Last week we discussed how if we're truly living for God's glory, suffering at some point in time will be inevitable. You can find that discussion here. We should take heart though because our suffering is not vain. God has good purposes for our suffering.
In his book Radical, David Platt says this, "When we consider the promises of Christ, risking everything we are and everything we have for his sake is no longer a matter of sacrifice. It’s just common sense."
Risking everything means suffering will happen. But there's hope and there is purpose. Let's look at three purposes for our suffering that will hopefully encourage us and fuel us to risk everything for the sake of Jesus.
First, our suffering is a means of sanctification. Peter calls it a fiery trial in 1 Peter 4:12. Fire either destroys or purifies. For the Christian, suffering is a means of becoming more like Christ. In verse 13 we are commanded to rejoice when we share in Christ’s sufferings. Why? We are being made more like our Savior who suffered on our behalf.
This should recall in our minds Acts 5:41 where the apostles rejoiced because they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for Jesus’ name. Peter himself rejoiced when he suffered in this way and he had been no stranger to suffering. He is walking testimony that we will suffer and we will experience sanctification.
Becoming like Christ is the goal. If we must suffer to do that, we should be all the more glad.
Second, we are blessed when we suffer! Peter tells us in verse 14 that if we are insulted for the name of Christ we are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon us.
Suffering is a sign that we have God’s Spirit in us. God’s Spirit strengthens us in our suffering and enables us to endure. He gives us resolve to keep going. No one in their right mind would suffer for something they didn’t truly believe in, would they? But we have supernatural strength in suffering that allows us to bless those who curse us and love those who persecute us.
On December 4 in 1984 David Livingstone who was a pioneer missionary to Africa said this to students at Cambridge University:
For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall hereafter be revealed in us and for us. I never made a sacrifice.
It is only God’s Spirit resting upon Livingstone that He could make a statement like that. It is only God’s Spirit that could give him that kind of eternal perspective.
I believe we also find a paradoxical joy that comes in suffering for Christ. I think by in large this joy comes from the hyper-awareness that God’s Spirit is with us and we are not alone. In verse 19 Peter exhorts that those who suffer according to God’s will should entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
God is so faithful and when we suffer He does not leave us alone. In fact, I believe it to be just the opposite. Suffering brings a sweet time of fellowship with God that typically is not replicated outside of those moments. When we are experiencing persecution or hardship because we have been following God’s will, we find that a faithful Creator holds us close.
Third, God is glorified in our suffering! We often hear that our lives are a testimony. We hear be in the world, but not of the world. In the United States, I think we often take that to mean something along the lines of don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t cuss, don’t sleep around, and maybe do a few good deeds. However, I know unbelievers whose lives are characterized by the same actions. God is not glorified when we tend to live our lives much the same way we were before Christ and we sprinkle a little Jesus on top.
God is glorified when we lay down our lives and make Him master. He is glorified when we are going on mission whether that be to Africa or to our neighbors. He is glorified when we are so enraptured by Christ that we are constantly talking about Him with our friends and coworkers. He is glorified when we live below our means to stay out of debt and give more to those in need. He is glorified when we suffer, are mocked, and are reviled because we are living so differently from the world that it brings them conviction and they can’t stand it.
When Christ is our treasure, God is glorified. We're to live our lives in such a way that God gets all the glory. Those who don't believe in Christ hate Him and hate when He's glorified. Therefore, we will suffer, but God has good purposes for our suffering: sanctification, blessing, and His glory.
One final encouragement is that God has not left us alone in our suffering. He has made provision for us to stay strong until the end. It will be that subject that we will examine next time.
The third post in this series is here: "The Church: God's Provision for My Suffering"