However, he says that suffering is never from God. I can perhaps accept that sickness is never from God when His children are obedient. But the Scriptures have much to say about the role of suffering in the life of God’s children.
In the Bible, there are two kinds of suffering, as I see it. One is suffering for sin and the other is suffering for righteousness.
Suffering for Sin
Let’s begin with suffering for sin. The Israelites are a good example of this kind of suffering. When they sinned, they suffered. But it was always redemptive. The Lord was seeking to bring them back to Himself.
The Bible does teach us that God does sometimes try us in the fire, refine us like silver, and that’s painful. “For You have tried us, O God; You have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; You laid an oppressive burden upon our loins. You made men ride over our heads; We went through fire and through water, Yet You brought us out into a place of abundance.” (Psa 66:10-12).
In this Psalm, it even says the Lord laid an oppressive burden upon their loins. God made men ride over their heads. He put them through fire and water. But look at what He did in the end ultimately – He brought them into a place of abundance.
The only time you need to refine silver is when there are still impurities in it. You only use this process to remove dross. It would not be used on silver that is already purified. So when we need more purification in our lives, the Lord uses the fire to remove the impurities. This comes in the form of painful sufferings.
I think that disobedience can surely bring sickness into the life of a believer (see Micah 6:12-13), which is one kind of suffering. The way this happens is that when we walk in disobedience to the Lord, we open a door to the enemy and give him a right to get a foothold in our lives. When the enemy comes in, he can and usually does bring sickness, pain, or disease. The demons want to gain control of your soul ultimately, but they begin by getting into the body at first. Satan always comes to steal, kill, and destroy.
In Deut 28:15-68 you can read how the Lord told the Israelites that they would experiences disease and hardship if they rebelled against Him. You may be thinking that Jesus became a curse for us, and we are free from every curse, according to Galatians 3:13. You are correct, but when a child of God walks in rebellion or idolatry, they come out from under that protective covering of Christ’s atonement.
There are plenty of practical examples in life. One is alcoholism, which causes liver disease. Another is tobacco addiction, which causes lung disease and other sicknesses. Addiction to injected narcotics leads to disease that enter through the blood, such as AIDS, hepatitis, and others. Gluttony leads to obesity and its related diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease. The list of examples goes on and on, and there are too many to cite. The consequences of sin are serious and you cannot escape them if you walk in rebellion or idolatry.
The fact is that even when you're sick or in pain as a result of your own sin, the Lord still desires to heal you. It's not His will to leave you like that. He wants you whole once again.
Here is another example from the lives of the Israelites:
At the end of Is 42 it says, “But this is a people plundered and despoiled; All of them are trapped in caves, Or are hidden away in prisons; They have become a prey with none to deliver them, And a spoil, with none to say, "Give them back!" Who among you will give ear to this? Who will give heed and listen hereafter? Who gave Jacob up for spoil, and Israel to plunderers? Was it not the LORD, against whom we have sinned, And in whose ways they were not willing to walk, And whose law they did not obey? So He poured out on him the heat of His anger And the fierceness of battle; And it set him aflame all around, Yet he did not recognize it; And it burned him, but he paid no attention.” (Isa 42:22-25)
From this passage we learn two things: it was the Lord who gave Jacob up for spoil and Israel to plunderers. And He did this because they had sinned against Him. They were unwilling to walk in His ways, and did not obey His commands.
This might cause a person to wonder if the Lord still loved them, or whether He still cared about them. Was He finished with them and seeking to destroy them?
Immediately after this it says, “But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you. "For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I have given Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in your place. "Since you are precious in My sight, Since you are honored and I love you, I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life. "Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, And gather you from the west. "I will say to the north, 'Give them up!' And to the south, 'Do not hold them back.' Bring My sons from afar And My daughters from the ends of the earth, Everyone who is called by My name, And whom I have created for My glory, Whom I have formed, even whom I have made." (Isa 43:1-7)
This clearly shows the Lord’s redemptive purpose in suffering. He says to them, I have redeemed you. Although they have sinned greatly against Him, He says, “You are precious in My sight, and I love you.” And He calls them His own. He calls them His sons and daughters. He promised that though they would go through the fire, they would not be scorched, nor would the flames burn them. And though they would go through the waters, He would be with them. He said that when they would go through the rivers, they would not overflow His people.
