Help for Bearing Up Under Suffering
1, 2. Why can disciples of Jesus Christ not escape suffering?
AT SOME time in our lives, we may need help with our problems, even desperately. If a series of tragedies were to befall us in quick succession, we could easily find ourselves sinking into hopeless despair. The burden might well seem more than we could bear. How good it is to have help at such a time!
2 Our being disciples of Jehovah God’s Son does not exempt us from needing aid. We are not immune to afflictions. The common lot of humankind continues to include sickness, accidents, floods, earthquakes, storms, crime, injustice and oppression. We should not expect the Supreme Sovereign to use his power to manipulate hereditary factors and environment so that we, as his servants, become uniquely free from any suffering due to these things. God’s time for undoing all the hurtful effects of human sin is yet future. If he now caused his people to lead ‘charmed lives,’ we would doubtless see huge numbers flocking to serve him—for purely selfish reasons, not due to love and faith.—Compare John 6:10-15, 26, 27.
3, 4. What suffering may true Christians experience that others do not undergo, and what questions may this bring?
3 Not only will we inevitably experience distress from unpleasant conditions, but, because we are God’s servants, we may also face persecution—perhaps from relatives, from neighbors or acquaintances, or from governmental authorities. Jesus Christ went so far as to say: “People will deliver you up to tribulation and will kill you, and you will be objects of hatred by all the nations on account of my name.” (Matthew 24:9) The facts show that this has happened, right in the 20th century.
4 Why does the Almighty God permit his servants to undergo various trials? Since their way of life does not guarantee them freedom from common afflictions and since pursuing that way can even make them “objects of hatred,” a person may wonder how such a way of life could truly be the best. Are there benefits that compensate for, yes, outweigh the afflictions? Can there actually be greater happiness in enduring some trial than in avoiding it? What will help us to succeed in bearing up under severe pressures? The answers to these questions can greatly aid and strengthen us.
WHO BEARS THE REAL RESPONSIBILITY?
5. What do we need to recognize about the source of suffering?
5 It is vital that we never forget that our heavenly Father is not the source of suffering. He did not introduce sin into the world. A spirit son of God chose to rebel against his Maker, thus making himself Satan, a resister of the Most High. On account of his influence, the first human pair, Adam and Eve, deliberately violated divine law, bringing the judgment of death on themselves. (Genesis 3:1-19; John 8:44) Because Adam ruined his perfection, all his offspring were born in sin, subject to sickness, infirmity, old age and death. (Romans 5:12) As born sinners, we all fall short of being the kind of person we would like to be and ought to be. By our words and actions, we may unintentionally hurt others, adding to their afflictions. So we need to remember that God is not to blame for the difficulties produced by our own imperfections or those of our fellow humans. If his law had been obeyed, sickness, infirmity, old age and the many other causes of suffering would never have come into existence.
6. How does Jehovah feel about man’s inhumanity to man?
6 Then, too, our heavenly Father does not approve of man’s inhumanity to man. The Bible says: “To trample underfoot any prisoner in the land, to deprive a man of his rights in defiance of the Most High, to pervert justice in the courts—such things the Lord has never approved.” (Lamentations 3:34-36, The New English Bible) Those who mistreat fellow humans, in violation of God’s law, will have to render an account to him. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says Jehovah.” (Romans 12:19) Consequently, we need to exercise care that we do not become embittered toward our heavenly Father because of the suffering that results when men willfully and rebelliously disregard divine law.
7. Since Jehovah God has permitted situations to develop that result in suffering for us, what must we conclude about his reasons for doing so?
7 Of course, Jehovah God has the ability to prevent Satan, the demons, wicked men and human sinfulness from causing all kinds of trialsome situations. However, since he does permit distressing circumstances to beset even his servants, this must be for good reasons.
FOR THE BENEFIT OF “VESSELS OF MERCY”
8. What reasons are presented in Romans 9:14-24 as to why Jehovah God does not act immediately against those who cause others to suffer?
8 The Scriptures explain that God’s purpose in not taking action immediately against those responsible for bringing great suffering on others is for the ultimate benefit of righteously disposed ones. In his letter to the Romans, the Christian apostle Paul wrote:
“Is there injustice with God? Never may that become so! For he says to Moses: ‘I will have mercy upon whomever I do have mercy, and I will show compassion to whomever I do show compassion.’ So, then, it depends, not upon the one wishing nor upon the one running, but upon God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘For this very cause I have let you remain, that in connection with you I may show my power, and that my name may be declared in all the earth.’ So, then, upon whom he wishes he has mercy, but whom he wishes he lets become obstinate.
