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Just Thinking

I Was Just Thinking … About “Necessary Suffering”

The other day while I was memorizing and meditating on chapter one of 1 Peter, the Lord gave me something which I believe will strengthen me whenever tribulations strike. In the hope that some of you might also find this thought helpful, I will share it with you:

1 Peter 1:6-7 says, “In this [salvation which will be revealed at the last day] you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if it is necessary, you are made sorrowful in many trials.” The words, “if it is necessary” are very comforting, for they mean that God never allows me to suffer any trial unless it is absolutely necessary! So henceforth, when tribulations come, I hope I will remember that they have come only because God, in order that he might achieve the great purpose he has for my life, sees that it is absolutely necessary that I suffer.

What a comfort to know that when trials come, it is not that some accident has befallen me—an accident that God could have shielded me from or steered me around. To the contrary, trials come only when they are necessary, in order for God to fulfill his purpose for me.

This purpose is “to conform us to the image of Christ” (Romans 8:29). Jesus Christ walked this earth without sin. His every action, word and thought were controlled by his love for, and confidence in, the Father; and by his desire to do nothing to mar, in any way, the joy of fellowship he had with his Father. God’s great purpose is to make you and me like Jesus. The natural desire of our hearts is to delight in our own greatness. God wants to change us so that instead of finding our delight in what we are in ourselves, we might be completely content and filled with joy in the marvel of all that God is.

This involves learning not to trust in ourselves but in God, setting our hope completely on what he will do for us. To learn this, Paul had to be “utterly, unbearably crushed … in order that [he] might learn not to trust in [himself] but in God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8-9). Thus, in order for God to revamp our inner disposition of heart so that we become like Christ, it is utterly essential for us to suffer from time to time.

So I am greatly comforted to know that tribulations come to Christians only when it is necessary for them to come. Then, too, 1 Peter 1:6-7 teaches that sufferings last only “for a little while.” “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). God will never allow us to suffer for one second beyond what is necessary at each step of molding our dispositions to be like Christ’s. “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace … will restore, establish, and strengthen you” (1 Peter 5:10).

One last thing from 1 Peter 1:6-7: When troubles come, they come in clusters. “You are made sorrowful in many trials.” God’s way of working with us is not usually to give us one trouble, and then when we have gotten on top of it, immediately to give us another. More often he allows a number of things to happen at once, so that when these afflictions have accomplished their perfect work, we may have periods when we are free from trials. Remember Job: no sooner had one messenger reported disaster than another one arrived to report a further disaster (Job 1:13-19). But when this cluster of troubles had accomplished their purpose for Job, he was restored to a life of joy and peace.

How good of God, then, to compress troubles into that “little while” during which it is necessary for us to suffer in order to become more like Jesus Christ.

Daniel P. Fuller

November, 1972

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