The Bible shows us that there are two types of suffering:
1. Godly suffering.
2. Ungodly suffering.
For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God (GODLY SUFFERING). But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it (UNGODLY SUFFERING)? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.
1 Peter 2:19-20
The type of suffering you experience depends on which “nature” you SOW to.
Man’s Two Natures
Man has one of two natures:
1. Sinful nature.
2. New nature of the Spirit
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man REAPS what he SOWS. The one who sows to please his SINFUL NATURE, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please THE SPIRIT, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
Man’s fallen sinful nature indulges in pleasure. It’s philosophy is to eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die!
The sinful nature puts PLEASURE FIRST. It doesn’t think about consequences or others, it only thinks about itself.
As a result the Bible says that the sinful nature REAPS destruction.
These are the acts of the sinful nature:
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
New Nature of the Spirit
The acts of the new nature, that is the nature experienced through Christ, seeks to please the Spirit. As a result, the new nature SUFFERS FIRST. That’s because it thinks of others first. It seeks to fulfill the law of LOVE.
The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
These are the acts of the new nature:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Do Christians have a sinful nature?
They USED TO, before they were born in Christ. Once they died in Christ, their sinful nature ceased to exist. Consider the following two scriptures:
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have CRUCIFIED (put to death) the sinful nature with its passions and desires.
I have been crucified with Christ and I NO LONGER LIVE, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
If this is so, why do Christians still sin? Doesn’t the sinful nature still drive them from time to time?
Christians still sin because they respond to the RESIDUAL pull of their flesh or body. Their mind, will and emotions are responding to the muscle memory of their flesh. The Apostle Paul talks about this in Romans 7. In order to defeat this pull, they need to bring heaven to earth by dealing with sin properly (see my article, How To Deal With Sin).
So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the MEMBERS OF MY BODY, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
How Does God Use Suffering to Achieve Purpose?
To answer that question, let’s take a look at how Jesus achieved purpose through suffering. Consider the following:
“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he DID NOT RETALIATE; when he suffered, he MADE NO THREATS. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
1 Peter 2:22-23
Jesus achieved purpose through suffering by blessing when he could have cursed. By being patient when He could have been impatient. Jesus put aside impulses to gratify His flesh (fits of rage) and put the needs of OTHERS first. Jesus SOWED to the Spirit.
Consider him who ENDURED such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
It isn’t easy to be nice when people treat you bad.
But when you bear up under the pain of unjust suffering, there is a PAYOFF.
The payoff is in how it CHANGES others for the better.
That’s what Jesus did. Jesus changed others through a life of RECONCILIATION. In this He found purpose.
God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.
2 Corinthians 5:19a
God Has Given Us a Ministry of Reconciliation
Just like Christ, God has given us a ministry of reconciliation in what we suffer for Him.
He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.
2 Corinthians 5:19b-20
Are you willing to bless when you are cursed? Are you willing to think of other people’s needs before your own?
If you do, you'll suffer.
If you do, you'll suffer.
When you sow to the Spirit you are balancing the relationship between suffering and pleasure to the glory of God. You are achieving God's purpose in you.
These are the reasons WHY we suffer for Christ— to help others.
But there is also a BY PRODUCT.
This is what Jesus received because He was willing to suffer for others.
Therefore God exalted him to the HIGHEST PLACE and gave him the name that is ABOVE EVERY NAME, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
God exalted Christ to the HIGHEST place and gave Him the GREATEST name.
Christ Himself gives us the formula for finding STATUS in Him.
Whoever wants to become GREAT among you must be your SERVANT, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
If you want to be GREAT, then you have to serve people. People are served when you bear up under the burdens of men (Ephesians 4:2).
Godly suffering is showing love. Consider the words of the Apostle Paul when it comes to greatness and suffering:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I AM NOTHING. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I GAIN NOTHING.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is NOT SELF-SEEKING, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
1 Corinthians 13:1-8a
Seek God on what you must suffer in order to advance the ministry of reconciliation in others— then serve Him with all of your heart.