The Lord promised that although it was necessary for them to be purged, ultimately He would get them back for Himself. That’s the same way the Lord works under the New Covenant. When we sin against Him and refuse to walk in His ways or obey His commands, He will refine us in the fire. He will give us up for spoil to the plunderers. How could He let the enemy do such things to His chosen people? How could He lay such an oppressive burden on us, and let the enemy ride over our backs? Is this a loving God?
Yes, He is loving in all His ways. In the end, He brings us into a place of abundance. He knows what He is doing! The question is whether we know what we are doing. And do we know what He is doing in all this when it is happening to us? Or do we panic and think the Lord has forgotten us? Are we surprised by the fiery trials?
From Peter we learn that fiery ordeals do come upon the saints of God for our testing. It’s the will of God. Being saved is not easy. It’s a difficult thing. When we have impurities in our lives, the Lord will burn them up. He will bring judgment to His house, not to destroy us, but to purify us, so we may be saved.
“For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the godless man and the sinner? Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” (1Pe 4:17-19)
Peter says it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved. The judgment of God begins now with the household of God. The only way through it is to entrust your soul to the faithful Creator and do what is right.
In all of this, we know that Christ has suffered for sin, but not His own. He has suffered for our sins.
Peter says, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” (1Pe 2:21-24)
Christ suffered for you. And He bore your sins in His body on the cross. The Lord has made a way for us to be saved, as well as healed. We don’t have to earn our salvation. But we do need to follow in the steps of Jesus Christ, according to His example. That includes dying to sin and living for righteousness. If you refuse to do that, then you reject the sufferings of Christ for your sin, and you must suffer for your own sin. If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the sinful nature, you will live. But if you live to please the sinful nature, you will reap destruction.
Suffering for Righteousness
I said there are two kinds of suffering in life, and I have just explained the first one, which is suffering for sin. Now we’ll discuss suffering for righteousness.
Peter called this "suffering unjustly" or "suffering for doing what is right," and taught that we find favor with God when we patiently endure it.
“For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.” (1Pe 2:19-20)
If you are going through some kind of suffering for your own sin, and you endure it, there is no credit in that. You just need to repent and let the Lord have His perfect way in you. Let Him use the fire to purge and purify you. And if you are sick, you need to call upon the elders of the church to anoint you with oil and pray for you, according to James 5:14. And if you have sinned, you will be forgiven, according to James 5:15.
On the other hand, there is suffering for the sake of righteousness. This happens when you do right and suffer for it. Perhaps you refuse to do unethical things or immoral things that your employer wants you to do. You may lose your job and suffer financially for it. Likewise, you might refuse to take such a job in the first place, if you know in advance what it will require. In that case, you may also suffer through a longer period of unemployment and financial difficulty. But the Lord will see this and be pleased. He will bless you in the end, and give you something even better than what you would have had, if you had followed the ways of the world. This has been my experience in life.
As believers in Jesus Christ, we are called to suffer. That’s what the Scriptures say. Peter said, “You have been called for this purpose.” (1 Pe 2:21). He was referring to doing what is right and suffering for it, then patiently enduring it (see 1 Pe 2:20). That’s the purpose for which you and I have been called. The problem today is that many preachers have taken the cross out of the gospel; however, there is a cross for every disciple.
The apostle Paul said, “For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.” (Php 1:29-30)
Paul did not run from suffering, but embraced it. He had lost everything for Christ and considered knowing Christ of greater value than anything else, "that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;" (Php 3:10; also see 1Th. 2:9; 2Ti. 2:3, 2:9; 3:12; and 4:5)
Paul said, "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Act 14:22).
The Lord told the church in Smyrna, "Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life." (Rev 2:10). And I believe the Lord would say the same to us today. Do not fear suffering! We have nothing to fear, if God is for us. Rather, rejoice that you suffer for Christ (see Mt 5:11-12). If this message frightens you, then meditate on Rom 8:28; 1 Pe 5:7; Is 26:3; and Psa 56:3-4.
A preacher named Paul Gabanek, who suffered much for Christ under communism, said in his autobiography, Ministry of the Holy Spirit in My Life: "If we have love of Jesus, nobody can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38 to 39). Yes, God is with us in every situation of life. We need the love of Jesus Christ. Without His love we cannot suffer, we cannot bear tribulations or temptations."
