Perhaps the next unit — the Necessity, Nature, and Purposes of Christian Suffering — would be the most sustaining. I think learning that God is absolutely sovereign and that suffering has a global meaning is like standing on something really solid. But even when you’re standing on something really solid, you can get beat up pretty badly by hail storms. Finding something bigger, or let’s say more personal, as to what God might be up to in your life can be very sustaining.
The most common agonizing question after a horrible accident, a disease, the loss of a child, or the loss of anybody is the why question. We ask, “Why, Lord?” That’s not a wrong question to ask. It’s not a sinful response, if you’re really open to his giving you an answer. If the why question is an ugly, in-your-face, there-is-no-answer-to-this, I’m-mad-at-you-and-I’m-going-to-stay-mad-at-you-forever kind of response, that’s sinful. But to cry out “Why?” doesn’t have to be that way. If I found out that Talitha was hit by a car today, I would say, “God, why?” And then, I hope that my heart would come to these truths and find rest.
The Necessity, Nature, and Purpose of Suffering
First, is it necessary that we suffer as Christians? Second, what kind of suffering are we talking about, persecution or disease or both? Or how do they work together? Third, what’s God up to in it? That’s what I mean by necessity, nature, and purpose. I’m going to go quickly through these. We won’t read all these texts, because I really want to get through this unit and you can read the text yourself another time perhaps.
The Necessity of Christian Suffering
Must Christians suffer?
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34–35).
The mindset of a disciple when Jesus calls you is, “All right, I get behind him on the Calvary road. A cross is on my back. A cross is an instrument of execution. And I realize that there are many things in myself that are anti-obedience, and I must deny myself many times things that are inclining me in a hurtful direction, and I must be willing in this life to lose my life.”
That means you make choices that would cause other people to say, “You’re throwing your life away. You’re throwing your life away doing that mission in that God-forsaken place, and choosing not to use money a certain way.” Or, if you’re single, they might say, “You’re not sleeping around? Man, you’re throwing your life away. Don’t you know God made you with a sexual nature? You’re just going to be a virgin all your life? You’re going to go to heaven and never have sex? That’s crazy.” That’s the kind of talk that you will hear. Jesus says, “If you want to follow me, it involves death, cross, and denial.” Of course, the reward is that you save your life in the end.
So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:33).
I think that means you look at everything you have and you say, “It’s not mine. It’s yours. I will be generous with it, and if you take it, I’m still yours.”
The Expectation of Suffering
There are so many of these. I’m just looking here to see which ones I want to address. We’re talking about the necessity of suffering. I’ve already read you Acts 14:22 right there when we started. Second Timothy 3:12 says:
Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
And Jesus says:
If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household (Matthew 10:25).
It is necessary that Christians suffer. This needs to be part of our evangelism and part of our discipleship, that suffering and afflictions are not surprising. “Do not be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes upon you,” it says in 1 Peter 4:12. We haven’t been well taught in the Church in this regard. So many churches today have a kind of rah-rah spirituality. We’re always trying to be upbeat because people come back to church if it’s upbeat. Well, how’s that going to get you through the loss of your child, or the loss of your job, or disease? It is necessary, the Bible says, that Christians suffer. And those texts are all there.
The Nature of Suffering
Now here, this is a more troubling question I think. What are we talking about? What kind of suffering are you talking about? Someone might think, “You seem to kind of smash it all together, Piper. One time you’re talking about persecution over here, and then you’re talking about cancer over here, then you’re talking about the loss of a job over here, and then you’re talking about being in jail over here. Can you just smash it all together like that? When it says persecution-type stuff, should you include cancer with that? Because with persecution your suffering as a Christian, but with cancer it’s something else.”
Okay, so that’s the question we’re focusing on now. Here’s my thesis: in choosing to follow Christ in the way he directs, we choose all that this path includes under his sovereign providence; thus, all suffering that comes in the path of obedience is suffering with Christ and for Christ, whether it is cancer or conflict. That’s my thesis. I am smashing it all together. I am treating cancer and persecution as one suffering, and the same promises that are given to one apply to the other.
