“Though He was God’s Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered.” – Hebrews 5:8 (HCSB)
The past few months the topic of suffering has repeatedly come up around me. Interestingly, there were no devastated marriages, no loss of a child, or any of the Job-like agonies of life which “suffering” makes us immediately think of. Still, I have seen believers face difficult financial trials, sickness upon sickness, the challenges of aging… It’s been a time of seeing a different kind of suffering. A few months ago I would never have considered the things I’ve seen to be worthy of the term. But that was then.
Consequently, my eyes have been reading my Bible with a “suffering highlighter”. You know what I mean–like when you mention a car and suddenly your eyes are trained and you see it everywhere. Every time I read my Bible I see “suffering”. And you know what I’ve noticed? It’s like the Toyota Camry or Honda Accord of the Bible–it’s everywhere.
Not only is suffering unavoidable in the pages of Scripture, but it is so because God keeps telling us that it will be unavoidable in your life and mine. Paul even encourages(!) Timothy to join in his sufferings–twice! (2 Timothy 1:8 and 3:11). As I told a brother this week, that is not a club I wish to join. Personally, I don’t want to suffer. I don’t desire to run headlong into persecution and hardships. Yet, judging by Hebrews 13:23, it would seem that Timothy, in his faithfulness to ministry, did exactly that (“Be aware that our brother Timothy has been released…” I assume released from prison.)
Jesus said to expect difficulties (John 16:33). Romans 5 talks about it, Romans 8 is all about suffering. I won’t go through every book of the New Testament, but it’s all over the place. Hebrews 12:7 tells me to “Endure suffering as discipline”, an instrument of God to form and fashion me.
James gets right down to business in his letter. He starts with a warm greeting in verse 1, and then gets right to the topic of trials and suffering in the very next sentence! Such things produce endurance, perseverance; we, like they, ought to “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4).
Peter tells his audience (and us) not to be surprised by suffering, but agrees with James that we should rejoice in it (1 Peter 4:12, 13).
And over and above it all, let’s not miss the obvious: We worship Jesus Christ, God who came down explicitly to suffer. He would fulfill the title “The Man of Sorrows” through his own life and death.
I have no doubt that many of us love to quote Philippians 2, about Christ’s humility and subsequent exaltation, where Paul majestically writes (in part):
who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be used for His own advantage.
Instead He emptied Himself
by assuming the form of a slave,
taking on the likeness of men.
And when He had come as a man
in His external form,
He humbled Himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—
even to death on a cross.
But how often do we remember to pay attention to the opening line of this passage, “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus”?
Which brings me to my opening verse. If the Lord Jesus Christ, who was God, humbled himself under his Father’s hand and received his sufferings to forge obedience in his earthly life, who am I that I should think I don’t need or ought not endure the hammer and anvil, which are infinitely less severe for me than they were for him? Isaiah called me out on this when he wrote, “How can what is formed say about the one who formed it, ‘He doesn’t understand what he’s doing’?”
He does. He always does.
Lord, we don’t understand. And you don’t owe us any explanation. Just don’t let us run and don’t let us forget that you are ever, always good and your ways are wise and right and true.