Sacrificial Suffering vs Personal Suffering

Reading the title of this blog you might be asking yourself, “what the heck is he talking about it?” In the last three blogs I’ve been looking closely at the subject of suffering, not only in the Bible but in my own personal life and I’ve learned there are many types of suffering but it really boils down to two distinct types of suffering; one, where you suffer for another’s sake and two, where you suffer on your own.

A simple explanation might be if you hit your thumb with a hammer, you suffer. Not for anyone else, you just plain suffer because you have poor aim, you were distracted or whatever. However, if a hammer was falling from a second story and was going to hit your friend in the head, but you stepped underneath it, knowing you were going to suffer but wanted to save your friend from this certain demise, now you’re suffering for someone else’s sake. You suffer, so they don’t have to. A sacrificial suffering. Someone was going to have to pay the price for the falling hammer and you stepped in and voluntarily accepted the certain pain, suffering and resulting sacrifice.

Now I’d like to point out, quite emphatically, that suffering is too complex, too relative to the sufferer, to be so simply put. There are too many variables to every situation with only one constant; suffering.

Let’s take the simple “falling hammer” example. What’s the story behind the hammer? What’s the story behind the potential innocent victim it was going to hit or the man who stepped in? Was the falling hammer intentional? Let’s say the man who stepped in to save the innocent carpenter from the falling hammer had planned, along with the help of the man who dropped the hammer, to kill the innocent carpenter. Let’s say at the last minute, the sacrificial man stepped in because he decided at the last moment, the timing wasn’t right or he simply changed his mind about killing his friend. Now, the man who stepped in would still appear, to an outsider, as a hero and the innocent carpenter would feel indebted to the sacrificial man who had stepped in. The only one that would ever know the true motives in this scenario, outside of those planning it, would be God.

I believe there are many situations like this throughout all of our lives where sacrificial suffering can be contaminated with our own selfish motives; no matter how small those motives may appear to us. We need to be very conscious of our own motivations in doing anything for God’s Kingdom. To redeem our sufferings, we must be pure in heart, pure in motivations, and love God. Otherwise, it’s just showboating.

When we step up, what are our motivations? A good indicator of contaminated motives would be how many people you were hoping saw you, or heard about your “good deeds” or “good intentions”. If you’re ringing the bell as you drop a donation in the cup then you might as well leave it in your pocket. This is a tough call for ourselves. It’s easy to convince ourselves that we’re something we’re not. We have to be ferociously honest with ourselves about our intentions in doing anything for anyone else. The “you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours” is not sacrificial suffering. It may appear to be to others, but only you can see your own motivations. Only you.

Another way to identify our motives is by looking at the cost to ourselves for our sacrifice. Is there a cost to me outside my own gainful purposes? Here’s an example that might help bring this point home. Let’s say there was a group of soldiers in a large foxhole and a grenade was thrown into the center. One soldier doesn’t hesitate and jumps on top of it to absorb the full impact of the explosion, saving the lives of all the other soldiers and sacrificing himself. Now, let’s say the soldier that jumped on the grenade had decided that day that he was going to take his own life by charging into battle. He’d been depressed, his girlfriend had left him and he was under investigation for a crime by the military. To everyone there, it would have appeared to be the ultimate sacrifice. Now, switch the savior who jumped on the grenade with a guy who had a wife at home who had just given birth to a baby boy. He’d been promised a prestigious military career with, after leaving the military, a lucrative private sector job. Now he saw the grenade, immediately went to his training and his sense of duty and love for his fellow soldiers and without hesitation, jumped on the grenade. Same sacrifice, much different motives and backgrounds. So, who made the genuine sacrifice?a cat looking in a mirror at a lion

My point is, not to make cut-and-dry boundaries but, to point out that sacrificial suffering is far too complex and relative to each individual to make judgments on, either way. The only person who knows if they are sacrificially suffering is the one suffering, and God. We must all constantly examine our motivations and try to keep them pure, clean, and in God’s image. The Bible gives us examples to follow.

Jesus showed us true sacrificial suffering. He modeled it for us. His death on the cross was executed amongst the very people who hated Him the most and, not coincidentally, were the most ignorant of why He was dying on the cross. The very people that claimed to understand God the most, knew the least. We have the Bible to show us why. We have the advantage of history, the prophets, the wisdom of the ages and the Bible to tell us why Christ had to suffer. Of course, I’m not defending the Pharisees for they had the Tora and the prophets to tell them who Christ was. They were the most learned of their times. They knew. But they acted as though they were being faithful to God in order to hide their true motivations. We must be careful not to follow their example.

John MacArthur said this on morality and being perfectly honest with ourselves;

“Jesus had little trouble reaching the harlots, the thieves, robbers, criminals, outcasts and sinners of society, including the tax collectors and the extortionists, but he had an almost impossible time reaching the religious, self-righteous, moral people who were under the illusion and self-deception that because of their goodness, everything was okay between them and God. They recognized no sin, so they needed no savior. That is always the danger of morality. Morality creates an illusion of safety when in fact the person who is moral may be in the greatest danger of all.”

There are many references to true sacrificial suffering in the Bible.

Hebrews 2:9 – But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because He suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.

Hebrews 13:12 – And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through His own blood.

James 5:10 – Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

Paul also tells us how we should view suffering for God’s Kingdom in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 – “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong”

The Bible makes it clear to us that suffering is a part of everyday life and a tool to develop our character. It also comes with the territory of Christian life in furthering God’s Kingdom. Only we know what our true motivations are in suffering. The biggest hurdle for some of us is to be honest with ourselves. Be honest when an opportunity to redeem your suffering appears before you, how do you handle it?

Epictetus was a Greek Philosopher that was born into slavery in A.D. 50 and died at age 85. He said; “Circumstances don’t make the man, they only reveal him to himself.”

How true it is.

God uses troubles and trials to show us the strength of our faith. Trials reveal to us who we really are and what is important to us. Trials can show us the difference between worldly things versus what’s going to be eternal. Trials can help us to rely on God more, bring us closer to Him, humble us. These hardships in life can also help us to help others get through it and help us to bring others to God. It’s all a choice. We can’t choose if we are to suffer but we can choose how we are to suffer.