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Suffering serves as evidence for a life conformed to Christ and is an integral part of an
effective ministry to the world.

About two-thousand years ago, the apostle Paul was inspired by God to write a very
interesting word of encouragement to the church in Philippi:

Philippians 1:29 - For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not
only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake (ESV - emphasis mine).

What is perhaps most compelling about this verse is the context and backdrop in which
Paul uses the word suffer. In his article, A Sign: United and Fearless with the God of
Suffering, John Piper points out that the word granted means freely given in Greek, and
therefore implies that God has given two gifts to us - one is the gift of belief in Christ (which is
amazing) and the other is the gift of suffering (which does not seem so amazing)1. How could
the dynamic apostle pair what seems to be two diametrically opposed words each under the
umbrella of the word that basically means gift? Should he not have instead substituted the
word suffer with be blessed? If suffering, according to Revelation 21:4, is going to one day
be put to and end, is it necessary now? Isnt the constant presence of suffering always a
universally bad thing? Shakespeare seemed to think so when he wrote, Each new morn new

1 John Piper, A Sign: United and Fearless with the God of Suffering, (Bethlehem, PA, Lifeway
Publications), 2006

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widows howl, new orphans cry, new sorrows strike heaven on the face2. CS Lewis brings up
another common vantage point when he states, If God were good, He would wish to make His
creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do as He wished. But
the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.3.
The goal of my paper is to prove that suffering, although universal and often unpleasant,
is still a necessary and powerful gift from a loving God - a multifaceted gift that Jesus Himself
did not exempt Himself from and one that helps us to not only be conformed" to His image, but
also helps us to better connect to a world which suffers greatly as it collectively groans under
the weight of sin. I will consider and defend the following two statements.

I. Christ suffered and we are called to be conformed into His image.


a. because temporal suffering and eternal glory seem to be almost inversely
proportional.
b. because suffering refines and purifies the believers relationship with
Jesus.
c. because suffering puts the believer in a position to be continually restored,
confirmed, strengthened, and established by Christ Himself.
II. Our suffering makes us more effective minsters of the gospel.
a. because suffering produces a connection to a fallen and hopeless world.
b. because suffering helps to produce numerous attractive attributes.

2 William Shaekespeare, Macbeth, Act 4, Scene 3, Spoken by Macduf

3 CS Lewis, The Problem with Pain, (New York, NY, Harper Collins, 1940), 16

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c. because suffering has no permanent grip on the believer.

To start, it is important to point out that suffering was NOT God's initial intention.
Suffering entered space and time as a result of the fall (Gen. 3:16-19, Rom. 5:12), is now
universal (Rom. 8:22), and is proliferated largely by ongoing human sin (Gen. 4:8) and Satanic
activity (1 John 5:19). Despite this, God, who is sovereign over all things, still wields it and uses
it masterfully according to His purposes. Suffering refines, completes, humbles, purifies, and
confirms its pupils until God removes it once and for all at the end of the age.

I. Christ suffered and we are called to be conformed into His image.

The gospel itself is hinged on the fact that Jesus was willing to suffer to the point of death
to ensure our salvation. This foundational truth begins to work itself out in the idea that we are
to be conformed into the image of Christ. For example, Romans 8:29 states, For those whom he
foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be
the firstborn among many brothers (ESV - emphasis mine). This conforming process tends
to often be depicted one dimensionally by many believers and churches as they focus on the
resurrection/glory aspect of our quest for conformity and ignore the crucified/suffering side
of His life. This is a very unbalanced and unbiblical. The bible repeatedly shows that Christ was
a man of many sorrows (Isaiah 53:3, Mark 14:34) who suffered immensely throughout His life
on earth. He had no place to lay his head (Luke 9:58), suffered family rejection (John 7:5),
suffered friend rejection (Matthew 26:56), suffered paternal rejection (Matthew 27:46), was
betrayed (Matthew 26:14-16), was unjustly accused (Luke 23:2), was beaten (John 19:1), and

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was ultimately tortuously murdered (Matthew 27:32) next to common criminals. He was likely
the object of fierce Satanic attack throughout His life and, as Donald Macleod points out,

Behind the phraseology, sanitized by centuries of quotation, lies the harsh reality that
Jesus was dogged and harassed by the Prince of Darkness throughout his life. But
there

were more mundane pressures as well, and they clearly took there toll, even of his
physical appearance: so much so that he could be taken for a fifty-year old (John 8:57)4.

