As we consider Chapter 13 of John Stott’s Cross of Christ we find ourselves confronted by what he calls “the single greatest challenge to the Christian faith.” That is the idea that the world [a world created and ruled by God] has suffering. He writes “how does the cross speak to us in our pain?”
In this post, I will comment on the idea of patient endurance. Stott covers six possible answers to the question of pain and suffering in His world. Patient endurance is what Stott calls “the simplest.”
We will see…
First of all, I find it interesting that Stott declares suffering as evil and “it should be resisted” but as we all know, there come times in life when we have to accept it because it happens. The key is how we accept it.
With patient endurance…
What is the source of our suffering? Is it the result of some painful accident? Is it caused by a disease? Are we in the wrong place at the wrong time when nature destroys our home and livelihood [e.g. the recent hurricane Ian].
The Bible has a lot to say on suffering: “We rejoice in our suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character and character produces hope” [Romans, 3-4]. James 1: 12 says “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” Then we have Romans 15: 4-5 that says, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
Another word for patient endurance is “longsuffering.” God is patient with us. We are to be patient with others. “Through our trials and tribulations, we must be long-suffering. We must keep our eyes on the Lord and not grow faint” [Ephesians 4: 1-3 and 1 Thessalonians 5: 14].
All this sounds challenging and it is. Where do we look for instruction in patient endurance?
We look to none other than Jesus Christ. From First Peter 2:18-25 we read the following words about slaves and harsh masters: “Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth. When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”
What are we to do when confronted with suffering? Like Christ on the cross, we endure it. Why, because it is pleasing to God. Why, because enduring suffering is a good thing to do and it produces character. We know we live in a world that does not promote this attitude. When we suffer, we complain. When we suffer, we lash out at others. When we suffer we try to make others suffer with us.
What did Jesus do when He went to His death for crimes that He did not commit? He never retaliated. Could He have used His heavenly power to change the situation in His favor? Of course He could, but He chose not to do that .
We are encouraged to fix our eyes upon Jesus for He endured the cross, despite how horrific the method of punishment was. Stott writes that “Christians in every generation have gained from the sufferings of Jesus, which culminated in the cross, the inspiration to bear undeserved pain patiently, without ever complaining or hitting back” [Stott, 307].
What is the value of all this?
Part of the value resides in people who see us suffer and bear up under the pain. I have a dear friend who is in the last days of her fight with cancer. Recently hospice was called in to assist her needs and I thought surely she would accept some pain medication and spend more time in bed. In a recent visit, she revealed that the pain meds dulled her mind and she did not want that and she preferred to be up and around in her home as long as she could. When I drove to her home for a visit, my wife and I found he at the end of her carport where she greeted us.
What is happening? Her faith is witnessing to others. She is being strengthened in her time of need. She is steadfast in her faith, enduring her trouble with God. Philippians 4:13 comes to mind: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Where is her strength coming from? God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are working in her and as she patiently endures, she is giving God the glory. I think of her and recall Colossians 1: 11 “May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.”
A visit to her is amazing as she does not focus on her troubles but continually asks about visitor concerns. A visit to her is also amazing as she “cracks” jokes; when she was in my Sunday school class, we could count on two or three during a class session. She is still telling jokes in the midst of her suffering.
John Stott may label patient endurance the simplest answer for how Christ’s suffering relates to ours but let me tell you, to see it modeled first hand is an amazement.
I have had my moments of suffering but I did not bear up under it as well as my friend with cancer.
When her last hour will come she will surely be able to take solace in James 1: 12: “Blessed is the man (or woman) who remains steadfast under trial, for when he/she has stood the test he/she will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him.”