Now, is that right? Is that biblical? Do I have any right to do that? Here’s my argument. All experiences of suffering in the path of Christian obedience, whether from persecution or sickness or accident, have this in common: they all threaten our faith in the goodness of God and tempt us to leave the path of obedience. If somebody spits on you and mocks you, or you stumble and break your kneecap, the temptation is at the root the same; namely, will we keep saying God is good, or will we be tempted to say, “If God is going to let this happen” — the conflict or the broken knee — “I’m just not going to follow him anymore”? It’s the same issue.
Therefore, every triumph of faith and all perseverance in obedience are testimonies to the goodness of God and the preciousness of Christ. Whether the enemy is sickness, Satan, sin, or sabotage, it doesn’t really matter. Therefore, all suffering of every kind that we endure in the path of our Christian calling is suffering with Christ and for Christ. How so? It is with him in the sense that the suffering comes to us as we are walking with him by faith, and in the sense that it is endured in the strength that he supplies through his sympathizing, high priestly ministry. Whether it’s coming from opponents or whether it’s coming from disease, we’re with him. We’re standing with him, and he’s with us.
It is suffering for him in the sense that suffering tests and proves our allegiance to his goodness and power. In that sense, it reveals his worth as an all-sufficient compensation and prize, so he’s seen to be glorious. It’s for him. If disease threatens your faith, or conflict, or persecution, and you triumph over the threat because God is supremely valuable to you, he shines similarly in both areas. Do you see how I’m seeing them as inevitably one? The same issue of faith is provoked in both.
Whether Cancer or Conflict
Finally, suffering from persecution or sickness — those are generalizations of the two options — are often indistinguishable. Suppose that the apostle Paul got pneumonia from all this work and exposure, as he said, “I had cold nights,” and he said, “I had a shipwreck.” Let’s say he was thrown into the water, and after a day and a half in the sea the boat comes along and picks him up, and he’s totally overexposed and chilled and gets pneumonia. Would that pneumonia have been persecution? That is, was it a negative effect of his faithful service? He was on a boat going to Rome because God told him to. Or was it just a natural sickness?
Paul did not make a distinction between being beaten by rods in his list and having a boating accident or being cold while traveling from town to town. He listed them all (2 Corinthians 11:23–28). For him, any suffering that befell him while serving Christ was part of the cost of discipleship.
When a missionary’s child gets diarrhea, we think of this as part of the price of faithfulness on the mission field. But if any parents are walking in the path of obedience to God’s calling, the sickness of their child is the same price. What turns sufferings into sufferings with and for Christ is not how intentional our enemies are, but how faithful we are. If we are Christ’s, then what befalls us is for his glory and for our good, whether it’s caused by enzymes or enemies.
In conclusion, when we speak of the purposes of suffering in what’s coming, we mean both persecution by men or devils, and accidents or sicknesses that befall us in any path of faith. That’s a big decision. You need to decide whether you’re going to take it the way I am. When you’re reading your Bible and you read a text that’s relating to persecution, like 1 Peter 4:12, which says, “Do not be surprised when the fiery trial comes upon you,” in the context, that’s probably persecution. But I’m arguing that you can take all those texts and principally use the assurances and the promises in them for every other kind of suffering while you’re walking in the path of obedience.
When I got cancer two and a half years ago, I said, “Okay, that’s part of my ministerial assignment. It’s just part of the deal. I’m a pastor. I’m doing the work of the Lord. This is part of it.” I would have felt the same way if a man had shot me in the shoulder because he didn’t like what I was preaching. That’s part of the package. It was a price that I must pay because I’m doing this. God was clearly, sovereignly doing this. No man caused the cancer, I don’t think. The devil might have. That’s the way I’m thinking.
