GOD’S PURPOSE IN SUFFERING
"For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;"
There are two things that Paul says is given to the Philippians. First, he says “it is given in behalf of Christ . . . to believe on Him.” God gives us the privilege of believing on Christ. We should never take that for granted. We are not Christians because we are better than someone else. We are Christians because we believe on Him and that is a gift from God. Now so far every thing is going camp meeting style. We can shout over that. Our destiny is settled.
Second Paul says not only is our faith a gift so that we might believe and be saved, “but also to suffer for his sake.” Oops. That ended the camp meeting. Have you ever had someone offer you a gift you really didn’t want.
I had a friend who was given a ship (it may have been a barge) but it was sea worthy. He had great plans. He wanted to load it with Bibles and take them to China and different places back in the time when people behind the bamboo curtain didn’t have Bibles. Well, I didn’t support this ministry. First, I knew the preacher was as poor as Job’s turkey. I knew he was taking on a project too big for him. I knew God could do it but I didn’t think He would. Well, they celebrated the getting of this great gift. Then couldn’t raise enough money to get the ship out of the port.
The suffering that the Lord gives us, He will give us grace to endure. But suffering is not something that any of us would choose. I have done some of it in the last few years. I’ll assure you I am not upset with God about it. But if I had a choice I would not have chosen suffering. So he didn’t ask me. Any sufferings that He gives us is for our good and His glory. So suffering is called a gift here.
What is God’s purpose in suffering? We know it is His will or we would not do it. I would like to suggest some reasons:
IN ORDER TO MOLD OUR CHARACTER
Jeremiah 18:1‑6, "The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words. Then I went down to the potter's house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it. Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel."
Suffering happens when the Potter is forming us into the image of His Son. There are things I learn about myself that surprises me. I had no idea that I would ever think like that again. It was there all the time. I am convinced that most of us do not realize that after we are saved that we have an old sin nature that we will not be rid of until Jesus comes again. And even though God gives us complete information on this subject, reading or hearing it is not enough most of the time.
When you see a Christian filled with pride, you are looking at a man who doesn’t have a clue. If there is anything that will humble the Christian, and make him walk in humility, is to see what his flesh really is like, and that it has not been changed in salvation. Paul said in Romans 7:18, "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not." The word “dwelleth” is a present active indicative verb and this means that Paul is recognizing and confessing that there was nothing good in his flesh in the continual present tense of his life at the time of the writing of this epistle. Now if that pops your bubble about Paul, you needed it popped! He said it. I’m just telling you what he said.
Someone has said, “One either learns by hearing or experience.” If you won’t take God’s Word for it, suffering may have to come to your life-experience. God has a way of making us understand what He is saying.
When you see a man with a bad temper, you are seeing a man that is not filled with the Holy Spirit. He explains, “That’s the way God made me. I can only be who I am.” You didn’t get that out of the Word of God. That person is simply lying to himself. The fruit of the Spirit is recorded in Galatians 5:22‑26, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another."
You will notice that “temperance” is one that is mentioned in the above list of nine characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit. The word “temperance” translates “egkrateia” and means, “self‑control (the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, esp. his sensual appetites).” Self-control is not being exercised when one loses his temper all the time, and does nothing to change. If you will notice further up in this chapter you will find in Galatians 5:19‑21, "Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God."
I have highlighted four words that come under losing one’s temper. Wrath will cause it and this is a work of the flesh. Strife is a word that describes an angry man who will fight physically or with his mouth any time someone does something he doesn’t like. The word variance means disagreeable in general. The person who is always against it — no matter what it is. It is a work of the flesh.
When God saved us He saved us to change us. 2 Corinthians 5:17, "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." We must ask ourselves, “Are we a new creature or not?” This verse is a contradiction to the man who says, “God made me this way and I can’t change.” The fact is God saved you to change you. You are the problem. You have gotten used to being a big bully always having your own way and you are just not willing to change. The moment you become broken over you sin or sins God will take you and make a new person out of you.
