“But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Acts 9:15-16)
These are the instructions of the Lord to Ananias concerning Saul of Tarsus. The Lord appeared to Ananias in a vision instructing him to go and lay his hands on Saul in order that his sight might be restored. Knowing the reputation of the man and how he has persecuted the Church relentlessly, Ananias, understandably, is surprised by God’s directions. Nevertheless, God assures Ananias that He has a plan for Saul of Tarsus that involves “bearing His name” before kings, Gentiles, and those of Israel.
Let us take note of two things in the Lord’s words to Ananias about the man who will one day come to be known as the Apostle Paul: 1.) Paul is chosen by God, that is, God has a calling for Paul to serve Him, to be an instrument or vessel of the Lord and, 2.) Part of that calling involves suffering. Thus, the Apostle Paul will simultaneously be in the will of God and also suffering trials and hardships as he does so.
We as Christians in this day and age often lose sight of the fact that suffering, to one degree or another, is an inevitable part of our walk with the Lord. Moreover, we also tend to think that suffering is a sign that something is wrong and that those who experience it must have drifted away from God. Some preachers and teachers lead us to believe that, if our faith is strong enough and we are standing firm on God’s Word, the trials and tribulations of this life will pass us by as we stand in the safe shelter of God’s loving arms. And in those occasions that hardship does befall us, we are exhorted to seek to discover what it is God is trying to “teach” us in the storm.
“For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:20-21)
Sin can and does break our fellowship with God and often brings with it earthly consequences. If the “storm” we are in is the result of our own sinful behavior, then we definitely should not only seek to know what God is trying to teach us but also confess that sin to the Lord and turn from it! But there is also the suffering that comes upon us simply for doing what is right, not that which is wrong. The Apostle Peter says that this is the purpose for which we have been called: to follow in the steps of Jesus.
Even so, trials, hardships, and sufferings have a way of catching us off guard. They’re certainly not something we make plans for, even though we know that they will occur from time to time. And rather than patiently enduring and accepting our situation, we grumble, complain, and even doubt and question the Lord. Never would we even consider rejoicing that we have been counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of the Lord (cf. Acts 5:41).
Virtually every person of God mentioned in the Bible bears the wounds and scars of suffering in the account of their life. Countless examples could be cited that demonstrate that those who walk the closest with God often suffer the most for Him. My message here is not that we should seek out suffering and embrace it as a masochistic martyr, but that we should understand that we will face hardships and trials when we seek to live the Christian life. Jesus Himself told us that we would have tribulation in this world but to be of good courage because our Lord has overcome the world (John 16:33). The good news is that we serve a God Who has already defeated sin, death, and Satan and that our eternal destiny is to live with Him forever! For all the sufferings that the Apostle Paul would endure, he had these simple words to say of them:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)
Finally, I wish to close with the autobiographical account of Paul himself, looking back over years of service to Christ. Few of us will ever be called upon to suffer for the Lord the way this man did and yet his assessment in the end was that he regretted nothing (2 Timothy 4:7). Someone once presented to me a theory which states that the Christianity that Paul taught is different from the Christianity which Peter, John, and even Jesus Himself taught. The suggestion was that Paul had created a “false Christianity” born out of his own imagination and which he himself knew to be a lie. I referred the critic to the following passage and said that, if what he said was true, then Paul sure underwent a whole lot of suffering for a lie. People might suffer willingly for something they believe to be true, even if it’s not, but nobody is willing to suffer for something which they know to be false!
“[I have been] beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?
If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and so escaped his hands.” (2 Corinthians 11:23b-33)
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,
**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.
[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]
“And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:17-18)
Perhaps the greatest tragedy within the Church at this present hour is the complete and utter denial of the Christian’s call to suffer. If we are to believe the teaching coming from most pulpits (and virtually all of the “Bible teaching” being presented on Television), we would conclude that it is never the will of God for His people to endure hardship and suffering. The liberal believes that much of the suffering and hardship of church members is the result of gross social injustice and oppression, and that more programs need to be implemented in order to relieve these inequalities. The fundamentalist, on the other hand, is more often than not taught that it is the error of the one enduring the hardship who has brought the condition upon themselves and that a little more faith on their part would surely alleviate the situation.
Why is it that so often our first reaction to suffering is that something is wrong when the Lord Jesus Himself told us that we would face tribulation? The Apostle Peter urged the believer to not consider the fiery trials of life as strange, but something to be expected and even a cause for rejoicing (1 Pet. 4:12-13). Even so, the hardships that the Christian faces are usually seen as something highly undesirable, something that we seek to be out from under as quickly as possible, and, in the viewpoint of a great many church-goers, a possible indication of something wrong in the inward life of the particular person. Many sermons are preached about how to rid ourselves of trouble (or avoid trouble altogether) – we must pray more, study more, give more, fellowship more…sin less – but it is the rare message that instructs the child of God how to patiently endure the call to suffer for our Lord’s sake (Phil. 1:29).
