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The Necessity of Suffering

by Tom Stewart

May 1, 2000

To be human is to hate pain and suffering. "For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the LORD the Church" (Ephesians 5:29). Yet, suffering is inescapable for humanity, and especially for the Saints. "Yea, and all that will live Godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2Timothy 3:12). Perhaps you have not thought of suffering as part of the life of the ordinary Christian, but the Apostle Peter was inspired to write of the suffering and glory of his readers. "Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin" (1Peter 4:1). What Christian would not desire to follow in the steps of the LORD Jesus, even though it means suffering? "For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps" (2:21). It may be thought strange, but the humanity of our divine LORD Jesus actually learned Godly obedience by His sufferings. "Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered" (Hebrews 5:8). Why would we think ourselves so privileged that we should avoid the plight of our fellow "Strangers and Pilgrims" (11:13), "knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world" (1Peter 5:9)?

Isaac Watts (1674-1748) wrote of the Christian's warfare and suffering in his hymn, "Am I a Soldier of the Cross?".

"Must I be carried to the skies
On flowry beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize
And sailed thru bloody seas?"

Though Watts referred primarily to the suffering for righteousness that the Saints have endured at the hands of the ungodly, i.e., "15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters. 16 Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf" (1Peter 4:15-16), even more fundamentally, suffering was necessitated because of the introduction of sin into the world.
(1) Physical death (or, physical depravity) was promised, along with the spiritual death (or, moral depravity) of the First Sin, i.e.,
"But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Genesis 2:17).

(2) The circumstances that aggravate mankind, which culminate in physical death, were immediately introduced at the First Sin, i.e.,
"And unto Adam He said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life" (3:17). And,

(3) Even from the beginning, the LORD God planned the benefit to man of using physical suffering and death to motivate him to seek God and spiritual life, i.e.,
"22 And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of Us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: 23 Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken" (3:22-23).

Unlike the medieval monk, the True Saints do not need to go out of their way to devise means to chasten their flesh, for God will wisely devise all the necessary means and circumstances to promote holiness in His willing Saints.
"There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is Faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (1Corinthians 10:13). If we truly abide in the LORD Jesus Christ, He has promised to prune us to increase our fruitfulness. "2 Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit He taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, He purgeth [literally, prunes] it, that it may bring forth more fruit... 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me" (John 15:2, 4). We have been guaranteed specific answer to our prayers based upon our abiding in Him, i.e., "If ye abide in Me, and My Words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you" (15:7); but, it has been divinely revealed that we can never ask God to tie His hands by keeping Himself from disallowing every kind of physical suffering or pruning. "9 And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 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" (2Corinthians 12:9-10).

Christians more need to spend their time seeking greater Christlikeness, than to imitate the world in seeking to promote their physical longevity and enjoyment.
"For bodily exercise profiteth [a] little: but Godliness is profitable unto all things, having Promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come" (1Timothy 4:8). As much as long life is a blessing from God, a Godly life is His preeminent blessing. "5 Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the Truth, supposing that gain is Godliness: from such withdraw thyself. 6 But Godliness with contentment is great gain" (6:5-6). It is not wrong of us to ask the LORD to remove a "thorn in the flesh" (2Corinthians 12:7). And, we ought to attempt to pray the prayer of faith for deliverance from physical suffering or temporal persecutions. "Many are the afflictions of the Righteous: but the LORD delivereth him out of them all" (Psalm 34:19). But, we must not lose sight of the eternal values and gain that the Almighty seeks for us and His Kingdom. "And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever" (Daniel 12:3). May all the pain and suffering of our short sojourn upon this planet be turned into the "gold, silver, precious stones" (1Corinthians 3:12) of our reward, that we may "cast [our] crowns before the Throne" (Revelation 4:10), and join the heavenly throng in praising God. "Thou art worthy, O LORD, to receive glory and honour and power: for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created" (4:11).


Tom Stewart

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