In a world where suffering of any kind seems so prevalent, natural disasters are becoming more frequent, disease strikes those closest to us, and death is eminent for us all, it’s important to look to the Bible to understand how and why God uses suffering in our lives. The Apostle Paul was a man whom God set apart to suffer for His sake and we can look at how he handled it in his life for encouragement during times of our own suffering. Upon his conversion on the road to Damascus, the Apostle Paul was temporarily strickened blind. The Lord appeared to a disciple in Damascus named Ananias and told him to find Paul and lay hands on him for healing of his sight. The Lord declared to Ananias, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Acts 9:10-16 ESV And suffer he did. Paul summarizes in II Corinthians 11:21-30 ESV
“But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”
Despite the many sufferings, Paul kept his focus on the Lord Jesus Christ, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18 ESV The Apostle Paul maintained an eternal focus, even in the midst of a life dedicated to suffering for the cause of advancing the Gospel.
But why does it happen? Why are we allowed to suffer? The first answer is that we live in a fallen, sinful world and the result of this sin is death (Romans 6:23). Those of us who are in Christ are not exempt from suffering, but we do have the assurance that Jesus Christ will carry us through if we rely upon Him as the Rock in our life. Secondly, when we look to Him, we can rejoice in the refining or purifying that suffering brings. As Paul writes in Romans 5:3-5 ESV “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” We have a choice in the face of suffering, we can allow it to harden our hearts toward God, life, and the people around us or we can look unto the Lord and allow Him to work in our lives, sanctifying us in preparation for future glory.
Paul’s attitude and focus on Jesus is the same type of approach we should take in our own lives and corporately in our churches. This is the same type of focus you’ll see in the video below. Matt Chandler, pastor at The Village Church in Dallas, TX details his diagnosis, surgery, and on-going battle with cancer at the recent Together For the Gospel Conference. Since the video is in it’s original format from the conference it may be slow to download, but it is worth the watch. C.J. Mahaney summarizes suffering after Chandler’s testimony.
Sometimes it’s difficult for us to accept that God allows suffering and sometimes we question to the point of allowing ourselves to become hardened toward the Lord, by asking how He could allow such things to happen. In a fallen, sinful world we need to understand that at some point suffering will occur, either directly or indirectly, and we must be prepared for this by having Christ as the foundation of our life, focusing on the eternal glory to be seen in heaven, and realizing that God allowed His Holy, sinless Son to endure the suffering of the cross for our sake and we can rest our hope in that.