Six Ways We Can Suffer As Christians: Three are Unnecessary

But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf (1 Peter 4:15–16 KJV) 

Doctrines, teachings, and perspectives abound on the complex subject of Christian suffering. It is important to recognize that not all Christian suffering is the same. Christ’s life and the Scriptures clearly demonstrate that God can use human suffering to glorify His name, fulfill His purposes, or mature our character. However, the Scriptures also reveal that there are forms of suffering that are not God’s will for us. For clarity, I will classify Christian suffering into six types and label them: persecutory, ministerial, permissive, universal, consequential, and infantile.

Peter describes persecutory suffering as enduring hardship or difficulty because of our faith in Christ, encapsulated in the phrase “suffer as a Christian.” Christians should expect persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). An example of this is a woman who loses her job because she refused to engage in an affair with her ungodly boss out of love and obedience to Jesus.

Similar to persecutory suffering, ministerial suffering involves the distresses, griefs, or sorrows endured due to our service for Christ. For example, ministers who are imprisoned for preaching the Gospel. Permissive suffering refers to hardships that God allows, such as Paul’s thorn in the flesh, for specific purposes—either to mature our character or to fulfill a special divine intention. It is important to approach this category with caution, as it is easy to misclassify our sufferings as divinely intended when they may not be.

Universal sufferings are the challenges we face that are common to all humanity following the fall. For instance, those who are married and have families may endure specific hardships, as mentioned in 1 Cor. 7:28. Similarly, consequential sufferings arise from our own wrongdoings, sins, or foolish actions. God, speaking through Peter in 1 Peter 4:15-16, clearly indicates that He does not want us to suffer in this manner. An example is a Christian who smokes and ultimately dies from lung cancer after much suffering, leaving behind a grieving family. Tragically, in such cases, we frequently ask God “why” and often blame Him for these outcomes.

The last type of suffering we may encounter as Christians is infantile suffering. This occurs when we experience sorrows and grief for issues that Christ’s work has already resolved, yet we do not benefit from them due to our spiritual immaturity. We suffer because we are not mature enough in faith and spirit to accept what Christ has provided for us. Paul eloquently addresses this in Galatians 4:3. For example, although our sins are fully forgiven in Christ, we may still suffer unnecessary shame, guilt, and condemnation if we fail to understand, believe, or embrace this truth. Similarly, physical healing is promised in Christ, yet we are all aware of how disease continues to harass us as God’s children in many ways.

In summary, believers can suffer in various ways; some glorify God (such as persecutory or ministerial suffering), while others merely cause unnecessary pain and sorrow.

Meditate

Can you identify an instance of consequential or infantile suffering in your own life as a Christian?

Apply the Word

Allow this devotional to enlighten you on the complex and sometimes perplexing topic of Christian suffering. Pray that the Lord will help you avoid wasting your life suffering for the wrong reasons.

Pray

Ask the Lord to help you avoid unnecessary suffering that is not His will for you.

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