“You will therefore say to me: ‘Why does he yet find fault? For who has withstood his express will?’ O man, who, then, really are you to be answering back to God? Shall the thing molded say to him that molded it, ‘Why did you make me this way?’ What? Does not the potter have authority over the clay to make from the same lump one vessel for an honorable use, another for a dishonorable use? If, now, God, although having the will to demonstrate his wrath and to make his power known, tolerated with much long-suffering vessels of wrath made fit for destruction, in order that he might make known the riches of his glory upon vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand for glory, namely, us, whom he called not only from among Jews but also from among nations, what of it?”—Romans 9:14-24.
9. How did Pharaoh reveal himself to be a ‘vessel of wrath’?
9 What Jehovah God may cause or may allow to develop in the lives of people can reveal just what kind of “vessels” they are. The Pharaoh on whom Jehovah, through Moses and Aaron, served notice for the release of the enslaved Israelites continued to harden himself against the Most High. As one plague after another came upon the Egyptians, this Pharaoh became more stubborn in his refusal to let the Israelites leave Egypt as a free people. Thus he revealed himself to be a ‘vessel of wrath,’ meriting destruction for rebellious defiance against the authority of the Supreme Sovereign, Jehovah God. At the same time, the cruel, unjust treatment given to the Israelites amply demonstrated that they were deservedly in need of mercy, pity or compassion.
10. By allowing Pharaoh to maintain his defiant course for a time, how did Jehovah make a great name for himself?
10 Note, too, that the apostle Paul called attention to the fact that God’s name was involved in Jehovah’s allowing Pharaoh to continue in stubborn defiance. If this haughty ruler had been destroyed immediately, there would not have been the opportunity for Jehovah God’s power to be made known in such an extensive and diversified way, humiliating the many deities of the Egyptians and the magic-practicing priests. The ten plagues, climaxed by the destruction of Pharaoh and his military forces in the Red Sea, were such an impressive display of divine power that for years thereafter the surrounding nations were still talking about it. Thus the name of Jehovah came to be declared throughout the earth, bringing glory and honor to that name, and moving honesthearted ones to recognize his supreme position.—Joshua 2:10, 11; 1 Samuel 4:8.
11. How did the Israelites benefit from their experience with Pharaoh?
11 Surely, the Israelites, as “vessels of mercy,” benefited from what the Most High had done. His permission of oppression and then bringing it to an end in a magnificent demonstration of power helped them to know him better, providing them with a glimpse of his greatness that could not have been gained otherwise. Though painful, Israel’s experience in Egypt certainly should have helped them to see the importance of having faith in his saving power, as well as having a wholesome fear of God. This was essential if they were to continue pursuing a way of life that would lead to happiness, security, peace and good health.—Deuteronomy 6:1-24; 28:1-68.
12. As illustrated in the case of Job, what does Jehovah’s permission of suffering enable us to do?
12 Just as the inclination of people’s hearts became manifest in that time, so the testing and trials that may befall us by God’s permission can reveal whether our service to him is rightly motivated. It is the contention of God’s adversary, Satan, that those who do the divine will are basically selfish. Respecting faithful Job, the adversary declared: “Everything that a man has he will give in behalf of his soul. For a change, thrust out your hand, please, and touch as far as his bone and his flesh and see whether he will not curse you to your very face.” (Job 2:4, 5) By faithful endurance under suffering, we share in proving Satan’s contention to be a lie and share in vindicating the good name of our heavenly Father, who trusts his loyal servants. What if Jehovah were to allow Satan, by means of his agents, to subject true Christians to very cruel treatment that ended in death or crippling infirmity? What if some were even sexually assaulted or abused in other vile ways? These things are shocking. Yet there is nothing beyond the power of our heavenly Father to rectify fully in his due time. So, in some cases, he may see fit to let the trial be pushed to such an extreme point. Through faithfulness, even to the point of death, God’s servants are thus given the opportunity to show beyond denial the genuineness of their devotion.
13. What do the words of 1 Peter 1:5-7 reveal about the suffering to which Christians may be submitted?
13 Surprising as it may seem to some, the trials to which we may be submitted, whether from natural causes or from persecution, can nevertheless bring improvement in us in a personal way. The apostle Peter called attention to this. After pointing out that Christians are “safeguarded by God’s power” so that their final salvation might be secured, the apostle states:
“In this fact you are greatly rejoicing, though for a little while at present, if it must be, you have been grieved by various trials, in order that the tested quality of your faith, of much greater value than gold that perishes despite its being proved by fire, may be found a cause for praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”—1 Peter 1:5-7.
14. Why Can Christians rejoice when they are “grieved” by trials?
14 As Peter acknowledges, the suffering that we may experience is by no means pleasant. We can be actually “grieved” or pained by trials. Yet we can, at the same time, rejoice. Why? In part, the joy comes from recognizing that there is a spiritual benefit to be gained from successfully bearing up under affliction. What is that spiritual benefit?
