Suffering is not fun. It’s a grievous burden. Nonetheless, disciples of Christ must be careful not to try to rid themselves of this burden in a way not approved by God.
There are three predominant beliefs about Christian suffering.
First, all suffering is a blessing, and comes from God. This is a favorite of mainline denominational preachers.
Second, all suffering is a curse, and comes from Satan. This is a favorite of prosperity preachers.
Third, suffering can be either a blessing or a curse, and can come from either God or Satan. This is the position of the Bible.
The Myth Of…All Suffering Is A Blessing And Comes from God
The first belief is popularized by those who superficially believe that since God is Almighty anything that happens must be His will. I say superficially because no one actually believes this.
This doctrine is merely an unscriptural doctrinal safety net to catch us when we can’t explain something. Better to say, “It must be God’s will,” than to say, “I don’t know why this has happened.”
Yet, even the staunchest proponent of the if-it-happens-it-must-be-the-will-of-God doctrine lives his life in direct contradiction to this questionable belief.
If a husband goes home and finds his wife being assaulted by an intruder, he doesn’t say, “Well, praise God, it must be the Lord’s will for my wife to be assaulted!”
Instead, he fights the intruder off. Why? Because he doesn’t really believe that all suffering is of God.
If we’re honest, we’ll admit the obvious that there is often a sharp distinction between our theology (what we say we believe) and our actions (what we demonstrate we believe).
We normally have enough sense to silently ignore our baseless and impractical theology when we interact with the real world.
It’s only in church and in our religious moments that we pretend to believe doctrines like if-it-happens-it-must-be-the-will-of-God. Why, even a casual examination of our lives proves that we don’t really believe something that is so obviously wrong and indefensible.
When we are sick, do we say, “I couldn’t be sick unless God wanted me sick?” No, we seek to get well, don’t we?
When we hunger, do we say, “I couldn’t be hungry unless God wanted me hungry?” No, we seek to get rid of the hunger, don’t we?
If a small fire starts in our home, do we say, “Oh, praise God! A fire. God must want my home to burn down?” No, we seek to put out the fire.
We do this because instinctively we know that all suffering is not of God. Again, it is only in church and in religious contemplation that we believe such foolishness as if-it-happens-it-must-be-God’s-will.
The Myth Of…All Suffering Is A Curse And Comes From Satan
The second belief, that all suffering is a curse and comes from Satan, is the brainchild of ignorant or dishonest prosperity preachers.
I define prosperity preachers as those preachers described in 1 Timothy 6, “who suppose that godliness is a means of gain,” and “those who desire to be rich.”
These preachers are money driven and teach that Christianity is a way to get comfort, money, and stuff, among other worldly things. Of devilish necessity, they must replace the clear teaching of the Bible with errors, lies, and manipulations that support their heresies.
It should be easy to see in the Scriptures that their all-suffering-comes-from-Satan doctrine is false. But covetousness and cowardice are extremely powerful blinding tools of Satan.
The prosperity preachers can’t see the obvious truths of the Word because they are blinded by unholy ambitions and fleshly fears. They can’t even imagine the possibility of God-ordained suffering.
This wrecking ball of truth is a threat to their man-made castles of fleshly prosperity. From their perspective, if some suffering is of the Lord, then it’s only logical that the negative results of some suffering are also of the Lord.
The prosperity preachers know their huge crowds follow them because they prophesy good things. The carnal, covetous, heathenistic, and idolatrous tendencies of their itchy ears followers would never follow a God who demands death to the flesh.
They created these monsters of greed and covetousness. Now they must feed the ravenous appetites of their comfort-eating zombies with more fleshly promises.
If the prosperity preachers even hinted at preaching the true gospel of Jesus Christ, that one must deny himself and daily take up his cross to qualify as a true follower of Christ, their followers would immediately cry out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
What a tragedy that they have filled church buildings and auditoriums with multitudes of false converts!
Judgment Day will be such a tragic surprise for those who thought they could, like Lot’s wife, find safety from God’s wrath while still loving what He hates.
