OKAY—IT’S NOT exactly a curse word, but we sometimes treat it like one in the church.
Christians try not to say it, hear it, think about it, much less experience it.
No, it’s not a dirty word in an immoral sense, but it certainly is a term we’d rather not articulate—for to do so is to tacitly admit that it exists.
“What is it?” you ask?
Oh sure, we can rubber neck in awesome wonder at the suffering in other people’s lives, but we don’t want any part of it in our own.
“Whew, I’m glad that’s not happening to me!”
It’s like the old line from a comedy I watched on TV years ago, “I don’t like pain! It hurts me!”
Well, of course it hurts—that’s the nature of suffering, that why it’s called suffering and not pleasure.
Ironically, suffering is not only an inexorable part of the Christian walk (1 Pet. 4:16), it has certain redemptive elements about it too (2 Cor. 4:17; Heb. 12:11).
Study the following passages:
1. “For to this you were called, because Christ also SUFFERED for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps” (1 Pet. 2:21).
“Since the disciple is not above his master, nor the servant about his lord, suffering was to be expected. Two ideas are here advanced: (1) Christ suffered; hence, you, His servants, must likewise suffer; (2) in suffering the Lord left us an example for His disciples to imitate in enduring similar trials.”1
2. “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to SUFFER for His sake” (Phil.1:29).
“Since Christ suffered for us, we are called to suffer for Him. Paul wanted to share in Christ’s sufferings so that he might identify more with his Savior (3:10). Whenever we suffer for Christ, our faith has the potential of being strengthened. Such refinement and tempering will make us more fit for heaven (Jas. 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 1:7). We are also more prepared to offer comfort to those who experience similar trials.”2
2. “And if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we SUFFER with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Rom. 8:17).
“This specifies a particular condition for heirship, namely, the same one that applied to Jesus: first suffering, then glory. Jesus necessarily followed this path (Luke 24:26; Phil. 2:6-11; Heb. 2:1; 12:2). If we want to be co-heirs with Him, we must be willing to accept this same sequence, since participation in Christ’s glory can come only through participation in His sufferings.”3
4. “And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the SUFFERINGS, so also you will partake of the consolation” (2 Cor. 1:7).
“All sufferings received in the service of Christ are also certain to receive the comfort of Christ, the sufferings and the comfort being inseparably linked together (cf. Rom. 8:17; 2 Tim. 2:12).”4
Notice that in the aforementioned passages suffering is not only a given, but from a divine perspective, it is meant to bring us closer to Christ.
Thus, if we want to be like Christ, if we want to identify with and know Christ, if we want to offer comfort as Christ, and if we want to be eternal heirs in heaven with Christ, then we must accept the rightful place of suffering in our lives—it is something we HAVE TO experience.
When you think about it, “suffering” really isn’t a dirty word after all. Rather, it is a special term of endearment which reminds us of the means by which we are brought closer to the risen Lord.
1 Guy N. Woods, A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles of Peter, John, and Jude, 78
2 David Stewart, A Commentary on Philippians, 242
3 Jack Cottrell, The College Press NIV Commentary on Romans, Vol. 1, 485
4 James Burton Coffman, First & Second Corinthians, 306