In sum, while the gospel is indeed the good news, the Author of our salvation had to
travel through years of bad news to get there - it is this two fold nature of Christ that we are
conforming ourselves to. Specifically, Paul writes in Philippians 3:7-10,

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count every
thing as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his
sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I
may

gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes

from

the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God

that

depends on faith that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and

may share

his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may

attain the

resurrection from the dead (ESV - emphasis mine).

4 Donald Macleod, Christ Crucified: Understanding the Atonement (Downers Grove, Illinois:
InterVarsity Press, 2014), 17.

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Paul is clearly pointing out that although our conformity in Christ ultimately culminates
in resurrection and perfect righteousness, it only does so through conforming seasons of
suffering. He gives another example of how being in Christ brings with it various forms of
suffering in 2 Timothy 3:12 placing an emphasis on suffering in the form of persecution Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (ESV). Pauls
apostolic counterpart Peter reinforces this idea further in 1 Peter 4:12-13 which states, Beloved,
do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something
strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may
also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed (ESV - emphasis mine) - Peters use of the
word share again links our suffering with that of Christs. But why? Why is this suffering
necessary for the believer who has supposedly made peace with God? Why cant our conformity
be joined solely to His glory?

Temporal suffering and eternal glory seems to be almost inversely proportional.

First of all, the scriptures point out that the relationship between temporal suffering and
eternal glory seems to be almost inversely proportional. It makes sense then that God, who is
beyond time and space and sees the beginning to the end, would be willing to allow us to
experience something (suffering) that although is temporarily unpleasant (albeit useful) if it
meant it would be converted into something eternally pleasant (blessing). For example, in
Romans 8:18, Paul seems to touch on this point when he writes, For I consider that the
sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us
(ESV - emphasis mine). Another example can be found in 2 Corinthians 4:17,

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Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man
is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eter
nal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things
which are

seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are

temporal, but

the things which are not seen are eternal (ESV - emphasis mine).

Perhaps the best example of this inverse concept is the essence of the gospel itself - on
one hand, there is the crucifixion of Jesus (suffering), and on the other hand there is His glorious
resurrection and ascension (glory) of Christ . AW Tozer reinforces this idea in his book, The
Root of the Righteous. What I find most intriguing is the context in which Tozer draws this
conclusion and the powerful picture he paints along with it as well:

The flaming desire to be rid of every unholy thing and to put on the likeness of Christ at
any cost is not often found among us. We expect to enter the everlasting kingdom of our Father
and to sit down around the table with sages, saints and martyrs; and through the grace of God,
maybe we shall; yes maybe we shall. But for the most of us it could prove at first an
embarrassing experience. Ours might be the silence of the untried soldier in the presence of the
battle-hardened heroes who have fought the fight and won the victory and who have scars to
prove that they were present when the battle was joined. 5

5 AW Tozer, The Root of Righteousness, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978, 1961), 154.

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He ends this thought with his famous line, It is doubtful whether God can bless a man
greatly until he has hurt him deeply6, linking the idea of earthly suffering with its inverse
(glory) in heaven.
John Piper also acknowledges this when he, while referencing 2 Corinthians 4:17-18,
points out that,

Pauls affliction is preparing or effecting or bringing about a


weight of glory beyond all comparison. We must take seriously Pauls
words here. He is not merely saying that he has a great hope in heaven
that enables him to endure suffering. That is true. But here he says that
the suffering has an effect on the weight of glory. There seems to be a
connection between the suffering endured and the degree of glory
enjoyed.7

In sum, if the inverse of Christs suffering on earth worked itself out as His glorification
in heaven forever, then it only makes sense that God, who loves us and always desires what is
best for us (particularly in the long term), would want us to experience this same process and
eventual blessing through our being unified to Christ in suffering.

Suffering refines and purifies the believers walk relationship with Jesus.