Applied to Every Affliction
I would encourage you to reflect long and hard on this because what it does is that it just opens the Bible up, and lets you relax and enjoy all those passages for you. You want to say, “Oh, this only applies to people in Odisha, India right now who are having their houses burned, because it says their goods were plundered in Hebrews 10:34.” Well, that is the most immediate, clear application. But if I had a fire at home tonight and I lost all my books, or you lost some really precious heirlooms, could you read Hebrews 10:34 and apply it to yourself? I want you to get this because I’m pleading with you to profit from the Bible in the fullest possible way with regard to your suffering. It says:
You had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.
There were some people who they went to visit in jail. While they were visiting in jail, people said, “Oh, they must be Christians too,” so they went and plundered their property back home. They burnt their furniture and wrote graffiti all over the wall that said, “Christians go home,” or something. Or maybe it was an official confiscation. We don’t know from the word in Hebrews 10. Then they got home and they rejoiced. It says that. Isn’t that crazy? It says, “You joyfully accepted the plundering of your property.”
Now, that’s real persecution for being a Christian. Suppose it happened just by fire in your neighborhood tonight. I’m saying you could go to this very text and say, “God, grant me the grace to joyfully accept this disposition of your providence because I have a greater possession and an abiding one. This is part of my lot in my obedience to you.”
The Purpose of Suffering
Now, what about purposes? What is God up to? You don’t have to think anymore, “Is he going to talk about persecution or is he going to talk about disease or loss of a job?” I’m talking about all of it. I have six texts related to this. I might have added a seventh. I was thinking about it again this morning, and I don’t mean for these to be exhaustive, but there’s a battery of texts here about moving from the global meaning of suffering to the meaning of your suffering.
Now, when people come to me and want to know why something has happened, like why Sarah Lee is in a coma right now, I think that’s just an absolutely good question to ask. Some of you are her friends. Others of you don’t know who I’m talking about. It’s one of our 18 year olds, and she is just lying there over at Regions Hospital. Will she wake up? It’s been four weeks, or maybe five. Why? What is God doing? One of our other young adults, Adam, made it. He was sitting in a wheelchair, and he’s got all these pins in his hip. Why? Why that? Why her there, him here? This family deals with this. This family deals with this.
I’m presenting such a bleak view of life in the suffering seminar that you do need to know I believe in healing. I prayed with a woman and I was standing right here. I don’t want to make this a big Piper moment because lots of other people were praying. But there was a woman who said, “I have an x-level lump in my breast, and I will go in for a final checkup and then do surgery and chemo and all that stuff.” I just got an email three days ago. She said, “You prayed for me on Sunday. I went in. They can’t find it. They cannot find it. They ran a second test. It’s gone. I said to the doctor, ‘Is this one of those praise God moments?’ The doctor said, ‘I suppose, because I have no explanation.’”
That happens, and we should ask that it happen. I can list off all the hurting people in our church, but I do want you to know there are people not only being wonderfully sustained in suffering but also others being touched in some significant deliverance ways.
That We May Share His Holiness
What is God up to? The first thing he’s up to all the time for believers is deeper faith, hope, and holiness. He is after faith, hope, and holiness in all of your suffering.
Here’s the key text. Second Corinthians 1:8–9 says:
We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia (he doesn’t get specific, but it’s pretty bad). For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death (and then comes the purpose, and it can’t be the devil’s purpose because it’s so good). But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
He thought he was going to lose his life, and what was happening was that he was being helped to trust the God who raises the dead. Isn’t that amazing? Sometime in your life, you will probably be brought by some means right up to the brink of death, and you will feel, “It’s over. I guess I’m gone.” It will either be disease, or some dangerous situation you’re in, or maybe some emotional distress that makes you think, “If this lasts another day, I will die.” It may me something like that. You’ll be brought right up to the edge, and among all the other things God is doing — and he’s always doing 1,000 things you don’t know — this is one of them.
