What do we learn through suffering?
Do you ever ask yourself, "why do I suffer?," "how long will my suffering last?," and "what does God want me to learn from suffering?" Dr. Bill Mounce teaches from I Peter on a biblical view of suffering. This is an excerpt from New Testament Survey Course, Lecture 28 on www.biblicaltraining.org. If would like to listen to the complete lecture click on the link at the bottom of this blog.
There are two things Peter wants to say about suffering: First of all, it’s only for a little while. He’s going to say that we need to get a perspective on things. Remember we are not living with our heads down, we are living as people looking forward to the hope that lies before us and home to where our real inheritance is. If we’re suffering here and now, it’s just for a little while. Part of Peter’s answer to the problem of suffering is getting it in an eternal perspective.
He’s going to say the same thing in 5:10, “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, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” If we’re living as Christians with our heads up to our future hope, then we can understand that yes, we will suffer, we don’t want to diminish the significance of especially someone else’s pain and suffering, but it’s only for a little while in the perspective of eternity. That’s the one thing Peter wants to say about suffering.
Remember What Suffering Accomplishes
The second thing he wants to say is to look at what it is accomplishing. He is very intent on helping us understand that it is in the midst of pain that we learn certain lessons better than at other times, right? How many of us learn deep profound theological truths when everything is going great? It doesn’t happen a whole lot, does it? Peter wants to point out, without belittling the pain, that’s it’s in the midst of pain that there are a lot of things happening and going on.
He lays out some of them for us. This is what God is accomplishing in the face of suffering: (1) It’s going to result in God’s praising you at Jesus’s coming. Now I’m taking an interpretive position, but you’ll notice at the end of verse 7, that we’re being grieved by various trials, our faith is genuine—we know it’s genuine because it’s being tested and we’re being proved faithful. Then he says this proven faith may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. One of the exegetical questions is, whose praise? Whose glory? whose honor? It’s either God pronouncing praise on us, well done good and faithful servant, or it’s us when we see him pronouncing glory and honor on him when he comes.
They are actually all tied together. Peter, later on, is going to say that everything that we do is to the praise and glory and honor of God. The commentaries that I checked were pretty comfortable at saying that what Peter is saying is, remember, look at what’s going to happen, look at the reward that there’s going to be at the end that when you stand before Jesus he is going to praise you, well done good and faithful servant, at which point of course all praise will turn back to him where it fully belongs. One of the things that’s being accomplished is this knowledge that we’re going to be praised by God.
Let me look at some of the other verses; look at 3:14, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’s sake,” this is persecution for your faith, “you will be blessed.” Now I know some of us may say, pass, I have enough blessings in my life already—why don’t you go share the blessing with someone else, but in the midst trials we are blessed—we are blessed by God, we are blessed by his presence, we’re blessed by his grace, we’re blessed by an unbelievable calmness in the face of storm. There are many ways in which we are blessed in the midst of very difficult times. If you’ve been through difficult times you know what I’m talking about. Look at 4:13, he says don’t be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you, as if something strange were happening this is normal for a Christian, "But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed."
You and I have been given the privilege of sharing in the sufferings of Jesus Christ. You tell that to a youth group and they’re just going to shake their heads and not have any idea what you’re talking about. I don’t know how many of us ourselves would really understand that. I think it is in Acts 4 where the believers are brought to the Sanhedrin and they were told not to preach in Jesus’s name, so they went out and prayed for boldness and they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to share in suffering for Jesus Christ. In the midst of our suffering and pain as Christians, there is a joy knowing that we were called to this and that by participating in it we are participating with Christ. We are with him and we are with him in his sufferings. That’s a maturing process, that’s a growing thing; it’s a good thing even if it’s something that hurts.
In 4:16, and I’m not going to cover all of them you can find them if you want, "Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name." In other words, one of the things that’s happening in the midst of suffering and hurt and pain is that we’re given a chance to glorify God. How would you glorify God in the midst of suffering? It’s how you respond to the suffering, isn’t it? As you lean into the suffering as we talked about last week, as you embrace it, as you deal with it, as you remain steadfast and true to your faith, as you praise God out of your mouth in the midst of suffering, all these things are an opportunity for you and me to glorify God in the midst of sufferings.
There are many other places that we could go, Romans 5, the first several verses are one of the strongest where it talks about that we rejoice in our suffering because the suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and eventually, character produces hope. Again Paul is saying the same thing that in the midst of suffering, God is at work with your character, with your Christian commitment and is fine-tuning you and is growing you and that’s a good thing.
The most important passage of those is in Romans 8:28-29, we are very familiar with this verse and as I like to say please do not ever quote Romans 8:28 without at the same time quoting 8:29 because you’re quoting out of context. “We know that for those who love God,” in other words, this is the promise that is only made to Christians, this is not a promise made to non-Christians, “for those who love God all things work together for good,” don’t get the idea that’s there something automatic about this “work together for good”; it’s explicit in the Greek, it’s almost impossible to bring it into the English.
It’s an active thing God is at work in the midst of all the circumstances of our lives and it is he who is making it work together for good. There’s just no way to bring it out in translation. What Paul is saying is no matter how bad something gets, you need to understand that for those who love God, that in everything going on, he is at work for your good. Whether you and I see it or not and whether you and I like it or not, he is at work for good. The reason you have to read 8:29 is that 29 defines good, “…for those who are called according to his purpose.
For those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son (29)”; that’s Paul’s definition of good and that’s God’s definition of good. God’s definition of good is not the cessation of pain, as much as we would like the pain to go away, that’s not God’s good for us, is it? It just isn’t. Sometimes he makes the pain go away, sometimes he makes the hurt go away, but that’s not his good. His good is so that you and I look like Jesus Christ.
As Paul tells the Corinthians, we are being changed from one degree of glory to the next and that’s what God wants us to do. He’s at work in the midst of pain and suffering, changing us from one degree of glory to another, until ultimately we will look like his Son, Jesus Christ. So, when you and I face suffering, there are two answers. It’s only going to last a little while, perhaps just my lifetime, but in the grand scheme of existence, it’s not even a blip on the radar screen. Just a little while, and, God is in the midst of the pain working with us in ways that he doesn’t when everything is good so that you and I can more and more be conformed to the image of his Son. Again, I don’t expect you to jump up and do a cheer here and say, “Oh yeah, hit me again God”, but that’s the message of Scripture. I think that for most of us, we understand this and we’ve gone through difficult times, during the process of going through difficult times, despite the hurt we go this is a good thing because God is at work in me. It’s just hard to say in the midst of it, but it’s a good thing to say in the midst of it.