Thursday, October 08, 2009
Current Study: First Peter
Today’s Topic: God’s Purpose in Allowing Suffering
Scripture Reading: 1 Peter 4:15-16 (NIV) If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.
The subject of suffering or hardship is rarely spoken of outside of the context of asking “Why?” We want everything explained so that it makes sense to us. There must be a rational reason for everything that happens, right?
The Bible tells us clearly that there are reasons why God permits suffering. In fact, I find five of them. Here’s a brief summary of each one, with a prayer that you will discover the peace of God that passes all understanding that comes through trust in His love and grace.
First, God brings suffering as a punishment for sin. Galatians 6:17 says, Do not be deceived: God is not mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Suffering is about consequences. It happened in the Garden of Eden first. God said there would be consequences to sin, and they were immediately enforced when it happened. The first consequence was…I bet most of you thought I was going to say death. Not so. The first punishment for sin was shame. This is so very significant. When man and woman sinned, they ceased being focused on others and began being self-centered. They no longer found their identity in God alone but began seeking to establish their own identity. They were no longer free to accept one another as is, because they couldn’t accept themselves as they were. My friends, the greatest tragedy of sin is that the death of our identity as image bearers of God occurs at conception, long before the death of our physical body. The suffering we experience because of that death is God’s judgment on sin, and it is designed to bring us to our knees before Him.
Second, God allows suffering in the life of a believer for discipline. The difference between the punishment of sinners and the discipline of saints is that punishment is only about the consequence, while discipline is all about construction. God is building us. He is shaping us. He is growing us. The purpose of all discipline is growth and change. Hebrews 12:7 says Endure hardship as discipline… The love of the Father is being displayed in our lives through discipline. Peter refers to this in the next few verses of his letter when he says, For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God. Embrace your hardship. God is working through it to change you because He loves you.
Third, suffering comes to test our faith. Earlier in this letter of First Peter we read, In this (faith) you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Through suffering, God is testing our ability to stay true to what we say we believe. How’s that going for you? Are the impurities of your life being burned away so the fullness of the glory of God can be seen in you?
Fourth, God uses suffering to build our character. Look at these important verses. Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4). AND we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4). The word character in Romans means “a permanent stamp of approval.” How awesome to think that when I pass the test of my faith and my character grows to be more like Christ’s, God stamps me with His permanent approval. Hallelujah! Let the hardships do their work so that we can be more like Christ.
Fifth, God uses suffering in our lives to provide us with ministry opportunities to help others in need. As our character becomes more Christ-like, we become more compassionate. Through our own suffering we have experienced the comfort of God, and now we are qualified to be the ministers of comfort to others. Look at what the Apostle Paul says in Second Corinthians 1:3-5. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.
That is so very cool! The more we suffer like Christ, the more we experience the same comfort Christ got from the Father when He suffered. In fact, it so overflows in us that it spills out onto others who are suffering around us. We become the ministers of God’s comfort and grace.
This just scratches the surface of God’s purpose for suffering, but it gives us a good foundation. Next time you’re feeling pitiful because of your problems, put them in the proper perspective. Just remember this promise… And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)