Building Faith, Hope, and Holiness
God builds faith by knocking the props out from under our lives. Picture your life or your heart as propped up in its happiness, peace, comfort, and contentment. It’s propped up with health. It’s propped up with friends. It’s propped up with family. It’s propped up with chocolate. It’s propped up with a good job. It’s propped up with a reputation. It’s propped up with gifts that you can do. It’s propped up with being able to see, hear, and walk. There are 100 props that are part of it, and they’re not evil. They’re not evil. God has given you these good things. He wants you to see. He wants you to eat a little bit of chocolate. He wants these things to be enjoyed.
But God knows when our hearts need help to not trust in them for our contentment, and so he can just knock them out. He can make you allergic to chocolate so that you’ll never touch that again. Or you might lose your sight, break your back, or have your husband walk away. He just knocks them out one after the other. Paul had all of them knocked out. He thought he was dead. He thought it was over.
The ultimate trust is not just the God who restores, but the God who raises the dead. We have an answer as Christians for when all the props go out.
When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.
That’s number one. I hope that you will not be resentful at God that this is his sanctifying strategy. You might be, but I hope you won’t. I hope you will trust him and say, “God, do you really have to do that?” In fact, if you’re feeling well, I think you should not be afraid to say, “God, do whatever you have to to make me holy.”
I’m not going to read these others, but that’s what these are about. The Hebrews 12:7–14 passage is all about children being spanked with suffering in order to make them holy, and on and on. There are more texts. God uses suffering to increase our faith, holiness, and hope by having the props knocked up out from under our lives in some way or other.
That Our Joy in Heaven May Increase
His second purpose in suffering is to increase the joy of our experience of our reward in heaven. What do I mean by that? Second Corinthians 4:16 says:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away . . .
Now, this is not persecution and this is not necessarily disease. It’s just aging. There’s more to it than aging for Paul probably since he just spent himself so completely that his body was giving out on him. He continues:
Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction (that means a whole lifetime) is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (that’s my main point), as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16–18).
Now, what does this mean? It means that my affliction is producing, working, bringing about an eternal weight of glory. There are some who interpret these texts — that one and a text like Matthew 5:11–12, which says, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven . . .” — and they say all those texts mean is that every suffering sustained by faith shows that you’re saved and you’ll go to heaven instead (and this is what I believe) of saying degrees of suffering here sustained in faith increase reward later. I base that partly on that word working or preparing. There are the reasons like the parables as well. One gets five cities, the other gets 10 cities. It’s that sort of thing. I think there are differing rewards in heaven.
Now, what does that mean? I don’t suffer much. I live in America. I have a nice house. I have 911. I have an insurance policy. I have Dr. Woodworth who watches after me. I just don’t regard my hardships, which are some, as very large because I’m just aware of other people’s that are so much bigger. When I look at those who suffer massively in the world, everything in me as a non-sufferer says, “God, do something special for them in the resurrection.” I mean, don’t you feel that way? Would you resent it if somebody who endured some horrible, long imprisonment and torture was given some really wonderful, special, excessive, over-the-top reward that you didn’t get? I’d say, “Yay! Can I celebrate with you?”
Rewards in Heaven
I hope the idea of varying rewards in heaven doesn’t make you feel like, “Oh, I thought we’re all supposed to be perfectly happy.” Well, you are all going to be perfectly happy. The way I say it is that some people’s cups, some people’s capacity, is going to be bigger, and our cups get bigger through faithfulness in trials. When God takes you through a long trial and you don’t give up on Jesus, your capacity to know him and be blessed by him is growing. It’s stretching. It’s growing. Therefore, when you die and go to heaven someday, your cup’s going to be bigger, not smaller. I really believe that something like that is the way differences in rewards work.
