In this topic assigned to me there can be no doubt as to the meaning of the
individual parts it contains. Surely it is abundantly plain, first of all, what the suffering of Christ is. The Scriptures teach very plainly many things in regard to that suffering as duration, manner, purpose, etc. Surely it is very clear as to essence of that suffering. More than once we are taught that the essence of that suffering is His being subjected to the wrath of God upon sin. Himself without sin, being like unto us in all things, sin excepted, He nevertheless suffered God’s wrath upon sin in behalf of His people. He suffered for our sins (Rom. 6:10; 8:3), to our justification (Rom. 8:32ff). That the suffering of Christ, therefore, is a ransom, is redeeming, is the basis for our justification before God, apart from which justification is forever impossible( Rom. 8:3, 4; Heb. 9:26), need not be further discussed. Indeed this is the very gospel of our salvation.
Nor need we spend much time discussing the suffering as it is “ours” in the topic. Surely this does not refer exclusively to suffering as we have that in common and in general with all men. There is, of course, in this vale of tears, suffering of every degree and common to all men. But I take it, because of the “why” that this is not referred to exclusively or mainly in the topic. Were such the case, the “why” could easily be answered. Then all suffering is the result of sin and is the manifestation of the wrath of God upon sin, always working to the end of the wages of sin: death. But let us agree on this : the suffering of US is the suffering of the people of God in
distinction from all others. That suffering is, in a way, peculiar to them only. Not, it is true, as to the manner of suffering, but from the viewpoint of its being exactly “our” suffering.
Finally, thru the conjunction “and” the sufferings of Christ and of the Christians are somehow related. These two sufferings belong together. The character differs, of course. Our suffering is never redemptive ; nor is it ever punitive. Thru the vicarious suffering of the Mediator, all punishment upon the people of God is clean gone forever. We ARE justified before God thru the death of His Son and there is no condemnation for them that are in Him. Therefore our suffering is often spoken of as “with” Christ (Rom. 8:17) or as partaking of His suffering (I Pet. 4:13). Consequently the suffering of one member becomes, thru their unity in Christ, suffering for all the members (I Cor. 12:26) and is ever conceived of as the portion of the called, of short duration and as the way to glory (I Pet. 5:10; Rom. 8:18).
In view of the above we can pinpoint the suffering of “us” to that suffering caused us by the powers of darkness, that did not will Christ nor will ever condone the servant, who is not more than the Master. It is the suffering evoked by Christ revealed in us ; a suffering for welldoing (I Pet. 2:20); suffering shame for the name of Jesus (Acts 5:41).
Thus the question WHY means: whereas Christ suffered in our stead, removing the guilt and so the punishment of sin; whereas, moreover, He perfectly accomplished His purpose and therefore received all dominion over all things and so IS able to prevent all unjust suffering of His own at the hand of the wicked – why must the Christian still suffer? If He is King over all, and He is, cannot He prevent the suffering of His servants?
In answer to those questions we consider the following facts:
First of all our sufferings and adversities of this present life nor our suffering at the hand of malicious powers of darkness are ever to he conceived of as an imbalance of dualism between Christ’s power and ability to avert evil on the one hand and the raging of powers of evil on the other. We do not suffer because Christ cannot prevent it. His is all the power and dominion in heaven, earth and hell. That is more than saying that His is a greater power than all opposition. The powers of darkness as author of the suffering of the people of God are never independent of His rule. Without Him they cannot as much as move. All suffering is according to His directive rule. Christ’s dominion is absolute, so that whatever comes to pass, also our suffering, is AS it is because He sovereignly so directs, and the forces of evil are but means in His hand to realize the same. His ruling is in all aspects the realization of the counsel of God. And therefore, shall we even approach a correct conception of our suffering, we must hold to the Scriptural view that all our experiences are SENT to us by Him and do not overcome us in spite of His desire to the contrary.
From this it follows that our suffering is, whether we be conscious of it or not, beneficial. The seeking and realizing of our good is ever the aim and result of Christ’s care over us and His work is our sure salvation. Then we have the comfort: we are being prepared for glory. The basis of our salvation is the suffering of our Lord; the application, our sanctification. He attains thru all our experiences. There is, after our initial conversion, still much dross left in our livea, that needs be removed. As gold and silver are purified by fire, our faith is tried, purified and attains the state of being approved, thru the fire of suffering. The usual dross is our woridlimindedness as, e.g. in respect to our pleasure and amusement. That carnality must go. The Lord sends suffering as a crucible. Thru it we learn that real, abiding joys are never attained in the earthly, but in fellowship with God in Christ.
This surely gives light on the fact that Christ chastises us thru suffering. Never are His people object of His hatred and can it be said that they are suffering because of such hatred. Ever He loves us. Our suffering, when in wayward paths we stray, is not in spite of but because of this love. He chastises those whom He loves. \
A little more difficult does our question become when, apparently there is no reason for our suffering, that is, where there is no direct reason for chastisement. Sometimes in life we are called to suffer when the cause seems to be in our very faithfulness. According to the measure we walk by and in faith the world hates and despises us. Refusal to go along in the way and to places of corruption, evokes ridicule, which can be such keen suffering. Well, how about that phase of our suffering? Is not Christ our King, also then? Could He not either prevent such suffering or openly reward faithfulness? Is, perhaps, this not one case where gracious care fails? Let us look at Phil. 1:29. There we are taught that suffering is a gift to us; it is grace on the par with believing in Christ. Even suffering for the sake of Christ, because the life of Christ reveals itself in our lives, is a gift of grace. It is a privilege to suffer for righteousness sake, and most blessed according to the beatitudes of our Lord. By it we have an assurance of being in the right way. If they hated Him, Who did nought but His Father’s will, how comforting the assurance that the same foe hates us for being His!
Finally, understanding full well that our suffering is never meritorious, it is a means whereby Christ prepares us to receive our place in glory so as to realize the Word, that we suffer with Him in order to be glorified together. This is, in other words, nothing else than God’s way of readying us for our place in Christ’s body in perfection. In view of that, how true the words of Paul that “the suffering of this present time is not worthy to be compared to the glory to be revealed to us.” Therefore let us remember and he comforted by the assurance of the word, that of grace God deems us worthy to suffer for the cause and Kingdom of His Son for to this is adhered the promise, that presently we shall reign with Him forever (II Tim. 2:12).
Originally published in:
Vol. 18 No. 3 April 1958