July 3, 2015

Suffering for Christ: A Gift of Divine Grace

by Mike Riccardi

“For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake,
not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”
– Philippians 1:29 –

Phil 1;29This text, along with the rest of the New Testament (cf. John 16:33; 2 Tim 3:12; Jas 1:2–4; 1 Pet 4:12–16) establishes beyond a shadow of a doubt that suffering inevitably comes to the true believer in Christ. Last week’s Supreme Court ruling, which mandated all 50 states to redefine marriage, is a loud and clear statement that all who do not conform to the new (im)moral orthodoxy will not be tolerated in contemporary society. For those who submit to the authority of the Word of God, suffering, in one form or another, is sure to come.

But a question we need to ask is: Where does it come from? Does suffering originate merely in the hostility of the opponents themselves? Does it come from a random, chaotic, uncontrolled universe, so that we’ve simply drawn the short straw and need to make the best of things? Does it come from some impersonal governing force like fate, so that we just have to grin and bear it? Does suffering ultimately come from Satan or demons?

Ultimately, we have to answer, “No,” to all of those questions. Ultimately, suffering comes from God. You say, “How do you know that?” Well, for a couple reasons. One is that Scripture calls God the one “who works all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph 1:11). “And we know,” Romans 8:28, “that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God and who are called according to His purpose.”

All things. Not just the good things. And not: “God turns all the bad things into good things for those who love Him.” God doesn’t just make the best of a bad hand He was dealt. He ordains all things for His purpose to glorify Himself. Joseph said that in Genesis 50:20: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” Job says the same thing: “The Lord has given, and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21). “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity” from Him as well (Job 2:10)? And as Jeremiah stands in the rubble of the ravaged city of Jerusalem at the time of the Babylonian invasion, he asks, Lamentations 3:37, “Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth?”

A Gift of Grace

But even if I didn’t have all those verses to turn to, Philippians 1:29 says that it has been granted to us not only to believe, but to suffer. Who has granted that we believe? Certainly not our opponents of the Gospel. And certainly not Satan! It’s God who has granted us faith (Eph 2:8–9). And in the same way, it is God who grants us to suffer.

And He grants us to suffer. This word “granted” is the Greek verb charizomai, from charis, which is the word for grace. It means “to give as a gift,” or “to give freely.” It’s the same word in Romans 8:32, where Paul says, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” What Paul is teaching us here is that the suffering that comes upon the people of God as a result of our faithful obedience to Christ in a hostile world is nothing less than a free gift of sovereign grace.

Now, does God give poor gifts? Does He give gifts that are without purpose and without wisdom? Does He ever give gifts that are not beneficial and for the greatest good of those He gives them to? Of course not! You know all of God’s gifts to His children are good for us. Well, this text tells us that He gives us suffering, for Christ’s sake, as a gift of His loving, unmerited favor.

Keep on Rejoicing

Now if some of you are thinking, “What kind of favor is that? Suffering?!” If you’re thinking that, I want you to know that the apostles would have had absolutely no idea where you were coming from. In Acts 5, the Sanhedrin had already thrown the apostles into prison for violating their command not to preach any longer in the name of Jesus. But the angel of the Lord came in the middle of the night and freed them. And the next morning they were back in the temple preaching, and so the Jews called them before the Council again. And after some discussion about what should be done to them, it says “they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:40–41).

This generation of professing Christians seeks to run from shame as far and as fast as possible, as if it were a pure, unmixed evil! The apostles’ generation rejoiced that they had been considered worthy to receive the divine favor of suffering shame for the matchless name of the Lord Jesus Christ. May God grant that we see the glory that they saw—that we would be so satisfied by Christ that we would count it a privilege to meet the world’s shame if it means that we can put His glory on display.

Years after being flogged that day, Peter would write, “To the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing,” and, “if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but to glorify God in this name” (1 Peter 4:13, 16).

