What is your theology of suffering? Do you try and avoid suffering at all costs? Does it shock you when you suffer? Or do you secretly think there is something wrong in your Christian life and you are a bad Christian? It is important that we understand what the Bible says about suffering. Without a biblical understanding of suffering as an anchor, we can find ourselves adrift when we most need assurance.
Our Two Great Enemies: Sin & Suffering
The concept of our salvation – our ultimate adoption as sons of God – stands at the very pinnacle of our existence. This reality helps us in our fight against sin. The believer as he walks in this world faces a several enemies. Sin is one of them – the grand enemy that seeks to tear him down and crush him. But the second enemy that the saint faces is called suffering.
The hope that comes as a result of our adoption as sons is a potent answer, not only to our sin on the one hand, but also to our suffering. In Romans 8: 18-25 we see that God has not left us defenceless or helpless in the face of these two great enemies. Rather the Lord has fashioned the saint so that he can boldly face our challenges with confidence.
A Biblical Understanding of Suffering
In this sermon Ken draws out 3 key observations to give us a sound biblical understanding of suffering: The reality of our present sufferings, the reality of our future hope and the tension of living between those two worlds.
We should view suffering as normative, not strange. And receive the good things that come from God with thanksgiving, and not entitlement.
We Should Expect Suffering
In Romans 8:18 Paul says “for I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” There is a place for suffering in this present world that we are living in. Even for saints, even for sons, even for heirs of God! The New Testament shows us that not only should we expect suffering, but as believers we should all the more expect it. For we have set ourselves on a course against everything in this world (2 Timothy 3:12).
We Also Receive Blessings
In many cases we pray. And in many cases we receive that for which we pray. Even in this world God has given to us countless good things. This is the God who is spoken of as “God who richly provides for us everything to enjoy.” (1 Timothy 6:17) Therefore we can say that a biblical understanding of suffering and blessing in this present life is one that includes both. We should view suffering as normative, not strange. And receive the good things that come from God with thanksgiving, and not entitlement. He grants freely so many graces and sweet things for our journey.
Unbiblical Understandings of Suffering
Any teaching or teacher that proclaims there is no place for suffering in the life of the Christian is a false teacher. They are not sticking to the gospel of the Scriptures. As such the prosperity Gospel, which says we should not suffer, is a lie. It is not biblical Christianity. It is a perversion of the Good News.
Secondly, to believe or understand every experience of suffering in your life as being directly connected to something you did – and now God is punishing you – is also flawed. That is not what the Bible teaches. There is suffering that comes our way as a direct consequence of our sin. But the Bible does not speak about that as being the only category for suffering. The simple reality is that we should expect suffering.
Suffering is Inevitable
Romans 8: 20 says “the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it in hope.” Romans 8: 21 “that the creation itself might be set free from it’s bondage to corruption.” So the way to understand this present time is a world that is in bondage to corruption. In a state of servitude. Everything that we see or touch is in an inevitable journey towards decay. That is the world we live in. But the Lord delivers us from all these many afflictions. (Acts 14:22)
We cannot escape unscathed. The saint will come into contact with suffering and fiery trials.
Suffering Has a Purpose
God subjected creation to futility “in hope.” What does this mean? The world is not as it is meant to be. Creation was made to serve one function – but the entrance of sin distorted that. In this we can see God’s righteous judgement upon the world in response to this sin. This should give us some comfort. When we think that the fallen state of this world is not independently as a consequence of what Adam did. It is judgement that is coming from the hand of God – who also mingles into this hope. This suffering is going to work out something good and glorious.
How Can we Live Out a Biblical Understanding of Suffering?
As you walk the Christian life and experience suffering you can rest assured that the scriptures affirm your pain. They do not ignore it. Your tears have a place in your identity as a Christian. You don’t need to believe that if you were a ‘good Christian’ it would be easy – that you should never doubt God. That you should always have this perfect response of “yes but… I know that God is good and it will all work out in the end.”
Sometimes suffering is a state that we want to get out of quickly. A biblical understanding of suffering will help you not look in the wrong places for an answer. Without this you may find you flee from suffering. You may even flee from Christianity itself. Because you figure you just don’t fit in! It’s too hard! And you end up identifying yourself with something other than Christianity because your concept of Christianity has no category for struggle.
All perverted views of suffering will keep you away from the grace that is necessary for you to endure that very weight that the Lord has placed upon your back.
Examine Your Heart
Everyone of us to some degree expects good things to come to us because we are walking with the Lord. When bad things happen we are shocked and surprised! But that reaction is exposing the prosperity gospel that hides in our hearts. Equally we should not have a twisted view of God and assume that all your pain is God being angry with you. Any and all perverted views of suffering will keep you away from the grace that is necessary for you to endure that very weight that the Lord has placed upon your back.
Listen to Ken Mbugua as he walks us through a biblical understanding of suffering which will help us respond to struggles in our lives with hope, strength and endurance.
Text: Romans 8:18-30
Date preached: 26 January 2020
Location: Emmanuel Baptist Church, Nairobi, Kenya