Voluntary & Involuntary Suffering

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings…

Philippians 3:10

If we want to know the power of the resurrection of Christ then we must chose to participate in His sufferings. This means that to the extent that we are willing to voluntarily suffer, is the extent to which we’ll operate in power and authority in that area of our life. This is a Kingdom principle.

When we empathize with and serve people, we will often find ourselves suffering with them in different ways. This is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we fast and contend in prayer for a breakthrough, this is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we sacrifice for others, this is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we stand for truth in the face of people mocking and slandering us, this is a kind of voluntary suffering. When we participate in the sufferings of Christ in this way, we will find that our ministry and our prayers will carry more resurrection power with them.

It’s not that we are “paying the price” for greater power. It’s that Jesus already paid the price on the cross so that sons and daughters of the Kingdom would be able to operate in greater resurrection power. Romans 8:11 says, “…the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you…” Jesus already paid the price, so our job is to identify with Him in His sufferings. The result is resurrection power.

Voluntary suffering is different than involuntary suffering. In this world full of sin and brokenness, we will automatically face involuntary suffering (accidents, illnesses, financial issues, relational issues, hardship, etc). Involuntary suffering is useful too but just in a different way. While voluntary suffering produces power, involuntary suffering produces perseverance, character, and hope. Romans 5:3-4 says, “…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

James put the same idea this way:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 

James 1:2-4

So one way to look at it is that while voluntary suffering empowers the gifts of the Spirit, involuntary suffering (handled well) empowers the fruit of the Spirit. Voluntary suffering God uses to make us more effective. Involuntary suffering God uses to make us more solid.

Healing Brings Praise

Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.

Matthew 15:29-31

Physical healing naturally brings praise to God. Notice that even though Jesus likely healed hundreds of people that day, and some with extremely severe illnesses, the crowd instinctively knew to praise God for the healings. They knew a man could not heal unless God was working through him.

People today get so worried that if someone has gifts of healings (one of the gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12:9) that all the credit will go to the person instead of God. But this is just not true. I have seen it time and again, that when someone experiences healing, the most natural thing in the world is to give glory and praise to God alone. We exaggerate our fear that a person will take the credit for the healing and it keeps us from engaging in more healing prayer in the church.

Through Jesus, the crowds “saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing.” This is what people should be seeing in the Church, the Body of Christ on the earth. We are His hands and feet in the world. We are His ambassadors. “…In this world we are like Jesus“(1 John 4:17). We are called to pick up the mission and ministry of Jesus and continue it today. As more and more people in the Church pray for healing and see people get healed, more and more praise goes to the Father for His goodness and faithfulness.

This is who we are called to be as the Church, ushering in the Kingdom of God on earth. We need more people pursuing the supernatural gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12, including gifts of healings (in the Greek both the word “gifts” and “healings” are plural). It needs to become commonplace for people to walk into church sick and walk out healed. Just as a nutrition plan has become a new addition to many people’s treatment plan for their illness, we need a new normal where people add regular healing prayer to their treatment plan.

How are you going to pursue more healing prayer in your life with Christ?

If you’re looking for a place to start, this book can help: Power to Heal by Randy Clark

Gracelets

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 4:8-11

We who are followers of Jesus have been given the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit has in turn given us gifts. The word used in the Greek for “gifts” is simply the word for grace (charis) with a suffix on the end (either -ma or the plural form -mata). One way to translated the word gift (charisma) is “grace-enablement” or “gracelet.” Each gift is a little droplet of the grace of God pouring through the Holy Spirit in us. Each gift is the grace of God in a different form.

The purpose of these gifts is clear–to serve others. They aren’t given to us to serve ourselves or our own glory. They are meant to give glory to God as we serve others. They are divine enablements that empower us to built others up. They are gracelets that operate in our lives so that we can love others well. We are to steward these gifts, knowing that they didn’t originate in us but came from the Holy Spirit. They are things we try to steward well as a way of honoring the Source from which they came. The whole purpose of having and using these gifts is that “in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.

