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Ethics: The Good Of Suffering

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This is the 8th in a 9-part series on Christian Ethics.

 

There are some philosophies, like Buddhism, which teach that suffering is the root of all man’s problems. If you can eliminate your suffering, and the desires that bring about suffering you can attain a state of enlightenment. Under such mistaken philosophies, suffering is seen as evil, without good purpose. No one who embraces such a philosophy sees any value in suffering.

 

Suffering is a hard thing. Everyone hates to suffer. Yet the Bible encourages us with three facts about suffering:

  1. Suffering is only a temporary condition for the Christian,
  2. Suffering is used by God to bring good,
  3. Suffering will one day be eliminated.

Though everyone recognizes the hardship of suffering and that it is undesirable, the Bible offers a perspective on suffering that to some people seems like insanity. It presents a picture of the eternal God who created the universe, who is all-powerful, and whom nothing can hurt, embracing suffering, and submitting himself to suffering on our behalf. In fact, the Bible teaches that God chose suffering as the primary means of ensuring we could have eternal life. Why is it that God’s ideas about suffering are so different from ours?

 

In this study we will examine the role that suffering plays in the Christian life, and why God not only warned us about suffering, but also made a way for us to embraces suffering as part of becoming the kind of person he desires.

 

God and the Nature of Suffering

 

God created the universe without suffering, but the advent of sin brought suffering to God’s created order.

 

(Genesis 1:31-3:24)

 

Though the world is beautiful and filled with many good things, the world is also corrupted by sin. Sin causes suffering. This means that we experience turmoil and discord in life that is contrary from God’s original design. God’s design was for man to enjoy a perfect creation and relationship with him; but our sin has separated us from God’s perfect order, resulting in various kinds of suffering

 

Since sin is the first cause of suffering, what do you think you need to alleviate the cause of most suffering? 

 

Though God does not suffer in his being, he has chosen to experience suffering as the means to demonstrate his love and great power.

 

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends” (John 15:13).

 

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

 

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).

 

“Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you” (I Peter 1:18-20).

 

Love cannot be fully expressed without sacrifice and suffering. God’s love is greater than man’s. Therefore God presented the ultimate expression of his love by becoming a man in Jesus Christ, and suffering on our behalf.

 

Can you think of a greater example of love than the eternal God who created the universe becoming a humble man and accepting the abuse and being murdered for us?

 

One day God will eliminate all suffering for all eternity, and those who know him will be like him in that they will never experience any degree of suffering for all eternity.

 

“He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces; the rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth; for the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 25:8).

 

“So that he who blesses himself in the earth shall bless himself in the God of truth; and he who swears in the earth shall swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten, and because they are hidden from My eyes. For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind” (Isaiah 65:16-17).

 

God’s expression of love was not merely a simple expression. It was part of a plan to do away with suffering caused by sin. There will come a day in the future when all who know him will experience eternal life without suffering, sin, or pain.

 

Do you believe in a hopeful future where you will live for eternity with no suffering, sin or pain?

 

Jesus: The Suffering Servant

 

Jesus was born into a universe that suffers because of the corruption of sin. By becoming a man, he chose to embrace suffering for his good, and for our good.

 

“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:20-23).

 

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).

 

“Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8).

 

As Jesus grew up he learned through a process of suffering. But he also embraced greater suffering through the cross that we might be brought into a right relationship with God. In this way we see that suffering is not always bad, but can be used by God for good.

 

Jesus Christ willingly suffered a painful death on a cross for you. How have you embraced his example of suffering?

 

Jesus chose to accomplish our salvation by experiencing suffering as the means to demonstrate his love and great power—and he set an example for us.

 

(Psalm 22)

 

“But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

 

“Then He said to them, Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day” (Luke 24:46).

 

“For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ” (II Corinthians 1:5).

 

Since Jesus Christ is our example for behavior and ethics, we should imitate that which is seen in his character. Jesus did not avoid or speak against all suffering. His mission was to embrace suffering on our behalf.

 

How can you follow Jesus’ example of suffering in your relationships with others?

 

At the end of all things, Jesus will rule a new Heaven and new Earth where there will be no sin and no suffering.

 

“And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

 

The period of suffering, sickness, and persecutions we endure now are only temporary. Because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead he is our guarantee that his promises about our future reward are true.

 

How do you think you should conduct your live with the knowledge that Jesus has promised to one day end our suffering? How should you behave toward others as a result of this knowledge?

 

The Good Benefit of Suffering

 

Suffering is used by God for good purposes. We should not view suffering as pointless or always bad, but as something that can contribute to good character.

 

“It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (Psalm 119:71).

 

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:28-29).

 

“Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

 

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:6-7).

 

“But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you” (I Peter 5:10).

 

Though suffering was not part of God’s original creation, God decided to use suffering as the means to express his love. God gave a purpose to suffering that brings temporary and eternal benefits—good character and salvation from sin.

 

List some of the ways that you have suffered in the last year. How can God use those experiences in your life to make you more like Jesus Christ? 

 

How have your sufferings changed your character?

 

We are commanded to endure and sometimes even embrace suffering to demonstrate the love and power of Christ, just as he endured and embraced suffering in the same way.

 

“…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” (Romans 8:17).

 

“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (II Corinthians 12:10).

 

“For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me” (Philippians 1:29-30).

 

“But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (II Timothy 3:10-12).

 

Throughout history the people we admire the most are the ones who have endured great hardships and suffering. We recognize that perseverance in suffering is a character trait to be honored and imitated.

 

Think through the list of things you have suffered in the last year. How can you turn those experiences into way to inspire and help those you love?

 

We cannot become like Jesus without experiencing suffering.

 

“…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…And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren(Romans 8:17, 28-29).

 

“…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10).

 

“For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps” (I Peter 2:21).

 

“But rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy” (I Peter 4:13).

 

Since Jesus suffered for us we can expect that at some time in our lives we will have to suffer for him if we want to obey his word. Jesus said we should expect to suffer if we follow him.

 

How has following Jesus caused suffering in your life? Do you think the suffering you might experience for following Jesus is worth the sacrifice?