I have been spending some time thinking about and studying a key verse in Paul’s letter to the Romans. It’s a verse that has always challenged me and I am pretty sure you have faced the challenge as well…
Rom 5:3 And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; KJV
Or as the Phillips translation puts it …
… we can be full of joy here and now even in our trials and troubles. Taken in the right spirit these very things will give us patience endurance.
One commentator said: God has arranged the varied sufferings of man so that no outsider can know His purposes, but the suffering soul can know.” But just what are His purposes in our tribulations? As I studied this verse it became clear that there are at least three types of suffering that the Lord uses so that they become powerful instruments of increasing our happiness (Adam Clarke). There may be others but I just want to touch on three – Corrective, Constructive, and Exemplary.
Some times suffering comes our way because we have stepped out of the will of God.
Heb 12:5ff “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him … the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives… For what son is there whom his father does not discipline … He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness … For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. ESV
God corrects us through our tribulations (chastening) to train us, to teach us His holiness. This is how He keeps us from wandering off the path, like Bunyan’s Pilgrim. When we find ourselves in the ditch we need to recognize where we are (we have stepped out of the will of God) and discover why. And the only way to accomplish that is to Be still and know that I am God (Ps 46:10). If we begin to thrash around and try to sort things out in our own strength we will just make matters worse. But when we stand quiet before Him we can be certain that He will get us out of the ditch and back on the right path. It may not be a pleasant trip back because the route back will almost always lead back to where we left the road. All God needs when we realize that we are standing in a ditch is a heart that says that it’s willing to turn around and go back … and be corrected.
God also uses tribulation as a way of forming Himself in us …
Rom 8:29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. ESV
I am reminded of that verse in Malachi where God spoke of Himself as a refiner of silver, sitting through the process of cleansing His people (Mal 3:3). And while the process can be painful as He draws the dross to the top through heat so that it can be drawn off, we have the assurance that
Phil 1:6 … he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. ESV
We need to remember that it is possible, because of the Holy Spirit within us, for us to glory in the tribulation that brings us back from our wandering to the perfect way of God. In the process He is “constructing us” (conforming us) into the perfect person He created us to be.
It’s true … God wants to make an example of us. Through our suffering God desires to prove to the world (especially the spiritual world) that He can win and hold onto the the loyalty, the commitment of His children, even though they are surrounded day and night by Satan and are constantly being tempted by the flesh, the world, and the devil himself.
These are the times when God chooses us to suffer for reasons that are entirely His own, that have nothing to do with sin in our life and seem to have no corrective or constructive purpose. These are the tribulations that manifest His glory in us, like the time Jesus allowed Satan to “sift” Peter…
Luke 22:31-32 Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail … ESV
This event has always reminded me of God allowing Satan to attack Job …
Job 1:11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face. ESV
And Job’s response …
Job 1:20-21 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” ESV
The Lord told Peter that He had already prayed for him and therefore the victory was already achieved before the test. And when it was finished, Peter was commissioned to … feed my sheep (John 21;16-17). The devil was again overthrown and left to crawl in the dust (Gen 3:13).
So, when suffering comes our way the first thing we should remember is that we are suffering in some way for God in His war against the enemy. We should ask ourselves, are we being corrected because we have we wandered off His path? Is He constructing His image in us in order that we may become like Jesus? Or is He using our suffering for His glory and honor.
In all three cases the answer is the same, the first step is to … “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” ESV