The Truth Of…Suffering Can Be A Blessing Or A Curse
The third belief, that suffering can be either a blessing or curse, and can be from either God or Satan, is supported by the Word. This is our main topic, biblical, God-ordained suffering.
We will explore this in more detail as we proceed in our study.
Does Strong Faith Guarantee Escape From Suffering?
Did Jesus Christ miss God? Did He fail to walk in the promises of God? Was He familiar with Psalm 91?
Did He know the power of the word of faith? Did He know that God had promised Him at least seventy years of life? Why didn’t He use the promises of God to claim long life?
We are told by the prosperity preachers and their followers that if we only have enough faith, and if we only follow their formulas for success, we can escape suffering.
However, the Bible’s record of Jesus Christ indicts and convicts them as liars. Did Jesus Christ escape suffering? Was He shielded from trials, tribulations, or even death? Did His great faith protect His flesh from hardship?
Of course, Jesus did not escape suffering. So how do we reconcile the great promises of God with Jesus’s life?
We do so by totally rejecting the commitment stealing false doctrines of the prosperity preachers, and by studying the Scriptures for ourselves.
We must stop allowing ignorant or dishonest preachers to do our thinking. We must stop placing the welfare of wolves above the sheep. We must repent for exalting the words of shallow preachers above the Scriptures.
Only a return to the Bible can deliver our souls from the seductions of false doctrine.
Godly Suffering And Materialism Are Irreconcilable
Here is where my friends get angry, gasp, and say, “Why is he against the blessings of God? What’s his motive? Is he on a crusade against prosperity preachers?”
Am I against the blessings of God? No. I’m against anything and anyone who is against the eternal blessings of God.
And speaking from an eternal perspective, prosperity preachers are for the temporary prosperity and pleasures of this life to the exclusion of the eternal prosperity and pleasures of the coming kingdom of God.
To me it is foolish to trade eternal riches for temporary riches.
How do prosperity preachers choose temporary riches over eternal riches? It is because to pursue one is to neglect the other. To esteem one is to despise the other. To love one is to hate the other.
You can not go north and south at the same time.
Jesus said it this way:
No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon [money].Luke 16:13
How was this message of His taken by pleasure-seeking, covetous preachers who heard Him preach it?
Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him.Luke 16:14
How did Jesus respond to these money-hungry preachers deriding His message on covetousness?
He said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.Luke 16:15
The Pharisees highly esteemed money, comfort, and pleasure so much that they were willing to compromise devotion to God to get or keep it. This is the same with our present scourge of prosperity preachers and their offspring.
False Prosperity Doctrines That Conflict With Godly Suffering
Satan has deceived many into believing that their sufferings, trials, and poverty are proofs of God’s displeasure.
I emphatically classify as dangerous and false any preacher who dogmatically judges Christians as weak merely because they are sick, suffering, or poverty-stricken.
These are wolves in sheep clothing, of whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.
Here are some of their false doctrines that have provoked my response:
- Financial and material prosperity is a sign of God’s approval; financial and material poverty is a sign of His disapproval.
- Physically sick Christians are weak in faith.
- Scriptures can be used like witchcraft to fulfill fleshly, selfish desires.
Peter’s Perspective Of Suffering
Peter taught that Christians should not be ashamed to suffer, if they suffered for righteousness’ sake:
And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye…1 Peter 3:13-14
And, “Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf,” (1 Peter 4:16).
In America, it is popular to do evil in the name of Christ and to then complain that we’re being persecuted for righteousness’ sake. But that’s not the kind of suffering Peter was talking about.
What Kind of Suffering Was Peter Talking About?
When one considers that one of the most wicked and sadistic men to ever live was emperor of Rome when Peter wrote his epistles, and that this dictator hated the Church, one understands that Peter and the early Church faced unimaginable trials and hardships.
Emperor Nero instituted a savage persecution against the Church. Many were fed alive to lions and other wild beasts. Some were tortured to death. Others were dipped in tar and used as human torches.
Peter was crucified and Paul was beheaded. This man, Nero, even killed his wife, mother, brothers, other relatives, and his best friends. No amount of blood could quench Nero’s thirst.