Brother Gabanek stated: "In those last days of my imprisonment they put me in a disciplinary cell for eight days. It was a little room like a tomb in underground. Only a little of light came in. The guard took me down and locked the iron gate. As I lifted my eyes in prayer I had a vision: I saw Jesus Christ with His apostles at the table eating and drinking at the last supper. And immediately I heard Jesus saying to me: 'I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer,' (Luke 22:15) and when He was saying: 'before I suffer,' He looked at me. I understood Him, but I was not sorrowful. He suffered much more for us than we can ever suffer for His sake. And our suffering for Him is blessed, because it is for righteousness’ sake. His suffering for us was much harder, because it was for our sins. (1 Peter 3:14)"
Now I am in total agreement with T.L. Osborne regarding the fact that God is not going to send sickness into the life of an obedient believer to refine the person (see Exodus 15:26). I believe that healing is in the atonement and that we should stand on God’s promises about that. But there are many other types of suffering that you may have to endure as an obedient believer. Among these may be persecution and conflict, hardship and difficulty, beatings and imprisonment, troubles and distress, sleepless nights and wrecks, and a host of other possibilities like Paul endured (see 2 Co 6:3-10). You cannot always make these go away. And the Lord will use them to further refine you, just as Peter taught.
Even those who obey the gospel still need to be purified. There is not one of us who doesn’t need some work of purification in our lives. We serve a holy God, and He has called us to be holy as He is holy. We serve a perfect God, and He’s called us to be perfect as He is perfect. We need to seek His righteousness, pursue holiness, and aim for perfection. Seek peace and pursue it. Pray for the holy fire to purify you from everything that will not pass through the fire as purely from God.
For, "The one who desires life, to love and see good days, must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. He must turn away from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it.” (1Pe 3:10-11)
Peter also said, “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,” (1Pe 4:1). Suffering in the flesh does bring you to a place where you cease from sin.
Even the archangel Gabriel told the prophet Daniel, "Those who have insight among the people will give understanding to the many; yet they will fall by sword and by flame, by captivity and by plunder for many days. Now when they fall they will be granted a little help, and many will join with them in hypocrisy. Some of those who have insight will fall, in order to refine, purge and make them pure until the end time; because it is still to come at the appointed time.” (Dan 11:33-35)
This is not about bad people being punished. It’s about those with insight and understanding falling by the sword and being burned to death. It’s about righteous people being taken captive and plundered for an extended period of time. The purpose for it is to refine, purge, and make them pure until the end time.
You see, this is the end time. We are about to witness the return of Christ. And the Scripture says “that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.” (Eph 5:27) He is going to present to Himself the church without spot or wrinkle or any such thing – one that is holy and blameless.
So let’s not be surprised at the fiery trials that come upon us. “But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.” (1Pe 4:13-16)
Putting it All Together
There are basically two kinds of suffering. One is suffering for sin. Everyone who sins suffers for it, unless they repent and accept the suffering of Jesus Christ that He suffered for their sin in their place. Even believers in Christ can suffer for sin, if they walk in rebellion or idolatry. This could be sickness, disease, pain, financial distress, imprisonment, or a host of other possibilities. But the purpose is always redemptive. Though the Lord sends these things upon us, He promises that we will not be destroyed by them. The Lord is always seeking to bring us back to Himself into a place of righteousness, peace, abundance and joy.
The other kind of suffering is for the sake of righteousness. It’s when you suffer for doing what is right, and that’s unjust suffering. The Lord is not going to send sickness upon His obedient servant, so we can be sure of that. I will concede that Job was the most righteous man on earth in his day, and yet he still suffered more than most of us ever have. But consider how God blessed him in the end.
We need to stand on the promises of Deuteronomy 28: 1-14; Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24; Ps 103:1-3 and James 5:14-15. We need to walk in the perfect health He has paid for on our behalf. But there are a host of other things that can happen to a righteous believer, and we cannot possibly list them all here. That could include dishonor, evil reports, being regarded as a deceiver or imposter, being punished, seeming to be poor or having nothing, imprisonment, captivity, sword, flame, and even dying. So let's not forget that or remove it from the gospel.
This message is not intended to frighten you. Do not fear suffering, but trust the Lord through it and rejoice that you share in His sufferings.
I close with the words of the apostle Peter, “Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” (1Pe 4:17-19)
Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.
Author's note: If you know a believer going through fiery sufferings, please share this article with them. If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy Holy Fire Baptism, The Afflictions of the Righteous, The Burning Ones, The Three Elijahs, The Refiner's Fire, Only the Holy -- Three Shocking Testimonies, Holy Living in a Perverted World, and Aim for Perfection. You can access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master." Now I'd like to ask a very important question.
Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus. Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?
“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15). He preached that we must repent and believe.
Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International. He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.