While we are often our own worst enemies by bringing trouble upon ourselves due to something we do, a sin we commit, or a mistake we make, we also experience suffering because of other people. When those we are closely connected with in some way sin, we suffer. They may sin directly against us, or they may sin in a way that indirectly affects us. For example, the sin of a spouse or child affects us directly as it damages our relationships, and trust, and confidence in them. Sometimes we may suffer indirectly because of the sin of those who have some form of power over us, like an employer, an official of the government, or a policy maker.
Suffering for the sins of others is often what bothers us the most. We cry out about injustice and how it is unfair and violates our rights. One of the most revealing pieces of homework I hand out in counseling has to do with the area of personal rights. Often when a woman completes this assignment, she is amazed at what has been revealed about her rights! This is because so much of what we claim as rights is actually not ours biblically. We can be blind to this because the world is constantly beating the drum of “rights,” or because we refuse to believe that we can be denied anything.
I often wonder if any one of us could stand in the face of the injustice our Christian predecessors suffered. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11 that he was beaten numerous times, and yet he didn’t quit telling everyone about Jesus. If we were beaten just once for the Gospel, could the world withstand our outcry? It’s hard to imagine when we often become upset just for being cut off on the interstate! Yet, Paul did not stop telling people about Christ after the first, the second, or the third beating he had experienced when he wrote this verse. How often do we proclaim the Gospel in the midst of suffering or even after?
While we do suffer as a result of the wrongs done by others, we can also suffer as a result of doing what is right for others! There are times in life when doing the right thing is going to cause us to suffer. The early Christians knew this for they suffered greatly for righteousness’ sake. Paul also suffered for righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:23-28) as he was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, left for dead, and more. It is amazing what he went through for the sake of the gospel! I suspect we only have a glimpse of the kind of suffering he endured.
An example of such a difficult circumstance we deal with is when one person gets saved after marriage. Often there is a complete turnaround in the person who becomes a Christian, and the unbeliever, who does not understand what is happening to their spouse, becomes angry and even hostile. I know of cases where the newly converted person partied regularly, and since coming to Christ, has lost the desire to drink and party. The unbeliever does not understand and simply wants their spouse back.
This same scenario happens when one person is saved out of a religion such as Catholicism or a cult. When all attempts to “reason” with their spouse fall on deaf ears, the usual course of action becomes insults and accusations of being a hypocrite. The more the new believer refuses to respond in kind and seeks to respond biblically, the worse the abuse can become.
Often these marriages and relationships are difficult and full of discord. I have had many women ask me if they should remain married to their unbelieving husbands since the husband persists in carrying on in sinful ways, wanting no part of the Christian life that the wife is now living. They don’t want to go to church, but they will allow the wife to go. Usually they see some value in letting the kids go to Awana or Sunday school but not always. The husband wants his wife to join in, to be their partner again, to return to the former things they both enjoyed. Yet, the wife cannot do it in good conscience, and the husband is left angry and confused. The marriage as they knew it is gone, and there seems to be little left between them.
When I am asked if the believing spouse should stay in the marriage, the only counsel I can give them is what Paul gave in 1 Corinthians 7:10, where Paul instructs them to remain married even if it is to an unbeliever. There is also 1 Peter 3 where men and women married to unbelievers are both instructed in how they may “win” their unsaved spouse to Christ. Often this can take years if it even happens at all, and there is much suffering and adversity along the way.
This is simply one example of how a believer can suffer at the hands of others around them. We were never promised an easy life in this world. In fact, Christ Himself said that we will have trouble in this world, but we can take hope because He has overcome the world (John 16:33). So today, believer, take hope.