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All Suffering: With and For Christ
Suffering with Christ and for Christ is defined decisively by whether you are walking in the path of faithful obedience. For the Christian, all suffering—disease, persecution, weakness, insult—is suffering with Christ and for Christ.
God’s Ordinary Way Today: Partially
Don’t misunderstand: I do believe in divine healing and miraculous rescues. God can today—and he does today—take away sicknesses and rescue miraculously. However, there is good reason to believe that his ordinary way of applying what he bought at the cross is to give it partially now. His normal path is that we arrive in the kingdom along the path of affliction.
A Groaning World—Even for Christians
Let me give you one passage on this: Romans 8:18-25. Paul says that now the whole creation groans. It is a groaning world. And then Paul adds: We ourselves, the ones with the Holy Spirit, groan, waiting for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Even people filled with the Holy Spirit groan—waiting, waiting, waiting. How long, O Lord, in this wheelchair? With this Alzheimer’s? Sometimes he heals now. But sometimes healing comes at end.
Jesus’ Power Through Paul’s Weakness
One more passage: 2 Corinthians 12:9. Paul prayed three times that Jesus would take away his thorn—thorns hurt! And Jesus didn’t take it away because he was manifesting his power through Paul’s weakness. He had a reason for not taking it away.
God Has a Purpose in Our Pain
When we use the word purpose—are we sure about this? Is there a purpose for a thorn, for a war, for a suicide? Is God somehow over this? He didn’t drop the ball. He isn’t playing catch-up. He has a purpose in our pain.
I could address lots of things to establish this but we only have time for one—Satan.
Satan and Suffering
Two things about Satan’s role in our suffering:
- Nothing that Satan does is outside God’s sovereign rule. In Acts 10:38, Jesus is said to have healed the affliction Satan had brought. In Luke 13:16, Satan had bound the woman for 18 years. The spinal issue was Satan’s work.
Remember the story in Mark 1. Jesus says to the demonized man, “Be quiet and come out of him.” The people respond, “He commands the unclean spirits and they obey him.” As Martin Luther said, one little word from Christ will fell Satan. When Jesus speaks with full authority, demons obey. Always. No exceptions. Which means that if they are tormenting you, he has let them. He could say, “Stop,” and they would stop.
In Luke 22:31, Jesus says to Peter, “Satan demanded to have you to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith not fail. When you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” That’s absolute sovereignty talking. Not if. When. When you turn, be a rock. I’m building my church here.
First Peter 5:8: “The devil prowls around like a roaring lion . . . the same experience of suffering.” The jaws of the lion are the jails and the whips of Peter’s day. It looks like persecution is in Satan’s control. But 1 Peter 3:17 says: It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. Nothing Satan does in your life, or anybody’s life, is outside God’s sovereign rule. He does it by God’s permission, and what God permits, he designs. He does it for a reason, not willy-nilly. He permits Satan’s work for his purposes.
- You, in Christ, are totally safe from Satan’s damning power. Look at one of most glorious texts in all the Bible, Colossians 2:13-14. There was a record against us, and it was nailed to the cross through Jesus’ hands. You are freed in Christ from every sin. What does that have to do with Satan? The next verse—with no break or pause—says: He disarmed the rulers and authorities, triumphing over them in Christ. Satan’s still moving (roaring lion!), so what’s this disarming?
Right now the one damning weapon Satan has in his hands is taken away at Calvary: unforgiven sin. His one weapon is nailed to the cross. He’s stripped of his one damning weapon. If he’s about to kill you, you can say, “Make my day!” Satan’s damning fangs have been broken off. All he can do is gum you. The fangs are broken. Yes, his gums can kill you, but they cannot damn you.
Nothing Satan does is outside God’s sovereign rule and you are as safe as possible in Jesus Christ from Satan’s damning power.
Now the question is purpose. What purpose does God have in our suffering?
God’s Most Important Purpose in Suffering
I’ll only talk about one—the most important one.
Second Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for you; my power is made perfect in weakness.” This states the ultimate reason for suffering: There are aspects of the beauty and worth and value and power of Christ that can only be seen when his saints treasure him in suffering above health.
Whether in deliverance or prolonged suffering, what’s God up to? The display of the infinite worth of Jesus.
Death As Gain
Let’s close with Philippians 1:20-21. It was Paul’s ambition to have Christ magnified in his life or death.
He says, “I want Christ to look good in my body—whether I live or whether I die. Because to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” How does counting death gain magnify Christ? It’s not hard. The answer is: Christ is most magnified in us when are most satisfied in him when we lose everything but him. The wife is gone. The husband is gone. The kids are gone. How do you make Christ look magnificent when you’re dying? Answer: You say, “Gain!” If death takes everything and leaves only him, you say, “Gain!” And when you say that, the demons gnash their teeth in hell. When dying Christians say, “Gain!” the angels rejoice. Christ is magnified by being preferred above everything that life can offer.
Treasuring Christ in Suffering
Treasuring Christ above all things—above health, life, friends, career—fulfills the purpose of your suffering. His grace is sufficient for you. His power is made perfect in your weakness.