The Suffering That Can Benefit You
“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 Pet. 1:6, 7.
1. What mistreatment did Christians face in the early days of the congregation?
THEY were ridiculed, beaten and imprisoned. Their homes were invaded and their possessions plundered. Some of their loyal friends and relatives perished at the hands of angry mobs or were sentenced to death by judicial decree. They had committed no crime to justify such brutal treatment. They lived in an exemplary way and had real love for fellow humans. But they incurred the hatred of many. Why? Because they were disciples of Jesus Christ.—Acts 8:1-3; Heb. 10:32-34.
A FORM OF BENEFICIAL DISCIPLINE
2, 3. (a) Why were certain Christianized Jews getting tired in the race for life? (b) What had they forgotten?
2 Was the terrible suffering that Christians underwent beneficial? A person might be quick to answer, No. The Bible, however, presents the matter of a person’s being forced to undergo mistreatment as something highly profitable. Christianized Jews in the first century were told: “In carrying on your contest against that sin you have never resisted as far as blood, but you have entirely forgotten the exhortation which addresses you as sons: ‘My son, do not belittle the discipline from Jehovah, neither give out when you are corrected by him; for whom Jehovah loves he disciplines; in fact, he scourges every one whom he receives as a son.’”—Heb. 12:4-6.
3 The opposition directed against Christianized Jews was indeed severe. But their struggling against the easily entangling sin—loss of faith—had not come to the point of having their blood spilled. Many of them possibly were halfhearted in the race for life and so were not carrying on the contest against this sin in a way that would be needed for them to succeed in ‘resisting it as far as blood.’ They were getting tired of having to face the reproaches of godless people. (Heb. 12:3) They failed to realize that the harsh treatment from opposers served as discipline from Jehovah and confirmed that he loved them deeply as his sons. They had forgotten the Scriptural exhortation found at Proverbs 3:11, 12. Amplifying the application of this passage, the letter to the Hebrews continues:
“It is for discipline you are enduring. God is dealing with you as with sons. For what son is he that a father does not discipline? But if you are without the discipline of which all have become partakers, you are really illegitimate children, and not sons. Furthermore, we used to have fathers who were of our flesh to discipline us, and we used to give them respect. Shall we not much more subject ourselves to the Father of our spiritual life and live? For they for a few days used to discipline us according to what seemed good to them, but he does so for our profit that we may partake of his holiness. True, no discipline seems for the present to be joyous, but grievous; yet afterward to those who have been trained by it it yields peaceable fruit, namely, righteousness.”—Heb. 12:7-11.
4. How should we view the harsh treatment that may be given us by men?
4 In harmony with this inspired counsel, how should Christians view the suffering that Jehovah God permits to befall them? We should regard it as a form of discipline or training given to us by a Father who has deep love for us and is interested in our eternal welfare. The fact that such discipline is received proves undeniably that we are being treated like sons and not like unwanted and unloved illegitimate children. Since Jehovah God permits Christians to experience this severe treatment, we should humbly submit to it. This also agrees with the apostle Peter’s admonition: “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 Pet. 5:6, 7.
5. Why is it right to accept discipline in the form of mistreatment?
5 It is only right that we accept this discipline without rebelling against it, without seeking to get out from under the hand of God. A man who has love and concern for his children will discipline them when he deems it necessary to do so. Being imperfect, he may misjudge matters. Hence, in administering ‘discipline according to what seems good to him,’ he may not always do what is right and beneficial during the relatively “few days” of their childhood. Yet such a father is shown respect by children who love him. This is indeed fitting, as they are indebted to him for their life. On the other hand, Jehovah God never makes a mistake, and he is responsible for more than our having life. The Most High is called, according to the literal Greek of Hebrews 12:9, “the Father of the spirits,” evidently indicating that he is responsible for the spiritual life of Christians as well as their eternal life. Surely, then, there is even stronger reason to submit to the heavenly Father’s discipline than there is to respect an imperfect earthly father.
BENEFITS THAT COME FROM SUFFERING
6. How can suffering help us to become partakers of God’s holiness?
6 Furthermore, the discipline that comes in the form of suffering is always profitable or beneficial to God’s servants. It can have a refining effect, revealing personality flaws that must be corrected. These might include pride, stubbornness, impatience, selfishness, worldliness and love of ease or pleasure. When the Christian makes the needed improvements, he becomes purer or more holy in his conduct. By ‘becoming holy as Jehovah God is holy,’ he becomes ‘a partaker of God’s holiness.’ (1 Pet. 1:14-16) Thus, the objective of the discipline is realized.
