The Victorious Christian Life

A Lesson Series for the Earnest Christian

© 2002 by Thomas W. Finley, 2013 Revised Edition

Lesson Fourteen: Characteristics of the Overcomer - Willing to Suffer (continued)

In the prior two lessons we have looked at the matter of willingness to suffer. There, we focused on our willingness to suffer loss of satisfaction to our soul as well as aspects of dying to self. We will now look at two more aspects of willingness to suffer, one in this lesson and one in the next. We should say that these aspects can certainly involve the first aspect we covered, yet I believe we need to see them distinctly in order for us to get a complete view of the dynamic of suffering in the life of the victorious Christian.

Willingness to suffer certain circumstances and learn from God

This aspect of “willingness to suffer” involves the believer’s acceptance of circumstances (which cause one to suffer) that God allows in his life, along with an attitude of seeking to learn from God, experience God and obey God during the period of suffering. Such a concept does not mean that a believer should not pray for relief from the suffering. He may ask God for relief, but he should accept God’s answer as respects deliverance. We have Paul and his prayers related to his “thorn in the flesh” as an example in this regard (2 Cor. 12:7-10).

Sufferings are used by God to strengthen our faith and to mature our Christian character. The first passage we will look at on this matter is in Romans:

1 Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only this, but we also exult in tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope (Rom. 5:1-4).

The Greek word that is translated as tribulation is thlipsis (Strong’s #2347). This noun is from a verb that means to crush, press or squeeze. This word is used in Scripture to describe, among other things, financial pressures (2 Cor. 8:13) and the difficulties of married life (1 Cor. 7:28). It is also used of persecution for the faith (Heb. 10:33), but we are going to cover that in the next lesson.

The suffering of tribulation creates an environment where perseverance, or endurance, is needed. The Greek word for perseverance in this passage is hupomone (Strong’s #5281). It is composed of two Greek words meaning “to remain” and “under.” Literally, as a noun, it means “an abiding under.” Such perseverance is a virtue whereby one can remain under a set of circumstances and not yield to the pressure of those circumstances. For the Christian, this means not to yield to the pressure in a way that dishonors God. This meaning of endurance is confirmed in Hebrews: “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised” (Heb. 10:36).

The victorious Christian who is persevering in tribulation is one who remains faithful to the Lord, drawing upon Him in close fellowship, and obeying what he learns that God requires of him during the time of testing. He is certainly learning to “die to self” in the suffering, not yielding to the temptation to satisfy his self-life. As one perseveres under tribulation, what is produced is “proven character” (v. 4), or “approvedness” (Wuest), or “maturity of character – that is, approved faith and tried integrity” (AMP).

The next passage we will look at on this topic is in James. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jas. 1:2-4). The Greek word used here for trial is peirasmos (Strong’s #3986). This word means a trial, or a temptation, and it involves putting someone to a test. Regarding this word, Greek scholar Marvin Vincent says that it involves all that goes into a test of character. The various trials would include adversities, or suffering situations, but the trials would not necessarily be limited to these types of sufferings. The word is often used of a temptation to sin.

According to James here, when we experience trials, our faith is tested. Faith here would refer to our walk of faith with the Lord, not our initial faith for eternal salvation. It is our walk of faith, our Christian living, that is being proved. God permits these tests for the purpose of bringing forth Christ in our living. As our faith undergoes this process of proving, what is produced is endurance (the same word translated in James as “endurance” is the word for “perseverance” in Romans 5:3-4 noted above). Again we see that if we endure as God desires, maturity results. “But let endurance and steadfastness and patience have full play and do a thorough work, so that you may be [people] perfectly and fully developed (with no defects), lacking in nothing” (Jas. 1:4, AMP).

Approval out of suffering

The next passage we want to look at is from First Peter. “6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now, for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:6-7).

Here we see that we can be “distressed” (or, “made sorrowful” – Weust) by various trials (again the Greek word here for trial is peirasmos, Strong’s # 3986). These trials may be deemed “necessary” by God in order to test, or prove our walk of faith. Verse seven explains this testing more, as it reveals the proof (genuineness or approval) of our faith that should result from such a test. Such a proof of the genuineness of our faith (proved by us successfully passing the test) will issue in praise and glory and honor from God when Jesus returns. This verse is pointing to Christ’s approval and reward at His Judgment Seat.