6 Ibid., 43.

7 John Piper, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, (Wheaton, IL, Crossway Books, 2006), 93.

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Second, suffering refines and purifies the believers relationship with Jesus. Peter writes
in 1 Peter 1:6, In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been
grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faithmore precious than gold
that perishes though it is tested by firemay be found to result in praise and glory and honor at
the revelation of Jesus Christ. (ESV). Trials test our faith, and if we are to be truly conformed
to His image, then Jesus wants our faith to be pure and without ulterior motives. How easy it is
to sing the praises of God when all is well! It is not unlike the Israelites who we see complaining
as they face the daunting predicament of having a seemingly impassable sea before them and a
seemingly insurmountable Egyptian army behind them - only when God parts the sea and their
enemies are vanquished do they sing His praises. They sung the right song at the wrong time.
God instead desires our faith to be more reminiscent of Job, whose famous line, in Job 13:5,
though he slay me I will trust Him (ESV) encapsulates what suffering can do to refine the faith
of any willing saint. Suffering, and our ability to worship in the midst of it, is a picture of true
Christian authenticity and faith - and this type of faith is one that seems to please God whenever,
wherever, and with whoever He finds it.

Suffering puts the believer in a position to be continually restored, confirmed,


strengthened, and established by Christ Himself.

Finally, suffering unites us to Christ by creating a raw need for Him in our hearts that
God Himself fills. Peter writes in 1 Peter 5:10, And after you have suffered a little while, the

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God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm,
strengthen, and establish you. (ESV). This powerful verse conveys that although suffering may
wreak havoc and weaken us for a season, God Himself will restore, confirm, strengthen, and
establish us both now and forever. Paul recognizes this when he declares in 2 Corinthians 12:10,

But he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in
weakness. I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of
Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with
weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak,
then I am strong. (ESV - emphasis mine),

and again in Romans 8:26, Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know
what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for
words. (ESV). Roy Hesson adds, every humiliation. every one who tries and vexes us, is
Gods way of breaking us, so that there is yet deeper channel in us for the life of Christ.8

II. Our suffering makes us more effective minsters of the gospel.

Suffering produces a connection to a fallen and hopeless world.

8 Roy Hesson, The Calvary Road, (Fort Washington, PA, Christian Literature Crusade, 1950),
55

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Not only does suffering unite us to Christ and conform us to His image, but it also makes
us more effective ministers of the gospel. Since, the whole world is under the sway of the
wicked one (1 John 5:9) and groans (Romans 8:22), then suffering becomes a universal point
of contact between the believer and the lost - it breeds compassion and understanding. A great
example is found in Mark 4:35-41 when Jesus calms the storm:

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, Let us go across to the other
side. And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.
And

other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were

breaking

into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern,

asleep on the

cushion. And they woke him and said to him, Teacher, do you not care

that we are
perishing? And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, Peace! Be still!
And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm (ESV).

It is significant to note that other boats were with Jesus. While all of the boats went through
storm, the key difference for the disciples was that their boat happened to have the Savior of
mankind on board - the Lord over the wind and the waves. As followers of Christ, we too have
of the same Savior who will take us through storms, comfort us through storms, so that we can
be compassionate and understanding towards a world going through storms. The storms connect
us. Paul personifies this notion when he writes in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4,

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Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God
of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to
comfort

those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves

are comforted

by God (ESV).

Often, we can only offer true comfort to a person if we personally understand the pain and have
received the comfort of Christ ourselves in that area. This seems to be the case when Paul was
shipwrecked on the Island of Malta in Acts 28. Shortly after he is bitten by an indigenous snake
(which the locals had indubitably suffered from in the past based on their confidence of his
imminent death) the islanders perception of him goes from him being a criminal (because he
survived the shipwreck but was bit by a snake) to that of a god (because he was unfazed by the
poison)9. Although Pauls direct response is not recorded, based on His reaction the last time he
was worshipped in Acts 14:12 (he tore his clothes and pleaded that they stop) it is fair to assume
Paul corrected their error and likely ended up sharing the gospel with them. Regardless of how
the unknown outcome played out, it was suffering (in the form of a snake bite) that connected
Paul to the people of Malta, and it is suffering, which shows no partiality regardless of the
wealth, status, or ethnicity, that so often connects us with the world today.

Suffering produces helps to produce attractive attributes.

