I think @Ladymanz has given a very good case for this subject. Suffering is indeed a work of sanctification in our lives, but I think it is more than that as well. But when we look at the verses mentioned by Abby, such as Hebrews 11, we see the dedication to the truth that many people have had for Christ. Christ told His disciples plainly in John 15:18-20, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as it’s own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.”
Jesus told His disciples very clearly what they could expect for loving and following Him. He told them that the world would hate them. At this time in history, this was not simply a call to expect to be disliked or spit on, the disciples in that moment would have understood that Jesus was telling them they would be killed for what they believed. The culture then was pagan in many aspects and, despite some protection that Jews were afforded for a time by the Roman Empire, anyone who did not conform to pagan beliefs, was often treated very horribly and killed very violently. So, the disciples knew that Jesus was telling them that they would suffer, and die, for Him. Today, we apply this verse to ourselves and it often does not mean we should expect death. We may lose friends, or be called names, or looked at with disdain, but death is not something we typically experience as Christians in countries such as the United States. Still, even today, there are many who go to their deaths in countries like the Middle East, because they are committed to Christ.
To get to the question that you asked: For the believer, is adversity the reward in itself or, the means to an end? In other words, does suffering have to have a purpose?
I want to look at a few verses real quick before we answer that. The first is from James 1:2-3, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”
Acts 5:41, “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”
1 Peter 4:12-16, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evildoer, or a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him glorify God in that name.”
What we see from these verses is a few different perspectives on suffering, yet in all, we really see very little difference in the attitude we are to have. We should “count it all joy,” and “rejoice,” and “rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.” Trials are never described as enjoyable, and it never says that we should enjoy suffering, but what we see here in these verses is that we should see through the suffering to the good work being done by Christ, and for Christ. Is suffering the reward in itself? I would not say so, but the focus of our minds in suffering is one of the rewards. If our minds are turned to Christ, despite the worst of circumstances, that in itself is a reward. That we are being refined and trained to trust in Him in all situations. Anyone can trust God in the good times, but when the darkness falls over you, do you grope for your own way through? Or do you feel for His hand, so that He may guide you?
In other words, can you trust God with the lights off? Can you recognize that even when you stumble against something in the dark, that He still has your hand? It may hurt, Christ never promises that we will go through our lives in perfect comfort, but He promises that He will always be there, and that is part of the reward of suffering, our learning that we can trust Him no matter what. Even when we can’t seem to understand why these things are happening at times.
So yes, suffering is a means to, not simply an end, but to the ends. Suffering produces in us the character of Christ, that is, it perfects us and sanctifies us, and helps us to grow, if we will only trust in Him and allow Him to work within us. No one ever grows when they are in their comfort zone.
However, I believe that our suffering holds an entire other purpose that we often forget to consider. In the verses from 1 Peter 4 we see that we should “rejoice and be glad when HIS glory is revealed. So, I see suffering as holding a twofold purpose. One: it produces within us the character that we are to have as Christians, it builds our strength to be able to serve Him, and it produces within us perseverance. The second, and I believe the most important purpose: It glorifies God.
Thomas Watson put it this way, “We glorify God in a high degree when we suffer for God, and seal the gospel with our blood.
John 21: I8, I9. ‘When thou shalt be old, another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not: this spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God.’
God’s glory shines in the ashes of his martyrs. Isa 24: I5. ‘Wherefore glorify the Lord in the fires.’ Micaiah was in the prison, Isaiah was sawn asunder, Paul beheaded, Luke hanged on an olive tree; thus did they, by their death, glorify God. The sufferings of the primitive saints did honour to God, and made the gospel famous in the world.
What would others say? See what a good master they serve, and how they love him, that they will venture the loss of all in his service. The glory of Christ’s kingdom does not stand in worldly pomp and grandeur, as other kings’; but it is seen in the cheerful sufferings of his people. The saints of old ‘loved not their lives to the death.’ Rev 12: 2: They embraced torments as so many crowns.
God grant we may thus glorify him, if he calls us to it. Many pray, ‘Let this cup pass away,’ but few, ‘Thy will be done.’
Thomas Watson - A Body of Divinity
The most important reward of our suffering, it’s most wonderful and glorious purpose, is to bring glory to God. We are to be joyful in our sufferings because we do grow from them, but more importantly, when people see us joyously going through our trials and giving glory to God, it turns their minds and thoughts to Him too. It brings Him glory. That should be our ultimate purpose in all things, is to glorify our King and to serve Him by declaring His glory through all of our lives.
Suffering is a means to ends, and it most definitely has a purpose. Sometimes we cannot see the purpose, and we may be hurt or frustrated, but if we trust in Christ, He will bring us through. He has begun a good work in us, and He will bring it to completion(Philippians 1:6). Let us focus on the most important aspect in all trials and tribulations, that we would be willing to say to our God, “Thy will be done.”
Soli deo Gloria - To God alone be the Glory
I hope that helps to answer your question Ken. I love the subject here because it is so vital that we understand the truths behind suffering and trials. Thank you for raising this important topic and if you have any other questions please ask them. God bless you and thank you.