The process of testing for approval is compared in this passage to the testing of gold by fire. Marvin Vincent, a Greek scholar, describes this Greek verb for testing (dokimazo; Strong’s #1381) as one that was used for assaying or testing metals, with the idea being that the word means approval by testing.

In summation, we can see from these passages that God allows trials in our lives as He deems necessary. These suffering situations are a test for us. Just as the assayer puts ore into the fire in order to bring forth and discover the quality of the gold therein, so God proves us in trials, looking for a response from us of endurance and growth in Christian character. Based upon our perseverance, He will eventually reward us. One verse that shows this reward is James 1:12: “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (Jas. 1:12).

The victorious Christian will accept each trial as a God-given opportunity to seek the Lord, learn from Him, and experience Him, thus maturing in Christian character. The overcomer will trust his Lord during the time of trial, realizing that God is in control of his circumstances, and that God’s purposes are always positive. In time of trial, he will try to learn what response God is looking for from him.

In this matter, Christ is our example. The Scripture tells us that, “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8). This may not be an easy verse to understand, but I think it means that as Christ encountered suffering situations, there was a new learning experience in each one with respect to the nature of obedience that the Father required. So, He could learn the reality of what obedience meant only as a Son who passed though genuine human experience, especially experiences of suffering.

Grace in suffering

The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus “has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15b). So, He passed every test given to Him. And these tests were often connected with suffering: “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted” (Heb. 2:18).

It is so encouraging that Christ suffered before us as a human. After passing every test presented by sufferings, He now is our faithful and merciful high priest ready to aid us as we pass through these tests! He is ready to grant us His grace in every situation so that we may endure the trial and grow in the Lord. In Hebrews chapter four notice how Christ’s sympathetic care for us as our high priest is connected to the supply of grace we need when we undergo trials:

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:14-16).

As we saw in earlier lessons, grace can mean a spiritual supply of Christ’s life ministered to us. When we undergo suffering, nothing is more comforting and strengthening than this grace. This grace is just the flow of the Spirit to us.

Most of us are still too dependent upon ourselves, and still too self-sufficient in our own resources. God, in His wise sovereignty, allows situations in our lives that perplex, tax and exhaust us. When faced with these circumstances, we become powerless to handle them. We realize within that there is no way for us to make it through these circumstances, especially with a positive testimony for the Lord. God is at work in these situations. He is hoping, and waiting, for us to come to Him so that we may experience His supply of grace. He is using these times to wean us from self-dependence in order to make us completely dependent upon Him. Consider what Paul says about his suffering from his “thorn in the flesh.”

“Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:8-10)

Paul realized that his suffering situation reduced him to utter weakness. This then became God’s opportunity to perfect His power in Paul’s life by the supply of grace. Because God’s power could be realized in Paul’s life through this situation, Paul was content with it.

Oh, brothers and sisters, can you see what God is doing in our trials? He wants us to discover fresh supplies of His grace and power in our weakness. God’s power realized in our weakness produces nothing less than the manifestation of Christ in our living. If we seek God’s grace and allow it to work in our lives, He will reward us. Can we be content, as Paul was, with our suffering situation, especially when we see what God can gain from it? Let us come forward to Him and His throne of grace. Let us reach out to Him from the depth of our spirit, with a heart utterly opened to Him, in order to take in His supply of grace! This is why He has brought us to our suffering situation, and to our place of weakness.

Old Testament examples and New Testament admonition

The children of Israel passed through a great testing experience in the wilderness for forty years. Many of the lessons in the wilderness involved suffering situations. Scripture records that God used the wilderness trials to humble the children of Israel in order to reveal what was in their hearts, especially their attitude towards obedience. "You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not “ (Deut. 8:2). Concerning this wilderness experience the Bible says: “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they are written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor. 10:11). We will now see how this wilderness experience provides lessons from which we as New Testament believers can learn.

Most of the Israelites failed the wilderness tests. For example, when God led them to a place where there was no water, they quarreled with Moses and accused him of bringing them out of Egypt to die of thirst (Ex. 17:1-3). Did you notice that God led them to a place where there was no water, a place of suffering?

