For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
1 Peter 3:17
There are many today that believe it’s not God’s will that we suffer. They say God wants to continually bless us materially and physically but suffering comes when we force God’s correcting hand by sinning. Our verse above tells a very different story. The truth is that sometimes it’s God’s will that we suffer because we’re doing right! Suffering is one of the tools God uses to spiritually bless us along with those around us. Let’s consider the first three of five blessings that the Lord brings through suffering. Through suffering:
1) We are identified with Christ and enjoy unique fellowship with Him
Have you ever prayed for God to make you like Christ? Well, you’d better hang on! Christ as a man benefited through suffering! “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” (Heb 2:10) It was God the Father’s will that the Son suffer. Remember, He prayed to the Father in the garden for the cup of God’s wrath to pass from Him but quickly followed that prayer with, “Your will be done”. (Mt 26:39, 42) Guess who rejected the idea of His suffering in Mt 16:23? He may have used Peter’s mouth to voice the words, but the thought came from Satan! The point is that it is a satanic suggestion to say God’s people shouldn’t suffer. We stand against the will of God in making such a statement for it is the pattern of our Master and our privilege to suffer for His sake: “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake…” (Php 1:29) In such affliction, we enter into special communion with Him, an experience Paul called “the fellowship of His sufferings”. (Php 3:10) No wonder we read in Ac 5:41 that after being imprisoned, beaten, and threatened, the apostles went away “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name”!
2) Our spiritual man is developed
As a child, my drink of choice was milk with plenty of Nestle Quik. I remember well finding a can of unsweetened Hershey’s cocoa powder one day when we had run out of Quik. It looked and smelled a lot like Nestle’s powder, so I asked my mom if I could use it for chocolate milk. She wouldn’t allow it, warning me that it wasn’t intended to be used that way. Well, when she stepped out of the kitchen, I disregarded her instruction and made a cup anyway. It wouldn’t even mix! The chocolate floated to the top in clumps, and it tasted even worse than it looked! When my mom walked back into the room, guess what? She made me drink it! I learned a valuable lesson that day–my mom knew more than I did, and it would be wise to heed her instruction. Sometimes we just have to learn the hard way. Suffering teaches us in ways that we could never otherwise learn. As our opening text last time reminded us, sorrow has the power to make the heart better! (Ecc 7:3) Like my experience with Hershey’s cocoa, suffering is often the result of our disobedience, but how good it is to know that our heavenly Father only chastens us “for our profit”! Sure, it hurts, but “afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness”. (Heb 12:10-11) Simply put, suffering benefits the child of God spiritually. “But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.” (1 Pet 5:10)
3) God draws us closer to Him and keeps us from sin
Admit it…we rarely pray as hard as we do when times are tough. Suffering casts us upon the Lord because, in those times, we’re well aware of our need of Him. Sheep sometimes wander away, but suffering will quickly drive them back to the Shepherd of their souls! “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word.” (Ps 119:67) Suffering keeps us close to God. In speaking to Ananias regarding Saul of Tarsus (who we know better as Paul the Apostle), the Lord said, “For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Ac 9:16) The apostle was well acquainted with suffering and understood that one of the reasons it was God’s will that it be in his life was to keep him from sin. To insure he didn’t fall into the sin of pride, God allowed a demon to torment Paul even though the apostle asked three times to be delivered. When he finally realized that the affliction was intended to keep him totally dependent on the Lord’s strength instead of his own, the apostle quit asking for relief and started rejoicing in the blessing of suffering! “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:7-10)
Lord willing, we’ll pick up with the final two points next week. Perhaps you’re in the midst of a difficult trial right now. I pray the Lord will encourage your heart to know that suffering is not an odd place for the believer. On the contrary, it is quite normal. God is simply using that refining fire to burn off all the impurities and to fully conform you to the image of His precious Son. He has glorious things in store! “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” (1 Pet 4:12-13)