To “rejoice in suffering” and to “praise God in the midst of persecution” is a concept that is completely foreign in an age where comfort and ease are are the chief goals of most people. Difficulty is avoided at all costs and hardship is shunned wherever possible in favor of the path of least resistance. Yet the road that follows the will of God often leads straight through the desert and dry places. Tribulation will surely come to all of us and, more often than not, the closer we walk with God the rockier the trail becomes.
We must never conclude that God delights in our suffering since He calls us into them. God is certainly no sadist; the Lord is easily touched with the feelings of our infirmities and temptations (Heb. 4:15). Neither are we instructed to be masochistic, enjoying the pain that comes our way. But we are admonished to see the big picture, to see things from God’s point of view, and realize that the sufferings of this present hour endure but for a moment.
God allows trials and hardships to come upon every believer, accomplishing His purposes in ways we do not always undertsand, and we do well to remember that the sufferings we face in this life are not even in the same ball park as the glories that await us in the next. When we put all of the sufferings we endured during this life up against all of the blessed glories that God has in store for us in the next, they will look very small and insignificant indeed. As the mother who endures the pains of child-birth for a few hours is rewarded with a child to love for a lifetime, so it is with the Christian whose sufferings will end in the blink of an eye and whose rewards will endure for eternity.
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,
“By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;” (Romans 5:2-3)
Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer (Galatians 5:22) and is the very strength of the child of God (Nehemiah 8:10). But the “rejoicing” referred to here in Romans 5:2 is a little different than having joy in our hearts. The root word translated as “rejoicing” actually appears three times in the passage we are looking at (Romans 5:1-11). In Verse three it is rendered glory (“we glory in tribulations…”) and in Verse 11 it is translated as joy (“we also joy in God…”).
The word really means to boast, to take pride in, to glory in. It is that thing to which a person points as the source of their pride and joy. It is interesting to notice what people say when they first meet someone because this often reveals what it is that person takes pride in. “What do you do for a living?” or, “Where do you work?” are questions that seem to top the list. For a lot of people, their occupation is what they take pride in and their work is what they feel identifies them. “Where are you from?” is another common question asked upon being introduced to someone new. We want to know what kind of background this person has, what type of experiences have shaped who they are. People are proud of where they come from and of their heritage, identifying themselves as a part of something bigger than themselves. For others, the kind of car they drive or how much money they have in their bank account are the things in which they boast and take pride.
But what are the things connected to this term, this boasting, in Romans 5? What are the things that the Christian should take pride in and boast of? Well, Verse 2 says that “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Verse 11 says that we “joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And Verse 3 states that we “glory in tribulations.” First and foremost, our boasting and glorying ought to be in God and what He has done in our lives. The Lord is the ultimate Source of pride and joy in the life of the Christian, or at least He should be. It is worth noting that the Apostle Paul never opened any of his epistles with the words: “Paul from Tarsus, tent maker and former esteemed member of the Pharisees…” I doubt that he handed out business cards with words to this effect on them! How did he identify himself? Apostle, servant of Jesus Christ, servant of God, prisoner of Jesus Christ. It was who he was in Christ that mattered, and this is how he identified and introduced himself.
The third source mentioned of the Christian’s boasting in Romans 5 may be a little more difficult for us to embrace. Verse 3 tells us that we “glory in tribulations…” Now, I don’t know about you, but I cannot remember the last time that I boasted about the hardships I was going through! I know that I have complained and whined about my hardships quite a few times, but boasted of them? I don’t think the idea here is that we should go around bragging about how hard we have it (some folks do this, but it is a boasting of their own abilities to withstand a greater pressure than someone else), but I do think that the intention is for us to see the big picture and acknowledge that God is doing something through our sufferings and has allowed them for a definite purpose.
All too often our focus is on simply getting out from under our burdens as quickly as possible and to put an end to the pain as soon as we can. But when we realize that even our trials and tribulations are part of the work of God in our lives, to mature us into the people He wants us to be, when we see His hand in everything, then our hardships become much more tolerable and even take on a deeper meaning beyond the trial we are going through. Patience, experience, hope, are all results of the tribulations that God allows to come into our lives. It is worth noting that none of these characteristics can really come any other way. How can we be patient unless we know what it is to wait? How do we gain experience unless we know what it is to suffer? And what purpose has hope if there be nothing to hope for?
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
All things work together for our good, even the most devastating of tragedies. God does not cruelly orchestrate opportunities for suffering in the life of the Christian just so that He might mature us and cause us to grow. But He does allow certain misfortunes to occur and then uses those experiences to shape our character. If we will seek Him even in our darkest hours, He can take the broken pieces and make something new from them. He can take even the ash heaps of devastation and bring something beautiful from them. He can, and He will, cause all things to work together for our good. We need not fear the trouble that comes our way for God can use the trying times for His purposes. What greater source of boasting could we ask for than that?
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,