17 – ENGAGING THE POWERS OF THE KINGDOM – THE POWER OF SUFFERING

17 – ENGAGING THE POWERS OF THE KINGDOM – THE POWER OF SUFFERING

This is a strange topic to include in this series! How can we use suffering to overcome the world?

The more I think about it, the more I realise that the Bible has much to teach us about suffering and how we can turn suffering to our advantage to overcome the world system by engaging the power of the kingdom.

“Suffering” is a huge subject with many mysteries. I don’t intend writing a thesis on the subject. I would rather examine suffering from the Bible’s perspective so that we can turn our hardships into tools to overcome the world and its ways.

Let me start with some observations about suffering.

  1. Everyone will experience suffering in some form because we are all part of a fallen world. Not even belief in Jesus will exempt us from suffering.

“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”John 16:33 NLT

  1. Suffering has many faces… physical, psychological, emotional, mental, and even spiritual.
  1.  Spiritual suffering is a topic on its own.

We can understand the causes of most suffering, but what about spiritual? Spiritual suffering is very real.

Job is a good example of spiritual suffering. His physical disease and the emotional pain of his loss produced the question, “Why?” All his emotional and physical anguish paled into insignificance in comparison with his spiritual suffering because God didn’t answer his question.

We suffer spiritually when we ask the wrong question, have the wrong attitude, or view our suffering from the wrong perspective.

  1. The Bible does not answer the personal question, “Why am I suffering?” Only God knows why He allows individuals to suffer. It does answer the question, “How?”
  1. God does not use suffering to punish us for sin. Jesus suffered and died to pay for all sin for all people for all time.

“He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.” 1 John 2:2 NLT

  1. If we understand suffering from God’s perspective, it will always have a positive outcome for us.

“For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.” Hebrews 12:10-11

To answer the question, “How must we respond to suffering?”, we must find our answer in the way Jesus suffered.

  1. JESUS WAS BORN TO SUFFER

“He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.” Isaiah 53:3 NLT

Jesus’ suffering was predicted centuries before His birth. Unlike most other humans, He was sent by the Father to suffer and die for the sins of the world.

  1. JESUS’ SUFFERING WAS TRAINING TO BE A SON

“Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he learned obedience from the things he suffered.” Hebrews 5:8 NLT

Although Jesus was God’s Son, He had to learn to be human. Since His role as God’s sacrifice for sin was to be a perfect son, God used suffering to teach Him obedience because obedience to the Father is a hallmark of sonship.

  1. SUFFERING QUALIFIED JESUS TO BE A PERFECT HIGH PRIEST AND SACRIFICE

“In this way, God qualified him as a perfect High Priest, and he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him.” Hebrews 5:9 NLT

God designated Jesus to be our High Priest in the order of Mechizedek, a type of Jesus because there is no record of his death. Since Jesus is alive forever, He remains our High Priest forever.

Unlike the Levitical high priests, Jesus did not offer an animal for the sin of His people.

“So, Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.” Hebrews 9:11-12 NLT

  1. JESUS DID NOT SUFFER FOR HIS SIN BUT FOR OURS

“He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone… He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed.” 1 Peter 2:22, 24 NLT

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.” 1 Peter 3:18 NIV

  1. JESUS’ SUFFERING RESTORES EVERYTHING TO GOD’S ORIGINAL PURPOSE

“Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Romans 8:20-22 NLT

“But it was the Lord ’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord ’s good plan will prosper in his hands. When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.” Isaiah 53:10-11 NLT

  1. JESUS WAS GIVEN THE GREATEST TITLE AND REWARD BECAUSE OF HIS OBEDIENCE TO GOD

” Lord” – supreme authority, and “head over all things for the church”.

“… When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” Philippians 2:7-8 NLT

“Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11 NLT

“God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.” Ephesians 1:22-23 NLT

7. JESUS’ SUFFERING EQUIPS HIM TO BE OUR FAITHFUL HIGH PRIEST

As a perfect sacrifice, Jesus took away our sin. As a faithful High Priest, He supports us in our suffering.

“This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. Hebrews 4:15 NLT

“Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.” Hebrews 2:17-18 NLT

  1. AS OUR HIGH PRIEST, JESUS LIVES FOREVER AND, BY HIS DEATH, IS QUALIFIED TO MAKE INTERCESSION FOR US

“Making intercession” is not the same as “praying” for us. An intercessor is one who stands between the offender and the offended to present the offender’s case. He is a mediator or an advocate.

Jesus is both our mediator and advocate who is in the Father’s presence and presents His blood in our defense because we have been declared “not guilty”.

“Consequently, he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”Hebrews 7:25 NRSV

“There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 2:5 NLT

“My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.” 1 John 2:1-2 NLT

It was through His suffering that Jesus made salvation and all its benefits possible for us. Therefore, we must ask the question, “How can we use our suffering to benefit ourselves and others on this journey towards victory over our spiritual enemies?”