THE WAY SUFFERING CAN REFINE FAITH
15. What effect can trials have on faith?
15 The apostle Peter likened the effects that trials can have on a Christian’s faith to the refining of gold by fire. The refining process removes the dross, leaving behind the pure gold. The highly increased value of the gold certainly makes the refining process worth while. Still, as Peter said, even gold tested by fire is perishable. It can wear away or be destroyed by other means. But not so with tried or tested faith. Genuine faith cannot be destroyed.
16. Why is it highly beneficial for us to have genuine faith?
16 If we are to gain divine approval, it is absolutely essential that we have such faith. The Bible tells us: “Without faith it is impossible to please [God] well.” (Hebrews 11:6) Truly, faith that is proved genuine under test greatly exceeds the value of refined gold. Our eternal future depends on such faith.
17. What question might be raised about the effect of trials on faith?
17 But how can trials refine faith so that it “may be found a cause for praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ”? This can happen in a variety of ways.
18. How might faith reveal itself under trial, and how can this strengthen us?
18 If our faith is strong, it will comfort and support us during a time of hardship. Then, having passed one trial successfully, we are strengthened to meet any further test. The experience will have demonstrated what our faith can do for us.
19. What might a particular trial manifest as to weaknesses in faith, and how can this help us?
19 On the other hand, a particular trial may show up personality flaws, perhaps pride, stubbornness, impatience, worldliness or a love of ease and pleasure. Such traits are really born of weaknesses in faith. How so? In that they reveal that a person is not fully submitting himself to God’s guidance and will regarding him. He is not convinced that his Father really knows best what will lead to happiness, and that following divine direction will always result in blessing. (Hebrews 3:12, 13) When trials expose weaknesses, the Christian can be alerted to the need to strengthen his faith in order to remain an approved servant of the Most High.
20. When trials expose weaknesses in our faith, what should we do?
20 Therefore, if a particular situation shows up a defect in our faith, we can examine ourselves and determine what corrective measures to take. A person does well to ask: ‘Why is my faith weak? Do I neglect study and meditation on God’s Word? Do I take full advantage of opportunities to assemble with fellow believers in order to be strengthened by their expressions of faith? Do I tend to rely more on myself than I should, instead of committing all my cares and anxieties to Jehovah God? Are prayers, heartfelt prayers, really a daily part of my life?’ Once the areas are established where improvement is needed, we need to put forth diligent effort to make changes in our routine of life, with a view to strengthening our faith.
21. What is meant by our faith’s being “found a cause for praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ”?
21 By looking to God for guidance and patiently trusting in him to show us the way to relief from our trials, we can let these trying experiences aid us to become better servants of his. Then our faith will indeed “be found a cause for praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” The Son of God will “praise,” laud or commend our faith. By reason of our faith, he will richly reward us, thus bestowing “glory” on us. Before Jehovah God and the angels, he will “honor” us as his disciples. (Compare Matthew 10:32; Luke 12:8; 18:8.) This will mean our having before us an endless future of happy living. But what can we do while undergoing severe suffering to keep our faith from weakening?
HOW TO REACT UNDER STRONG PRESSURE
22. Our recognizing what fact about the length of trials can help us to endure?
22 One thing that can help us to endure difficult trials successfully is to recognize their temporary nature. The refining of gold has a beginning and an end. So, too, any affliction we undergo will not continue indefinitely. If we keep near to our hearts God’s promise of eternal life without sickness, outcry or pain, then even the worst of suffering in this system of things can be seen as being but “momentary and light.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) Look forward to the time when surely “former things will not be called to mind, neither will they come up into the heart.” (Isaiah 65:17) How grand to know those hard experiences will then not even be a painful memory!
23. Why would suffering not usually come on us for fine conduct?
23 Then, too, our undergoing great suffering at the hands of men is rarely a daily experience. Our fine conduct actually gives little reason for anyone to harm us. It being the job of governmental authorities to maintain law and order, they may well praise Jehovah’s servants for being law-abiding. In modern times, even opposers have been forced to make an acknowledgment similar to that made by the enemies of God’s faithful prophet Daniel: “We shall find in this Daniel no pretext at all, except we have to find it against him in the law of his God.” Yes, Daniel was “trustworthy and no negligence or corrupt thing at all was found in him.” (Daniel 6:4, 5) The fact that fine conduct in itself usually would not be the reason for a Christian’s being the object of hostility may be why the apostle Peter raised the following question: “Indeed, who is the man that will harm you if you become zealous for what is good?”—1 Peter 3:13.
