"The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him." Romans 8:16-17 ESV
As I gathered with family yesterday to celebrate Thanksgiving, there were many laughs and many reminders of sorrow. With each temptation to dwell on what should be, I chose to thank God for the gift of suffering. I thought about the many people who were hurting on this day as well. I thought about the woman who just lost her husband, the many people missing loved ones who were recently gunned down, the modern day orphans whose parents are addicted to drugs, and countless others like me who long to hold their babies and never will this side of eternity.
For the Christian, suffering is a gift. In Philippians 1:29, Paul claims that both salvation and suffering are granted to us. In the above passage, we see in order to be glorified and counted as heirs of God, we must take part in the suffering of Jesus. When we endure suffering in a Christlike manner, the Spirit bears witness that we are indeed, children of God.
Furthermore, suffering can be viewed by us as a gracious gift of God because of how it grows us in our obedience and trust of God the Father. Hebrews 5:8-9 has this to say about our Savior: "Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him," The writer of Hebrews is certainly not saying Jesus was sinful and was made sinless; Jesus never sinned. John Piper said regarding this, "In all of Jesus’ suffering, he was being tested. Would he add obedience to obedience until he had grown into the complete, perfect, tested man, that is, the man who had been fully and completely proven and who had responded with perfect obedience, so that he could be described as fully perfected, not meaning that he passed from sinfulness to sinlessness, but that he passed from untested obedience to fully tested obedience?" Jesus' perfect obedience had never before been tested until he humbled himself by taking on flesh to complete the work the Father had set before him—a work that involved more suffering than any human being ever has or will endure. And his obedience was shown to be perfect as he suffered perfectly under the weight of such unimaginable suffering.
Praise God—Jesus is our perfection! But we can also praise God that through our suffering, we are being conformed into the image of the Perfect One. Our faith is being tested and refined with each tear. And this is why we can say with confidence, "This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Lord, thank you for the gift of suffering. Thank you that because of Jesus, we don't have to experience the worst suffering possible, that is, eternity in Hell apart from you. Thank you that you are using every ounce of pain in our lives to make us more like Christ which is the best thing that could happen. Help us to see the beauty of this truth. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Click here to listen to John Piper's further explanation of the above Hebrews passage.