7. As illustrated in the case of Jesus Christ, what can be learned from affliction? (Heb. 5:8)
7 From affliction a person may also learn things that can better equip him for God’s service. This is illustrated in the case of Jesus Christ. By having to undergo extreme suffering in the flesh, he gained the needed experience to be a compassionate and sympathetic high priest. This has made it possible for us to make our approach to God through Christ with the greatest freeness of speech, confident that Jesus understands our situation and will plead in our behalf as a merciful high priest.—Heb. 4:15, 16.
8, 9. As shown at Hebrews 12:11, how can a period of discipline in the form of mistreatment affect us while it is continuing and then after it is over?
8 Of course, the mistreatment may be very difficult to bear. There certainly can be no feeling of exhilarating pleasure or elation about having to undergo severe pain. The experience is a grievous one. However, if we submit to it and let it help us to see wherein we must make improvements, the trial can be good training for us. The final result of that training then will be “peaceable fruit, namely, righteousness.” Or, as James Moffatt renders the words of Hebrews 12:11: “Discipline always seems for the time to be a thing of pain, not of joy; but those who are trained by it reap the fruit of it afterwards in the peace of an upright life.”
9 It may well be that you have come to appreciate the good effect that such discipline can have from association with faithful Christian brothers and sisters. They may have undergone years of trial under oppressive dictators or in concentration camps and in prisons. Often, however, their integrity shines through their entire personality. A person realizes that he is in the presence of those whose faith has been molded by discipline, and the calm, joyous expression of that faith can be an inspiration to others to walk likewise in integrity.
10. What viewpoint should we take of any kind of trial, and so what question might be raised?
10 Hence, when we experience any kind of trial—sickness, disappointment, injustice, tragedy or persecution—we should view it as discipline from our loving heavenly Father and allow the trial to have a good effect on us, to make us better servants of his. But how can we remain faithful while enduring the affliction so that we will afterward profit from the training?
HOW TO ENDURE
11. What counsel of the disciple James should we follow when undergoing a trialsome experience?
11 It is especially important to look to Jehovah God to give us the wisdom to deal with trialsome situations. We should appeal to him for help, never doubting that he will help us by means of his holy spirit. Note the fine counsel that the disciple James gave on this:
“Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you meet with various trials, knowing as you do that this tested quality of your faith works out endurance. But let endurance have its work complete, that you may be complete and sound in all respects, not lacking in anything. So, if any one of you is lacking in wisdom, let him keep on asking God, for he gives generously to all and without reproaching; and it will be given him. But let him keep on asking in faith, not doubting at all, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven by the wind and blown about. In fact, let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from Jehovah; he is an indecisive man, unsteady in all his ways.”—Jas. 1:2-8.
12. What do we learn from Hebrews 5:7?
12 Jesus Christ certainly set an outstanding example in leaning on his heavenly Father. Though he was perfect, Jesus prayed with great intensity while undergoing suffering. The Bible reports: “In the days of his flesh Christ offered up supplications and also petitions to the One who was able to save him out of death, with strong outcries and tears, and he was favorably heard for his godly fear.” (Heb. 5:7) Because Jesus had a reverential fear, his Father gave a favorable hearing to his cries for aid. The Son of God, with the help of the holy spirit, maintained integrity and, therefore, died as one approved by his Father. He was then delivered from death’s grip by a resurrection.
13. According to Hebrews 12:2, what aided Jesus Christ to remain faithful under suffering?
13 Another factor that assisted Jesus Christ to remain faithful was his keeping ever before him the grand reward that his Father held out. At Hebrews 12:2 this reward is evidently referred to as “the joy.” We read: “For the joy that was set before him he endured a torture stake, despising shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” We, too, by looking ahead to the reward of eternal life with its associate blessings, can maintain faithfulness under trial. Like a prize just beyond the finish line, this reward can stimulate us to run the race for life with endurance, dismissing any wrong desires that could wreck our faith.—Heb. 12:1.
14. When we are in a distressing situation, how can the words of Lamentations 3:20, 21 encourage us?
14 No matter how desperate our situation may become, we should not allow ourselves to begin thinking that the Most High does not care about us. When we are faced with great hardships, the words of Lamentations 3:20, 21 can be of real comfort to us: “Without fail your soul [Jehovah] will remember and bow low over me. This is what I shall bring back to my heart. That is why I shall show a waiting attitude.” In expression of his own humility, Jehovah God will “bow low” or stoop down to give us favorable attention. He will lift us up from our afflicted state, as he did the repentant Jews in the sixth century B.C.E. However, while the period of affliction is continuing, we should patiently and with unwavering faith wait for Jehovah God to act in our behalf.