24. Why can humans not inflict permanent injury on us?
24 By his question, however, the apostle may have instead been asking: ‘Who can do real harm to the upright Christian?’ No man can inflict lasting injury on us. Jesus Christ told his disciples: “Do not become fearful of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; but rather be in fear of him that can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” (Matthew 10:28) Yes, men can go to the point of killing us, but they cannot take away our right to be living souls. The Most High God, by means of his Son, can and will restore his faithful servants to life. It is Jehovah alone who can destroy our title to life as living beings for all eternity, consigning us to unending death with no hope of a resurrection.
25, 26. (a) Why can we be happy when suffering for the sake of righteousness? (b) Why should we not fear the object of our persecutors’ fear?
25 Because of these truths, the apostle Peter could say to his Christian brothers: “Even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are happy. However, the object of their fear do not you fear, neither become agitated.”—1 Peter 3:14.
26 If we suffer “for the sake of righteousness,” we can be happy because we have a clean conscience before God and men. We suffer for the right reason. A deep inward satisfaction and peace result from doing what we know to be pleasing to the Most High. However, as the apostle noted, to do this successfully depends on not giving way to fear. The apostle may here refer to the fear persecutors can inspire by their bringing affliction on God’s people. Or, it could be the fear that the persecutors themselves have. For instance, because of not having faith that Jehovah God, through Christ, will resurrect the dead, the opponents of true Christians fear a threatened premature death. (Hebrews 2:14, 15) We servants of God, though, do not need to fear what unbelievers fear, as we have been freed from the fear of such a death and know that our heavenly Father will never forsake us. Therefore, we should not become “agitated,” as by rising up in anger against our persecutors.
27, 28. How can the counsel of 1 Peter 3:15 help us when brought before governmental officials and questioned in a harsh, belittling manner?
27 What if we were to be brought before governmental authorities and questioned in a harsh, belittling manner? We would never want to retaliate in kind. Our confidence that God is backing us up may give us boldness, but it gives no excuse for belligerence or arrogance. (Compare Acts 4:5-20.) The apostle’s counsel is: “Sanctify the Christ as Lord in your hearts, always ready to make a defense before everyone that demands of you a reason for the hope in you, but doing so together with a mild temper and deep respect.” (1 Peter 3:15) If we failed to heed this advice and allowed ourselves to express contempt and disrespect, we would cease to suffer for the sake of righteousness. The governmental authority would feel justified in acting against us for disrespectful insubordination. Worldlings burst out in irritation, anger and bitter resentment when they feel that their rights are abused. The Christian must be different.
28 As the apostle counsels, under such circumstances we need to keep our Lord or Master in mind, to remember his example. We need to be careful to accord Jesus Christ the greatest respect, assigning him a sacred place in our hearts. We are his disciples, and we want to speak to any interrogating authority as if we were standing in the very presence of our Lord. The reasons for our Christian position should be presented respectfully in a calm, even-tempered way.
GOOD EFFECT ON OPPOSERS
29. What effect can a person’s faithful endurance under suffering have on opposers?
29 Faithful endurance under suffering may also serve to silence opposers. The apostle Peter presents this as an incentive for preserving a clean conscience, saying: “Hold a good conscience, so that in the particular in which you are spoken against they may get ashamed who are speaking slightingly of your good conduct in connection with Christ.” (1 Peter 3:16) Opposers observing the patient, uncomplaining manner in which God’s servants act may become ashamed for having slandered them. This is especially the case when we treat opposers kindly.—Romans 12:19-21.
30. (a) Why is there no benefit in suffering for doing evil? (b) In connection with suffering for righteousness’ sake, why did Peter say, “if the will of God wishes it”?
30 The fact that such benefits can come from faithfully bearing up under affliction for the sake of righteousness adds force to Peter’s next words: “For it is better to suffer because you are doing good, if the will of God wishes it, than because you are doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:17) What merit could there be in a person’s suffering as a thief, an extortioner, a tax evader or as one who defies authority out of a false sense of piety or mistaken zeal? His being punished for this would only bring reproach on himself and his fellow believers. But a Christian’s patiently bearing up under unjust mistreatment can impress others with the sustaining power that upholds true worshipers and can muzzle misrepresentations of God’s truth and its upholders. Since the suffering that may befall a Christian comes on him by divine permission, Peter was not misrepresenting matters but said rightly, “if the will of God wishes it.”
A REWARDING COURSE AS SHOWN IN JESUS’ CASE
31. How did Jesus Christ’s faithful endurance under suffering work out beneficially?
31 That faithful endurance under suffering can lead to grand blessings for the Christian is well illustrated in the case of Jesus Christ. Sinless, he did nothing deserving of ill treatment. Yet his bearing up under affliction, finally to die a shameful death on a stake, worked out in marvelous benefits for us and resulted in his being richly rewarded. The apostle Peter wrote:
“Why, even Christ died once for all time concerning sins, a righteous person for unrighteous ones, that he might lead you to God, he being put to death in the flesh, but being made alive in the spirit. In this state also he went his way and preached to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient when the patience of God was waiting in Noah’s days, while the ark was being constructed, in which a few people, that is, eight souls, were carried safely through the water.”—1 Peter 3:18-20.
