• johned@aibi.ph

Perfected By Suffering
Jesus and Us...

(Heb 2:10 NKJV) For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

(Heb 5:6-10 NKJV) As He also says in another place: "You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek"; {7} who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, {8} though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. {9} And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, {10} called by God as High Priest "according to the order of Melchizedek,"

(Heb 4:15 NKJV) For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Jesus' Suffering

It is an astonishing thing for most Christians to think of Jesus "being perfected" and "learning obedience". It seems contrary to our popular idea of Jesus as arriving fully formed and spotless like a stainless steel robot that saves the world. That was not the case - He came as a human being and human beings LEARN. Jesus learned to obey. This seems like a contradiction when Scripture declares Him at the same time to be "without sin" (Hebrews 5:14 above). Jesus learned - but never made a mistake ! He was the perfect pupil without a blot on the copybook - but He nonetheless did learn!

Throughout His 33 years He "learned obedience". At first He learned obedience to His parents Joseph and Mary whom he "continued in submission" to. And of course He learned obedience to God. The Jesus we see at age 30 to 33 is thus a more perfect and mature Jesus than the child of 12 we briefly see in the early chapters of Luke's gospel. He has matured not only intellectually and physically but spiritually and in His ability to endure sustained temptation and stay on course with His Heavenly Father. Jesus the man has learned a level of obedience that Jesus the child could never have attained to. By the time He reached the cross and had endured the intensity of Gethsemane He was perfected in obedience and was the Perfect Lamb that could be slain for the sins of the world.

Let me immediately say that suffering at no time removed any supposed moral imperfections in Jesus. Jesus had no moral imperfections to remove. Rather suffering strengthened the virtues of His free will so that it was more and more obedient, more and more able to follow God through more and more difficult and confusing circumstances. Thus suffering simply strengthened that which was good in Jesus. It was not the penal suffering of a prisoner but the strengthening suffering of a great spiritual athlete in training. Jesus had the greatest liberty of anyone yet He used that liberty in only one way - to serve God.

Our Suffering

This bears greatly on our own view of suffering. It says that suffering is absolutely inevitable in the Christian life because if Jesus - who was sinless, was perfected through sufferings so then we, quite logically will also need to suffer to be perfected in our struggle against temptation. Let us consider an everyday example:

"Bill Christian" works as an apprentice mechanic in a typical garage that is adorned with pictures of scantily clad women. He will suffer in a number of ways, firstly he will suffer in his own struggles not to look lustfully at the pictures or to be enticed into sin by them. This is an intense, humiliating and difficult struggle for most Christian men. Yet there is peace in the victory. Eventually God will provide a way to overcome or to escape the temptation.

(1 Cor 10:13 NIV) No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

Secondly he may suffer torment and outrage at the environment as Lot did with Sodom and Gomorrah:

(2 Pet 2:7-8 NIV) and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men {8} (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard).

Thirdly if Bill Christian takes a stand against the pornography in his workplace he may suffer ridicule, persecution or even be given the sack - depending on how contentious the issue becomes. This is the inevitable and unenviable portion of every godly Christian - because sooner or later our living for Jesus will get us noticed.

(2 Tim 3:12 NKJV) Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

This is just one example of how living a Christian life will lead to suffering - even if we do not sin at all. Bill Christian suffers because he is a righteous person living in a fallen and sinful world. This suffering does not however destroy Bill - it just makes him stronger in God. That which Satan intends to destroy us with God uses to sanctify us! As someone once said "That which does not kill me makes me stronger!" - that can be adapted to "The temptation which does not defeat me makes me more godly."

So we see that suffering is absolutely inevitable if we are to be righteous in our thinking, our behavior and our view of the world. In particular the Christian's soul should be distressed by sin. To be uncaring about sin is not a desirable form of sophistication - it is in fact deadness of heart. To be distressed by sin does not lead us into misery but into its opposite. True joy flows down upon us when we take a right - and stern view of righteousness and wickedness.

(Heb 1:9 NKJV) You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions."

Redemptive Suffering

(Heb 2:14-15 NKJV) Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, {15} and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.

Jesus "took on flesh and blood" so that He could suffer death on the cross and through that suffering and death destroy the Devil and release the Devil's prisoners. This is paralleled in the work of the church which often has to "suffer and die" before revival breaks forth. In church history it often seems that for every great spiritual breakthrough there is an element of suffering. We see many hints of this in Scripture and theologians have given the name "redemptive suffering" to the suffering borne by a Christian in order to break the power of the Devil over a person, group or nation.

In redemptive suffering there is a painful wrestling with the "powers and principalities" which are determined to keep people in bondage and which will attack and attempt to destroy the servants of God who threaten their domination of people, social groups, cities and nations. Satan can inflict pain, disease, death, persecution and poverty along with fear, discouragement and doubt. He does not give up his territory easily. Satan has come to "steal, kill and destroy" (John 10:10) and is called "the father of lies" and "a murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44). However Satan can only move within the permission given by God. Paul was persecuted and afflicted by Satan but"out of them all the Lord delivered me" (2 Timothy 3:11)

Paul had to suffer in order to accomplish his ministry. This was revealed to him even before he undertook it"(Acts 9:16 NKJV) For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake.". It was a source of both anguish and pride right up until his martyrdom"(Col 1:24 NKJV) I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church,". He exhorts Timothy and all Christians to follow his example in this."(2 Tim 3:10-12 NKJV) But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, {11} persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. {12} Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution."

Not only is the believer perfected through redemptive suffering but Satan is defeated and people are liberated from the kingdom of darkness. While redemptive suffering is powerful we should let it come to us and not go looking for it. Neither Jesus or the apostles went seeking persecution. They just did a good job of preaching the gospel and endured the persecution that came as a result.

