The believer should not be puzzled at suffering, because the Bible plainly states that it is a necessary part of the Christian life. The Bible even tells us why we suffer.
Suffering comes in many forms: sickness and physical pain, mental depression and darkness, things breaking and wearing out, lack, loss, dashed hopes and disappointment, slander and other types of mistreatment by people.
God is in control of the believer’s life as a potter sitting at a potter’s wheel or as a farmer pruning his vine or as a jeweler purifying his precious metals (Romans 8:28). He knows the beginning from the end and He has the wisdom and power to accomplish His purposes in our lives.
The believer suffers because he lives in a cursed world (Job 5:7; Romans 8:18-23)
This important passage reminds us that though we are saved we still live in a world that is under God’s curse and we are therefore subject to its troubles. We are sinners in a sinful world. Paul describes this present life as “the bondage of corruption,” “groaning,” “travailing,” and “pain.” This harkens back to Genesis 3:16-19, where God cursed the ground because of Adam’s sin. As a result, we have to contend with weeds, mud, sand, pests, rust, breakage, deterioration, weary toil, and pain. God also judged the woman with a far-reaching consequence. “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (Gen. 3:16).
Consider something as simple as a toothache. A toothache is often caused by eating too many sweets so that our teeth rot. That is simply the fulfillment of “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7), and the fact that we live in a dying body that is subject to decay. It won’t happen in Glory! Life is filled with such sufferings. We are not wise to complain against God or question God about such things. He shows us far more mercy than we deserve, to say the least.
Murphy’s Law is a humorous expression of the reality of living in a sin-cursed world: “Whatever can go wrong will go wrong.”
We won’t be free of this condition until Christ comes and we receive “the redemption of our body” (verse 23). This refers to the bodily resurrection. It is only then that the condition of “sorrow and sighing” will be replaced with that of “joy and gladness” (Isaiah 35:10).
The believer suffers because of sin and God’s chastisement (Hebrews 12:1-13)
The believer suffers because God chastens His children for their sin (Heb. 12:1). David suffered greatly for his sin; his illegitimate child died and his sons rebelled against him (2 Sam. 12:10-12). God forgives sin when it is confessed, but it still has consequences. I had five teeth knocked out at a pool hall right after I graduated from high school, because I was rebelling against the Lord, and was beginning to suffer the consequences. After I was saved at age 23, I didn’t get my teeth back. In the church at Corinth, some of the believers were sick and some died because of their abuse of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:29-30). One way God chastens sin is through the authorities He has placed in this world (1 Peter 4:15). When God’s people break the law, they are not immune from punishment. In fact, God usually sees to it that they are the first to be caught!
a. God’s discipline of sin is an act of His love (Heb. 12:6).
b. God’s discipline of sin is for the purpose of edification (Heb. 12:10). God is a good Father and He corrects his children. (Are you a good father?)
c. God’s discipline of sin is an evidence of salvation (Heb. 12:7-8). Some say that if eternal security is true then the believer can live as he pleases, but those who live as they please prove that they have not been born again.
d. God’s discipline of sin is not pleasant (Heb. 12:11). It can be hindered. There are many ways that we can hinder the Lord’s discipline in our lives. We can despise it (Heb. 12:5), faint under it (Heb. 12:5), refuse it (Heb. 12:7), stop serving (“hands that hang down,” Heb. 12:12), stop praying (“feeble knees,” Heb. 12:12), and turn out of the way (Heb. 12:13).
e. My part is to confess my sin before God (Psa. 38:1-4, 18). This is the opposite of hiding my sin or excusing it or blaming others.
The believer suffers in order to try his faith (James 1:2-8)
a. A major purpose for suffering is to try our faith. God rates faith very highly; without faith it is impossible to please Him (Heb. 11:6). The Christian life is all about faith; it is “from faith to faith” (Romans 1:17). After Adam and Eve sinned against God and rejected His absolute rule over them, God hid himself from mankind and required that we believe His Word.
b. Faith is always tested. Testing comes after someone professes faith in Christ. Jesus spoke of the seed sown among “stony places,” which springs up quickly but then dies because of “tribulation” (Mat. 13:20-21). Testing also comes after we make new decisions such as the decision to be faithful to church or to establish a daily Bible reading time or to begin tithing or to join an organized evangelistic outreach. I recall a converted Hindu who determined not to marry a Hindu because he did not want to be unequally yoked. His faith was gravely tested when his father and older brother put pressure upon him. They pleaded, threatened, begged, and even offered him a large sum of money to marry in the Hindu faith.