32. How have we benefited from Christ’s bearing up under suffering to the point of death?
32 It was because Jesus Christ maintained flawless integrity under suffering that he was able to lay down his life as a perfect human sacrifice. Thus his death paved the way for humans to be ‘led to God,’ being reconciled with the Most High and having set before them the prospect of everlasting life. In view of our having benefited so greatly from Christ’s dying in our behalf, should we not be willing to follow his example and suffer for righteousness’ sake?
33. Of what should the resurrection of Jesus Christ assure us when we are faced with the threat of death for being his disciples?
33 Moreover, just as in his case, we can rest assured that our faithful endurance will be blessed. The fact that Jesus Christ was “made alive in the spirit” or was resurrected to spirit life stands as an unchangeable guarantee that his disciples will be restored to life.—1 Corinthians 15:12-22.
34. Because of his record of faithfulness, what was Jesus Christ able to do in connection with wicked spirits?
34 Because he came off the victor through faithful endurance, the Son of God, as a spirit person, was able to proclaim a message of judgment against the “spirits in prison.” Since the disobedience of these spirits is linked with the time of Noah, they must be the angelic sons of God who left their original dwelling place in the heavens and took up living as husbands with women. (Genesis 6:1-4) They are spoken of as “spirits in prison” because their punishment included a form of restraint, being forever debarred from their original place among the faithful angels. The words of Jude confirm that only a message of condemnatory judgment could be directed to these fallen angels: “The angels that did not keep their original position but forsook their own proper dwelling place [God] has reserved with eternal bonds under dense darkness for the judgment of the great day.” (Jude 6) It was Jesus’ faithful endurance to the very death that entitled him to be restored to life and thus put him in a position to preach or proclaim such a condemnatory judgment to the fallen angels.
35. Why can the fact about Jesus’ preaching destruction to the “spirits in prison” encourage us to endure faithfully?
35 This preaching of destruction for the wicked spirits should encourage us to endure faithfully when having to undergo affliction. Why? Because such wicked spirit forces are largely responsible for stirring up mankind alienated from God against the disciples of Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us: “The god of this system of things has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, that the illumination of the glorious good news about the Christ, who is the image of God, might not shine through.” (2 Corinthians 4:4) “We [Christians] have a wrestling, not against blood and flesh, but against the governments, against the authorities, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the wicked spirit forces in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12; see also Revelation 16:13, 14.) Hence, the fact that the resurrected Jesus Christ could preach a message of judgment against the wicked spirits provides the assurance that, eventually, their hateful influence will be totally abolished. (Compare Mark 1:23, 24.) What marvelous relief this will mean!
36. (a) How was Jesus Christ rewarded for his faithfulness? (b) In view of Jesus’ position, how should we feel about suffering for the sake of his name?
36 Besides being raised from the dead as God’s approved servant and thus enabled to direct a message of judgment against the disobedient angels, Jesus Christ was highly exalted. The apostle Peter tells us: “He is at God’s right hand, for he went his way to heaven; and angels and authorities and powers were made subject to him.” (1 Peter 3:22) This statement agrees with Jesus’ own words after his resurrection from the dead: “All authority has been given me in heaven and on the earth.” (Matthew 28:18) Many persons have been willing to suffer and lay down life itself in the service of human rulers who had far, far less authority. They viewed it as a great honor to serve some king or queen in this way. How much more should we feel honored for being able to suffer for being loyal to our heavenly King, Jesus Christ!
IMITATE JESUS CHRIST
37. Whose example should we seek to imitate when experiencing affliction?
37 Under affliction, then, look always to God’s Son as your model. The apostle writes: “Since Christ suffered in the flesh, you too arm yourselves with the same mental disposition; because the person that has suffered in the flesh has desisted from sins, to the end that he may live the remainder of his time in the flesh, no more for the desires of men, but for God’s will.”—1 Peter 4:1, 2.
38. What was the mental disposition of Jesus Christ?
38 What was Jesus’ mental disposition? He humbly submitted to the physical and verbal abuse heaped on him, finally to die a painful death on a stake. By never retaliating in kind, the Son of God fulfilled the prophetic words: “As a sheep he was brought to the slaughter, and as a lamb that is voiceless before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth.”—Acts 8:32; Isaiah 53:7.