Further, because they had no water, they questioned whether God was with them or for them at all (Ex. 17:7). This is the kind of reaction that a non-overcoming believer can have when God allows suffering to invade his life. He will complain about his situation, and he will accuse God and others concerning his trial. Those who do not accept God’s dealings in their lives through sufferings may grow bitter. Their fellowship with God will wane, and, like the failed Israelites, they will harden their hearts towards Him (Heb. 3:15). It is God’s intention, however, that in the hour of suffering we would humbly seek Him, find His grace, learn from Him and follow Him in obedience.

As an instructive picture, God introduced the manna for His children at the very time He led them to a place where they suffered the adversity of hunger (Ex. 16:3-4). Additionally, on the occasion when they suffered the lack of water, as noted in the passage mentioned above, God introduced water from the rock for them (Ex. 17:6). The manna typifies Christ as our spiritual life supply, as does the water from the rock (Jn. 6:31-33; 1 Cor. 10:4). This means that when we encounter a suffering situation, God is inviting us to experience Him, perhaps in a new way, a deeper way, or a more consistent way than previously, as our life supply.

Those who resist cooperation with God in sufferings may try to escape them. For example, a believer who lives with a difficult spouse may decide to just get a divorce, rather than seeking to endure the situation by God’s grace.

When suffering comes we must understand God’s sovereignty over our lives. We must trust Him in every situation. Also, we must understand His ways. Concerning the children of Israel who failed in the wilderness, God says, “They always go astray in their heart; and they did not know My ways” (Heb. 3:10b). They did not realize, just as some of God’s children today do not realize, that God’s way is to allow trials and sufferings in our lives. He does so with a purpose. God is proving us, with a hope that we will agree to die to self, and to grow in grace and dependence upon Him, living out Christ, and following His will (see Deut. 8:2-5 concerning this purpose in the wilderness).

It would be worthwhile for you to study two New Testament passages on the wilderness experience in order to learn from it. These portions of God’s word are Hebrews chapters three and four, and First Corinthians 9:24-10:13. In this last passage we can see the concept of approval and reward (9:25) versus disapproval (9:27). This section about the lesson of the wilderness example ends with this admonition and encouragement: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:12-13).

God’s care for us during our time of suffering

Yes, God never tests us with suffering which we cannot handle by His grace, which He will supply to all who come to Him for it (Heb. 4:16). Even though we know that God in His sovereignty is allowing suffering to enter our lives, we should never think that He is uncaring. No, He sympathizes with us in our trials, and desires to carry us through them victoriously. Note again the following verse from Hebrews. “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted” (Heb. 2:18). “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).

When suffering comes, it is almost always accompanied by anxiety. Our problems raise a lot of anxious questions in our minds. “How can I feed my family without a job?” “What if the treatment doesn’t work?” “What if my spouse doesn’t change and I have to endure this situation for the rest of my life?” God realizes that anxiety can arise, and that the devil can even take advantage of us with anxious thoughts. He gives us much reassurance in First Peter, where Peter wrote to believers who were undergoing the suffering of persecution:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all of your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you (1 Pet. 5:6-10).

God cares for us and does not want us to live in anxiety in our suffering situations. Rather, He wants us to cast our anxiety upon Him, trusting in His care for us. He wants us to resist any anxious thoughts that may come from the devil. God desires that we would stand firm in our faith that He cares for us, and will undergird us in our situation.

There are two kinds of suffering that I did not specifically include under this aspect of willingness to suffer. There is a suffering which we bring upon ourselves, and this is commented on briefly by Peter: “By no means let any of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler” (1 Pet. 4:15). We suffer natural consequences from our sins. For example, a thief will suffer during his time in jail.

The other type of suffering concerns the suffering of specific discipline from the Lord, which God may bring into play in our lives for sin. This is seen in Hebrews 12:4-13.

In both of these types of suffering God deals with us governmentally due to our actions, and there is additional learning for us there. Nevertheless, the general principle still holds that God desires us to learn from Him during these times, experience Him and grow in Him.

A final aspect concerning our willingness to suffer remains, and that will be covered in the next lesson.

Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)