Dear Church Family,
Last week’s newsletter focused on 2 Corinthians 12 and Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Almost at the end of his article, Nathan wrote about our weaknesses and areas of helplessness encouraging us, “God has put these in your life for his own purposes, and that is our joy in life, to be used by God.” Brothers and sisters, it is vital for our church to understand this if we are going to suffer well to God’s glory. Everyone suffers, but not everyone suffers well. Everyone suffers, but Christians should suffer differently than unbelievers. And I’m not just talking about “spiritual” suffering like religious persecution—I’m talking about all suffering in every form. Most of you are spending an increasing amount of time in doctors’ offices and hospitals. Most of you are experiencing more pain and more difficulty than ever before. If that’s not true for you in every area of your life it may still be true in some area. So, with all that being said, I want to continue thinking about what Nathan focused on last week.
What if God is letting you suffer now because He loves you and not because He doesn’t? When we suffer as Christians, it’s easy for us to think God must not care for us. In moments of gnawing pain and extreme discomfort, it can be hard for us understand how this could be better for us than feeling better. We know that God is working all things together for our good and His glory and we know He loves us—but it doesn’t always seem that way to us.
How would you fill in this blank: “If I only had _________, then I would love and serve God more thankfully and faithfully”? Whatever you filled in that blank with, be it a better back, more money, happier spouse, less pain or anything else—whatever’s in your blank is an idol in your heart. If there is anything keeping you from God, regardless of how good that thing is, it is keeping you from what is best. If that blank keeps you from a deeper relationship with God, that proves it is your god. When we suffer, if we have idols in our hearts, those idols are exposed. But if we have only Jesus, He will be revealed. While we continue on this earth, we continue to sin. As sinners, we are in need of suffering in order to reveal the sin in our hearts so we can replace it with Him who is best.
Connected to this is another reason why God allows us to suffer—to reveal Christ is our treasure as we follow His example. Jesus’s life was filled with suffering, but it wasn’t because of any sin in His heart—there wasn’t any. Hebrews 5:8-9 says, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” As He continued to obey His Father and seek His Father’s will before His Own, Jesus proved the worthiness and blessedness of His Father. He endured the cross, suffering under the eternal wrath of God for all the sins of His people for the joy that was set before Him. He now is the founder and perfecter of our faith. One of the ways He is perfecting us is through our suffering. If we view our suffering through the lens of faith, we will be made more like Jesus as we suffer. We are sanctified in part through our suffering.
But, praise the Lord, there is coming a day when all suffering will cease because not only will we be sanctified, we will be glorified when Christ returns. Until that day, we won’t always understand His specific purposes in our suffering and in our weaknesses. However, what we do know without any shadow of doubt is that He has designed suffering in our lives to reveal that He is best both to ourselves and to the watching world. May we respond to our suffering in whatever form it takes with faith in Christ so that His worth is demonstrated and His Name is lifted up. May we know that we suffer now because He loves us and we won’t suffer for all eternity because He saved us.