My wife’s been reading through Hebrews and using a commentary by J. Vernon McGee. I bought the commentary when I was reading through the book myself.
Yesterday, she brought to me the words discussing Hebrews 12:6-8, which read:
“For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.”
She then explained to me that McGee listed seven reasons why Christians suffer. I thought they were quite accurate, so I decided to share them in a blog post, along with some personal thoughts. I also adapted the list because some points seemed to repeat themselves.
So here are four reasons Christians suffer (with a hat tip to J. Vernon McGee):
ONE: Practical Consequences of Our Own Stupidity and Sin
“The first reason that we suffer as God’s children (and even as his mature sons) is because of our own stupidity and our own sin…The fourth reason we suffer is for our past sins.” – JVM
This affects Christians at every level of maturity. We are always going to be sinful people and will always struggle.
My favorite song right now is called “In the Blood” by John Mayer. Mayer asks about all these things in his life — the influence of his parents, his insecurities, his weaknesses — and wonders if they’ll be “washed out in the water” or “always in the blood.”
The answer to that is yes. When we become Christians, our sins are forgiven, and they’re no longer on our permanent record. But we will still feel the effects of those sins because we’re human.
And that’s not just sins we’ve committed in the immediate past. McGee tells the story of a famous evangelist who used to be a drunkard. While visiting a restaurant for milkshakes and sodas after a service, the evangelist simply got a glass of soda water.
“The others began to kid him about it,” McGee writes, “and he made this statement, ‘When the Lord gave me a new heart, He didn’t give me a new stomach.’ Liquor had ruined his stomach, and he was still suffering because of that.”
TWO: Standing for Christ in a Secular World
“I can guarantee that if you take a stand for truth and righteousness, you are going to suffer. How many men and women could testify to that?…Many people deliberately take a stand for God, and they have suffered for it.” – JVM
Jesus straight up told us that we would suffer for defending His name. Many around the world suffer as the disciples did, facing criminal prosecution, imprisonment and even execution. I hope I never cease from being amazed by those who willingly go through such lengths in the name of Christ.
In America, our suffering is more emotional and social. We might get made fun of or ignored for being Christians and not being afraid to speak the name of Jesus at our school or workplace. That’s OK, that’s part of being a believer.
An interesting note that McGee makes is that sometimes we can go overboard in our “standing for Christ” and feel like we’re suffering, but it’s unnecessary.
“One man came to me and told me that where he worked everybody was his enemy because he had stood up for God,” McGee wrote. “Well, another Christian man who was an official in that same concern told me that this man was trying to lecture everybody — even during work hours! He was making an absolute nuisance of himself by attempting to witness to people while they were busy on their jobs.”
THREE: Some Purpose of God We Don’t Know
“Job suffered because he was demonstrating to Satan and the demon world and to the angels of heaven that he was not a timeserver, that every man does not have his price and that he loved God for Himself alone. I hope I never have to suffer as Job did.” – JVM
This is one where there isn’t a whole lot of explanation. There’s some part of the will of God where suffering is meant for some kind of purpose that we don’t understand and probably won’t fully get until the other side of heaven. This kind of suffering could include an unexpected and seemingly-unwarranted loss of a job, the sudden death of a close friend or family member or a huge house repair or car expense that puts you in financial trouble.
In my experience, it usually leads to spiritual growth and increasing faith in Christ, but there might be something else it’s designed for that we won’t know until later.
FOUR: The Lord’s Discipline
“A judge punishes, but a father chastens and he does it in love. God uses chastening to demonstrate His love for us. And the writer makes it very clear that you are an illegitimate child if you are not chastened by the Lord, my friend.” – JVM
God makes sure we’re in line. When we start wandering away, He might do things or allow things to happen to discipline us. This ties back into the words from Hebrews 12:6-8.
I think sometimes this is another example where God allows us to suffer and we’re not entirely sure why. We feel the chastening of God but may not know that’s what it is. We may know we’ve been disobedient. But that discipline still comes because God loves us and wants what’s best for us.
The commentary my wife’s been reading is from the “Thru the Bible Commentary Series” by J. Vernon McGee, which you can find on Amazon or Christian bookstores.