Suffering and Submission

The One Year® Chronological Bible, NKJV (Tyndale, 2013), December 13

“Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7).

Submission, the despised “S” word, is a training issue. Once our intellect understands the value of submission, faith informs the will to soften its neck and bow its knee in surrender to God. It all comes back to one’s view of God.

James mentions submission in light of interpersonal relationships and suffering.

Internal self-inflicted suffering caused by insubordinate desires – “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask” (4:1-2) Unbowed people covet, fight, and quarrel. Why? They don’t believe that God is at work in their lives or that He can be trusted with their welfare. Un-submitted selfish desires ruin relationships. Submission begins on bended knee before God.

External suffering caused by adversarial circumstances or people – James uses the ancient figure of Job as an example of submission to God during suffering, “You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful” (5:11). Job suffered physically and relationally (he lost all of his children and his possessions, his wife was not compassionate, and friends verbally attacked him) Because we know the end of Job’s story we see the value of submission to God during suffering. And it is submission to God in suffering—not merely submission to suffering itself (which is what happens with a lot of people—their bitterness toward God and suffering takes on an air of martyrdom).

The eleventh chapter of Hebrews describes the addition of anonymous sufferers to the hall of faith, “Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. The wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted and tormented—of whom the world was not worthy . . . that they should not be made perfect apart from us” (Heb. 11:36-40, emphasis added). Their suffering remains incomplete without us! The writer then directs the eyes to Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:2). For those in His Story, suffering is never without redemptive purpose.

Suffering seems futile when one only looks at it through the lens of the temporal; yet God uses the suffering in the temporal realm to accomplish eternal wealth in the spiritual realm. Suffering, for the believer, is “not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).

We think that a compassionate and merciful God should remove suffering. No, He simply converts suffering, for the saint, into something redemptive. In her book, When God Weeps, Joni Eareckson-Tada, a quadriplegic, sums this up best, Suffering is when God “permits what he hates to achieve what he loves”—He uses what He hates in order to accomplish what He loves.

Little did James know when he penned these words that believers would benefit from his wisdom for more than 2,000 years. Perhaps that is what the Lord partially “brought about” through the first-century saints’ submission to God in interpersonal relationships and suffering.

Questions from today’s chronological Bible reading (Jas. 4:1-5:20; 1 Timothy 1:1-2:15):
What does James teach about the submission to God of speech, confidence, wealth and possessions, and prayer?
Paul writes to Timothy, who pastors the church at Ephesus. What problem does Paul address? What instructions does Paul give him regarding his role as pastor?