39. What proves that we have desisted from sins?
39 We servants of the Most High would want to bear up similarly under suffering, not yielding to a spirit of rebellion or retaliation. For us to threaten our persecutors, to look for opportunities to do them harm, would show us up as still subject to the passions of the sinful flesh. Any suffering experienced at the hands of men should be solely because we do not follow the selfish course and ways of this world. (John 15:19, 25) Thus we can demonstrate that in attitude, word and action, we are living, “no more for the desires of men, but for God’s will.”
A REASON FOR HAPPINESS
40. Why might it have seemed strange to many first-century believers to have to undergo suffering for the sake of Christ?
40 Back in the first century C.E., the idol-worshiping populace did not experience suffering for religious reasons. Any who became Christians, however, did become objects of hatred. To be subjected to persecution must have been a strange experience, puzzling. It was so different from the blessings that embracing the “good news” offered them. Those Christians very much needed the right perspective of affliction. The apostle Peter’s following words were surely refreshing to them:
“Beloved ones, do not be puzzled at the burning among you, which is happening to you for a trial, as though a strange thing were befalling you. On the contrary, go on rejoicing forasmuch as you are sharers in the sufferings of the Christ, that you may rejoice and be overjoyed also during the revelation of his glory. If you are being reproached for the name of Christ, you are happy, because the spirit of glory, even the spirit of God, is resting upon you.”—1 Peter 4:12-14.
41, 42. (a) In harmony with 1 Peter 4:12-14, how might we regard suffering for the sake of righteousness? (b) What does such suffering confirm?
41 Instead of regarding with astonishment or surprise the affliction that may befall us, we may view it as being preparatory for our sharing in the blessings to be received at the revelation of our Master. Peter referred to the suffering as “burning,” since metals are refined by fire. Similarly, God allows his servants to be refined or purified through the tribulations that they experience. Of course, Jehovah God did not make us sinful. But, since we are, he may permit us to experience certain suffering as one means of purifying us. The affliction that we may experience can aid us to become kinder, more humble, sympathetic and understanding in dealing with our fellow humans. Also, when we ourselves have endured severe trials, our words of comfort and encouragement to others carry far more weight. The ones whom we console know that we understand what they are going through.
42 Since the Son of God suffered, the afflictions we experience are a confirmation that we are really his disciples, enjoying a oneness with him. Jesus said to his apostles: “Bear in mind the word I said to you, A slave is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:20) In being persecuted for the same reasons as was our Master and undergoing affliction for righteousness’ sake as he did, we are ‘sharing in the suffering of the Christ.’ And just as his faithfulness led to his being rewarded by his heavenly Father, our continued faithfulness in bearing up under affliction assures us of being found approved at the revelation of the Son of God. Surely our joy will overflow at then being favored with endless life in a new order where all the causes of present sorrows are to be no more.
43. Faithful endurance under suffering proves that we have what spirit upon us, and why?
43 As Peter also stated, the bearing of reproach for the name of Christ, that is, for being his disciples, should be a cause for happiness. It proves that those so reproached or defamed do have God’s spirit or the honorable “spirit of glory” that emanates from God. Being holy, that spirit can rest only on persons who are clean or pure from God’s standpoint.
44. What kind of suffering should we avoid?
44 This is why it is so vital that we make sure that any suffering befalling us cannot be attributed to wrong action on our part. The apostle Peter urges: “However, let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a busybody in other people’s matters.”—1 Peter 4:15.
45. What results when a professed Christian suffers for committing a crime?
45 A person who professes to be a Christian and who becomes guilty of a crime against his fellowman cannot expect exemption from some punishment. (Compare Acts 25:11.) That punishment will bring reproach on him, the congregation with which he is associated and the name of Christ. He gets, not joy, but shame.
46. (a) What is a busybody? (b) How might a Christian suffer as a busybody?
46 Meddling in the affairs of others can make one an object of hatred. How a person becomes a meddler is suggested by the Greek term for “busybody” that Peter used. It literally means an “overseer of what is another’s.” Perhaps because of having gained Scriptural knowledge, a Christian may now feel qualified to tell people of the world how to run their personal affairs. He may push his own opinions on standards of dress, disciplining children, handling marriage and sex problems, entertainment, diet and the like. When he injects himself, uninvited, into the personal problems of others, telling them what to do or not to do, he is trying to be an “overseer” of their affairs. This usually meets with resentment. The busybody may be told in no uncertain terms to mind his own business. He might even experience rough physical treatment from people who react angrily to his meddling in their private lives. The busybody who prys into matters that are not his concern brings trouble on his own head and misrepresents Christianity and its message to outsiders. Of course, even inside the congregation, there is no place for busybodies.—Compare 1 Timothy 5:13.
