Bible Study, Living For God

Developing A Doctrine of Suffering

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”   Matthew 7:13-14 ESV

As I was reading though Matthew yesterday, I was struck by the words, “the way is HARD that leads to life”.  I have read this passage so many times, but have always thought of this as more a description of how hard it is for many people to locate the only path that leads to life – Jesus!  While this is still entirely true, another truth from this passage jumped out at me. 

The Christian life is hard.

People should not choose Jesus as their Savior with the hope that they will suddenly have it easy; quite the opposite.  Making Jesus Lord of your life is likely to create a more difficult path to walk over the rest of your earthly existence.  

Consider with me Job.  In Job 1:8 we are told that Job was a wonderful picture of faithfulness to God.  “And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?’”  Now granted, things had gone extremely well in his life to this point, but as we read the book of Job and observe all the intense suffering Job was subjected to, it must inform our understanding of our Creator. 

Simply put, as followers of God our life on earth is ultimately for His glory, exaltation, and purpose. 

There is no way Job could have understood the purpose of his pain, both emotional and physical.  We can begin to see God’s greater plan in retrospect, but to Job it must have been a very dark time.  And yet he held tight to the Lord, and chose righteousness over sinfulness even in his suffering.  God declared that in all his suffering Job did not sin.  Job did end up questioning God, however (truly which of us wouldn’t have) and God’s response was explaining to Job His greatness, power, mastery of everything, and purpose in  our lives.  At the end of Job, God leaves no room for doubt; He is mighty, and His plans and purposes are always right.  Even in the suffering; even when we don’t get it.  What matters is that HE gets it, He has a plan.  God in His foreknowledge is choosing a way that will bring more glory and honor to Him, the one who is worthy of all praise, honor and adoration both now, and forevermore!

Jump several thousand years ahead, to the life of God’s one and only begotten son Jesus.  Think of the suffering he endured on behalf of those He came to seek and save, and you see that God does not avoid pain when it will bring greater good, even when it causes Himself pain.  The pain of the Father, knowing the suffering Jesus was enduring, had to be excruciating!  But Scripture tells us that Jesus was fully God, so in a very real sense, God Himself endured unimaginable personal pain, suffering, and torment in our place.  The Bible tells us that He scorned the cross, yet silently endured its suffering for the glory set before Him.  He could see the glorification that would come to Him.  He wanted us with Him in Heaven eternally, and He desired to be glorified in a greater way than could have come without the grief of the cross.

suffering is not a way but the way of the cross

Jesus tells us if He our Savior and Master suffered we can expect the same!  “Remember the word that I said to you:  ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”   John 15:20 ESV 

The book of Acts tells us the early church leaders were , “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22 ESV

Suffering is a fact of our Christian walk.  Praising Jesus with our lives leads to tests, trials, and the proving of our faith.  I believe we will see this increasingly as the day of Jesus’ return nears.  Satan and his demons know the prophecies of Scripture, and suffering will likely intensify.  This is not supposition, but is based on data that increasing millions of Christians are being persecuted and even dying for their faith in Jesus in our day.  We have been cushioned from this in western culture, but our eyes are being opened.  We are waking up.  Part of the reality of being a servant of the Living God is to know persecution.  If we, even in the west, do not experience at the very least opposition to our public pronouncement of faith, perhaps we are not doing this Christian life right.

Several years ago I heard an amazing believer who serves the Lord in a country which is closed to the gospel of Jesus say the church needed to develop a doctrine of suffering.  This believer knows what it means to count the cost.  They realize when they share the good news of Jesus with those they meet, it may well mean that person dies for their faith in short order.  They know that the Good News of Jesus in no way means ease in this life, but rather ease in the next!  The Bible teaches repeatedly that in this life we should expect to suffer for Jesus, but that suffering here on earth will bring eternal honor and glory to God, and what’s more, it will bring great eternal rewards to the suffering believer! 

I have heard this life described as an almost imperceptible dot on a ray which continues eternally.  If we choose fellowship with Jesus and choose to stand for Him here, in the dot of life on earth, the eternal unending length of time in Heaven will be more glorious and we will enjoy far more rewards and be forever with Jesus!  If, however, we shirk at the thought of suffering, and choose the easy path of self-centeredness, rather than Christ-centeredness here on earth, refusing to worship Jesus as Lord, we will suffer immensely more in Hell eternally! (Fire, torment, eternal separation from God, no relief or comfort…..) 

Really, if we have an accurate big picture of life after death, the suffering in this life for faithfulness to Jesus is by far the lesser of the two choices.  But there is still suffering involved and it is important to realize that we must count the cost today, in this life.

When trials of all shapes and sizes come – and they will – will our response be one of worshiping Jesus even in the pain?  Will we keep our eyes firmly focused on the author and perfecter of our faith?  Will we focus on the prize set before us in Heaven?  Will we remember the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us and are cheering us on from Heaven?  Will we remember the many here on earth who watch to see if our faith will be shaken, and are watching to see if we will cling tightly to our Creator, regardless of our circumstances?

We must support and encourage those we know who are enduring intense suffering and persecution.  We must point them back to Jesus, the one who promises to never leave them or forsake them.   We must remember to faithfully lift up the persecuted church in prayer, both those we know, and the many silent sufferers worldwide.

We are in a spiritual battle!  Prayer and the Word of God are our 2 most powerful weapons.  Let’s be persistent warriors praying fervently and lets faithfully encourage one another with Scripture!  And when Jesus returns for His church, may He indeed find faith on the earth, and may He find it in you and I.

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