Why do God's people suffer? Is it necessary? What effect do our actions have in bringing an end to our sufferings? What is the difference between suffering afflictions and death to self? What about Paul's thorn in the flesh?
Suffering is for the purpose of bringing an end of sin so we can live to the will of God. 1 Pet.4:1 For as much then as Christ suffered in the flesh, arm ye yourselves also with the same mind; for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; 4:2that ye no longer should live the rest of your time in flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. Suffering in the flesh here is not necessarily in your body but in the carnal nature, the old man.
We are partakers of Christ's sufferings to be proven and to manifest His glory. 1 Pet.4:12 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial among you, which cometh upon you to prove you, as though a strange thing happened unto you: 4:13 but insomuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings, rejoice; that at the revelation of his glory also ye may rejoice with exceeding joy.
Christ's sufferings brought Him to obedience and perfection. They will bring us there also. Heb.5:8,9 though he was a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which he suffered; 5:9 and having been made perfect, he became unto all them that obey him the author of eternal salvation.
Suffering comes in order that our Creator may finish His new creation work on us. 1 Pet.4:19 Wherefore let them also that suffer according to the will of God commit their souls in well-doing unto a faithful Creator. We must cooperate with God in this process in committing our souls to Him.
We will suffer in order to be perfected, established and strengthened. 1 Pet.5:10 And the God of all grace, who called you unto his eternal glory in Christ, after that ye have suffered a little while, shall himself perfect, establish, strengthen you. Notice suffering has an end.
Walking by faith and patience in suffering will cause us to be counted worthy. This suffering is only a token of what we deserve. 2 Thes.1:4,5 so that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which ye endure; 1:5 which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God; to the end that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer:
All of Gods true children will suffer chastening. Chastening is suffering evils and calamities in order to reveal sin and motivate us to serve God. It manifests the fruit of righteousness and cause us to be partakers of holiness. Heb.12:5 and ye have forgotten the exhortation which reasoneth with you as with sons, My son, regard not lightly the chastening of the Lord, Nor faint when thou art reproved of him; 12:6For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, And scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. 12:7 It is for chastening that ye endure; God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father chasteneth not? 12:8 But if ye are without chastening, whereof all have been made partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. 12:9 Furthermore, we had the fathers of our flesh to chasten us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? 12:10 For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed good to them; but he for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness. 12:11 All chastening seemeth for the present to be not joyous but grievous; yet afterward it yieldeth peaceable fruit unto them that have been exercised thereby, even the fruit of righteousness.
Our attitude in physical suffering should be that Jesus bore our curse on Himself, and therefore we are delivered. Gal.3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: 3:14 that upon the Gentiles might come the blessing of Abrahamin Christ Jesus... The curse here covers all of the curse of the law mentioned in Dt.28 which is everything detrimental that came upon man for his sins. If a person in the midst of chastening does not believe that Jesus took away the curse he will not be delivered in many cases but instead suffers from an evil heart of unbelief. Heb.3:12 Take heed, brethren, lest haply there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God: 3:14 for we are become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end. 1 Pet.2:24 who his own self bare our sins in his body upon the tree, that we, having died unto sins, might live unto righteousness; by whose stripes ye were healed. James 5:13 Is any among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise. 5:14 Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: 5:15 and the prayer of faith shall save him that is sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, it shall be forgiven him.
Abraham and Sarah were under a curse of barrenness many years until they believed Gods promise. This faith justified (reckoned righteous) them and gave them access to grace to be delivered (Rom.4:17-5:2). Rom.4:21 and being fully assured that what he had promised, he was able also to perform. 4:22 Wherefore also it was reckoned unto him for righteousness. Rom.5:1 Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; 5:2 through whom also we have had our access by faith into this grace wherein we stand... Abraham received grace to be delivered from this Dt.28 curse because he believed. We are told that we must agree only with the word of God when we are under judgment in order to be justified and to prevail. Rom.3:4 God forbid: yea, let God be found true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy words, And mightest prevail when thou comest into judgment.Prevail here means to come through the chastening victoriously and be delivered from it.
