One thing I’ve noticed is that certain doctrines in the Bible, for whatever reason, do not get the attention they deserve. Most readers of this blog will probably recognize that one such doctrine is the doctrine of rewards. The vast majority of Christians know very little about the topic. They even say it is not important. This is the case even though the NT is full of references to it. In fact, the author of Hebrews says we cannot please God unless we believe that He rewards us for our faithfulness to Him (Heb 11:6).
Suffering is another neglected Biblical doctrine. It is true that an unfaithful believer can bring suffering upon himself as a consequence of sinful disobedience. There is a great deal of truth to the statement: “You brought that on yourself.”
But many Christians do not understand the importance of trials and suffering and the good they can accomplish in the life of the faithful believer. In the minds of many believers around the world, trials are always seen as an indication of spiritual immaturity or as evidence that God is punishing a person. In such cases, trials or suffering for the Lord are de-emphasized, or even seen as a source of shame. To those who think this way, it is inconceivable that trials are both an opportunity to mature in the faith and a source of joy.
Just as the NT is full of references to rewards, it is also full of the benefits of trials and suffering in the life of the Christian who is pleasing to the Lord. In the Gospels, the Lord teaches about the positive impact of suffering in the life of His disciples, and the rewards suffering can bring (Matt 5:11; Mark 8:34; Luke 6:20-23; John 15:20; 16:1-3, 33). In the Book of Acts, faithful believers are described as suffering. Paul experienced trials because of his obedience to the Lord (Acts 5:41; 8:1; 9:16; 11:19; 13:50; 20:19; 22:4; 26:11).
In Paul’s letters, suffering for the Lord is a common theme. He says that believers should glory in suffering. Those who suffer with Christ will reign with Him. The original apostles suffered for Christ’s sake. Suffering for Christ is seen as a gift from God. The Lord is manifested in our suffering. We should rejoice in such things. Paul reminds the church at Galatia of his own sufferings for the sake of the gospel. In Ephesians, Paul describes the church as being in a battle involving difficulties and spiritual warfare. To the church at Philippi, he once again says that their suffering is a gift from the Lord and that Paul’s example in such things meant that he was in fellowship with the sufferings of Christ (Rom 5:3-4; 8:17f; 1 Cor 4:9-13; 2 Cor 1:11; 4:7-11; 7:4-7; 12:7-10; Gal 5:11; Eph 6:14-18; Phil 1:29; 3:8-10; Col 1:24). Paul tells the believers at Colossae that he rejoiced when he suffered for their benefit.
To the church at Thessalonica, Paul speaks of his sufferings and the opportunities he had to speak boldly for the Lord that these sufferings gave him. The church followed in that example. The believers there were faithful in those trials and this leads Paul to boast in them because such difficulties were the evidence of righteous judgment on the part of God (1 Thess 2:2, 14; 2 Thess 1:4-5).
In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul exhorts his lieutenant Timothy to expect suffering as he serves the Lord and that such things will give Timothy the opportunity to trust in God (1 Tim 4:10). Timothy is not to be ashamed of his suffering (2 Tim 1:8, 12; 2:3, 8-9; 3:11-12).
The benefits of suffering are also taught in the General Epistles. The author of Hebrews teaches his suffering readers that they are pleasing to the Lord and that their trials should be looked at as a source of joy (Heb 10:32-24; 11:25, 36-38). James bluntly states that suffering believers should count it all joy. Those believers who suffer through poverty are often those who are rich in faith and those who faithfully endure suffering are blessed (Jas 1:2-4; 2:5; 5:10-11).
The very purpose of 1 Peter is that believers should rejoice in trials because they mature the believer (1 Pet 1:6; 2:20f; 3:14-17; 4:12-16). In 2 Peter, he speaks of his own martyrdom as well as the sufferings of righteous Lot (1:14f; 2:7-8).
John writes the Book of Revelation while in prison. The recipients of the letter are churches going through suffering (2:9).
Finally, if we follow in Christ’s example, we will suffer (Matt 16:21; 17:12-15; Mark 8:31; 9:12; Luke 9:22; 17:25; 22:15; 24:26, 46; Acts 1:3; 3:18, 26:23; Heb 2:9-10, 18; 5:8; 13:12; 1 Peter 1:11; 4:1). Suffering in the life of the faithful believer is a common theme in the NT. It deserves our careful consideration.