Study 5 SUFFERING: MYSTERY OR MINISTRY?
Things Hard to be Understood
by Francis Dixon
(Scripture Portion: 1 Peter 1: 1-8)
One of life’s mysteries which is “hard to be understood” is that of suffering, and the presence of so much suffering in the world and in the lives of God’s children presents great moral and ethical problems. Even to the Christian there is a strong element of mystery in the question of suffering, though to the enlightened child of God it is viewed not so much as a mystery as a ministry. The Christian comes to see that God, who is over all and guides the lives of His children, has a gracious and wonderful purpose in permitting them to suffer.
In this study our theme will be the ministry of suffering, and we shall centre our study upon and around 1 Peter 1:6-8. Peter has much to say on this subject in his epistles, and in these three verses we have a summary of teaching. Consider J. B. Phillips’ helpful paraphrase of 1 Peter 1:6-8:-
“At present you are temporarily harassed by all kinds of trials and temptations. This is no accident – it happens to prove your faith, which is infinitely more valuable than gold, and gold, as you know, even though it is ultimately perishable, must be purified by fire. This proving of your faith is planned to bring you praise and honour and glory in the day when Jesus Christ reveals Himself.”
Let us draw out the teaching from these three verses, and notice:-
1. In the life of every Christian there are periods and experiences of suffering and trial.
Personal experience confirms this, and the Word of God definitely affirms it. In verses 6-7 there are two words which should be underlined – “grief” and “trials”. The child of God shares the sufferings and trials common to mankind. There is no immunity because we are Christians – look up Job 5:7 and 14:1. But the Christian also experiences sufferings and trials because he is a Christian – look up Matthew 10:25; John 15:18-19; 16:33; Philippians 1:29;
1 Peter 4:12-13 – and see what Psalm 34:19 says!
2. These periods of suffering and trial are intermittent; they come and go.
Notice the words in verse 6 – “for a little while …” Broadly speaking, this refers to our whole lifetime, but the idea is as J.B.P. suggests – “At present you are temporarily harassed.” What a mercy it is that suffering does not constantly rest upon us in all its weight and heaviness! Look up 2 Corinthians 4:17. Life is made up not only of shadow but of sunshine as well!
3. These periods and experiences of suffering and trial are purposeful.
For the child of God there is a ministry in suffering – “this proving of your faith is planned”. Notice the words in 1 Peter 1:6 – “you may have had… ” Peter does not say, “if by chance… ”, because there is no such thing as chance or accident in the life of the Christian. Romans 8:28 assures us of this, and this being so, the question is raised: If God has a purpose in allowing suffering in the experience of His children, what is His purpose? Why does He allow us to suffer?:-
- 1. To prove the reality of our faith. 1 Peter 1:7 says, “your faith… may be proved” – or the testing of your faith. God allows us to suffer to see if our faith is genuine. Compare Genesis 22:1 with Job 13:15.
- 2. To strengthen our faith. When our faith is tested it is deepened and strengthened. Notice the “degrees of faith” in the following: Mark 4:40; Matthew 16:8; 15:28; 8:10; Acts 6:5; Romans 4:19; 4:20.
- 3. To discipline and educate us. Look up Hebrews 12:7; 5:8, and compare 1 Peter 4:17-19.
- 4. To humble us. Look up Deuteronomy 8:2-3, and compare 2 Corinthians 12:1-9.
- 5. To purify us. Look again at 1 Peter 1:7, and compare 1 Peter 4:1-2.
- 6. To qualify us to help others. Study 2 Corinthians 1:3-7.
- 7. To prove to us the sufficiency of His grace and to make us long for Heaven. Compare 2 Corinthians 9:8; 12:9 with Philippians 1:23.
4. These periods of sufferings and trials are varied.
Peter speaks of “all kinds of trials” (verse 6) – that is, there is a diversity about them. Suffering may affect us physically, in the form of sickness, infirmity or weakness; it may affect us emotionally, mentally or spiritually; it may be in the domestic realm. Some Christians suffer and are tested by poverty, and others by prosperity; some by having to take a lower position, and others by having to assume heavy responsibilities. But all the manifold testings that God permits in the lives of His children are purposeful, and therefore they are for His glory – look up and compare John 9:3 with 11:40.
5. These periods of suffering and trial are sometimes very severe.
In verse 7 Peter speaks about being “refined with fire”, which suggests the idea of severity – but, thank God, no testing will ever be so severe that we cannot bear it! Look up 1 Corinthians 10:13. Here let it be stated that God calls some of His children to a special ministry of suffering. Just as some are called to the ministry of the Word or to the ministry of prayer, so, undoubtedly, others are called to glorify God in a special ministry of suffering – look up Acts 9:15-16.
6. These trials and sufferings that we experience are all related to the future.
In verse 7 Peter tells us that our trials are very precious, because if they are patiently borne they will “result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed”. This is something we are to accept by faith – 2 Corinthians 4:17. One day we are going to look back upon all our trials and sufferings and see the reason for them, and thank God for them (John 13:7). Now we can only thank Him for them by faith; then it will be by feeling and by sight! Look up James 1:12.
7. The secret of victory, patience and endurance in suffering is in an ever-present vision of the Lord Himself.
See what 2 Peter 1:8 says, and compare 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. Let us not dwell upon the mystery of suffering but, by the grace of God, let us rejoice in the ministry of suffering.