Why Does God Call Us to Suffer?

Why Does God Call Us to Suffer

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The situational difficulties we face are the contexts that reveal our hearts, which is how God purifies our faith and obedience. These personal, relational, and situational challenges are our opportunities to follow Jesus in the Christian’s call to suffer. Paul discussed it as boasting in his weakness, but what does that mean? I want to take you on a journey through the New Testament, laying out how God chooses life’s foolish and weak things to confound the wise. Every dinged and dented jar of clay that God uses understands this “boasting in weakness worldview,” but for many of our brothers and sisters, it continues to be a mental challenge to shift from their former manner of life (Ephesians 4:22).

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The Fearful Call

Though a call to suffer does not bode well in our evangelistic endeavors, it’s vital to inform all those interested in the gospel that there are two—not one—gifts that God gives each person at the point of their regeneration. The first blessed package to unwrap is salvation, and the second is the gift of suffering. Paul said it this way:

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake (Philippians 1:29).

This second gift can be such a problem in the believer’s life that it hinders their growth in Christ. The average believer has an inadequate theology of suffering. If you asked them about it, they might stammer to articulate the query while quizzically staring as they wrestle with the terminology. The irony is that suffering is not to make our lives miserable but to teach us to trust the Lord rather than rely on ourselves. Self-reliance—a form of unbelief—is our biggest nemesis.

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 (Hebrews 5:8-9).

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).

This anti-modern message that promotes weakness as the pathway to power teaches us to die to ourselves (Luke 9:23; Galatians 2:20). It is one of the primary means of grace the Lord provides to create an other-worldly reliance on the only legit superpower. Though the message of death is unnerving at first glance, there are many biblical precedents, including God’s intentional crushing of His Son, as we learn in Isaiah.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief (Isaiah 53:10).

Our Call to Suffer

Occasionally, someone will ask me to help them understand God’s call on their life. While I do not know all that the Lord has in mind for them, I do know He has called every Christian to suffer. Peter could not be more explicit about this matter.

Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this, you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:18-21).

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The Steps of Jesus

If we are to walk in the steps of Jesus, the question becomes, what are those steps? What did Jesus do? Let’s look at how Peter articulated the steps of the Savior in this passage that lays out our calling.

  • He did not sin.
  • There was no deceit in his mouth.
  • When individuals reviled Him, He did not revile in return.
  • When he suffered, He did not threaten.
  • He always entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds, you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (1 Peter 2:22-25).

Granted, we will not save anyone as Jesus does, but God calls us to walk in His steps, which anyone can see is a path of suffering. The quick-thinking believer will say, “But He was Jesus, and I’m not Him.” True enough. The good news is that God has given us a backup plan when we fail to hit the high mark of suffering like Jesus. You can confess those failures while continuing His death march (1 John 1:9). Only Christians can repent, making it one of our high-powered secret weapons. Imagine having a way to clean up your messes!

Suffering and Relationships

Interestingly, Peter put his suffering passage just before his marriage passage and joined the two sections with the conjunction likewise so we would know they are connected. How cool is that? His point is clear: if you don’t have the correct view of suffering, you cannot live well with your spouse—or anyone else. Without a sound theology of suffering, you will likely sin against your spouse the first time they do not meet your expectations. A sinful response to a failing spouse is the exact opposite of how Christ responds to us when we fail (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; Matthew 18:35). I cannot overstate the need for sound theology and the application of suffering.

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered (1 Peter 3:1-7).

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Purpose of Suffering

Could it be, like Paul, that the good Lord brings specific individuals or circumstances into our lives so we can learn the obedience that the Hebrew writer talked about? (Hebrews 5:8—He learned obedience through what He suffered.) Learning obedience was, without question, the purpose of Paul’s suffering. He tells us all about it at the end of Second Corinthians.

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

Paul learned the secret to life when he said that his weakness was the condition that brought God’s strength to him, which helps us to understand why he was boasting in his weakness. Vulnerability and fragility are not something to resist because God will only place His surpassing power into such fragile clay vessels (2 Corinthians 4:7; Genesis 2:7). The question for us to entertain is whether we want to assume the position of weakness, vulnerability, and fragility to experience the wonder-working power of God operating through us.

Call to Action

  1. How would you describe your practical understanding of suffering? I’m calling it a theology of suffering. Based on what you have read here, would you share your view of suffering with a friend?
  2. Do you need to change your view of suffering so you can learn obedience through your relational or situational challenges? If so, what is your specific and practical plan to start that process?
  3. Have you found strength in your weakness like Paul, or do you resist the weakness that suffering brings into our lives? What does your answer reveal about you and God? If there is something you should address, will you create a transformation plan?
  4. Will you share with a friend your thoughts about boasting in your weakness? What does that phrase mean? How does it encourage you? What does it reveal about God’s method for empowering His children?

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