c. There are “divers temptations” (verse 2). Troubles come in a great variety of forms. This is not talking about the devil’s temptations by which he tries to get us to sin. This is referring rather to troubles that are sent by God or allowed by Him to test our faith.
d. We “fall into” troubles (verse 2). They often come when least expected.
e. Our part is to be patient and let God accomplish his will. Patience comes through faith (2 Thess. 1:4). And both come through God’s Word (Romans 10:17; 15:4).
f. There is a danger of being doubleminded (vv. 6-8). This refers to doubting, quitting, becoming spiritually unstable.
g. God doesn’t require perfect faith at every moment; He simply requires that we overcome our doubts and keep on serving Him. Abraham and Sarah are exalted in the New Testament as heroes of faith (Heb. 11:11, 17), but both of them laughed at God’s promise at one point in their lives (Gen. 17:17; 18:12). They overcame their doubt and went on to gain a place in God’s Hall of Faith. The same is true for David when he was chased by Saul and Job when he was tormented by the devil.
The believer suffers in order to produce spiritual growth (Romans 5:1-5)
a. Tribulation is part of the normal Christian life (Rom. 5:3). The Greek word translated “tribulation” (thlipsis) means to press in upon. It refers to every type of suffering. It is elsewhere translated “affliction” (Mk. 13:19), “anguish” (Jn. 16:21), “persecution” (Acts 11:19), “trouble” (1 Cor. 7:28), and “burdened” (2 Cor. 8:13).
b. Our part is to keep a right attitude. “Glory” means to have confidence in something (1 Cor. 1:31; 3:21; 4:7). The Greek word “kauchaomai” is also translated “boast” (Rom. 2:17, 23). The believer must keep his confidence in God no matter what trouble comes his way.
c. Tribulation, if rightly endured in faith, gives experience in Christian living that enables the believer to be a blessing to others.
d. Tribulation, if rightly endured in faith, produces increasing confidence in God (Rom. 5:4-5, “hope”).
e. Tribulation, if rightly endured in faith, produces spiritual growth (Rom. 5:3-5). Gold requires fire for refining. This is one reason why the older saint should be honored.
REVIEW QUESTIONS ON SUFFERING IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE PART 1
1. What are some forms that suffering takes in the Christian life?
2. What are the four reasons for suffering covered in this lesson?
3. When did the world become cursed?
4. When will the curse be lifted?
5. Why does God discipline His children?
6. How did David suffer because of his sin with Bathsheba?
7. What happened to the members of the church at Corinth who abused the Lord's Supper?
8. How is discipline an evidence of salvation?
9. What are six ways that the believer can hinder the Lord's discipline in his life?
10. What verse says that it is impossible to please God without faith?
11. Faith is always ____________.
12. What does it mean to be "doubleminded"?
13. Since Abraham and Sarah laughed at God's promise, why are they listed in Hebrews 11 as heroes of the faith?
14. What does "tribulation" refer to in Romans 5:3?
15. What does Paul mean when he says we must "glory in tribulation"?
The above is Part I of “Two Lessons on Suffering” in the Christian life from the One Year Discipleship Course. This course features 52 lessons in Christian living. It can be broken into sections and used as a new converts’ course, a discipleship course, a Sunday School series, a Home Schooling or Bible Institute course, or for preaching outlines. The lessons are thorough and practical. There is an extensive memory verse program built into the course, and each lesson features carefully designed review questions. Following are some of the lesson titles: Repentance, Faith, the Gospel, Baptism, Eternal Security, Position and Practice, the Law and Grace, Christian Growth and Spiritual Victory, Prayer, the Armor of God, the Church, the Bible, the Bible’s Proof, Daily Bible Study, Key Principles of Bible Interpretation, Foundational Bible Words, Knowing God’s Will, Making Wise Decisions, Christ’s Great Commission, Suffering in the Christian Life, The Judgment Seat of Christ, Separation - Moral, Separation - Doctrinal, Tests of Entertainment, Fasting, Miracles, a Biblical Testing Mindset, Tongues Speaking, the Rapture, How to Be Wise with Your Money, the Believer and Drinking, Abortion, Evolution, and Dressing for the Lord. 8.5X11, coated cover, spiral-bound. 221 pages, available from Way of Life Literature, www.wayoflife.org
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