47. How can a Christian’s bearing up under suffering bring glory to God?
47 In contrast to the shame of being publicly exposed as a lawbreaker or as a busybody, suffering as a Christian brings honor. Peter writes: “If he suffers as a Christian, let him not feel shame, but let him keep on glorifying God in this name.” (1 Peter 4:16) When the affliction comes upon us because of our Christian way of life, our bearing up under it patiently and uncomplainingly brings glory to the Most High. It proves that what we have as Christians—a precious relationship with God and Christ, a clean conscience, spiritual well-being and a solid hope for the future—is a treasure of great worth. We show that we are willing to suffer and, if necessary, to die for it, and this glorifies the God we earnestly serve. To yield to pressure and renounce our faith would, instead, disgrace his name. To observers, it would call into serious question the inestimable value of being a disciple of Jesus Christ.—Compare Ephesians 3:13; 2 Corinthians 6:3-10.
A FORM OF DISCIPLINE OR TRAINING
48. How does 1 Peter 4:17-19 show that we are not without help when undergoing suffering for the sake of righteousness?
48 We have seen that unjust suffering by Christians could be prevented by Jehovah God in his all-powerfulness, but that he does permit it for good reasons. Meanwhile, the Most High never leaves his servants without help. In developing this point the apostle Peter writes:
“For it is the appointed time for the judgment to start with the house of God. Now if it starts first with us, what will the end be of those who are not obedient to the good news of God? ‘And if the righteous man is being saved with difficulty, where will the ungodly man and the sinner make a showing?’ So, then, also let those who are suffering in harmony with the will of God keep on commending their souls to a faithful Creator while they are doing good.”—1 Peter 4:17-19.
49. (a) Since when has the “house of God” been under judgment? (b) What determines the final verdict that is rendered?
49 As a “house of God,” the Christian congregation had its beginning in 33 C.E. From that time onward its members have been under divine judgment. Their response to his will, and their attitude, words and actions toward the things that Jehovah God allows to befall them have much to do with what his final verdict will be. At times what Jehovah God sees fit to permit them to undergo may be very severe. But the persecution brings a form of discipline that God can cause to work out for the benefit of his people.—Hebrews 12:4-11; see also Hebrews 4:15, 16, where it is shown that the suffering that Jesus Christ underwent equipped him to be a compassionate and sympathetic high priest.
50, 51. How do the experiences of Joseph and Paul illustrate that Jehovah can turn into a blessing the very thing that men may use in an effort to harm us?
50 By mistreatment, men under the control of Satan may try to destroy our faith. But Jehovah can frustrate their wicked objective. Yes, while himself hating the bad, our heavenly Father can cause what is intended to harm us to work out to some good result. Take the case of Jacob’s young son Joseph. His half brothers hated him and sold him into slavery. For years, Joseph suffered much, including unjust imprisonment. Yet, afterward, Jehovah God made use of this circumstance to preserve alive the family of Jacob. Regarding this, Joseph told his half brothers:
“Now do not feel hurt and do not be angry with yourselves because you sold me here; because for the preservation of life God has sent me ahead of you. For this is the second year of the famine in the midst of the earth, and there are yet five years in which there will be no plowing time or harvest. Consequently God sent me ahead of you in order to place a remnant for you men in the earth and to keep you alive by a great escape. So now it was not you who sent me here, but it was the true God, that he might appoint me a father to Pharaoh and a lord for all his house and as one dominating over all the land of Egypt.”—Genesis 45:5-8.
51 Similarly, when the apostle Paul found himself in confinement at Rome, this unfavorable circumstance served to further the cause of true worship. In his letter to the Philippians, he wrote:
“Now I want to assure you, brothers, that what has happened to me has actually resulted in furthering the preaching of the good news. Thus it is generally known throughout the Imperial Guard and elsewhere that it is for the sake of Christ that I am in prison, and so most of the Christian brothers have been exceedingly encouraged by my example to declare God’s message without any fear of the consequences.”—Philippians 1:12-14, An American Translation, 1944 edition.
52. Why can the “ungodly man and the sinner” not expect to make a showing?
52 Since Jehovah God allows his loyal servants to undergo severe treatment to refine them and for them to demonstrate their devotion, how could we imagine that the “ungodly man and the sinner” inside the Christian congregation or “house of God” could even “make a showing” before Him along with “the righteous man” inside the same congregation? The psalmist states: “The wicked ones will not stand up in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of righteous ones.” (Psalm 1:5) No, the wicked will not stand as approved but will be condemned. They may be found in the assembly of righteous ones, but they will never make a favorable “showing” before God. Because of what all believers must face in this world, their finally being saved for everlasting life takes real effort, love and faith in the way of righteousness. Hence, their salvation is “with difficulty.” Consequently it behooves all members of the Christian congregation (“house of God”) to avoid being “ungodly” and “sinners” in this “appointed time” of judgment.—1 Peter 4:17, 18; Proverbs 11:31.
