Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Theology of Suffering

          Most Christians believe two things that are both true, but do not fit well together. The first is the observation that times of trial and suffering are also very generative of growth. The second is that, while they want to grow spiritually, they want to avoid trials and suffering if at all possible. It seems that every one wants to grow, but no one wants to suffer to achieve growth!

Notice these statements from Scripture concerning the value of suffering for Jesus:

In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. (Hebrews 2:10 NIV)

Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. (Hebrews 5:8-9 NIV)

Suffering served to make Jesus perfect (in the sense of mature, complete) and taught him obedience. While we may all intend to obey, you cannot know if you are obedient until you are in the situations that both demand and threaten obedience. Jesus faced those times of trial and suffering and came through thoroughly obedient!

            His disciples paid attention. Peter claimed to be a “witness of Christ’s sufferings.” Peter knew what it was to place survival above obedience, and he watched Jesus place obedience above survival. Seeing Jesus’ obedience in the face of suffering changed Peter forever. He wanted other people to see and change as well. Listen to Peter’s charge to his fellow believers: But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:13 NIV) 

Paul was one who inflicted suffering on those who followed Jesus, but then once confronted with the risen Christ he changed and became an apostle of Jesus. Ananias was reluctant to go to Paul when Jesus called him and Jesus assured him that “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:16) Listen to these words from the persecutor turned evangelist: Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. (Colossians 1:24 NIV)

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10-11 NIV)

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4 NIV)

            No one wants to suffer, but the quickest path to growth is to stand firm in your faith and to learn obedience through difficult trials! It was a blessing for Jesus, Peter and Paul and will also bless your life, too!
- Kenny Payne

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