To not use the gifts we’ve been given and to not grow in the gifts we’ve used is just as dishonoring to God as misusing the gifts of the Spirit. We all are wary of gifted people who misuse their gift in a way that is selfish and destructive. But are we as wary of those who never use the gifts they’ve been given? Are we as wary of those who have the seedling form of a gift but never allow it to grow through the use and development of that gift? Both misuse and un-use of the gifts of the Spirit are damaging to the Body of Christ.

We can’t be so afraid of misuse that we scare people into never using and developing their gifts. Living in this kind of fear paralyzes the Church. We need healthy risk-taking and discerning wisdom that allows room for mistakes and yet creates an environment of growth for the gifts. This is the only way gifts can flourish and mature into health.

Average Christians

Notice how the writer of Hebrews describes average followers of Jesus. He describes them as people who have…

…been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age…

Hebrews 6:4-5

So here is what the writer of Hebrews expects from the average believer:

  1. They’ve been enlightened. They think differently now. They have set their minds on things above. They have experienced a renewal of the mind.
  2. They’ve tasted the heavenly gift. This is a reference to the Holy Spirit, the Kingdom of God, and salvation. In other words, they have the Holy Spirit and have experienced salvation.
  3. They’ve shared in or have partaken in the Holy Spirit. So, beyond just having the Holy Spirit, they’ve partnered with the Spirit. They are actively engaging with the Spirit and with the gifts of the Spirit.
  4. They’ve tasted the goodness of the word of God. They are convinced that God is good and that God’s word is good. They have been regularly and profoundly impacted by the word of God. They trust the word of God.
  5. They’ve tasted the powers of the coming age. The New Testament envisions two ages: 1) “this age” (the one we are in now, human history as we know it) and 2) “the age to come” (the point at which eternity begins, there is a new heaven and new earth, God dwells with humanity and Jesus brings the fullness of the Kingdom of God). Through the Presence and power of the Holy Spirit we get to experience powers that exist in the coming age, but we get to experience them right now! This is part of what it means for the Spirit to be a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. This is the power Jesus told His disciples to wait for in Jerusalem (Luke 24:49).

As we look at this list, is this what the average believer looks like today? Is this what the American church is full of? If not, we need a new standard!

Into Flame

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 

2 Timothy 1:6

This one sentence from Paul to Timothy is packed with so much truth.

Timothy has a gift, a charisma, of God. We know from 1 Corinthians 12:11 that it is the Holy Spirit who distributes the gifts to His people, “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines”(1 Cor 12:11).

Yet, while we know the gift came from the Spirit of God, we learn here that it came through Paul. Apparently, Paul laid his hands on Timothy and prayed for the Spirit to release gifting to Timothy. And what is even more striking is that the Holy Spirit did it. This ability to release an increase of the power of the Spirit or an increase of the gifts of the Spirit is called impartation. Impartation started in the Old Testament with Moses and Joshua:

Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses.

Deuteronomy 34:9

We also see impartation between Moses and the elders who were to help Moses lead in the desert. God told Moses He would take some of the power of the Spirit that was on Moses and give it to the elders:

I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone.

Numbers 11:17

Yet, even with Paul imparting gifts to Timothy through the laying on of hands, Timothy still had a responsibility. Timothy was required to “fan into flame” the gift of God. In the Greek, that phrase is one compound word. The Greek word combines the prefix that means “again” and the words meaning “living thing” and “fire.” Literally, this compound Greek word means “to make the fire alive again.”

Fire is often a prophetic symbol of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. Though Timothy was given a gift, he couldn’t remain complacent. He had to fan it into flame. He had to use his gift, grow in his gift, and tend to it as a priest would tend to the fire on the altar of the Temple.

The fire on the altar must be kept burning; it must not go out. Every morning the priest is to add firewood and arrange the burnt offering on the fire and burn the fat of the fellowship offerings on it. The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out.

Leviticus 6:12-13

Our lives are the living sacrifices on the altar and we must keep the fire burning. We must fan into flame the gifts of the Spirit in our lives so that our gifts are a continual offering to the Lord.

Fruits and Gifts of the Kingdom

Every fruit of the Kingdom of God can either be cultivated as a fruit or it can be imparted, given as a gift. When it is cultivated, it lasts. When it is imparted, it is experienced right in the moment but doesn’t always last. Let me explain.