The Suffering of Testing by God

God allows us to undergo personal trials and testings so that we may be made useful for His service. One of the classic examples is Peter the apostle....

(Luke 22:31-34 NKJV) And the Lord said, "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. {32} "But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren." {33} But he said to Him, "Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death." {34} Then He said, "I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me."

Satan was allowed to "sift Peter like wheat". Peter was only picked out by Satan because he was a key servant of God essential for the progress of the church. He was tested not because he was bad but because he was the best. Thus this suffering came on Peter because of his place in the plan of redemption and it was used by God to perfect Peter and make him an apostle of power later on. Peter failed the test, denied Christ publicly three times and needed to be restored to ministry. This does not seem a successful outcome but it changed Peter's brashness and kept him from the serious sin of pride as he headed up the growing Jerusalem church. This teaches us that even our failures during times of testing can perfect us and actually be woven into God's redemptive plan.

The trouble with testing is that it sometimes just feels like punishment or random catastrophe. That is the way the grumbling Israelites interpreted their testings in the wilderness and they failed badly and were laid low in the desert. Neither are we aware of how enormous the blessing can be from a successfully passed test. It seems Job did not realize that his suffering would bless millions and change the entire concept of God that people held at that time. It just seemed to be a really bad time that he was going through. Things like prolonged loneliness - which tests our ability to keep our relationships godly and to be content, or poverty - which tests our ability to believe in God's provision, can be tests that refine us and strengthen us in God.

These God ordained tests are NOT temptations. God does not pressure us into sinning or entice us to disobedience. James makes a clear distinction between "trials" that strengthen us and "temptations" that destroy us.

(James 1:2-15 NIV) Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, {3} because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. {4} Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. .. {12} Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. {13} When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; {14} but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. {15} Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

For James trials come from outside and are to be endured and rejoiced in and develop perseverance, perfect character and enable us to receive the crown of life. Temptations come from within under Satanic influence and lead to sin and death. Thus trials and temptations are poles apart. For instance poverty is a trial and can strengthen the Christian's character, however the temptation to steal is an evil desire and a temptation that leads to death. God may make a person poor to teach them contentment, but it is Satan that will suggest to that poor person that they steal. God put the tree of good and evil in the Garden but He did not tempt Adam and Eve to eat of it. God tempts no-one.

Why does God test us? Testing is like the football match after the weeks training. It shows what we are made of and where we need to improve. To watch training videos, absorb theory and throw the ball around with your friends is fine but the point of it all is to produce a match winning football team. Its the match that counts. To listen to good sermons, fellowship with believers and study the Bible is good - in fact it is essential, but God wants to see how we perform as Christians in the real world too! So He arranges tests which strengthen our obedience to Him. If we learn from these tests and improve then we inherit the crown of life. Thus tests are one way in which we are perfected through suffering.

Illness, Natural Disaster and Misfortune

When a family member dies in a car crash or a young loved one dies from cancer how do we cope and how do we handle this suffering? How can we perfected through tragedy? There are seasons of misfortune that God allows us to strengthen our love for Him and our patient endurance in God. However misfortune is often interpreted in a very negative light. It comes across as God having failed us or God punishing us. Job did not understand that the whirlwind that killed his sons or the raiders that took his cattle were in fact allowed of God because Job was the best person in the world. Job's interpretation, like that of many Christians, was that God was angry at him and that this was a punishment for some sin that he had no idea of. That was not the case at all!

If God does not explain why something happens it is probably because you are not to blame. When God punishes a person for sin He makes a clear connection between the sin and the punishment. He may use a policeman to charge someone or a Nathan the prophet to say "you are the man" or a doctor to say "your disease is due to your heavy drinking...". God never punishes us without telling us why. Unexplained suffering therefore is not - and never will be - punishment.

Unexplained suffering and catastrophe is allowed in our lives for a number of reasons. They include being able to identify with humanity (Hebrews 2:17,18), and being made compassionate and faithful in Christian service (Hebrews 2:17, 4:15). Unless we suffer a certain degree of normal human pain and grief we are unable to be truly com-passionate with those around us. Jesus was "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief". It is suggested by many commentators that Joseph may have died when Jesus was a teenager. Therefore, tragedy is an inevitable part of living in and identifying with a fallen world and we can be perfected by it in becoming softer and more compassionate - becoming better not bitter.

Suffering As A Result Of Our Own Sin Or Folly

(Luke 15:13-19 NKJV) "And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. {14} "But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. {15} "Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. {16} "And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything. {17} "But when he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! {18} 'I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, {19} "and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants."'

Most of us can identify with this - a time when God has brought us to our senses when we were being foolish and wasting our lives. Pain can bring us back to God. We can be perfected and instructed through the suffering that comes with our sin or folly. Much of our deepest suffering is of this kind. People end up in deep financial trouble because they will not budget. Others end up in disastrous marriages because they ignore the teachings in God's word. The pain of these things is not God trying to be cruel but God trying to get our attention so that we repent and learn.

Even mature Christians may have some areas where they need to experience some pain and humiliation in order to learn - laziness, pride, lack of consideration for others - will all have painful consequences in our lives. As I said in an earlier section if we are suffering because of our sin God will make it clear to us . In the case of the prodigal son the suffering was clearly connected with the sin. He knew he was in the pig-pen because he had been a sinful, profligate, prodigal fool. If you suspect you may be suffering because of your own sin or folly ask God to show you what you need to fix up and He will gladly do so. Through Scripture, a friend, a sermon or an incident that is so clear it cannot be mistaken He will show you.

This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.