We are continuing with the series on The Glorious Doctrine of Sanctification, Part 4 now under the subject The Value of Suffering.
God is doing a glorious work in the lives of his people. He is transforming his people into the same image (the image of Christ) from glory to glory (2 Cor 3:18). In a world of broken promises and failed intentions, we might wonder if this will ever be achieved, but God has committed himself to it and he will complete it.
In our last article we thought of the way suffering is connected with our final glory. We saw that every believer must face suffering. We cannot arrive to the glory without it and, indeed, it is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (2 Cor 4:17)
This time we must consider some of the ways God calls his servants in the world to suffer. We have to be extremely careful to assume that we know what God is doing when we see a Christian suffering. We could so easily give a troubled person an additional burden. Nevertheless, it is good for Christians to be prepared for suffering, with an understanding of basic Biblical principles.
Suffering is not to Pay for Sin
Satan seems able to play upon the fears and weaknesses of suffering Christians, and make them feel that they are paying the penalty for some sin or other. We shall think more about Job, a classic case of extreme suffering in the Bible but clearly his three friends were trying to convince him that his suffering was on account of his sin. They were very wrong and incurred God’s displeasure. Of course, sin does mean suffering. But it means eternal suffering. Any of our sins would have brought us to Hell forever, The believer, however, has many assurances in Scripture that his sins are forgiven in Christ and God will remember them no more. In helping suffering and afflicted Christians, pastors must remind them of the finished work of the Saviour, in order to keep their hearts at peace.
The Record of Job suffering- Suffering to the Glory of God
The Book of Job is not only about suffering. It has to do, first, with unseen spiritual confrontation between Satan and the Lord. It tells us of the enemy’s efforts to discredit the people of God before God, and to prove that there is no such thing as a genuinely transformed sinner. Or, to put it in another way Satan is out to prove that Christ, in the gospel, is not able to make a member of Adam’s rebellious human race and graciously transform that person into one who loves and honors God. That lies behind Satan’s question: Does Job fear God for nothing?(Job 1:9). Satan’s argument was that Job was no different from anyone else. He did not fear God because God is God, but because God has made him rich. He argued that Job was not really a new creature but merely a typical sinner who puts his own interests first and will do anything for wealth
Job’s behavior, when intense suffering came upon him proved Satan to be wrong. Stripped off everything he counted dear in this life and deeply grieved, Job fell to the ground and worshiped( 1:20). We can say that Job suffered to the glory of God. He did not know why his suffering had come but he knew that God’s name is blessed (1:20) and the Lord has every right to take away what he had once given. There is vital pastoral lesson which we should learn if we are to help people in suffering. There is such a thing as suffering to the glory of God. People may or may not see the way the Christian is bearing his grief or pain, but there are spiritual hosts, both good and evil, who do see. What may seem quite pointless suffering may be the means by which the child of God brings great glory to God.
The Record Of Job- Refining The Soul
Job’s experience teaches another very important matter. Satan was permitted to try Job very severely, but God had another purpose in the suffering; one that would be to Job’s eternal benefit. In chapter one, Job passes the test and Satan is silenced. But, then from then on Job continues to suffer, not to prove Satan wrong but that sinful tendencies, lying very deeply in his soul, might be exposed and dealt with. Here was Job passing through the intense heat of the Refiner’s fire. At one point Job seems to appreciate this. He says: He knows the way that I take; when he has tested me I shall come forth as gold(Job 23:10).
If you read the chapters in which Job’s complaints become increasingly bitter and then read the closing chapters of the book, you will see the wonderful spiritual advance Job made through the whole program of suffering. He discovered a tendency within himself to challenge God and insist upon his own integrity. When, however, the Lord revealed himself, Job felt very guilty and penitent.
Why was it necessary for Job to suffer so much for this to be achieved? Job was a very mature and upright believer. He loved the Lord and was careful to live a righteous life. The sin of his heart therefore, would only come to surface under intense affliction. He was like a gold of a very high purity that requires exceptionally high temperatures for further refining. Job suffered so much, not because he was very bad but because he had already made exceptional progress in holiness!
This then tells us that a Christian can pass through severe trials because the Lord is carrying the spiritual refining process even further.
Opening The Way To More Blessing
Paul suffered his thorn in the flesh(2 Cor 12:17). It was obviously some very uncomfortable and troublesome affliction, and he pleaded with the Lord on three occasions that it might be removed. It was not removed and eventually Paul was content. He knew that God had allowed Satan to afflict him in order that he might not become proud on account of all the wonders God had revealed to him. He said: Lest I should be exalted above measure by the audience of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.
Great spiritual blessings can give rise to the deadly poison of spiritual pride. Spiritual pride is disastrous for spiritual progress and usefulness in the cause of Christ. God gave Paul many wonderful blessings, but along with them he had to suffer the thorn in the flesh. One sometimes sees those whom the Lord is using mightily, afflicted by physical weakness or some other personal trouble that seems an unfortunate barrier to even more usefulness. The reason may well be that God knows that his grace is sufficient and that his strength is made perfect in weakness. He permits affliction for the very purpose of preparing the soul to receive yet more blessing.
The Chastening Of the Lord
Hebrews 12:5–11 teaches us about the disciplining process of the Lord in our lives. This actually comes with a great section of this letter, beginning in chapter 10, about Christian perseverance.
It is good to think carefully about chastening, Obviously when a child is being chastened, he must know the reason for it. Chastening does not achieve any training in righteousness if the one suffering does not know why he is having to endure it. Also, chastening is never meant to be a long process. The Lord does not chasten by sending long and deep trouble into our lives. Chastening is a fast reaction to teach us to hate sin. Perhaps we acted or spoke in a proud way, and then we find ourselves suffering in a way that makes us hate our pride. We have been humbled by the Lord. Perhaps we have allowed our affections to go out to the world and suddenly we have been let down by the world and suffered loss. Perhaps we have used exaggerated speech and we have been found out, much to our shame. Perhaps we have been unkind and have been ashamed because of others have been kind to us. There are moments in life when it seems as though just a glance from the Lord through the scriptures could make us go out and weep bitterly.
Chastening is not pleasant. It is painful(Hebrews 12:11) but afterwards it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
God’s Faithful Dealings With Us
We must never doubt the faithfulness of God to us. In our severest affliction and most painful suffering we must remember that the Lord is kind and good and that eventually we shall praise him for all that he has led us through. In Proverbs 27:6 Solomon says: Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful…Couple that statement with Proverbs 17:17: A friend loves at all times; and Proverbs 18:24….there is a friend who sticks closer than brother, and you realize that the Lord is that wonderful Friend who deals with us in love and wounds us that he might bless us with all the spiritual blessings he has prepared.
Article edited and re-shared from Grace & Truth magazine, issue №79(1996) , Nigel Lacey