Character Development in Suffering

Introduction

Our character is like gold. We need to receive God’s deep mining and refining processes to become more like Christ. He uses various processes to mature us by refining or purifying our character. But unresolved questions may stretch us: “Where is divine goodness in human misery? Why does God not stop pain, especially if it seems undeserved?”

Because suffering is difficult to understand, we may hear confusing comments from others. Some may connect suffering to sin: “Your suffering must stem from some sin you have committed.” Others may focus on the amount of faith you have: “If you had more faith, you could be healed.” Still others may see the problem as related to not following God properly: “If the Holy Spirit was leading you, your problems would go away.” But are these approaches in line with God’s Word? How does God want us to use pain?

A believer in Jesus is not immune to the experience of suffering and grief. Sickness, sorrow, death, disappointment, and pain are experienced by all people. When we as believers endure pain and suffering, we can find comfort and strength in God’s promise that He is shaping His protective and sovereign purposes in us, and we can rest in our hope of glory in eternity.

The Ultimate Sovereign

The verses below from Isaiah teach us about God’s perspective and purpose.

5 “I am the LORD, and there is no other;
there is no God but me.
I will strengthen you,
though you do not know me,
6 so that all may know from the rising of the sun to its setting
that there is no one but me.
I am the LORD, and there is no other.
7 I form light and create darkness,
I make success and create disaster;
I am the LORD, who does all these things.” Isaiah 45:5-7 CSB

9 “Remember what happened long ago,
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and no one is like me.
10 I declare the end from the beginning,
and from long ago what is not yet done,
saying: my plan will take place,
and I will do all my will.
11 I call a bird of prey from the east,
a man for my purpose from a far country.
Yes, I have spoken; so I will also bring it about.
I have planned it; I will also do it.” Isaiah 46:9-11 CSB

Do these truths about God’s sovereignty comfort you or disturb you?

In Genesis, Joseph said this about the difficult circumstances and troublesome people he faced.

20 “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result — the survival of many people.” Genesis 50:20 CSB

Look at Paul’s attitude and conclusion about suffering.

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18 NASB95

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 NIV

How can these thoughts help you in all that you face?
Can you describe a life experience that at the time did not seem to be producing anything good yet later proved to be beneficial?

Suffering’s Purpose

13 Behold, My Servant shall deal wisely and shall prosper; He shall be exalted and extolled and shall stand very high. 14 [For many the Servant of God became an object of horror; many were astonished at Him.] His face and His whole appearance were marred more than any man’s, and His form beyond that of the sons of men—but just as many were astonished at Him, 15 So shall He startle and sprinkle many nations, and kings shall shut their mouths because of Him; for that which has not been told them shall they see, and that which they have not heard shall they consider and understand. Isaiah 52:13-15 AMPC

1 WHO HAS believed (trusted in, relied upon, and clung to) our message [of that which was revealed to us]? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been disclosed? 2 For [the Servant of God] grew up before Him like a tender plant, and like a root out of dry ground; He has no form or comeliness [royal, kingly pomp], that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. 3 He was despised and rejected and forsaken by men, a Man of sorrows and pains, and acquainted with grief and sickness; and like One from Whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we did not appreciate His worth or have any esteem for Him. 4 Surely He has borne our griefs (sicknesses, weaknesses, and distresses) and carried our sorrows and pains [of punishment], yet we [ignorantly] considered Him stricken, smitten, and afflicted by God [as if with leprosy]. 5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our guilt and iniquities; the chastisement [needful to obtain] peace and well-being for us was upon Him, and with the stripes [that wounded] Him we are healed and made whole. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has made to light upon Him the guilt and iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, [yet when] He was afflicted, He was submissive and opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who among them considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living [stricken to His death] for the transgression of my [Isaiah’s] people, to whom the stroke was due? 9 And they assigned Him a grave with the wicked, and with a rich man in His death, although He had done no violence, neither was any deceit in His mouth. 10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief and made Him sick. When You and He make His life an offering for sin [and He has risen from the dead, in time to come], He shall see His [spiritual] offspring, He shall prolong His days, and the will and pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. 11 He shall see [the fruit] of the travail of His soul and be satisfied; by His knowledge of Himself [which He possesses and imparts to others] shall My [uncompromisingly] righteous One, My Servant, justify many and make many righteous (upright and in right standing with God), for He shall bear their iniquities and their guilt [with the consequences, says the Lord]. 12 Therefore will I divide Him a portion with the great [kings and rulers], and He shall divide the spoil with the mighty, because He poured out His life unto death, and [He let Himself] be regarded as a criminal and be numbered with the transgressors; yet He bore [and took away] the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors (the rebellious). Isaiah 53:1-12 AMPC

In what ways did Christ suffer unjustly?
How did He respond to this suffering? (53:7)
For whose sake did He endure this suffering? (53:8, 11-12)

Now read 1 Peter 2:20-24 below.

