Paul was specifically promised suffering from the moment he was converted (Acts 9:16).
We also are promised sufferings – probably to a different degree than Paul’s, but the book says clearly that, “They that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). The entire tenor of scripture teaches Christians to literally expect the suffering of persecution. It is also true that the entire gist and timbre of God’s promises in scripture is that God wants to heal people who are ill. Suffering because of persecution is actually promised. Healing from the suffering of illness is also promised. In any human suffering, whether from sickness, or persecution for Christ’s sake, we are taught to be resilient and glad that Christ has suffered for us. The apostles rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer for Christ – that was suffering through persecution. Yet they were commanded by the Lord Himself to lay hands on the sick that they would recover. Suffering through sickness has a mandate from heaven for Christians to remove.
We must all be prepared for some degree of pain and suffering if we are following Christ, simply because we are living and breathing. Pain and suffering are part of the programme. We are even told by Him who suffered more than anybody has ever suffered, and for everyone who has ever suffered, ‘Blessed are they that mourn.’ Somebody has written “God had one Son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering.” How true! How utterly thankful we are for the sufferings of Christ! How blessed we are because of His resurrection also! Blessed is He, Who came into the world for no other purpose than to suffer, and in so doing took away the sins of the whole world.
However, we must not forget something else as well. We all know somebody, somewhere who has been made nastier, more irritable and more intolerable to be with simply because of their outrageously undeserved suffering. It is not correct, nor is it even true to say that all suffering perfects people. What utter Tosh! Suffering only perfects one sort of person, and that is the one who accepts the call of God in Christ Jesus, and sees the purpose of God through their experience of suffering, no matter from what direction that suffering comes. That is the wisdom of the Bible. There is no growth or development of Christ-like character without change. There can be no change or transformation without the continuous progression of dying to sin and living to righteousness. That means losing some things and gaining others. This logically means that there is no change without going through fear and/or loss. And, not wanting to be too simplistic; there is no loss without pain. That is a sound definition of the Christian life. The sufferings of Jesus Christ were many even before He entered into what we refer to as, “The Passion.”
Paul suffered because of his love and passion for Jesus Christ. He loved Christ, but only because Christ loved him first. He did not choose Christ. Christ chose him and ordained him to bring forth fruit. Because Paul was utterly sold out in his love for Christ, he loved people. He loved those who did not love God. He lived to bring them to the place of love where he was. That is the reason Paul loved deeply and passionately the people who came to know Christ through his own declaration of those things that he believed. Paul loved the people who were converted out of the evils of the city of Corinth. Paul loved them and was utterly pained and made to inwardly suffer when they turned on him. We are never so defenceless against suffering as when we love. Love, by its very nature, renders the one doing the loving vulnerable. If the one that loves is not loved in return by those that are loved, we have what poets call “unrequited love.” Unrequited love may make wonderful poetry, song lyrics and novels, but it is conceivably the most painful state to be in for any human being. And Paul was constrained by the love of Christ, the greatest most powerful love in the entire cosmos, to love the Christians in Corinth. His pain from the rejection and disparagement of the church of Corinth was excruciating.
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One of my favourite hymns.