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Theology of Suffering - Are There Limits to Submission?

As you study this theology of suffering, you may wonder if there are limits to submission. There are, indeed. These limits are summed up in one question. Does my authority require me to violate the Bible? If so, you must reply as Peter did,

But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20, NIV)

But Peter and the apostles replied and said, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29, NIV)
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How to Suffer for Doing Good 6

So, in our theology of suffering we note that the person speaking here is the same Peter that is the author of our passage. So clearly, if a government asks you to deny Christ, you must not do that. If an employer asks you to defraud a client, you cannot do that. And if a husband asks you to acquiesce to wife swapping, you cannot do that. Yes, there are limitations to authority. However, where the Scripture does not clearly speak to the contrary, then you must submit to the God ordained authorities in your life.

So, now you know that you must do good and how to suffer for doing good in your relationships with government, work, marriage, and with all who seek to do you harm. In addition, you know that this is exactly what God requires of you. What are you going to do about it? Continue with your old sinfully habituated patterns of overcoming evil with evil? Or are you ready to become obedient to God and return good for evil?

"I want to obey God," you reply, "but I don't have any idea how I could do these things. They simply are not 'me'."

No, they are not 'you.'

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They are not 'you,' because you have practiced sinful responses to the point that now you act the way you do unconsciously, automatically, comfortably, and skillfully. In other words, you have habituated yourself to sinfully respond to the suffering you experience.

A theology of suffering demands change. How do you change that? Remember Peter's introductory comments on our passage?

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. (I Peter 2:11-12, NASB95)

As a Christian this is what you must do. You must abstain from fleshly lusts, you must keep your behavior excellent, and you must do good deeds that your life might glorify God.

To do that, you must now begin to practice godly responses to evil in the place of ungodly responses to evil. This will not be easy. But what God calls you to do, He empowers you to do. I Timothy 4:7 is essential at this point; here you read "...train yourself to be godly". This word 'train' comes from a Greek word that means train, discipline, or exercise. Our word gymnasium ultimately comes from it. Here is the bottom line: disciplined effort is the necessary element to get you from where you are to the godly habits that God wants you to possess.

"Okay, I am willing to put that godly effort into becoming what God wants of me. What next?"

A theology of suffering demands a plan. You must have a plan to do good. Here is a part of your plan. Develop a resource list of 100 ways that you can 'do good' to your wife, husband, boss or even government and its bureaucratic staff. Be specific in your list. Do not list any generalities like "be more considerate of my husband.” Instead, list 10 examples of what "be more considerate" looks like. For instance a wife might put on her list “Cook a good supper for my husband every day.” Or a Christian dealing with a surly bureaucratic staff might put on his list “Radiate a pleasant smile to every person in the office when I go there for business.” Continue until you have completed the assignment.

Next, using a daily planner and this resource list, record in the daily planner every day 3 to 8 ways you actually do good. Be accountable to the daily planner. If you are not filling it out daily, you are not "doing good" to that person. Every time you perform one of the acts from this resource list, put a hash mark next to that act in the margin of your resource list. The hash marks will not only tell you what you are doing, but more importantly, what you are not doing. This resource list represents a lot of hard work and good ideas. If hash marks are not appearing in the margin, then you are failing to do that good thing from your list. Don't fail. Instead, make a determined effort to do all items on that list, and do them often. Do this assignment for a minimum of six weeks. After six weeks you will have made a significant step in habitually suffering for doing good. Start today.

"What if my efforts to do good only result in mockery or being taken advantage of, to a greater degree than ever?"

So, in our theology of suffering we learn that you are to continue to do good and to suffer for doing so, if need be, as Christ did. But, you must not stop! Your purpose in doing good is to obey and honor Christ in these actions, not to manipulate someone else to act in ways that make your life more pleasant. What you are doing here is not manipulation; it is obedience.

A Christian theology of suffering makes serious demands on the child of God.