Paul and Suffering

In many respects, Paul was a remarkable man. God called him “a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.”  Acts 9:15. Immediately upon his conversion, God showed him “how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Verse 16. As suffering was to be a part of God’s program for Paul, he came to look upon it as a privilege. He said, “Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” Philippians 1:29.


Peter told the believers, “If, when we do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable to God.” 1 Peter 2:20. Paul took the same ground in Romans 12:12, where he told the saints to be “patient in tribulation.”


While both agreed that to be patient in tribulation is “acceptable to God,” Paul took an advanced position when he said that as for himself he had learned not only to be patient in suffering, but to rejoice in his sufferings for them.” Colossians 1:24.


Few have advanced that far. Most think that they do well if they are patient in suffering. Moreover, God says that this is acceptable. However, Paul wanted to go further, following Christ’s admonition in Matthew 5:11,12: “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”


Christ “took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.” Matthew 8:17. He was tempted in all points “like as we are, yet without sin.” Hebrews 4:15. As “He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succor them that are tempted.” Hebrews 2:18. These trials came to Christ “that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest.” Verse 17.


As Paul learned that Christ’s sufferings enabled Him to sympathize with others and understand their sufferings, he desired to be permitted to suffer with Christ. Thus, he also would be able, when others suffered, to understand and help them.


Paul’s Sufferings

The more Paul thought of suffering, not as affliction but as a means of preparation to help others, the more he desired to go all the way with Christ and suffer as He had suffered. To the Corinthians he wrote that God “comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.” 2 Corinthians 1:4-6.

Paul considered his sufferings vicarious, as were Christ’s. He did not suffer for himself; he suffered for others. Moreover, his sufferings would benefit the saints. As he suffered and was comforted by God, he was enabled to comfort others with the same comfort which he had received.


We suppose that Paul was sensitive to pain as are other men. He did not enjoy pain for pain’s sake. It was only as pain served a definite purpose in helping others that he was interested in it. If he could do others good by suffering, he was not only willing but also anxious to suffer.


Paul discovered that he could do this. When some afflicted saint learned that Paul had an experience similar to his, a bond of sympathy and understanding was immediately established, and the poor soul took courage. He could at least learn to bear with patience the tribulation over which Paul rejoiced.


The Thorn in the Flesh

Paul stated, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” Philippians 4:11. Therefore, when he found himself in prison with a lacerated back from which the blood ran down, he began to think how this particular experience would be of help to him. Then “Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.” Acts 16:25. Doubtless, the other inmates wondered if these men had lost their minds, for who had ever heard a person singing for joy after being beaten with “many stripes”?


Paul wanted to follow Christ all the way. As Christ has suffered, so Paul wanted to suffer. As he went to the cross, so Paul wanted to be “made comfortable unto his death.” Philippians 3:10. As Christ in all things was made like unto His brethren, so Paul wanted all things to be made like unto Christ.


Paul was greatly beloved of God, yet all his life he had to live with a thorn in the flesh, which he frankly confesses was given to keep him humble. Paul would not have needed to make this confession. While we might suspect that the many revelations he had would tend to make him proud, we would not be sure that this was the case unless he had expressly said so. Twice in the same verse, he stated that the thorn was given him “lest I should be exalted above measure.” 2 Corinthians 12:7. He called the thorn “the messenger of Satan to buffet me.” Paul gave us this information to let us know that God is no respecter of persons and that there is no difference of treatment because of position.


While we do not know what the thorn was, we may be certain that it was painful affliction or Paul would not call it a thorn. God did not remove the thorn, but gave him the grace to bear it, and from a full heart Paul could say, “Most gladly therefore will I glorify in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Verse 9.


From these considerations, we learn that when affliction comes to one of the saints, God has His purpose in it and that He is working out some plan that will eventually be for our good. Satan will always be present trying to discourage and harass the saint. However, if the sick will co-operate with God, Satan’s attempt will only strengthen him in his determination to do the right at all costs, and he will be stronger for the conflict. Thus, it may be with every assault of Satan.


This same principle I saw illustrated in a school I was once connected with. There were two teachers of mathematics in the school, a young man and a man of more experience. The younger man was asked to teach a subject which he had not taught before. The school furnished a teacher’s manual, which would save the teacher much time and work. The older teacher kept the book from the younger teacher, causing him to have a difficult time. However, without the manual he had to study harder, with the result that when the year ended he was a much better teacher that if he had received help. He became so proficient in his field that in due time he became the head of his department, something that might not have occurred if he had not had to do his own studying. What was meant to hamper him turned out to be a help.


Satan Is Happy

Satan would like to torment us and is happy when he can bring us into difficult positions. However, in doing so, he is really working against himself, for “tribulations worketh patience,” the very virtue God would have us develop.


For this reason Paul could say, “We glorify in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience.” Romans 5:3. Thus, when Satan throws rocks in our path, God makes them into steppingstones if we work with Him.


Sickness may be a disheartening and discouraging experience as we consider the grief and sorrow it brings to our loved ones. If in addition to this we fear that God has forsaken or forgotten us, and that He does not seem to hear our prayers, it may be distressing and faith trying hour. Trust in God dims, faith in Him wavers, financial involvements dismay us, and we wonder if God really has forsaken us. We go through the deep waters. The lamp of hope burns low.


However, let the sick and discouraged souls look to God. He still lives and loves. He may let the dark clouds envelop us temporarily; but behind the cloud is the sunshine of God’s love. God is at every sickbed, ready to help as needed. Cling by faith to the promises of God. Search your hearts for sins of which you may not be fully aware. Be honest with yourself and with your God. Confess where needed. Restore where restitution is possible. Clear the King’s highway; make straight paths for your feet. If you thus seek God and ask Him to reveal to you any unsuspected weakness, He will come near.


If after this thorough and honest self-examination you are not conscious of sin, or if you have sinned and confessed, then thank God for His forgiveness and love, and by faith rejoice that God has accepted you, and ask Him to cleanse you from every sin. As you do this, new hope and peace will come into your soul, and being perfectly resigned to God, you may from the heart say, “Lord, Thy will be done.”

You have done what you could, and God will do His part.


Memory Verse:

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said unto me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:7.



1.   Are trials and tribulations necessary to strengthen our character in Christ? Explain.




2.   Paul wanted to follow Christ all the way, even unto death. Is your faith getting stronger even unto death during the Great Tribulation?  Explain. 




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