Glorify God in This Name 

See, suffering for Christ’s sake provides us a wonderful opportunity to put the worth and sufficiency of Christ on display. It gives us an opportunity to magnify Him by being more satisfied in Him than by all that this world can offer and by all that death can take.

To illustrate, the third verse of that great hymn, On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand, says, “His oath, His covenant, His blood / support me in the whelming flood. / When all around my soul gives way, / He then is all my hope and stay.” Commenting on that line, John Piper writes, “If we hold fast to Him ‘when all around our soul gives way,’ then we show that He is more to be desired than all we have lost” (Desiring God, 266). And magnifying Christ—showing that He is more to be desired than all that we could lose—is the very thing that we were created to do (Isa 43:7; Phil 1:20–21). If we understand this, it’s clear to see that it’s a divine gift to suffer on behalf of Christ. It is a gracious gift of unmerited favor to be given the privilege of being prisms to reflect the glory and sufficiency of Jesus to the world.

Jesus Doeth All Things Well

And so when suffering and persecution come from those who would oppose Christ and His Gospel—when it gets hard, and starts to hurt, and threatens those things and those people whom you most treasure—don’t try to save God from His sovereignty by supposing that those trials originate from someone other than your Father. Don’t cut the legs out from under the theology of sovereign grace upon which you stand. You would destroy the very comfort you seek if you did that.

Another great hymn says, “Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort / Here by faith in Him to dwell / For I know whate’er befall me / Jesus doeth all things well.” Where do heavenly peace and divine comfort come from? From the knowledge that whatever happens, Jesus the sovereign Lord is doing it, and He doeth all things well. So when suffering comes—and it’s coming, if it’s not already here—don’t try to save God from His sovereignty, and in the same breath steal your heavenly peace and divinest comfort. Instead, count that suffering as a gracious gift, direct from the loving hand of your Father, of the opportunity to magnify the worth of Christ in your response to it. Then, you would suffer in a manner worthy of the Gospel.

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.
  • Boris bear

    Great job, Mike!!! Well researched and presented in an interesting and
    captivating manner. My question to myself at times of suffering is:
    What does the Lord God Almighty wants me to learn from this experience? Am I to help and share from my misfortune to build another brother or sister in Christ? Bottom line: Trust God with all your heart!

  • Adam

    I always like to give counsel concerning suffering from the experiences of Job. WHY GOD?? Job and his friends spent quite a lot of time trying to figure out the answer to that very question concerning Job’s suffering. In the end, God never does give Job an answer, but instead presents HIMSELF as the answer. We would expect after everything Job went through that God would come alongside Job with His arm wrapped around his shoulder; comforting him; answering him; encouraging him. But God does nothing of the sort. In fact, God does just the opposite of what we would expect.

    “Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Gird up thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou ME.” (Job 38:1,3)
    This is not a response filled with a whole lot of compassion; in fact, it sounds somewhat similar in tone to how Job’s friends responded – a little harsh. But there was a good reason for this approach on the part of God. The response God gives is a response reflective of His authority and power. God presents HIMSELF in all His power and omniscience to Job; therefore, the greater question for Job is not – Why is this happening to me? – but rather – “Where were you Job when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 1:4) The is the greater issue because it puts everything in proper perspective. After His initial question, God continues interrogating Job, setting before him multiple examples of His power, knowledge, providence, goodness, and control over all things. It is a lesson of contrasts; of Job’s “littleness” and God’s “BIGGNESS”; of Job’s inability and God’s FULL
    capability. Keeping this perspective in mind, Job can then rest knowing a God who possesses such knowledge and power over the universe and has showed countless displays of a nature that watches over His creation with a caring and loving eye, is certainly a God of goodwill and therefore does indeed have a good reason for allowing what He did even though He may not reveal it. Job can trust in a God who possesses such power to see Him through His trial. Set alongside God’s power and knowledge, all things become small; even our problems an sufferings.

