Piper Teaches on Suffering
The final chapter of John Piper’s Desiring God deals with a most critical question that threatens delight. What about suffering? Is there joy in suffering? Piper encounters the question from an even more challenging angle, why would anyone choose to suffer? He bolsters his argument by noting that Jesus chose to suffer (253), Paul chose to suffer (255), and throughout the chapter he cites several followers of Christ who chose to suffer. If people choose to suffer for Christ, surely there is some sort of satisfying hope and joy within it.
This chapter really resonated with me in that Piper shares the stories of Romanian pastors who suffered under the communist persecution of the Christian church. He mentions Oradea and Timisoara, both cities I spent time in last summer. I heard these same testimonies shared firsthand and can testify they are true. As I met various pastors and leaders who experienced suffering during the communist regime I asked them a curious question, “What is the blessing of the persecuted?” In Matthew 5:10 Jesus says, “Blessed are the persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” I have read what this means in commentaries. I wanted to know what this meant in the lives of people who have had an opportunity to live it. I should not say that they simply lived it, they chose it. Each of them had an out, an opportunity for escape, a chance to renounce their faith; but they chose suffering. It is the question of this chapter. Why would people choose to suffer for Christ?
My advice is to read this chapter twice. There is some great teaching here on suffering. I am sure I missed a few, but here is my summation of what Piper says about suffering from chapter 10:
1. There are different kinds of suffering (256). Some suffer because they follow Christ. They suffer because of their “choice to be openly Christian in risky situations.” We all suffer because of the curse of sin. We will get sick. We will lose loved ones.
2. Followers of Christ seek to find meaning in every kind of suffering (257). They do so by connecting faith with suffering. Piper calls this suffering with Christ and for Christ. “With Him in the sense that the suffering comes to us as we are walking with Him by faith and in the sense that it is endured in the strength He supplies through His sympathizing high-priestly ministry (Heb. 4:15).”
3. Satan and God have interest in our response to suffering. Each designs the same event of suffering to have very different ends. Satan designs suffering to destroy our faith. God designs suffering to purify our faith (257).
4. Suffering can teach us about God (266).
5. Suffering can teach us that Christ is superior and satisfying (266).
6. Suffering is a vehicle used to communicate the gospel. Here Piper discusses what Paul meant in Colossians 1:24 by the phrase, “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” Piper’s take on this is that our suffering visualizes or demonstrates the meaning of Christ’s suffering to the lost (269, 281). This has certainly been demonstrated to be true by those who have suffered relentlessly at the hand of another, yet forgiven them. Piper shares such as story of a young girl named Natasha (275).
7. Suffering is a part of church history and Biblical prophecy (272).
8. Suffering is a natural part of sanctification in the process of salvation (278).
9. Suffering is necessary for evangelism to be successful (280). “the startling implication of this is that the saving purpose of Christ among the nations and in our neighborhoods will not be accomplished unless Christians choose to suffer (280).” What an ironic “choice” of words from a TULIP.
10. Although the blessings of suffering far outweigh the sacrifice, the pain is very real. After all, we do call it suffering (280).
11. Suffering edifies, encourages, and teaches the church when its members suffer for and with Christ (283).
12. There is great personal reward for those who remain faithful in suffering (284).
13. Because of the experience of Christ working in those who suffer, the occasion of suffering serves to deepen faith (284).
14. Suffering brings joy (280ff).
The stories Piper shares from Romania are consistent with what I found in those who suffered there. One pastor shared with me the story of sitting in a dark room, alone, for over 30 hours, having no hope that he would ever see his family again. I asked him what that was like. He said it was, “fantastic.” To me, that is incomprehensible. Yet this pastor experienced what I know only as promises. Jesus works to bring joy to those who suffer for His name’s sake. He chose to endure the cross “for the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2).” In choosing to suffer, Jesus and the faithful choose joy.
Piper’s conclusion of the book is where he began. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him (288). Yet Piper would qualify this now by saying, that Christian Hedonism, the total pleasure we are to find in Christ, cannot be found without faithful suffering for and with Christ. This is why missionaries do what they do, this is why martyrs choose death over life, and this is why the world cannot quench joy, because there is superior satisfaction to be found in Jesus Christ.