A Brief Theology of Suffering

The following post is a study that I prepared for an Adirondack Pastor’s Fellowship in 2020. If any of you from that fellowship read this, please know that I love and miss you!

1. The suffering of Christ has brought us to God (1 Peter 3:18; Isaiah 53:5-7)

  • For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit (1 Peter 3:18)
  • But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:5-7)

2. God has called His people to suffer, so suffering is to be expected

  • Discipleship calls us into suffering (Luke 14:25-33; Philippians 1:27-30)
  • Suffering was Jesus’ own experience (Isaiah 53:3; John 1:10-11; 1 Peter 3:18, 4:12-19)
  • Jesus warned the apostles that His followers would suffer (John 15:18-16:4; 16:25-33)
  • Our suffering is actually sharing in Christ’s suffering (1 Peter 4:13)
  • Peter experienced suffering (to martyrdom), and said suffering should not surprise God’s people (1 Peter 3:8-17)
  • Paul experienced suffering (to martyrdom) (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
  • Paul called Timothy to suffer for the Gospel (2 Timothy 1:3-14)
  • Paul said all who lived godly for Christ would be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12-13)
  • Suffering is not something novel to the church age, the prophets before us suffered in God’s service (Matthew 5:12) – Partnering with God will always lead to suffering in this life.

3. God has called His people to rejoice in suffering

  • Jesus said we should rejoice in suffering, knowing our reward is great in heaven (Matthew 5:10-12)
  • Paul rejoiced in suffering, knowing it brought eternal benefit (Romans 5:1-5)
  • James told his exiled readers to count it all joy in trials, knowing it brought eternal benefit (James 1:2-4)
  • Peter told his readers that sharing in Christ’s suffering  meant rejoicing when His glory is revealed (1 Peter 4:13)

4. Reasons for suffering as a Christian

  • To produce endurance which produces character which produces hope (Romans 5:3-4; James 1:2-4)
  • To be prepared for ministering to others in their suffering (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)
  • To keep us humbly dependent on God’s grace (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
  • To make us more like our Lord (Romans 8:28-39)
  • To discipline us (for correction and training) (Hebrews 12:3-11)
  • To make us long for Jesus’ coming (Romans 8:17-18; 1 Peter 1:6-7, 4:13; Revelation 21:1-4)

One of the great joys of being a Christian is having confidence that our suffering is not meaningless. Another great joy of being a Christian is having confidence that our suffering is not eternal. God Himself will wipe away our tears, and He will put an end to death and suffering (Revelation 21:4).

5. Some ways that we endure:

  • Entrust ourselves to God, as the Lord Jesus did in His suffering (1 Peter 2:20-25)
  • Humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand, casting our burdens on Him (1 Peter 5:6-7; Psalm 55:22)
  • Depend on God’s grace (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
  • Trust Jesus’ promise that He will never leave us (Psalm 23:4; Matthew 28:20)
  • Serve others who are suffering (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
  • Bless those who are the source of suffering, trusting God’s plan, redemptive purpose, and perfect justice (Romans 12:14-21; 2 Timothy 2:24-26)
  • Rejoice in heaven’s reward and long for home (Matthew 5:12-14; Revelation 21).