The following points came from a message my father taught about the suffering church in Smyrna. Through Smyrna's pain, he explained some of the benefits of suffering. Here are each of his points, with his cross reference, followed by my explanations.
Suffering is preventative
“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.” (2 Corinthians 12:7).
God gave Paul the apostle an incredible vision of heaven. He recounted the vision for the Corinthian church in 2 Corinthians 12. When the vision was over with, Paul had a new physical infirmity of some type. He called it a “thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me.” The church has debated what this ‘thorn’ was, but suffice it to say it caused Paul suffering. Paul explained, however, that this suffering was preventative. It would keep him from conceit. His nagging discomfort would bring him low. I would foster a humility that is beautiful, but which often escapes us.
Could your suffering have this lovely effect upon your heart? Is there a form of sickness or weakness or trial that brings you to a place of lowness? Has some fruitfulness for Christ or revelation from Christ been the cause of pride in your life? Perhaps a bit of pain will be useful to God for bringing you into a lower state. We can never know all we’ve been protected from due to our suffering.
Suffering helps us learn obedience.
“Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8).
Jesus lowered Himself by becoming a man who would die on a cross. This act was one of obedience to the Father. In His humanity, Christ "learned obedience" through suffering. It was painful and challenging, yet He set His face like a rock to do it, to obey.
Could your suffering work the same glorious attribute? Might you become more obedient, more yielded, as a result of your affliction? Perhaps a point of pain came into your life, and all you wanted to do was run. But you understood you shouldn’t (or couldn’t). In that moment of acceptance, your obedience factor increased. You have now been made more able to endure, more able to obey, even when difficult. Anyone can obey when it is enjoyable to do so, but what about the trying types of obedience? Suffering makes us better at that harder brand of obedience.
Suffering deepens our fellowship with Christ.
“That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death...” (Philippians 3:10).
Paul wanted Christ badly. He aspired to a deepened relationship with Jesus. Christ’s power fascinated him, but he also wanted to ‘share His sufferings.’ Suffering provides a level of fellowship and friendship with Christ that cannot be found in the more happy experiences of life. Christ suffered immensely, of course, so when we suffer like Him a little connection with Christ forms.
Could your suffering be building a deeper friendship with Jesus? Perhaps you have found yourself slandered, wrongly accused. Rejoice, for you tasted a bit of Christ’s suffering when He was wrongly accused. Perhaps you have found yourself tired, fatigued by the pressures of life. Consider how He knew levels of exhaustion after days of relentless ministry work. Consider the fatigue brought on by the pressure of the approaching cross. Perhaps you have found yourself weeping over choices loved ones have made. Think of the pain He experienced as He looked upon the brokenness of the world or the betrayal by Judas. In all of these things, He drank the full cup, but your little taste of it offers a new level of fellowship with Jesus.
Suffering increases our reward.
“And if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:17).
“But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:13).
Think of the contrast. Those who have suffered like Paul and Christ will have such joy upon entering into glory. The reward of living a hard life for Christ now will be made all the sweeter because of that same hard life. Suffering along with Jesus today leads to glory later. That glory will produce a joy and gladness unreplicated in this life.
Could your suffering be working for you a more powerful eternal reward and glory? Perhaps the pain of life today, pain that is temporary, will make the joy of His presence richer. Perhaps the pain is His way of allowing the future glory to have all the vibrancy and color you need from it.
Suffering creates empathy in the body of Christ.
“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Corinthians 12:26).
“For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” (2 Corinthians 1:5).
The reality of suffering is that it so often makes us more caring, more comforting. This deepened sense of compassion is not guaranteed. The incorrect processing of pain can lead to bitterness and anger. But when a believer allows the Spirit His work in them they can become more compassionate than before. The comfort they receive from God becomes the comfort they dispense to others.
Could your suffering be shaping you into a better servant of Christ? Perhaps your pain and trial are your school, teaching and training you towards a better and more powerful ministry work. Perhaps you have needed to grow in your patience with and love for another. Maybe suffering is the pathway to such transformation.
Suffering, of course, is not pleasurable in the moment. The joy we are to have isn’t for the pain, but for what the pain might produce. Perhaps these little reminders might strengthen us for the inevitable pains and sufferings life throws our way.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2–4).