God brings suffering into our lives to mold us into the image of Christ. Hebrews 12:7, "If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?" Sometime chastening is not so much punishment as it is for the purpose of teaching. The word “chastening” translates “paideuo” and means, “to train children, or child training.” We either learn by listening or by experience. Experience is where the chastening or child training comes in.
We are talking about God’s purpose in suffering. He allows us to suffer:
IN ORDER TO FURTHER THE GOSPEL
Paul teaches this in Philippians 1:12‑13, "But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places;"
The Church at Philippi was very concerning about Paul’s condition. First of all, he relieves their concern by looking at the positive side of his imprisonment. He said, “the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel.” I believe that if there was one church on the face of the earth that could relate to this it was the Church at Philippi. You might say that this church was born out of the jail experience that Paul and Silas had in that Macedonian city. He had won Lydia and her household to the Lord on the bank of the river. He got beaten to a bloody pulp and wound up winning the jailor and his household to the Lord. So he had enough people to start a Church. And it was a great Church. All agree that this letter is written not to correct but instruct and compliment a Church that was doing things right. God give us more Churches after this example.
He allowed Paul’s suffering to further the gospel. When Bro. George Vins was freed from a prison in the USSR, stripped of his citizenship, and shipped to the USA, I contacted him immediately. We set up an appointment for him to preach in our church. He did that within a few months of his freedom. Our church had for two or three years received the Prisoners Bulletin that informed us of the suffering Church in the USSR. It gave us information on the rigged arrests and the false charges that were brought against the brethren. The KGB considered the Christians enemies of the people and the government because they claimed to have another king in which they owed their first allegiance. They would put them in prison and begin a brain washing process and make an attempt to make communist out of them. They tortured them, lied to them and told them that their families back home had renounced their faith. Bro. Vins told us that there were 200 Independent Baptist who were in Russian prisons and none had renounced his faith out of their group except one. Two ladies were arrested for working with children or working with the secret printing ministry. One was sentenced to ten years in prison if I remember correctly. The other was sentenced to five or a lesser time. She felt badly that she got a lesser sentence and argued with the judge that if the other lady deserved that length of a sentence so did she. So the judge complied with her request and sentenced her to ten years. This lady stayed faithful to her faith for five years. After that she broke and when she was released she did not serve the Lord. The lady that served the ten years never broke and when released continued as a great worker in the same ministry that she had before. Bro. Vins said, “God knows what we can take and we should not think we are strong enough to take as much as someone else and argue with the judge.” That really made a point with me. 1 Corinthians 10:13, "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it."
I wept that I had it so good and my brethren in Russia were being so mistreated. But Bro. Vins told me that the imprisonment did not stop revival among the independent Baptist Churches in Russia. This particular group did not meet in secret. For the most part they met in homes and these homes would be full, many of whom were not saved. He said, “If you meet in secret you cannot evangelize.” He said, “We want them to know where we are meeting and want to invite the lost to the services.” He said, “God tells us to evangelize.” Then there is another reason for suffering:
IN ORDER TO ENCOURAGE THE SAINTS
Paul said in Philippians 1:14, "And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear."
This is amazing. But the brethren saw that Paul was willing to pay whatever price that was involved in preaching the gospel. So it encouraged them to preach without fear. I know of at least one missionary who would not preach in the country where he believed God had sent him. He witnessed privately. He is no longer a missionary or a preacher. My sympathy goes out to those on dangerous fields. The only thing that would give me the boldness to go and do what God had called me to do is to be willing to die for the truth of the gospel. I believe God will protect the lives of His people until we have accomplished the task He has planned for our lives. We are pilgrims just passing through this world. We are headed for a place and a life that is so glorious that it cannot be put in words. Why should we fear to go there. I realize this is a learned attitude but it is an attitude we must learn from the Scriptures and we won’t be worth much unless we master this truth.