Christians in the Roman Empire, like Christians in North Korea, Vietnam, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and China, suffered official persecution. This meant shame, humiliation, poverty, homelessness, pain, sickness, sexual assault, extreme temptation, mental torment, and death.
In America, many false teachers have risen to pseudo-Christian stardom and have amassed temporary fortunes by teaching that the above things can only happen to weak, ignorant, fearful, and faithless Christians.
However, Hebrews 11:35-39 says otherwise:
…And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection. And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings [beatings], yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment.
They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:)
they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise.
Against Scriptures like the above, it is obviously foolish to believe that only weak Christians suffer. Some suffering is the direct result of righteousness.
Some Suffering Is The Will of God
Suffering is not only inevitable because of Satan (2 Tim. 3:12), but because of God. God has called every Christian not to only be willing to suffer for Him, but to actually suffer for Him. “And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple,” (Luke 14:27).
Peter said this:
…But if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.1 Peter 2:20-21
Why Would God Require Us To Suffer?
Despite the false doctrines of money and comfort preachers, there is no righteous way to escape all of the troubles of the godly. No amount of faith, manipulating spiritual levers, or giving to the right ministries can do this.
Suffering Is Built Into Our Call To Love And Obey Jesus
Peter alluded to the basic reason in the 1 Peter 2:20-21 above. We are behind enemy lines. We are light in the midst of darkness. Righteousness in the midst of unrighteousness. Godliness in the midst of ungodliness.
Those who love and obey Jesus Christ are in natural opposition to that which is against loving and obeying Him.
The same can be said of the followers of Satan, only in reverse. Sinners despise anything and anyone who disagrees with their sinful lifestyle. So their hatred of us is built into our call to love and obey Jesus.
This is why the Holy Spirit said through the apostle John, “Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you” (1 John 3:13).
Love Often Requires Suffering For It To Be Effective
Why did God require Jesus to suffer such a shameful and agonizing death?
Think about it: It wasn’t the method of Jesus’ death, but the fact of His death that saved us. God could have chosen one of a million less painful ways for Jesus to die for our sins. But he didn’t!
It was because love is merely a word until action gives it meaning. Jesus could have come and lived and died in anonymity. An anonymous death wouldn’t have made His birth, life, and death any less effective.
But this would have made it an effective secret. The object, however, was to display God’s love, and to do so in such a powerfully moving way that it would melt the heart of the hardest sinner.
When a person suffers for you, you know that person loves you.
God the Father Orchestrated the Sufferings of Jesus
“But Satan killed Jesus!” you say.
I say you’re making the mistake of attributing this to Satan because the death of Jesus was apparently negative, though not actually.
Here’s a surprise. Concerning the crucifixion, the Bible says in Isaiah 53:10, “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; he has put Him to grief.”
Do you find this offensive?” If so, I urge you to forsake your wisdom for God’s wisdom. I remind you that more than once Jesus said Satan had no power over His life.
When Pilate said to Jesus, “Do you not know that I have power to crucify you, and have power to release you?” Jesus said, “You could have no power at all against me, except it were given you from above,” (John 19:10, 11).
Pontus Pilate was given authority by God the Father to crucify Jesus.
In John 10:18, Jesus said that no one had power over His life:
No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.”
Of course, Satan was involved in the death of Jesus, but He was only an ignorant tool in the hands of Almighty God.
The Sufferings of Christ Were Planned in Heaven, Not In Hell
The plan of salvation, which included death by crucifixion, was initiated and consummated in heaven by God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit long before Satan was created.
You wonder how can God use evil to fulfill His will? This is a good and honest question.
The answer to this deep question and its enlightening answer begins with an acceptance of God’s immutable righteousness, and of His ability to orchestrate the evil of a person to facilitate His own will.
For instance, how could God call the wicked, prideful, and murderous dictator Nebuchadnezzar His servant (Jeremiah 25:9; 27:6; 43:10)? Or the evil, bloodthirsty and cruel Assyrian kingdom his servant (Isaiah 10:5-15)?