15. According to Lamentations 3:22, 23, what is shown by the fact that we are still alive?
15 The very fact that we are still alive is an evidence of God’s loving-kindness, his active compassionate concern. This stands as a guarantee that the Most High will show mercy to his afflicted people. At Lamentations 3:22, 23, we read: “It is the acts of loving-kindness of Jehovah that we have not come to our finish, because his mercies will certainly not come to an end. They are new each morning. Your faithfulness is abundant.”
16. Why can we rely on Jehovah’s mercy?
16 Because Jehovah’s faithfulness, his dependability, his trustworthiness, is abundant, we can rely on his mercy. The expressions of divine mercy or compassion toward us will never be weak or ineffectual. Jehovah’s mercies are “new each morning,” at all times available in full strength to his loyal servants. For this reason, we can be certain that the Almighty sees our distresses and that he will compassionately give us the needed help.
17. How should we react when a yoke of discipline is placed on us?
17 However, if he permits a yoke of discipline to be placed on us, we should accept it uncomplainingly and not broadcast our troubles. Lamentations 3:28, 29 recommends: “Let him sit solitary and keep silent, because [God] has laid something upon him. Let him put his mouth in the very dust,” lying prostrate in an attitude of total submission.
18. How does Jehovah view the distress that his servants must bear?
18 Meanwhile we can take comfort in the fact that the trial is but temporary and that Jehovah God finds no pleasure in our having to undergo distress. “Not to time indefinite will Jehovah keep on casting off,” the Bible says. “For although he has caused grief, he will also certainly show mercy according to the abundance of his loving-kindness. For not out of his own heart has he afflicted or does he grieve the sons of men.” (Lam. 3:31, 32) Rather, it is Jehovah’s purpose that the training we get through suffering will secure our eternal welfare.
19. Why does Jehovah’s permission of injustice and suffering not reflect unfavorably on him?
19 Those who are responsible for making life hard for God’s servants, though, are not excused for their hateful course. Also, Jehovah’s permission of this rough treatment does not reflect unfavorably on him. Why not? Because, although he permits the abuse so that it might have a beneficial effect on his people, he does not countenance man’s inhumanity to man. His Word condemns such mistreatment. The Bible tells us: “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.” (Lam. 3:34-36, The New English Bible) Men who mistreat fellow humans will have to render an account to Jehovah God. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says Jehovah.” (Rom. 12:19) Therefore, we must be careful not to become embittered against the Almighty for the badness that is practiced by men who disregard divine law.
20. What should even the most pathetic cases of human suffering not cause us to do, and why not?
20 At times the circumstances in which God’s servants come to be as a result of sickness, accident or mistreatment are truly pathetic. Our hearts may be stirred with deep emotion toward the blind, the maimed, the crippled and the deformed. This is only proper. But never, no never, should even the worst of human suffering cause us to turn our backs on Jehovah God. He alone can undo all the hurt that has come on mankind through sin and imperfection. Note what Jesus Christ said concerning a man born blind: “It was in order that the works of God might be made manifest in his case.” (John 9:3) What glory it will bring to the Most High when the eyes of the blind are opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped, and when the lame will walk, jump and run! (Rev. 21:3-5) If such afflictions had not existed, we would never have come to know the grand things that Jehovah God can do for mankind. And, in view of the reward of eternal life, human suffering in this system of things simply will come to mean nothing. It will be as if there had never been affliction.
21. (a) When will suffering benefit us? (b) What must we have to profit from adversity?
21 If the suffering we may yet undergo makes us kinder, more sympathetic and compassionate toward fellow humans and results in our conforming more closely to the righteous requirements set forth in the Bible, this form of discipline will indeed serve a beneficial purpose. For this to be the case, we must have the kind of implicit trust in our heavenly Father that a young child has in its earthly father. We need unshakable faith that whatever Jehovah God permits to come upon us will eventually work for our eternal welfare and happiness. May we, therefore, always keep before us the words of Romans 8:28: ‘God makes all things cooperate together for the good of those who love him.’
[Picture on page 21]
“No discipline seems for the present to be joyous.”