20 [After all] what kind of glory [is there in it] if, when you do wrong and are punished for it, you take it patiently? But if you bear patiently with suffering [which results] when you do right and that is undeserved, it is acceptable and pleasing to God. 21 For even to this were you called [it is inseparable from your vocation]. For Christ also suffered for you, leaving you [His personal] example, so that you should follow in His footsteps. 22 He was guilty of no sin, neither was deceit (guile) ever found on His lips. 23 When He was reviled and insulted, He did not revile or offer insult in return; [when] He was abused and suffered, He made no threats [of vengeance]; but he trusted [Himself and everything] to Him Who judges fairly. 24 He personally bore our sins in His [own] body on the tree[as on an altar and offered Himself on it], that we might die (cease to exist) to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. 1 Peter 2:20-24 AMPC

How does Christ’s suffering touch you? (verse 21)

Some of the reasons God tested the children of Israel are found in the verses below.

1 ALL THE commandments which I command you this day you shall be watchful to do, that you may live and multiply and go in and possess the land which the Lord swore to give to your fathers. 2 And you shall [earnestly] remember all the way which the Lord your God led you these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and to prove you, to know what was in your [mind and] heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. 3 And He humbled you and allowed you to hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you recognize and personally know that man does not live by bread only, but man lives by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. Deuteronomy 8:1-3 AMPC

16 Who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Deuteronomy 8:16 AMPC

Some other ways God brings good from suffering are found in the verses below.

1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” John 15:1-2 NKJV

6 For whom the LORD loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.”
7 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? Hebrews 12:6-7 NKJV

10 For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Hebrews 12:10 NKJV

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead 4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. 5 You are being guarded by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 You rejoice in this, even though now for a short time, if necessary, you suffer grief in various trials 7 so that the proven character of your faith — more valuable than gold which, though perishable, is refined by fire — may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; though not seeing him now, you believe in him, and you rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 because you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:3-9 CSB

How would you describe God’s good desire to develop and protect us?

Grief is good. It is cleansing. It undoes my world—and that is the best part of it. I need to be undone; simply undone. No regrouping. We need to mourn; it is the only way our hearts can remain both free and alive in this world. Why? Because it, like nothing else, puts a stop to the constant striving. Grief is the antidote to the incessant possessive demand within. John Eldredge, The Journey of Desire

Think about the Lord’s words in John 15 below.

18 If the world hates you, know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you belonged to the world, the world would treat you with affection and would love you as its own. But because you are not of the world [no longer one with it], but I have chosen (selected) you out of the world, the world hates (detests) you. 20 Remember that I told you, A servant is not greater than his master [is not superior to him]. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word and obeyed My teachings, they will also keep and obey yours. 21 But they will do all this to you [inflict all this suffering on you] because of [your bearing] My name and on My account, for they do not know or understand the One Who sent Me. John 15:18-21 AMPC

What does this reveal about the world’s attitude toward God? Why can we expect this response? How do you feel about this reality?

Your Response to Suffering

22 Blessed (happy—with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, apart from your outward condition—and to be envied) are you when people despise (hate) you, and when they exclude and excommunicate you [as disreputable] and revile and denounce you and defame and cast out and spurn your name as evil (wicked) on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice and be glad at such a time and exult and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is rich and great and strong and intense and abundant in heaven; for even so their forefathers treated the prophets. Luke 6:22-23 AMPC

What types of suffering can we expect?
How should this affect us both now and in the future?

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4 NIV

How can we develop and mature through the difficulties we face? Why is it so difficult to face trials with joy? Why can we have confidence and trust in this process?

At the heart of enduring suffering is confidence and trust in God. What confidence do we have?

33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NIV

12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And,
“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. 1 Peter 4:12-19 NIV

How God wants us to respond in every situation.