He could do so because He alone has the ability to move all the pieces on the board to do His will, and to do so in such a way that it does not violate the will of the evil pieces.
So, the question of the necessity of godly suffering.
Suffering Comes Before Promotion
We must suffer for the same reason Jesus had to suffer. The resurrection of the Lord could not happen without there first being the death of the Lord.
No death, no resurrection.
Similarly, within the context of this present world, some good things can’t happen to us unless some bad things happen first.
Honestly, this certainly is not the answer I desire. Yet, there is no way to get around it without ignoring or twisting a multitude Scriptures and biblical examples like the following:
“In the world you shall have tribulation…” (John 16:33).
“But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge [beat] you in their synagogues” (Matthew 10:17).
“…We must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
“If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him” (2 Timothy 2:12).
The truth is God is almighty and “…works all things after the counsel of his own will,” (Ephesians 1:11).
We would like there to be another way other than suffering that prepares us for promotion.
The Olympian athlete would like to eat more fun food and run less laps. The medical student would like to read less and sleep longer. And the saint would like to suffer less and rejoice more.
But as it is in the natural, so it is in the spiritual. The greatest prize can be achieved only through the greatest sacrifice. This is why it is written of the Lord concerning His promotion (done and achieved for us) of exaltation after His supreme sacrifice:
Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth,
and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.Philippians 2:9-11
That first word of the first sentence. Therefore means “because of this.” Jesus was exalted because of His faithfulness and suffering. That is the same reason you and I have a glorious and eternal future awaiting us in God’s eternal kingdom.
Back to the Suffering of the Crucifixion
I stated that although Satan was a tool in the crucifixion, it was God who killed Jesus. Just before He was crucified, we find Jesus praying,
Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup [the crucifixion] from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.Mark 14:36
Isn’t that clear? Jesus said it was the Father’s will that He be crucified.
Let’s look at Isaiah 53:10, 11 again:
Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him [Jesus]; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin…He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied…
And in Matthew 26:31, Jesus said that God would smite Him:
Then Jesus said to them [His disciples], ‘All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: I [God the Father] will strike the Shepherd [Jesus], and the sheep of the flock [the disciples] will be scattered.
The evidence is overwhelming that the crucifixion was born in the heart of the eternal Trinity of God. When you really give it thought, it is an insult to God to give Satan credit for the crucifixion.
Jesus Christ is Our Example of Suffering
Just as it was God’s will for Christ to suffer for righteousness’ sake, it is God’s will that we suffer for righteousness’ sake. “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind…” (1 Pet. 4:1).
How do we arm ourselves with the same mind? We do so by living totally for God and the eternal welfare of others. That’s what it means to “…Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself?” (Luke 10:27).
If you are armed with this same mind of sacrifice for God and others, you will not “…Think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you,” (1 Peter 4:12).
Our Suffering Demonstrates God’s Character to the World
God could have chosen a shorter, less painful way for Jesus to die. Yet He chose the most shameful and painful death for His Son.
One reason He chose crucifixion is because it was graphic. In one brilliant move God showed the extreme wickedness of evil humanity and the extreme goodness of Himself.
The Cross revealed infinite hatred and infinite love. Our hatred of the infinite God, and the infinite God’s love of us. (Note: it also showed His infinite hatred of sin.)
We often think of the Cross as a past tense event, but God never intended His Sacrifice to become just a memory. The Cross isn’t history; it’s vital reality.
It is supposed to be daily demonstrated in our lives. That’s what it means to “…Take up his cross daily, and follow me,” (Luke 9:23).
We like to tell people that God’s love was demonstrated on the Cross. However, God hasn’t called the Church to simply teach the Cross. He has called us to live the Cross.
This means we must show the world the same level of sacrificial love that Jesus showed them on the Cross.
How do we do this?
By walking so closely to Jesus Christ that His beauty blinds us to the sinful attractions of the world, and deadens us to the sinful impulses of the flesh. Only as our eyes are intensely focused on Jesus and eternity can we break free from the gravitational pull of selfishness.