But the main thing here I want to say is part of what God is doing for you in long, drawn-out suffering is increasing the joy of your future, mainly in the life to come. You may never have relief in this life. I got an email the other day from a family who’s dealing with some stuff out of the state. Actually, it was from Doug Nichols who was telling me about a family that he knows. It was so bad, so horrible, when somebody asked them, “How are you surviving?” they said, “We have resolved we will not be happy until heaven.” I think they mean that any ordinary happiness that the world would give, they simply won’t have. They would think, “If God is going to do that in this life, it doesn’t look like it to us. We’re simply going to be miserable until we see him, and then we will be happy forever.”
I don’t know how you could do that unless you really believed in what this passage in 2 Corinthians 4:16–18 says. It really is a light affliction because of the weight of glory in heaven, and it’s momentary because of the length of eternity. It’s producing an eternal weight of glory. That’s number two.
To Awaken Others to Their Indifference
Here’s the third purpose, and I added a second part to it this morning. You can see if you think it’s significantly different. We suffer sometimes to awaken others out of indifference and make them more radical and bold for Christ. The illustration in Paul’s life is this:
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear (Philippians 1:12–14).
I think you can generalize from that. In Paul’s case, it’s, “I’m in prison for the gospel. Brothers see me there, and they’re not there, and they see me holding fast to Jesus, loving Jesus, ministering to the Praetorian Guard, writing letters, holding the faith, and they’re saying, ‘Well, if Paul can be in prison for the gospel, we can at least speak for the gospel.’” That’s a beautiful effect of Paul’s suffering.
I look at some of you, and it has that effect on me. I look at the price some people pay in parenting, or some people pay in witness, or some people pay wherever, and I’m not presently paying. I say, “God, make me more faithful. Make me more courageous. Keep me. If they can do that, God, help me.” You don’t even know when that’s happening, right? It is. So a third purpose that God has is not just in your life, what he’s doing in your heart, but in other people’s hearts watching you aware.
Mediators of Comfort
Now, here’s another text. I remember this because of Jason’s sermon. I thought about Jason’s sermon, which he preached in this room a few days ago in the preaching class. This was his text. Let’s see how different this is:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction . . . (2 Corinthians 1:3–4).
Jason drew our attention to this word, so I will too. He comforts us in our affliction. So we’re in affliction, and comfort is coming in order to create an ability — an ability to do what? There’s a purpose for affliction, and comfort in affliction. It’s so that we would have the ability “to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:4).
We become mediators of comfort. Now, this is not people watching us so much as listening to us. You walk through something. Pick it. What have you walked through? One of the purposes now for having walked through that is to take the comfort, whatever it looked like, the help you got at that moment, and be there for somebody when they’re walking through it. That’s why. And that makes suffering a community experience.
There’s a lot of you from other churches here. I hope none of you or us here ever has to walk through the valley alone. There should be people who’ve walked through it before you all over you, saying, “Here’s what I experienced,” and, “I think the Lord will do this,” and, “Here’s how he helped me,” and so on. That’s part of what he’s doing.
Presenting the Sufferings of Christ to the World
A fourth purpose in our suffering is that he’s presenting to unbelievers, tangibly in our suffering, the kind of compelling sacrificial love that Christ extends to them from the cross. Now, this is a particular purpose. Not everybody would experience this. This includes missionaries especially, I think, or those called to be very focused on evangelism throughout their life. It could apply to anybody, but here’s the way it works:
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake (don’t ever read that lightly because it’s amazing), and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church . . . (Colossians 1:24).
Now, what does that mean, that in his sufferings he fills up what is lacking in Christ’s sufferings? The answer is suggested in Philippians 2 where the same language is used. The Philippian church sent Epaphroditus with gifts to Paul in Rome. It says:
So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete (fill up) what was lacking in your service to me (Philippians 2:29–30).
Do you see the parallels? What do we learn from Philippians and Epaphroditus and Paul about his own ministry? What was lacking in their service to him was the personal connection between their love and the beloved. They loved Paul but he was in Rome and they were in Philippi, a few hundred miles away, in northern Greece. They loved him. It’s a complete love, but it lacks something. What? Their thought is, “We have gifts for him and he hasn’t seen the gifts or tasted the gifts. He doesn’t know how much we love him. He can’t see how much we’re willing to sacrifice for him. So Epaphroditus, would you fill up what is lacking in our love for Paul and take our love in a physical form to him?” So Epaphroditus takes the gifts to him, and he risks his life on the way, and all of that Paul says is filling up what was lacking in their service.