Paul writes to the Ephesians:

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 

Ephesians 5:8-11

So the “fruit of light” is “goodness, righteousness and truth.” We know from Galatians 5:22-23 that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” And we know from Romans 14:17 that, “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” In other words, things of the Kingdom of God (like peace, joy, truth, goodness and righteousness) are things that grow in us by the Spirit as they are cultivated. They increase gradually over time as we walk in the Spirit and in obedience.

Yet, there is another side to each of these fruits. Take “righteousness” for example. We know that not only is it a fruit that grows in us but that it was also a gift given to us. Theologians say that the righteousness of Christ was “imputed” to us. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” There was an exchange on the cross. We received the righteousness of Christ as a gift and He became our sin. Romans 5:17 calls what Jesus did for us by forgiving us and making us holy “the gift of righteousness.”

So righteousness first came to us, imparted to us, as a gift when we received salvation. Now, because of the Holy Spirit, righteousness grows in us as a fruit. And I believe all the fruits of the Kingdom can do this. They can both grow in us as a fruit and be imparted to us as a gift.

Take “peace,” for example. Peace is listed as a fruit of the Spirit, a fruit of the Kingdom. Yet we also see Jesus release it, impart it, as a gift. In John 14:27, Jesus said to His disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” Then again when Jesus appeared to the disciples in the upper room after the resurrection, He imparts His peace to them (John 20:19-21).

I have firsthand experience being in situations where I was praying with someone, and either I or the person I was praying with released, through the Holy Spirit, something to the person we were praying for. I’ve seen peace released to a person and watched them physically feel peace fill their body. I’ve seen joy released to a person who was depressed and watched them erupt in laughter for the next 10 minutes, only to tell us later that they haven’t laughed like that in years. I’ve seen love released to a person and watched them break down in tears as they got overwhelmed with the love of the Father.

I can’t say that I know how it all works; but I’ve seen it enough to believe that, somehow, each fruit can grow in us as we cultivate it or can be imparted to us as a gift. As is the case of any gift, it doesn’t seem to last as long as a cultivated fruit tree that continues to produce good fruit year after year. Or maybe a better way of saying it is that when these fruits come as imparted gifts, they come as seeds that must be cultivated if we want them to stay long-term.

Another way of saying it is that when these fruits come as imparted gifts, they give us just a taste of the Kingdom, revealing who we really are and what we really have in Christ–what’s available to us if we’d be willing to cultivate it.

Grace of Giving

There is this interesting tension in Scripture where we are encouraged to pursue, be zealous for, and excel in something that is categorized as a “grace.” 

The word grace in Greek is “charis.” When Paul talks about the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12 & 14 the word translated as “gift” is “charis-ma.” The word translated as “gifts” is “charis-mata” the plural form. It’s simply the word grace with a suffix. One could just as easily translate the word “gracelet” or “grace-outworking” instead of “gift.” 

So it’s clear that gifts of the Spirit are not earned. They are pure grace. They are droplets of grace working in our lives. And we know it is the Spirit who “distributes them to each one, just as he determines”(1 Corinthians 12:11). 

But then Paul turns right around and says “eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit”(1 Corinthians 14:1). He continues by saying, “Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church”(1 Corinthians 14:12). 

So, though these gifts are droplets of pure grace, we are still commanded to eagerly desire them, pursue them, and try to excel in them. We don’t sit around passively. We go after them. 

Paul echoes this same tension when, later, he sends a letter to tell the Corinthians, “But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving”(2 Corinthians 8:7). 

He calls financial giving a “grace” (a “charis” in the Greek). Once again we see that receiving a grace from God does not mean we operate without agency. Just like any other gift, or grace, we must engage in it for it to mature. We must practice it for it to develop. Like any other grace, the way to grow in it is to be a good steward of it. The more we engage in and practice giving generously of our finances, the more we mature and grow in the grace of giving. 

We don’t sit around passively and say something selfish like, “Well, I just don’t have the gift/grace of giving.” No, what we lack is the willingness to give. If we start giving sacrificially of our finances, we will find that grace pours down like rain.