    Job needed to see what we all need to see – God himself. I believe this is the central purpose of the book of Job – not to learn how to deal with suffering – but to learn about our all-powerful, all-knowing God. This is the only thing that can give us the proper perspective of both life and ourselves. Job’s response at the conclusion of the book reveals the lesson worked – “I know that Thou canst do everything” (Job 42:2) In God’s “trial” of Job and subsequent interrogation, God reveals Himself to Job in such a way that was not known to Job before; hence the response from Job – “I have heard of Thee by the hearting of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee.” (Job 42:5) The employment of the two senses by Job, of sight and sound, is figurative for greater understanding. Prior to God appeared to Job out of the whirlwind, Job’s understanding of God was limited – “I have heard of Thee”. But after God manifests Himself to Job in this revelatory dialogue, Job’s understanding is much fuller – “but now mine eye seeth Thee.” Job’s eyes were opened, not to the “why” of his suffering, but to the “WHO” of God. He knows God greater now than before and in light of that greater revelation doesn’t need to know the “why” anymore. God Himself suffices.

    In “seeing” God, Job also gets the proper perspective of himself – “Wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6) And maybe that truly is the central purpose behind the book of Job; that the only way to see our true condition before God is to see and understand God first. It’s in Job’s final statement where we see the condition of the heart that makes it fertile soil for the Gospel seed. Unrepentant sinners (and converted Christians) are only going to see sin for what it is – as “exceedingly sinful” – when they, when we, see God for who He is. Maybe that is what God is ultimately trying to get across after 42 chapters of inspired verse – that we are but dust and ash in light of His goodness and holiness; sinners in need of self loathing and repentance first and foremost because of who God is. It worked for Job and it will work for us. This, however, is a state of mind that runs counter to what our culture teaches us: “Think good about yourself” is the cry of the self-help guru. Read carefully the book of Job and you will find portions where Job took that very position and maybe that’s why God had to answer him out of the “whirlwind” – to get his attention; to step him down a notch or two. It’s always preferable if God can get your attention with a still, small voice, but there are occasions where the “whirlwind”, for some unknown reason to us, may be necessary and more effective. This whirlwind is what we might call today suffering and trials.

    When seeking an answer to the “why” of our trials, which oftentimes ends up in even greater frustration, we need to try instead to seek God. He is our answer. When Job “saw” God for who He was, He saw himself for who he was and that is where I believe He found his peace – not in himself, but in God. “And”the LORD blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning…” (Job 42:12)
    Thanks Mike for your article. This is never an easy subject to deal with and the failure to answer it sufficiently has led many a skeptic to question the existence of God (although not justified by any means.) And let’s not forget that even though we bear the name of Christ, we are still human as well and therefore subject to questions and doubts in the midst of trials. (Matt. 11:1-6)

  • tovlogos

    Amen Mike.
    “But a question we need to ask is: Where does it come from?”

    In the Lord’s prayer, Matthew 6:12-15, there is a play on words that seems to reveal something about the path of suffering.
    “Do not lead us into temptation.” seemed strange the very first time I heard it. We know that God does not tempt us which James 1:14-14 makes clear.
    “Let no one say when he is tempted, I am being tempted by God; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.”
    Spiros Zodhiates explains, that the noun “peirasmos” (3986), temptation, as well as the verb peirazo (3585), is made up of the basic word, “peira,” experience.

    So, as Jesus was led into the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), the specific purpose the Spirit leads us into temptation is to prove His child so that he may benefit from the experience, and grow spiritually. He holds our hands through it. The devil seeks to break us, and lead us into darkness, away from the light. Since spiritual darkness cannot comprehend the Light (John 1:5) it is the place where talking to people about the Lord is like talking to people trapped in Romans 1:28.

    So, yes, “A man can receive nothing, unless it has been given him from heaven;” (John 3:27) however, being in this paradox of two natures is academic; the necessary spiritual rite of passage, and vital for us to experience; or else why else are we here?

  • E S Gonzalez

    Thank you for this encouraging reminder. It blessed me.

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