God will put us in positions to graphically display His love to this wicked generation. This means more than words. We will have to act out His love. We will have to show the world how much God loves them.
This will mean hardship and suffering. It will mean pain and loneliness. It will mean false accusations and persecution. But graphic love is God’s only way of salvation.
Another Reason Why We Must Suffer
Love and faith are useless until proven. Suffering exposes the secrets of our heart and proves our love and faith for Him. How many times have we seen Christians become bitter and fall away in times of suffering?
Their love and faith were weak or perhaps counterfeit. They couldn’t stand the test of temptation.
It’s like a husband who is faithful to his wife only when he isn’t tempted. Or a wife who is supportive of her husband only when she agrees with him.
What kind of relationship is that?
I’ve seen this attitude repeatedly among disciples of prosperity preachers. They follow God as long as they can explain and manipulate Him (so they think).
But when tragedy or trial rolls over their faith confession like an army tank over a flower bed, they are shocked, confused, and embittered. They frantically search for another book, recording, or conference to explain their suffering.
Unfortunately, all they are offered by their blind leaders are bigger shovels to dig themselves into deeper holes of darkness.
These false converts fall away because they never understood the gospel. They never understood that God has called every Christian to deny himself and to die to the flesh.
They thought Jesus denied Himself and died to the flesh so they could indulge themselves and live in the flesh. They thought He lived holy so they wouldn’t have to live holy.
When they finally saw that God requires us to suffer and to divorce ourselves from the world, they were offended and fell away.
Suffering Disciplines the Flesh and Prepares Us For a Greater Revelation Of Jesus
When Paul was savagely persecuted by Satan, he prayed three times for God to remove the thorn in the flesh he had. God answered, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
God’s refusal to remove Paul’s suffering, and His explanation for not doing so, lifted him to a level of spiritual understanding that from that point on nullified Satan’s fiercest attacks against the apostle.
What do you do with a man who has learned not only to rejoice in tribulation for Christ’s sake, but to actually prefer it? Listen to Paul’s new revelation of the secret of spiritual intimacy with Christ, and power with God:
Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.2 Corinthians 12:9-10
Paul learned something that we despise. He learned that Christ increased in him only as his flesh decreased. Like it or not suffering is God’s primary way of shutting down our flesh.
Even Jesus (as a man) learned obedience through suffering. “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered,” (Hebrews 5:8).
The secret of God-ordained suffering so excited Paul that he wrote, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death…” (Philippians 3:10).
Paul learned that life in the Spirit can only be secured through death in the flesh. He also learned that if he cooperated with the Holy Spirit, Satan’s greatest obstacles became stepping stones to greater glory.
He could say with Joseph, “…ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good…” (Genesis 50:20).
Some blessings don’t look like blessings until the end of the story.
Suffering For Christ is an Honor
Those who suffer for Christ bring special glory to God. And as a reward a special measure of the Spirit rests upon all those who suffer for righteousness’ sake.
If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you.1 Peter 4:14
The Church was founded upon the backs of servants who were willing to suffer for Christ.
Jesus told Peter that his own crucifixion in old age would glorify God, (John 21:18,19). Today we would accuse Peter’s dead corpse of being weak and faithless.
When the apostles were beaten by the hypocritical Sanhedrin council “…they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name,” (Acts 5:41).
In Acts 14:22 the apostles told their disciples “…that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”
The Jerusalem Council sent letters of commendation for Paul and Barnabas noting their sacrificial dedication. They called them, “Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Acts 15:26).
When Stephen preached to the Sanhedrin a mob stoned him. Before he died
…he, being full of the Holy Ghost looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.Acts 7:55-56
Does this sound like a weak or ignorant saint? He was according to our prosperity standards. Can we trust these standards?
Don’t Be Ashamed of Suffering for Christ
Don’t let prosperity preachers make you ashamed of suffering for Christ. Be like Jesus. Be like Paul. Be like the apostles. Rejoice in hardships and tribulation! God will reward you at the resurrection of the righteous!
I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich)…Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer…be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.Revelation 2:9-10
Eric has written a bunch of books. Check them out here.
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