Many say we can not expect God to deliver or heal us because of Paul's thorn in the flesh. 2 Cor.12:7 And by reason of the exceeding greatness of the revelations, that I should not be exalted overmuch, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger (angelos) of Satan to buffet me, that I should not be exalted overmuch. 12:8 Concerning this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 12:9 And he hath said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my power is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 12:10 Wherefore I take pleasure in weaknesses (KJV- infirmities), in injuries, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. Notice the four places I have made bold. In both the Received Text and in the ancient manuscripts these are the same Greek word. The KJV translated only the third word "infirmities" leading people to believe Paul had a sickness that God would not heal. The same Greek word is used in 2 Cor.13:4 for he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth through the power of God. The KJV correctly translated this weakness because of course Jesus was not crucified through infirmities. The same Greek word is used in 1 Cor.1:25 ...the weakness of God is stronger than men. No one can say God is sick so it was translated correctly here also. We do not have to guess what these buffetings are they are listed in the previous chapter. 2 Cor.11:23 "Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as one beside himself) I more; in labors more abundantly, in prisons more abundantly, in stripes above measure, in deaths oft. 11:24 Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. 11:25 Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day have I been in the deep; 11:26 in journeyings often, in perils of rivers, in perils of robbers, in perils from my countrymen, in perils from the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 11:27 in laborand travail, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. 11:28 Besides those things that are without, there is that which presseth upon me daily, anxiety for all the churches. 11:29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is caused to stumble, and I burn not? 11:30 If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things that concern my weakness (KJV- infirmities)". You will notice that not once in his list of weaknesses did he list a sickness! Although the words weak or weakness are all the same Greek word in all the manuscripts the KJV translates only the last word infirmities. Paul's thorn in the flesh was an angel of Satan that buffeted him, meaning hit with many blows, not just one blow as a sickness that would not depart. The Old Testament lists four places where there was a thorn in the flesh and not one of them was a sickness. Was God saying That He would not deliver Paul from these places of weakness? No! 2 Cor.12:8 Concerning this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. It here was the demon that brought the buffetings. Paul said God delivered him out of all these places of weakness where he could not help himself. Gods power was made perfect in Pauls weakness! 2 Tim.4: 17 But the Lord stood by me, and strengthened me; that through me the message might me fully proclaimed, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. 4:18 The Lord will deliver me from every evil work, and will save me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be the glory forever and ever, Amen. As soon as God delivered Paul out of one trial the demon brought another. Lets let God be true and every man a liar. Ps 34:4 "I sought Jehovah, and he answered me, And delivered me from all my fears. 34:6 This poor man cried, and Jehovah heard him, And saved him out of all his troubles. 34:17 The righteous cried, and Jehovah heard, And delivered them out of all their troubles. 34:19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous; But Jehovah delivereth him out of them all". The Lord may not keep you from tribulation but He certainly will save, heal, and deliver you from it if you walk by faith. In fact this is his method for maturing our faith.
Am I saying God can not use sickness to chasten and try? Absolutely not, but God already guarantees your healing if you believe (1 Pet.2:24). The Father sent the curse to motivate repentance and He sent the Savior to bring deliverance but only to them that believe. Rom.1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.
Here is a good example of what is happening in these days to bring people to repentance. An angel appeared to Dumitru Duduman and "took out a scroll which he began to unroll very quickly. It was so long that I could not see its end. On this first scroll of paper were written all kinds of names. Beside each name was listed their punishment -- a type of disease (all kinds were listed), trial, or torment. He said "Those named will have to go through what is listed by their name in order to be cleansed and be able to stand".
In the second century before much of the gifts of the Spirit gave way to ceremony and traditions of men there lived a prophet named Hermas. His writings were famous among early Church fathers who still believed in prophecy. Many considered his writings a part of the scriptures. Though I do not hold them on that level of inspiration, I do consider them the finest of the gift. Consider Hermas' revelation on chastening. It is from "The Shepherd of Hermas". One translation may be found at http://ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-02/TOC.htm
Of the Two Classes of Voluptuous Men, and of Their Death, Falling Away, and the Duration of Their Punishment.
Sitting in my house, and glorifying the Lord for all that I had seen, and reflecting on the commandments, that they are excellent, and powerful, and glorious, and able to save a man's soul, I said within myself, "I shall be blessed if I walk in these commandments, and every one who walks in them will be blessed". While I was saying these words to myself, I suddenly see him sitting beside me, and hear him thus speak: "Why are you in doubt about the commandments which I gave you? They are excellent: have no doubt about them at all, but put on faith in the Lord, and you will walk in them, for I will strengthen you in them. These commandments are beneficial to those who intend to repent: for if they do not walk in them, their repentance is in vain. You, therefore, who repent cast away the wickedness of this world which wears you out; and by putting on all the virtues of a holy life, you will be able to keep these commandments, and will no longer add to the number of your sins. Walk, therefore, in these commandments of mine, and you will live unto God. All these things have been spoken to you by me". And after he had uttered these words, he said to me, "Let us go into the fields, and I will show you the shepherds of the flocks". "Let us go, sir", I replied. And we came to a certain plain, and he showed me a young man, a shepherd, clothed in a suit of garments of a yellow colour: and he was herding very many sheep, and these sheep were feeding luxuriously (Editors note; that which we can not afford to do because of the high cost to our soul), as it were, and riotously, and merrily skipping hither and thither. The shepherd himself was merry, because of his flock; and the appearance of the shepherd was joyous, and he was running about amongst his flock. [And other sheep I saw rioting and luxuriating in one place, but not, however, leaping about.]
