats and spiders. It only produces a moaning sound as the wind moves through the emptiness. Is that you when it comes to suffering, empty and without faith’s assembly line buzzing in production?
Of course the question that bothers even the most faithful is ‘How long must I suffer?’
No one can know how long. The passages are there though to give perspective for endurance: “a little while” I Pet. 5:10, “this slight momentary affliction”IICor.4:17. Our God who is gracious, merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love knows our frame and will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able. Think of the restraint that was imposed on the devil when he assaulted Job. If for every temptation Our God will provide a way of escape, ICor. 10:13, it will be that way for affliction also. “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” II Cor. 4:8-10 The righteous may fall seven times yet rise again. Prov.24:16 For us, “though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord is the stay of his hand.” Ps. 37:24 These and other passages are good to have memorized for when the devil comes a calling to needle us about how long our God is allowing the affliction.
Paul in IThess. 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. ”Even in the midst of suffering we should most definitely give thanks.
This is where it is at. Our appeal is the same as that of the apostles “increase our faith.” Lk.17:5 Ah, yes, but do we so readily accept always His methods: by bodily ailments, beatings, imprisonments, afflictions of soul, ostracism, threat of death? “Jesus, I my cross have taken, All to leave and follow Thee; Destitute, depised, forsaken, Thou from hence my All shalt be…Come, disaster, scorn and pain! In Thy service, pain is pleasure; With Thy favor loss is gain…Life with trials hard may press me, Heav’n will bring me sweeter rest…Foes may hate and friends may shun me; Show Thy face, and all is bright…Storms may howl, and clouds may gather, All must work for good to me…” TLH #423
From the cross, through time, into eternity is our perspective. Our dear Lord in His foreknowledge and omniscience knows what will happen to me before it does and when it does. In His wisdom He sees and sees to it that obstacles are put in my path to test my faith with the purpose of strengthening it and causing me to rely less and less on myself and more and more on Him. Therefore I resort to the Word and my prayer chamber. I do not search the Scripture as the murderous and impenitent Jews but as one whose heart burns within him as He opens and reveals. Lk.24:27 And what a true privilege it is to carry everything to Him in prayer. From the deepest depths I may cry ( Ps.88:13-18) And He not only hears me but answers as is best for me. To His wise care I commit myself. May you also.