Since we can’t evade or escape suffering for whatever reason, there are attitudes and actions to adopt that, strangely enough, turn suffering into a joyful and beneficial experience.

However, we must first look at the sources of our suffering because each calls for a different response.

  1. The fallen world we live in.

Since we live in a world corrupted by sin, we are surrounded by sinful people who function in a corrupted world system. We are subjected to attitudes and actions from the world that prompt us to react out of the flesh and that reflect the same attitudes as worldly people… frustration, impatience, anger, resentment etc.

  1. The consequences of our own ungodly and foolish choices.

When worldly people do things that bring suffering on themselves and other people, they often blame God for “allowing” these “consequences” to happen.

We are also capable of making choices that have unpleasant consequences. However God does not protect us from the consequences of our sinful choices because we make the choices, not God, and we learn valuable lessons, if we are wise, from what we suffer. Unfortunately, these consequences won’t go away and may or will haunt us for the rest of our lives and even the generations that follow.

Abraham’s choice to have a son through Hagar is a good example of the results of one ungodly choice.

  1. There is a third cause of suffering we can dodge if we want to, but there are benefits that far outweigh the pain if we are willing to walk this path.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:10 NIV

HOW SHOULD WE RESPOND TO SUFFERING?

  1. Rejoice in trials and tests

Suffering that comes from any of the above causes only has benefits if we see beyond the immediate pain to the end result.

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”James 1:2-4 NLT

Suffering, then, if we look beyond the present, produces strength of character and maturity that does not depend on circumstances for happiness and contentment.

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” Romans 5:3-5 NLT

Notice how joy is connected to the outcome of our endurance.

“We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honour beside God’s throne.” Hebrews 12:2 NLT

God uses hardships to discipline us so that we may be done with sin…

“So then, since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude he had, and be ready to suffer, too. For if you have suffered physically for Christ, you have finished with sin.” 1 Peter 4:1 NLT

… and share in His holiness

“For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.” Hebrews 12:10-11 NLT

  1. Go to the throne of grace

“This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” Hebrews 4:15-16 NLT

Through God’s grace, we are given the power to endure suffering with the right attitude, i.e., the confidence that God is working for our good, instead of becoming fearful, angry or bitter.

Paul learned this lesson when God refused to take away his “thorn in the flesh”. .

“So, to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud…. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”… So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:4, 7, 9-10 NLT

Rather than bemoaning his sufferings, Paul learned to use them to experience God’s grace and enjoy the privilege of living by God’s power.

  1. Take your suffering responsibly if you have done wrong

“Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong….” 1 Peter 2:20a NLT

  1. Endure patiently if you are suffering for doing right

… “But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you.” 1 Peter 2:20 NLT

  1. Look to Jesus as the perfect example

“For God is pleased when, conscious of his will, you patiently endure unjust treatment… For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly.” 1 Peter 2:19, 21-23 NLT

What was the outcome when Jesus suffered as He did without reacting?

When Jesus suffered without retaliation, His enemies could do no more to try to cause Him to sin. His confidence in the Father’s perfect justice enabled Him to put His case in the Father’s hands.

Jesus’ attitude was forgiveness because He was aware of the damage they were doing to themselves by pouring out their hatred on Him. He did not allow their hatred to enter His soul.

We can stop the injustice we suffer right there if we are willing to take it without anger and retaliation. Our enemies can do no more to hurt us if we don’t react. We can remain unaffected if we realise that what others do to us is the expression of who they are, not who we are.

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1 NIV

There is so much more to suffering than we can deal with here. Let me summarise:We all suffer in one way or another.

  1. Unjust suffering is the most difficult to understand or handle.
  2. Jesus is our perfect example.
  3. He refused to retaliate. Instead, He entrusted Himself to the Father’s perfect justice.
  4. We have access to God’s grace and the power to overcome.
  5. In the end, good will come of our suffering, if we trust in God’s goodness.

One last point…

God has made us co-heirs with Jesus but… there is a condition.

“And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.” Romans 8:17 NLT

“It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him:  If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us:” 2 Timothy 2:11-12 KJV

I don’t think for a moment that Paul is saying that we are only heirs with Jesus if we lose our lives for His sake. That would disqualify most of us from sharing in this promise.

I have an idea that Paul means, not that we suffer for Jesus but that we suffer with Him. In that sense, we do as Jesus said, “Take up the cross daily.”  In that sense also, since we no longer belong to ourselves, we put to death our fleshly desires and live in submission and obedience to Jesus as Lord.

This means that we accept whatever circumstances we are in with joy and gratitude because God is working for our good in them to conform us to the image of His Son. Just as Jesus submitted to the Father, we submit to Him and, through our submission and obedience to His will, we learn what it means to be a true son or daughter of God.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

All Scripture quotations in this series

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luella Campbell


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