MUST CHRISTIANS SUFFER?
1. We have said that we must begin a study of the character of God with Jesus because Jesus is the complete revelation of God. John 1:18; 14:9; Heb 1:1-3
a. Jesus tells us that God is good. Matt 19:17
b. Good is defined for us in Acts 10:38 as what Jesus did.
c. God is a good God who does good, and good means good!!
2. That brings up the question of suffering — and an apparent contradiction.
a. Isn’t suffering part of Christian life? For God’s choicest servants?
b. Doesn’t God use suffering to perfect us, to humble us, to deepen our piety and commitment to Him?
3. There is much confusion among Christians on this subject because of:
a. Lack of knowledge of what the Bible says, and / or people put their experience above the Word of God.
b. Suffering is a part of Christian life, according to the Bible, but many people mix apples and oranges together when discussing it, and get fruit salad — not sound doctrine. We want to sort out some of these issues.
4. Let’s begin by making some general statements about suffering which we will later discuss in detail.
a. The Bible speaks of two types of suffering in relation to Christians:
1. Those things which Christ suffered for us — so we don’t have to! .
2. Those things which we suffer for Christ.
b. Those things which Christ suffered for us would include everything He bore for us on the Cross through His death, burial, and resurrection.
c. The things we suffer for Christ would include persecution and any kind of personal sacrifice or discomfort we experience as we live for Christ and preach the gospel.
d. Suffering is not a teaching tool used by God to perfect us.
e. The Holy Ghost is our Teacher, and His teaching tool is the Bible.
f. The Bible makes it clear that even when we do experience persecution and / or suffering in connection with preaching the gospel and living for the Lord, we are more than conquerors in those situations.
1. We need to understand the fact that an exchange took place on the Cross.
a. All the evil that was due to us because of our sin and disobedience came on Jesus so that all the good due Him for His obedience could come on us.
1. Jesus became what we were so that we could become what He is.
2. Jesus became one with us in our sin and death so that we could be one with Him in life and holiness. II Cor 5:21
b. Every problem that plagues the human race is here because sin is in the world. Rom 5:12; Gen 3:7-19
c. God dealt with those problems when He dealt with our sins — at the Cross.
2. Is 53:6 tells us God laid our iniquity (AVON) on Christ on the Cross.
a. AVON includes not only the sin, but the punishment or evil consequences that sin / iniquity brings. Gen 4:13; Lam 4:6;22 = AVON
b. God laid our sin and the punishment and consequences of our sin on Jesus
3. Isa 53:4 also tells us Jesus bore the consequences of our sin.
a. Griefs = CHOLI = sickness; Sorrows = MAKOB = pains.
1. Surely our sicknesses he hath borne, and our pains he hath carried them. (Young’s Lit)
2. But only our diseases did He bear Himself, and our pains He carried, (v5) and through His bruises was healing granted to us. (Lesser)
b. Borne = NASA; carried = SABAL.
1. Both words have the idea of lift up, bear away, convey or remove to a distance.
2. Both words are used in the book of Leviticus to describe OT sacrifices — NASA was used in connection with the scapegoat in Lev 16:22.
3. Both words denote substitution; to assume as a heavy burden; complete removal of a thing borne.
c. Jesus bore our sins, our sicknesses, our pains, our punishment (consequences of sin) so as to remove them — that is the idea here.
d. Isa 53:10 — He hath laid on Him sickness. (Rotherham)
4. Jesus became a curse that we may receive a blessing. Gal 3:13,14
a. The curse of the Law includes every one of the curses listed in Deut 28 — humiliation, barrenness, unfruitfulness, mental and physical sickness, family break down, poverty, defeat, oppression, failure, God’s disfavor. b. Every one of those curses came on Jesus that we might be released from them and blessing come on us.
5. Jesus bore the consequences of our sin — the wrath of God, separation from God, sickness, disease, pain, etc. — so that we don’t have to bear them.
a. Many Christians suffer these things thinking they came from the hand of God — they don’t know that Christ already bore them on the Cross so that we don’t have to bear them.
b. He suffered these things for us so that we don’t have to suffer them.
1. Suffering persecution is part of Christian life. John 15:18;20; II Tim 3:12
2. Phil 1:29,30 — This verse clearly explains what the suffering is that we must go through: persecution and its consequences.
a. The conflict the Philippians saw in Paul was his time in jail (Acts 16:19-40) and he was in jail again when he wrote this letter. Phil 1:13,14;30
b. You and I are engaged in the same contest; you saw me in it once, and, as you hear, I am in it still. (NEB)
3. Phil 1:29 = suffering for Christ; Rom 8:17 = suffering with Christ.
a. What is the only thing we can do to help Jesus out? Spread the gospel!
b. What is the only suffering we can share with Jesus? Persecution!!
c. The suffering Jesus endured on the Cross (sin and its consequences) He did for us so we don’t have to.
d. What is Christ now suffering that we share in? Persecution!!