53. (a) When undergoing suffering, what comfort can we draw from the fact that Jehovah is a “faithful Creator”? (b) How should we react toward our persecutors?
53 Trials that we simply could not endure in our own strength may befall us. However, no matter how pathetic our situation may become, Jehovah God can sustain us and totally undo all the hurt that we may experience. When we commit ourselves fully to him, he can strengthen us by means of his spirit to bear up under suffering. Being, as Peter states, a “faithful Creator,” a God whom we can trust, he will not prove unfaithful to his promise to come to the aid of his servants. (1 Peter 4:19) This knowledge can help us to avoid reacting in a God-dishonoring way toward our persecutors. Instead of fighting against them, retaliating in kind, we will want to keep on doing good.—Luke 6:27, 28.
54. How do we humble ourselves under God’s hand, and how does this benefit us?
54 If we humbly submit ourselves to what may befall us, maintaining a Christlike disposition, we can be confident that Jehovah will exalt us. No trial will continue indefinitely. It will have an end. As long as we conduct ourselves in harmony with the divine will while being subjected to ill treatment, we remain under Jehovah’s hand. And that hand can lift us up, exalting us as his approved, tried servants. This is what the apostle Peter recommends: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time; while you throw all your anxiety upon him, because he cares for you.”—1 Peter 5:6, 7.
55. Though we cannot run away from trials, of what can we relieve ourselves, and how?
55 How encouraging it is to know that Jehovah genuinely cares for us! His love warms our hearts; his spirit strengthens and sustains us. Then, when a particular trial is over and we look back on Jehovah’s loving care, we are drawn closer to him. The situation is comparable to that of an appreciative child that has experienced the love and care of concerned parents in a time of serious illness. His confidence and love are greatly strengthened. True, when circumstances are very trying, we cannot simply run away from them. But we can cast our anxiety or worry on Jehovah God. We do not need to fret as to how long we might be able to put up with a merciless beating by an enraged mob, sexual assaults by attackers, or other atrocities. With the help of our loving heavenly Father, we can endure and gain a moral victory over our persecutors by remaining faithful to our God. This assurance removes from us the anxiety that would rob us of the peace of mind and heart that is so essential in remaining firm in the face of trials.
56. Why does casting our anxieties upon Jehovah not mean that we can be unconcerned about our reaction to trials?
56 However, this does not mean that, by throwing our anxieties on Jehovah, we now can be complacent or indifferent. We do have an enemy. “Keep your senses, be watchful,” Peter wrote. “Your adversary, the Devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone.”—1 Peter 5:8.
57. What is Satan interested in doing?
57 In harmony with the apostle’s counsel, we cannot afford to be careless in the face of afflictions. The adversary is just waiting for an opening to cause us to fall. If Satan can get us to doubt the faithfulness of our brothers or in some other way weaken us spiritually, he will do so. For us to withdraw from association with the Christian congregation or to stop making expression of our faith to others would mean being swallowed up by Satan, the “roaring lion” that is ever watchful for unwary prey.
58. What knowledge about our brothers can aid us to remain faithful?
58 To maintain our alertness, it will help us to remember always that we are not alone in bearing up under suffering. Throughout the earth, our Christian brothers are putting up with various kinds of affliction. And, with the help of God’s spirit, they are succeeding in faithfully enduring trials. This realization can aid us to avoid falling victim to Satan’s snares, for it gives us confidence that we also can endure in the strength of Jehovah. So, then, “take your stand against him, solid in the faith, knowing that the same things in the way of sufferings are being accomplished in the entire association of your brothers in the world.”—1 Peter 5:9.
59, 60. How can we get the greatest benefit from our trials?
59 Since Jehovah God wants us to succeed and to gain salvation, we may confidently look to him for help. At the same time, we may accept whatever befalls us by God’s permission as valuable discipline to make us complete, fully developed Christians, strong in faith. The apostle Peter beautifully expresses this, saying:
“After you have suffered a little while, the God of all undeserved kindness, who called you to his everlasting glory in union with Christ, will himself finish your training, he will make you firm, he will make you strong. To him be the might forever. Amen.”—1 Peter 5:10, 11.
60 Just as Jesus Christ suffered for a little while on earth and was then highly exalted, so disciples of God’s Son look forward to a glorious reward. If the suffering that may come upon us by divine permission makes us stronger in our adherence to Bible standards, and more humble, sympathetic and compassionate disciples of God’s Son, this form of training or molding will have served its purpose. For that to be the case, we need to trust our heavenly Father fully, confident that whatever he allows to come will eventually secure our eternal welfare and happiness if we humbly submit to it. (Romans 8:28) In the spirit of the apostle Peter, we can raise our voice, saying: ‘Thanks be to God for letting us be trained by trials and helping us to be firm and strong as his approved servants with everlasting life in view!