by Shawn Brasseaux
Some Christians have the idea that because they are believers, they will have a smooth, carefree life with no worries and no struggles. Contrariwise, Christians are still living in this fallen world, and we are subject to violence and persecution. The Lord allowed the devil to attack and ultimately murder many early Christians. Even the Apostle Paul—the greatest man the Lord used—had all sorts of problems and trials in his life. It is highly possible that all of the Lord’s apostles experienced martyrdom. In this Bible study, we want to provide comfort from the Scriptures so that you can endure the suffering.
Jesus Christ suffered in this world, yet He did not deserve it. They falsely accused Him when He did good deeds, they wanted to kill Him (they eventually did, although He gave His life willingly), and they were always trying to confuse and make Him out to be a liar. Just prior to Calvary, the Lord Jesus Christ prayed in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane: “O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39). Christ knew that the cross was only a few hours away, and although He was God, He was man also. He felt nervous and scared, but He knew there was no other way to redeem mankind. Imagine His final thoughts: the thoughts you and I would not even dare begin to imagine.
In 2 Corinthians 11:22-27, we learn that Paul suffered much in his 35-year ministry: shipwreck three times, merciless beatings, nearly 200 lashes, one stoning, and even false brethren causing him trouble and heartache! Even though he was being heavily persecuted, what was on the poor Apostle’s heart the most was how his Gentile converts were doing, if they were enduring their own troubles and persecution, if they were combating false teaching, and so on (verse 28). Paul wrote:
“22 Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I.
23 Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft.
24 Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.
25 Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;
26 In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;
27 In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.”
Notice what the Apostle wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:8,9 KJV: “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.” The word “rejoice” appears nearly one dozen times in the book of Philippians: why is this important? Paul wrote that book while imprisoned in Rome! A classic Bible verse reads: “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). Why was Paul so joyful in such a dire situation? For one thing, Paul was witnessing to his guards, and the Gospel of Grace was being preached in Caesar’s palace, and people were saved (Philippians 1:12-14; Philippians 4:21,22). In addition, Paul was not focusing on the world; he was focused on eternity and the Lord.
There is the awesome passage in 2 Corinthians 4:16–5:1 KJV regarding suffering and endurance:
“4:16 For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.
17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;
18 While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
5:1 For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
Our physical bodies are dying, but the believer’s “inward man” (our new spiritual nature from Christ) is being renewed day by day as we believe and apply godly principles from the rightly divided Word of God! This passage tells us to focus on things not seen: if you focus on this pitiful world which you can see, you will get discouraged. Look into the Bible so that you can look into things you cannot see with your physical eyes: look at the spiritual things that you can only see you’re your eyes of faith! Eternity is such a glorious prospect for the Christian!
As I mentioned earlier, no believer is currently fit for heaven physically. Even though our bodies are alive right now, they must be resurrected, because our bodies are made of corruptible flesh. Look at the book of Philippians once more: “For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Philippians 3:20,21).
Romans 8:18-25 KJV reminds us of our current temporary suffering but the glory that awaits us Christians in eternity:
“18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
19 For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.
20 For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,
21 Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
22 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.
23 And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
24 For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?
25 But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.”
Now, the Lord entrusted Paul with the “dispensation of the grace of God” (Ephesians 3:2). To Paul alone, God revealed these “mysteries” (or “secrets,” also known as the grace doctrines), which are scattered throughout the books of Romans through Philemon (Romans 16:25,26). The Lord also gave Paul the Gospel of the Grace of God to propagate through the Gentile world, as Paul even got a glimpse of Heaven himself in 2 Corinthians chapter 12!
In order to keep Paul humble, God allowed Paul to suffer an ailment we know simply as his “thorn in the flesh,” which Paul does not specifically identify (2 Corinthians 12:7,8). Paul diligently prayed three times for the Lord to remove that “thorn,” but God knew best and permitted Paul to bear with that “thorn,” probably for the rest of his life. The Lord’s reply was simply, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (verse 9). Paul then responded, “Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (verse 10).
Despite all that opposition Paul encountered, by the time of his martyrdom in roughly A.D. 66/67, he had already “fought a good fight, finished his course [or race], and kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:6-8). He was ready to be offered, for he completed his work, and was now to be in the presence of His God and Saviour. It is said that the evil Roman emperor Nero beheaded Paul; as Paul was lead away by the guards that last time, speculation suggests that Paul was so excited that he actually ran to the place where he would soon die! Wow.
If the Lord could give Paul the strength and the grace to endure all that he did, He most certainly can help us in our times of discouragement. We must never give up laboring for the Lord. It is urgent that we do what we can for Him while we still have time… a lost, hell-bound world is dependant on YOU AND I to proclaim the Gospel of Grace (Romans 10:14,15)! So, do not wallow in self-pity, and get back up to “finish your course,” too!
“Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:11-13 KJV).