20 …giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another in the fear of God. Ephesians 5:20-21 NKJV

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NKJV

Why is responding like this important? Sometimes our responses to suffering include anger, fear, shame, and other emotions. How can you be emotionally authentic and also thank God for suffering?

Let’s take a look at what Paul wrote about his sufferings, his attitude, and the results of his suffering in Christ.

12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually advanced the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard, and to everyone else, that my imprisonment is because I am in Christ. 14 Most of the brothers have gained confidence in the Lord from my imprisonment and dare even more to speak the word fearlessly. 15 To be sure, some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of good will. 16 These preach out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17 the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, thinking that they will cause me trouble in my imprisonment. 18 What does it matter? Only that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice 19 because I know this will lead to my salvation through your prayers and help from the Spirit of Jesus Christ. 20 My eager expectation and hope is that I will not be ashamed about anything, but that now as always, with all courage, Christ will be highly honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Philippians 1:12-21 CSB

How did Paul suffer? What was his attitude? What were the results of his suffering?

The attitude toward suffering is also shown by these men below.

The apostles.

40 After they called in the apostles and had them flogged, they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them. 41 Then they went out from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to be treated shamefully on behalf of the Name. 42 Every day in the temple, and in various homes, they continued teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah. Acts 5:40-42 CSB

Stephen.

59 While they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit! ” 60 He knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them! ” And after saying this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:59-60 CSB

Job.

20 Then Job stood up, tore his robe, and shaved his head. He fell to the ground and worshiped, 21 saying:
Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will leave this life.
The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away.
Blessed be the name of the LORD.
22 Throughout all this Job did not sin or blame God for anything. Job 1:20-22 CSB

When you suffer, do you ever question God as Job did (3:11,20)?

11 Why was I not stillborn; why didn’t I die as I came from the womb?
20 Why is light given to one burdened with grief, and life to those whose existence is bitter, … Job 3:11, 20 CSB

Do you question His…
___ goodness
___ love
___ power
___ wisdom
___ delight in you

Talk to God about your struggles with Him. Ask Him to guide you into His loving heart that is jealous for you. Our response to problems reveals our maturity level. Each crisis is an opportunity for character growth.

What do you think are some positive and negative ways we might respond in the midst of suffering?
Positive responses
Negative responses
What do our negative responses reveal?

Now read the passages below.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21 NIV

14 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. Hebrews 12:14-15 NIV

Growing Through Suffering

Suffering develops us.

3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5 NIV

God’s loving discipline produces something in you.

10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:10-11 NIV

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 tells us about the benefits of suffering.

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 NIV

Name a person you know who is presently going through a difficult time.
What can you do to encourage this person?

Apart from the presence of God, there is no deep healing for our grief. Time can make it easier, but that is all. The good news when our hearts are broken is that God invites us to freely mourn in the great space of His loving presence. Our pain does not threaten Him; it does not cause Him to fear that we will ruin His reputation. He is not repulsed with the ugliness we feel. Even when we hurt so much that we can hardly bear it, we are still His beloved. Sally Breedlove, Choosing Rest

Meditate on these verses from Psalm 119:50, 71, and 76 and the above quote from Choosing Rest.

50 This is my comfort in my affliction:
Your promise has given me life. Psalm 119:50 CSB

71 It was good for me to be afflicted
so that I could learn your statutes. Psalm 119:71 CSB

76 May your faithful love comfort me
as you promised your servant. Psalm 119:76 CSB

How has suffering influenced your intimacy with God?
How did the psalmist respond to suffering?

Memory Verse

19 Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator. 1 Peter 4:19 NKJV

Describe one painful experience or time of suffering for you. How has this experience deepened your walk with God? How can this experience help you encourage others?

Points to Remember

  • God is sovereign over all circumstances surrounding us.
  • We should expect to suffer and mature as a result.
  • God wants us to learn to trust and offer thanks in all situations, even difficult ones.
  • Suffering can shape us for God’s purposes.

God’s Desires for Us

Trust
We are clay (Isaiah 64:8); He is the Potter.
We are clay jars (2 Corinthians 4:7); He is powerful in us.

Strength
We are weak (2 Corinthians 12:9-10); He gives strength.

Refinement and Maturity
Suffering should develop us (Romans 5:3-5).

No Fear
We can be like a stressed tree that is fruitful (Jeremiah 17:8).

Ministry
We can comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:4).
We can be an example of hope to others (1 Peter 3:14-15).