Why do God's people suffer? Is it necessary? What effect do our actions have in bringing an end to our sufferings? What is the difference between suffering afflictions and death to self? What about Paul's thorn in the flesh?
Suffering is for the purpose of bringing an end of sin so we can live to the will of God. 1 Pet.4:1 For as much then as Christ suffered in the flesh, arm ye yourselves also with the same mind; for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; 4:2that ye no longer should live the rest of your time in flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God. Suffering in the flesh here is not necessarily in your body but in the carnal nature, the old man.
We are partakers of Christ's sufferings to be proven and to manifest His glory. 1 Pet.4:12 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial among you, which cometh upon you to prove you, as though a strange thing happened unto you: 4:13 but insomuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings, rejoice; that at the revelation of his glory also ye may rejoice with exceeding joy.
Christ's sufferings brought Him to obedience and perfection. They will bring us there also. Heb.5:8,9 though he was a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which he suffered; 5:9 and having been made perfect, he became unto all them that obey him the author of eternal salvation.
Suffering comes in order that our Creator may finish His new creation work on us. 1 Pet.4:19 Wherefore let them also that suffer according to the will of God commit their souls in well-doing unto a faithful Creator. We must cooperate with God in this process in committing our souls to Him.
We will suffer in order to be perfected, established and strengthened. 1 Pet.5:10 And the God of all grace, who called you unto his eternal glory in Christ, after that ye have suffered a little while, shall himself perfect, establish, strengthen you. Notice suffering has an end.
Walking by faith and patience in suffering will cause us to be counted worthy. This suffering is only a token of what we deserve. 2 Thes.1:4,5 so that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which ye endure; 1:5 which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God; to the end that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer:
All of Gods true children will suffer chastening. Chastening is suffering evils and calamities in order to reveal sin and motivate us to serve God. It manifests the fruit of righteousness and cause us to be partakers of holiness. Heb.12:5 and ye have forgotten the exhortation which reasoneth with you as with sons, My son, regard not lightly the chastening of the Lord, Nor faint when thou art reproved of him; 12:6For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, And scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. 12:7 It is for chastening that ye endure; God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father chasteneth not? 12:8 But if ye are without chastening, whereof all have been made partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. 12:9 Furthermore, we had the fathers of our flesh to chasten us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? 12:10 For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed good to them; but he for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness. 12:11 All chastening seemeth for the present to be not joyous but grievous; yet afterward it yieldeth peaceable fruit unto them that have been exercised thereby, even the fruit of righteousness.
Our attitude in physical suffering should be that Jesus bore our curse on Himself, and therefore we are delivered. Gal.3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: 3:14 that upon the Gentiles might come the blessing of Abrahamin Christ Jesus... The curse here covers all of the curse of the law mentioned in Dt.28 which is everything detrimental that came upon man for his sins. If a person in the midst of chastening does not believe that Jesus took away the curse he will not be delivered in many cases but instead suffers from an evil heart of unbelief. Heb.3:12 Take heed, brethren, lest haply there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God: 3:14 for we are become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end. 1 Pet.2:24 who his own self bare our sins in his body upon the tree, that we, having died unto sins, might live unto righteousness; by whose stripes ye were healed. James 5:13 Is any among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise. 5:14 Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: 5:15 and the prayer of faith shall save him that is sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, it shall be forgiven him.
Abraham and Sarah were under a curse of barrenness many years until they believed Gods promise. This faith justified (reckoned righteous) them and gave them access to grace to be delivered (Rom.4:17-5:2). Rom.4:21 and being fully assured that what he had promised, he was able also to perform. 4:22 Wherefore also it was reckoned unto him for righteousness. Rom.5:1 Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; 5:2 through whom also we have had our access by faith into this grace wherein we stand... Abraham received grace to be delivered from this Dt.28 curse because he believed. We are told that we must agree only with the word of God when we are under judgment in order to be justified and to prevail. Rom.3:4 God forbid: yea, let God be found true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy words, And mightest prevail when thou comest into judgment.Prevail here means to come through the chastening victoriously and be delivered from it.