This is not a criticism of the Philippians. What does this mean that Paul fills up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions? I think it’s exact. Christ would say, “I have a gift. I died for them. I love them. I shed my blood for the world, but they don’t know it. They can’t experience it. Something’s lacking here. Something’s missing.” Paul says, “I’ll complete it. I’ll take your sufferings to them.”
Words and Works
Now, there are two ways you can do that. You can tell them about it, and that’s sure what he did and we should do, or you can do it like this:
In my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions . . . (Colossians 1:24).
That means that one of the purposes of the sufferings of Christians is to be a picture of how much unbelievers are loved, which is why I say it doesn’t apply to everybody. But if you, at great cost to yourself, go to an unbeliever across an ocean, across a culture — a blazing hot place full of bugs and terrorists — you’re going to suffer, and they will look at that, this text says, and they will by grace see that’s the way Christ loves them. Your sacrifice to get here was his sacrifice to get here.
Or it might be as simple as you get a call in the middle of the night here and somebody who’s not a believer, or a believer, needs you badly. You’re willing to let your fingers get frostbit to help them because they’re outside trying to do something and it’s really cold in Minnesota. You can die in a few minutes when it’s 40 below zero and the wind’s blowing. They need help, and it’s three o’clock in the morning, and they can’t get into their house. If they saw you suffer to help them, they would know Jesus better. That’s what this is saying. That’s one of the purposes, and there are other texts.
For the Sake of Repositioning Troops
A fifth purpose is to reposition the troops of Christian soldiers into places they would otherwise not have gone. First, we’ll look at the Bible, then we’ll talk about possible applications to your life. Here we have in Acts 8 Saul at the stoning of Stephen:
And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem (this is suffering), and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles (Acts 8:1–2).
That is major. There were at least 10,000 Christians in Jerusalem at this point. Ten-thousand people were driven out of Jerusalem away from their homes. Why?
Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word (Acts 8:4).
But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord (Acts 11:20–21).
If God has to, in order to get the gospel to new places — places that we wouldn’t otherwise go — he’ll do this. He’ll do this. This is called persecution distribution, or something like that. Jesus had said just before he went back into heaven, “All power in heaven and on earth is given to me. Go make disciples in Jerusalem, and Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the world.” Months later, they’re all in Jerusalem. They’re just in Jerusalem, 10,000 of them, and the apostles are in Jerusalem. Nobody’s in Antioch. Nobody’s in Cyprus. This is the Lord saying, “You’ve had enough time. Get moving. If you won’t get moving I’m getting you moving.”
Uprooted for the Sake of the Gospel
You should read the history of missions and how God has done this in the history of the church. There are stories of, for example, whole peoples being uprooted who are Christians and being sold into slavery and taken 1,000 miles away, and centuries later there are churches in those places. There are just amazing stories of the movement of populations throughout the world where it’s all through persecution. It’s all through horrible things happening, and Christians are just transplanted all over the world by God’s seeds that get dropped in the dirt. A big shovel puts it in a truck, the truck takes it down to the sewer, the sewer goes in the river, which goes into a boat, and the boat goes down to Casablanca, and the seed drops, and a tree grows up. That’s an analogy of how God does it.
Or he might just give you prostate cancer so that you would what? You would navigate a series of relationships you would have never ever navigated. It could be hospitals, doctors, and radiology specialists, or whatever. Here you are in new places that you would have never been. Are you going to do anything with that or are you going to waste it? Maybe you have an accident or you go to court. It’s a whole new series of relationships, right? Are you going to waste that?
Remember in Luke 21:12–13 it says:
They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake . . .
Then he adds:
This will be your opportunity to bear witness.
This is an evangelistic strategy. God getting you arrested to talk to somebody in jail is an evangelistic strategy. That’s an application of this kind of purpose for our suffering.
Christ’s Power Perfected in Weakness
A sixth purpose is to magnify the power of Christ in our weaknesses and the sufficiency and surpassing value of Christ over all worldly comforts and pleasures. This is not very different from number one, but 2 Corinthians 12:9 needs special attention:
Jesus said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Weakness is not a comfortable thing to endure. We like to be strong. He’s saying, “Okay, but weakness is where often my power will shine most brightly. You won’t look all that great, but I will look great.” Paul says:
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9–10).
That’s another amazing statement. That’s a pretty broad array of sufferings — weaknesses, people insulting him, distress (which is very vague and general because anything could bring distress into your life), persecutions, and difficulties. It’s all broad and for Christ’s sake. He says, “For when I am weak, then am I strong.” That is, he means, “Christ is strong in me.”
What he’s saying is, “What’s your big goal in life? Is it to avoid suffering? Or is it to magnify the power and grace of Jesus?” If your goal is to avoid suffering, then when it comes, you’ll get mad at God. If your goal is to magnify Jesus above all, then this will happen. It’s not easy. It’s a battle day in and day out to be that content in weaknesses, insults, distresses, persecutions, and difficulties.
How to Joyfully Endure Suffering
The last question to ask here before we take a little teeny break is, how shall we joyfully endure the measure of suffering appointed for us? Is there any way miraculously we could do it? I mean besides knowing those six purposes. I think knowing those six purposes is a means to contentment. It’s a means of saying, “I trust you. I have seen two, three, four, or five things you might be doing in my life that have great significance. It’s not comfortable. I don’t like being operated on like that. I wish you used more anesthesia, but if it can make me well and others well and accomplish these things, I trust you.”
Now, I just want to add one more answer from Hebrews. We already read it, so we’ll just briefly touch on it:
For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one (Hebrews 10:34).
You may say, “It doesn’t work,” but it did for them and it could for you. This means you have a better possession and a lasting one. It’s better and lasting, like Psalm 16:11 says:
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
It’s better (full), and it’s lasting (forever). That’s the only kind of joy I’m interested in in the long run — one that is full and lasts forever. That, he says, and you know this, gives you the ability to joyfully accept the plundering of your property. I say it because it’s in the Bible. I’ve experienced it some, but I haven’t experienced very much loss in my life. But I do pray that when the loss comes I will respond like this. Suppose my whole house burned down. I’ve got about 54 volumes of journals that I’ve kept since I was 18 years old. I would not take any amount of money in the world for those journals. If they were taken away, I hope the Lord would give me the grace to hear him say, “You have me, and I remember everything that was in the journals. I’ll tell you someday in heaven.” Something like that. I don’t know what your present challenge is, but I pray that it will have that effect.
Looking to the Reward
Here’s the way it worked for Moses:
By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin (Hebrews 11:24–25).
He could have escaped the ill-treatment, but he didn’t escape it. He stayed with it. You can always opt for more sin and more immediate passing pleasure. How did he do that? How did he endure ill-treatment and pass up the pleasures? It says:
He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward (Hebrews 11:26).
That’s exactly the same as Hebrews 10:34. He was looking to the reward. When you must make a hard decision to let something go, or do without something that you would very much like to have, one biblical way of getting the motivation to do it is looking to the reward, saying, “There will be for me, if I give up marriage, a husband and a marriage supper that will be 10,000 times more than I would have ever known in this world, and even better because I have passed it up,” or whatever your loss might be. That’s the way we argue with our souls.
Here is one more from Hebrews 13:12–13:
Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured (this is like Moses). For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.
That’s how we do it. How do you go to a place where you probably will only get reproach? You preach to yourself that the city we’re in now is not lasting, but we will have one sooner than we know. That’s how we do it. May God give you the grace to do it.