1. We are the Body of Christ, linked up with the Head of the Church.
2. Acts 9:4 — Jesus told Paul persecuting Christians = persecuting Him!
4. As we study the Book of Acts, we see that the first followers of Christ experienced two types of suffering:
a. Persecution in the form of beatings, jail, slander, and even death for preaching the gospel and obeying God.
b. Physical discomforts due to obstacles in their way or things they gave up in order to preach the gospel.
c. Even in their sufferings, these people demonstrated victory! Acts 4:3-21; 5:17-41; 6:9-15; 7:54-60; 8:1-4; 9:1,2; 12:1-11
5. There are no examples of the disciples suffering sickness or disease or physical infirmity for the sake of perfecting them, or humbling them, etc.
a. In fact, they continued the work Jesus had begun of healing. Acts 3:1-11
b. Their suffering = the result of opposition to the spreading of the gospel.
c. These are the same men who wrote the epistles and that is their frame of reference when they discuss the subject of suffering in their writings — we must keep that in mind as we read.
6. From Paul’s conversion in Acts 9 to the end of the Book of Acts, we get a detailed account of the things Paul suffered.
a. Paul was not a chosen vessel picked for special suffering — he was a chosen vessel called to preach the gospel. Acts 9:15,16
1. The sufferings Paul had to go through were persecution and difficulties connected with spreading the gospel.
2. Paul had to experience those things — not to be perfected or chastened
— but to bring salvation, healing, and deliverance to people. Acts 26:14-18; II Cor 1:5,6; 4:15
b. The suffering was not an end in itself, but rather a means to an end.
1. Paul suffered things, not to perfect him, but to preach the gospel.
2. Sometimes, because of the call on a person’s life, they have to go through extra ordinary circumstances to preach the gospel.
1. Remember our rules: read in context and let the Bible define words!
2. v7 gives us some key facts about Paul’s thorn in the flesh:
a. It is defined for us as “the messenger of satan”.
b. Messenger = ANGELOS = a being; an angel. Everywhere the word appears (188 places), it means a personality, not a disease.
c. We are told the thorn came from satan, not God — remember the house divided principle. Matt 12:24-26
d. Thorn is used in OT and NT to mean literal thorns or troublesome people. Num 33:55; Joshua 23:13; Judges 2:3
e. Buffet = to rap with a fist; hit or strike; repeated blows.
3. In v9 Paul calls the thorn an infirmity.
a. In II Cor 11:23-30 Paul defines what he means when he uses the word —
note: sickness and disease are not listed here!
b. His infirmities = obstacles, persecutions he encountered as he preached.
4. Some say God gave Paul the thorn to keep him humble. (Came from satan)
a. v7 tells us that the thorn was given to keep him from being exalted.
1. Not from exalting himself, but to keep him from being exalted.
2. By who? Those to whom he preached. (v6)
3. To exalt means to elevate by praise or in estimation.
b. Paul was given tremendous revelation from God. v 1-4;7
c. satan did not want him exalted by others or believed by those to whom he preached, so, he sent and angelic being (a fallen angel) to harass Paul.
1. satan always comes to steal the Word. That is consistent with what happened to Paul in Acts.
2. He would go places to preach, someone or something would stir up the crowd, he’d get mobbed, put out of town, or thrown in jail. Acts
5. Some say that Paul’s thorn was an eye disease. Gal 4:13-15
a. There is nothing in the passage to support that idea.
b. Galatia was a province or region with various cities in it, including Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. Galatians was written to the
churches of Galatia. Gal l:2
c. In Acts 14:19 Paul was stoned and left for dead at Lystra. Next day he and Barnabus walked 15 miles to Derbe. He then went back and preached
at Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch. v20,21
d. What did he look like when he preached to the Galatians. Gal 6:17 — When I preached the gospel to you the first time, I did so in bodily
weakness, and you did not feel contempt for my physical condition which must have been a real trial to you, nor did you show any disgust at it. (Bruce)
e. Paul’s eye troubles were the result of getting hit by rocks.
5. Paul’s thorn = satanic opposition which roused people against him everywhere.
1. What is the practical application of all this information?
a. We can see the importance of reading the Bible correctly: reading in context; allowing the Bible to define words for us.
b. Make your experience match the Bible, not vice versa.
c. Will help you sort out what to resist and accept in your life. James 4:7
d. Will help you know in what areas you need to build your faith.
2. Gives us greater insight to the fact that it is this simple: God good — devil bad.
a. We do have to suffer for Christ — persecution and the cost or discomfort involved in spreading the gospel and living for the Lord.
1. But the devil is the source of much of that suffering as he attempts to stop the spread of the gospel. (Sin cursed earth and our flesh provide the other trouble.)
2. The Bible promises us God’s power, strength, and deliverance in those situations. Rom 8:35-37; II Tim 3:11
b. We do not have to suffer what Christ has already suffered for us.
3. We have not said everything there is to say about suffering.
a. But, we have separated some apples from some oranges.
b. By doing that, we’re building our faith in the fact that God is good, and good means good.