And he said to me, "Do you see this shepherd? ""I see him, sir", I said. "This", he answered, "is the angel of luxury and deceit: he wears out the souls of the servants of God, and perverts them from the truth, deceiving them with wicked desires, through which they will perish; for they forget the commandments of the living God, and walk in deceits and empty luxuries; and they are ruined by the angel, some being brought to death, others to corruption: " I said to him, "Sir, I do not know the meaning of these words, 'to death, and to corruption'". "Listen", he said. "The sheep which you saw merry and leaping about, are those which have tom themselves away from God for ever, and have delivered themselves over to luxuries and deceits [of this world. Among them there is no return to life through repentance, because they have added to their other sins, and blasphemed the name of the Lord. Such men therefore, are appointed unto death. And the sheep which you saw not leaping, but feeding in one place, are they who have delivered themselves over to luxury and deceit], but have committed no blasphemy against the Lord. These have been perverted from the truth: among them there is the hope of repentance, by which it is possible to live. Corruption, then, has a hope of a kind of renewal, but death has everlasting ruin". Again I went forward a little way, and he showed me a tall shepherd, somewhat savage in his appearance, clothed in a white goatskin, and having a wallet on his shoulders, and a very hard staff with branches, and a large whip. And he had a very sour look, so that I was afraid of him, so forbidding was his aspect. This shepherd, accordingly, was receiving the sheep from the young shepherd, those, viz., that were rioting and luxuriating, but not leaping; and he cast them into a precipitous place, full of this ties and thorns, so that it was impossible to extricate the sheep from the thorns and thistles; but they were completely entangled amongst them. These, accordingly, thus entangled, pastured amongst the thorns and thistles, and were exceedingly miserable, being beaten by him; and he drove them hither and thither, and gave them no rest; and, altogether, these sheep were in a wretched plight.
Seeing them, therefore, so beaten and so badly used, I was grieved for them, because they were so tormented, and had no rest at all. And I said to the Shepherd who talked with me, "Sir, who is this shepherd, who is so pitiless and severe, and so completely devoid of compassion for these sheep? "This", he replied, "is the angel of punishment; and he belongs to the just angels, and is appointed to punish. He accordingly takes those who wander away from God, and who have walked in the desires and deceits of this world, and chastises them as they deserve with terrible and diverse punishments". "I would know, sir", I said, "Of what nature are these diverse tortures and punishments? ""Hear", he said, "the various tortures and punishments. The tortures are such as occur during life. For some are punished with losses, others with want, others with sicknesses of various kinds, and others with all kinds of disorder and confusion; others are insulted by unworthy persons, and exposed to suffering in many other ways: for many, becoming unstable in their plans, try many things, and none of them at all succeed, and they say they are not prosperous in their undertakings; and it does not occur to their minds that they have done evil deeds, but they blame the Lord. When, therefore, they have been afflicted with all kinds of affliction, then are they delivered unto me for good training, and they are made strong in the faith of the Lord; and for the rest of the days of their life they are subject to the Lord with pure hearts, and are successful in all their undertakings, obtaining from the Lord everything they ask; and then they glorify the Lord, that they were delivered to me, and no longer suffer any evil".
I said to him, "Sir, explain this also to me". "What is it you ask? "he said. "Whether, sir", I continued, "they who indulge in luxury, and who are deceived, are tortured for the same period of time that they have indulged in luxury and deceit? "He said to me, "They are tortured for the same time (Editors note; compare Rev.18:7)". ["They are tormented much less, sir", I replied; ] "for those who are so luxurious and who forget God ought to be tortured seven-fold". He said to me "You are foolish, and do not understand the power of torment". "Why, sir", I said, "if I had understood it, I would not have asked you to show me". "Hear", he said, "the power of both. The time of luxury and deceit is one hour; but the hour of torment is equivalent to thirty days. If, accordingly, a man indulge in luxury for one day, and be deceived and be tortured for one day, the day of his torture is equivalent to a whole year. For all the days of luxury, therefore, there are as many years of torture to be undergone. You see, then", he continued, "that the time of luxury and deceit is very short, but that of punishment and torture long".