9 Jon Courson, Jon Coursons Application Commentary of the New Testament, (Nashville, TN,
Thomas Nelson, 2003), 713

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Whether it be a flower or a clove of garlic, true pungency is best produced when something is
crushed. Perhaps this is why so many passages of scripture (and common knowledge as well)
seem connect suffering with its ability to build character and promote fruitfulness. James
seems to conclude this when he was inspired to write in James 1:2-3, Count it all joy, my
brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith
produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and
complete, lacking in nothing (ESV). The apostle Paul adds to this notion when he writes in
Romans 5:3-5,

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering
produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does
not put us to shame, because Gods love has been poured out into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (ESV)

Similarly, the author of Hebrews also writes in Hebrews 12:11, For the moment all discipline
seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those
who have been trained by it (ESV). Whether it be steadfastness, perseverance, character, hope,
or righteousness, suffering (with the help of the Holy Spirit) has the ability to produce a unique
resiliency and completeness in the Christian. Along these lines, if there was one thing suffering
has taught the church over the past two thousand years, it is to suffer well and endure hardship.
From Christ Himself as He graciously hung on the cross, to the first martyr Stephen who uttered
words of forgiveness to his attackers as he was stoned to death, to numerous other stoic martyrs

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facing death such as Perpetua and Felicity10, the steadfast maturity and even joy shown by
believers in the face of adversity has often served as a major witness to the world. Tim Keller
points out that, Christians used suffering to argue for the superiority of their creedbecause
they suffered better than the pagans11, and Paul seems to live out this fact when he writes from
the context of imprisonment in Philippians 1:12-13, I want you to know, brothers, that what has
happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout
the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ (ESV). This
collective attitude of the church in the face of uncertainty and pain is one that is forged by
suffering and made possible only by the help of the Holy Spirit and the hope of the gospel - these
hard earned and divinely given traits/fruits are something that the world simply does not and
cannot have by default, and something that non-believers will often be drawn to because they are
supernatural responses to adverse situations. A modern day example of this occurred in October
of 2006 when a gunman took hostages in a small school house in Lancaster County,
Pennsylvania and killed five children in the process. Despite this horrific scenario and outcome,
the parents of the deceased children and the entire community showed nothing but forgiveness,
support and concern for the murderers family 12. This reaction was so astounding and
abnormal to the world that several sociologists were compelled to write a book with the main
conclusion being that the secular world rarely has the ability to handle suffering the way the

10 Bryan Litfin, Early Christian Martyr Stories, (Ada, MI, Baker Academic, 1998), 105

11 Timothy Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, Reprint ed. (publication place:
Riverhead Books, 2015), 176

12 Ibid.,177

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Amish (and their Christian heritage) do.13 Clearly, when a Christian has been shaped and formed
by seasons of suffering and they respond to it correctly by the grace of God, the mystery
concerning the amazing providence which gives them so much peace can be a powerful tool
for the gospel.

Suffering has no permanent grip on the believer.

Probably the greatest source of comfort for the Christian going through a season suffering
(aside from God Himself) is the assurance they have that one day suffering will be done away
with forever. - it is God, as Warren Wiersbe points out, who writes the last chapter14. In
Revelation 21:4, John boldly asserts, He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death
shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former
things have passed away (ESV). Paul also adds, in Romans 8:18, For I consider that the
sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to glory that will be revealed in all
of us (ESV). It was this hope that kept John motivated has he faced lonely days and nights on
the Island of Patmos and it was this hope that motivated Paul to continue the race despite
shipwrecks, imprisonments, and beatings. It was this hope that motivated Epaphroditus to
express his concern for the church in Philippi when he was actually the one who was sick, and it
is this hope that we must cling to and long for when we are in the midst a trial or any form of
suffering. In her book, A place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain and
13 Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, and David L. Weaver-Zercher, Amish Grace:How
Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy (San Francisco, CA, Jossey-Bass, 2010), 183

14 Warren Wiersbe, Be Patient, (Ontario, Canada, David C. Cook, 1991), 184

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Gods Sovereignty, Joni Eareckson Tada expresses this point exactly. She writes, I need all the
hope I can get, and Im not ashamed to admit it. Im disabled, things aren't easy, and I thrive on
hope. I love anything to do with hope15. It is precisely this hope, which is unique to the
Christian perspective, that the world needs to see in us and hear from us. There is nothing like it
in the world - a hope so grand and a love so deep, both stemming from a relationship with a
Savior so amazing. It is suffering that makes this hope come to life, and it is suffering that
provides the back drop in our lives in order that this hope can shine in the darkness so that those
who do not have it can see it all the brighter.
In conclusion, the key to understanding suffering lies the beauty of the gospel itself. God saw
our suffering and suffered Himself in order to one day end it forever - until then He uses it to
help us see Him more clearly, to help us love Him more deeply, and to help us share Him more
compassionately.

15 Tada, Joni Eareckson. A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain,
and God's Sovereignty. (Colorado Springs, CO, David C. Cook,) 2010.