Many say we can not expect God to deliver or heal us because of Paul's thorn in the flesh. 2 Cor.12:7 And by reason of the exceeding greatness of the revelations, that I should not be exalted overmuch, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger (angelos) of Satan to buffet me, that I should not be exalted overmuch. 12:8 Concerning this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. 12:9 And he hath said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my power is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 12:10 Wherefore I take pleasure in weaknesses (KJV- infirmities), in injuries, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. Notice the four places I have made bold. In both the Received Text and in the ancient manuscripts these are the same Greek word. The KJV translated only the third word "infirmities" leading people to believe Paul had a sickness that God would not heal. The same Greek word is used in 2 Cor.13:4 for he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth through the power of God. The KJV correctly translated this weakness because of course Jesus was not crucified through infirmities. The same Greek word is used in 1 Cor.1:25 ...the weakness of God is stronger than men. No one can say God is sick so it was translated correctly here also. We do not have to guess what these buffetings are they are listed in the previous chapter. 2 Cor.11:23 "Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as one beside himself) I more; in labors more abundantly, in prisons more abundantly, in stripes above measure, in deaths oft. 11:24 Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. 11:25 Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day have I been in the deep; 11:26 in journeyings often, in perils of rivers, in perils of robbers, in perils from my countrymen, in perils from the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 11:27 in laborand travail, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. 11:28 Besides those things that are without, there is that which presseth upon me daily, anxiety for all the churches. 11:29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is caused to stumble, and I burn not? 11:30 If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things that concern my weakness (KJV- infirmities)". You will notice that not once in his list of weaknesses did he list a sickness! Although the words weak or weakness are all the same Greek word in all the manuscripts the KJV translates only the last word infirmities. Paul's thorn in the flesh was an angel of Satan that buffeted him, meaning hit with many blows, not just one blow as a sickness that would not depart. The Old Testament lists four places where there was a thorn in the flesh and not one of them was a sickness. Was God saying That He would not deliver Paul from these places of weakness? No! 2 Cor.12:8 Concerning this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. It here was the demon that brought the buffetings. Paul said God delivered him out of all these places of weakness where he could not help himself. Gods power was made perfect in Pauls weakness! 2 Tim.4: 17 But the Lord stood by me, and strengthened me; that through me the message might me fully proclaimed, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. 4:18 The Lord will deliver me from every evil work, and will save me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be the glory forever and ever, Amen. As soon as God delivered Paul out of one trial the demon brought another. Lets let God be true and every man a liar. Ps 34:4 "I sought Jehovah, and he answered me, And delivered me from all my fears. 34:6 This poor man cried, and Jehovah heard him, And saved him out of all his troubles. 34:17 The righteous cried, and Jehovah heard, And delivered them out of all their troubles. 34:19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous; But Jehovah delivereth him out of them all". The Lord may not keep you from tribulation but He certainly will save, heal, and deliver you from it if you walk by faith. In fact this is his method for maturing our faith.
Am I saying God can not use sickness to chasten and try? Absolutely not, but God already guarantees your healing if you believe (1 Pet.2:24). The Father sent the curse to motivate repentance and He sent the Savior to bring deliverance but only to them that believe. Rom.1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.
Here is a good example of what is happening in these days to bring people to repentance. An angel appeared to Dumitru Duduman and "took out a scroll which he began to unroll very quickly. It was so long that I could not see its end. On this first scroll of paper were written all kinds of names. Beside each name was listed their punishment -- a type of disease (all kinds were listed), trial, or torment. He said "Those named will have to go through what is listed by their name in order to be cleansed and be able to stand".
In the second century before much of the gifts of the Spirit gave way to ceremony and traditions of men there lived a prophet named Hermas. His writings were famous among early Church fathers who still believed in prophecy. Many considered his writings a part of the scriptures. Though I do not hold them on that level of inspiration, I do consider them the finest of the gift. Consider Hermas' revelation on chastening. It is from "The Shepherd of Hermas". One translation may be found at https://ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-02/TOC.htm
Of the Two Classes of Voluptuous Men, and of Their Death, Falling Away, and the Duration of Their Punishment.
They Who Repent Must Bring Forth Fruits Worthy of Repentance. After a few days I saw him in the same plain where I had also. seen the shepherds; and he said to me, "What do you wish with me? "I said to him, "Sir, that you would order the shepherd who punishes to depart out of my house, because he afflicts me exceedingly". "It is necessary", he replied, "that you be afflicted; for thus", he continued, "did the glorious angel command concerning you, as he wishes you to be tried". "What have I done which is so bad, sir", I replied, "that I should be delivered over to this angel? "Listen", he said: "Your sins are many, but not so great as to require that you be delivered over to this angel; but your household has committed great iniquities and sins, and the glorious angel has been incensed at them on account of their deeds; and for this reason he commanded you to be afflicted for a certain time, that they also might repent, and purify themselves from every desire of this world. When, therefore, they repent and are purified, then the angel of punishment will depart". I said to him, "Sir, if they have done such things as to incense the glorious angel against them, yet what have I done? "He replied, "They cannot be afflicted at all, unless you, the head of the house, be afflicted: for when you are afflicted, of necessity they also suffer affliction; but if you are in comfort, they can feel no affliction". "Well, sir", I said, "they have repented with their whole heart". "I know, too", he answered, "that they have repented with their whole heart: do you think, however, that the sins of those who repent are immediately forgiven? Not altogether, but he who repents must torture his own soul (Editors note; compare 1 Cor.9:27), and be exceedingly humble in all his conduct, and be afflicted with many kinds of affliction; and if he endure the afflictions that come upon him, He who created all things, and endued them with power, will assuredly have compassion, and will heal him; and this will He do when He sees the heart of every penitent pure from every evil thing: and it is profitable for you and for your house to suffer affliction now. But why should I say much to you? You must be afflicted, as that angel of the Lord commanded who delivered you to me. And for this give thanks to the Lord, because He has deemed you worthy of showing you beforehand this affliction, that, knowing it before it comes, you may be able to bear it with courage". I said to him, "Sir, be thou with me, and I will be able to bear all affliction". "I will be with you", he said, "and I will ask the angel of punishment to afflict you more lightly; nevertheless, you will be afflicted for a little time, and again you will be re-established in your house. Only continue humble, and serve the Lord in all purity of heart, you and your children, and your house, and walk in my commands which I enjoin upon you, and your repentance will be deep and pure; and if you observe these things with your household, every affliction will depart from you. And affliction", he added, "will depart from all who walk in these my commandments".