"Still", I said, "I do not quite understand about the time of deceit, and luxury, and torture; explain it to me more clearly". He answered, and said to me, "Your folly is persistent; and you do not wish to purify your heart, and serve God. Have a care", he added, "lest the time be fulfilled, and you be found foolish. Hear now", he added, "as you desire, that you may understand these things. He who indulges in luxury, and is deceived for one day, and who does what he wishes, is clothed with much foolishness, and does not understand the act which he does until the morrow; for he forgets what he did the day before. For luxury and deceit have no memories, on account of the folly with which they are clothed; but when punishment and torture cleave to a man for one day, he is punished and tortured for a year; for punishment and torture have powerful memories. While tortured and punished, therefore, for a whole year, he remembers at last his luxury and deceit, and knows that an their account he suffers evil. Every man, therefore, who is luxurious and deceived is thus tormented, because, although having life, they have given themselves over to death". "What kinds of luxury, sir", I asked, "are hurtful? ""Every act of a man which he performs with pleasure", he replied, "is an act of luxury; for the sharp-tempered man, when gratifying his tendency, indulges in luxury; and the adulterer, and the drunkard, and the back-biter, and the liar, and the covetous man, and the thief, and he who does things like these, gratifies his peculiar propensity, and in so doing indulges in luxury. All these acts of luxury are hurtful to the servants of God. On account of these deceits, therefore, do they suffer, who are punished and tortured. And there are also acts of luxury which save men; for many who do good indulge in luxury, being carried away by their own pleasure: this luxury, however, is beneficial to the servants of God, and gains life for such a man; but the injurious acts of luxury before enumerated bring tortures and punishment upon them; and if they continue in them and do not repent, they bring death upon themselves".
They Who Repent Must Bring Forth Fruits Worthy of Repentance. After a few days I saw him in the same plain where I had also. seen the shepherds; and he said to me, "What do you wish with me? "I said to him, "Sir, that you would order the shepherd who punishes to depart out of my house, because he afflicts me exceedingly". "It is necessary", he replied, "that you be afflicted; for thus", he continued, "did the glorious angel command concerning you, as he wishes you to be tried". "What have I done which is so bad, sir", I replied, "that I should be delivered over to this angel? "Listen", he said: "Your sins are many, but not so great as to require that you be delivered over to this angel; but your household has committed great iniquities and sins, and the glorious angel has been incensed at them on account of their deeds; and for this reason he commanded you to be afflicted for a certain time, that they also might repent, and purify themselves from every desire of this world. When, therefore, they repent and are purified, then the angel of punishment will depart". I said to him, "Sir, if they have done such things as to incense the glorious angel against them, yet what have I done? "He replied, "They cannot be afflicted at all, unless you, the head of the house, be afflicted: for when you are afflicted, of necessity they also suffer affliction; but if you are in comfort, they can feel no affliction". "Well, sir", I said, "they have repented with their whole heart". "I know, too", he answered, "that they have repented with their whole heart: do you think, however, that the sins of those who repent are immediately forgiven? Not altogether, but he who repents must torture his own soul (Editors note; compare 1 Cor.9:27), and be exceedingly humble in all his conduct, and be afflicted with many kinds of affliction; and if he endure the afflictions that come upon him, He who created all things, and endued them with power, will assuredly have compassion, and will heal him; and this will He do when He sees the heart of every penitent pure from every evil thing: and it is profitable for you and for your house to suffer affliction now. But why should I say much to you? You must be afflicted, as that angel of the Lord commanded who delivered you to me. And for this give thanks to the Lord, because He has deemed you worthy of showing you beforehand this affliction, that, knowing it before it comes, you may be able to bear it with courage". I said to him, "Sir, be thou with me, and I will be able to bear all affliction". "I will be with you", he said, "and I will ask the angel of punishment to afflict you more lightly; nevertheless, you will be afflicted for a little time, and again you will be re-established in your house. Only continue humble, and serve the Lord in all purity of heart, you and your children, and your house, and walk in my commands which I enjoin upon you, and your repentance will be deep and pure; and if you observe these things with your household, every affliction will depart from you. And affliction", he added, "will depart from all who walk in these my commandments".