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The Gospel of Suffering

• Greg Boyd

Hebrews 5:8-9 says that Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered” and “was made perfect”. If this was necessary for Jesus then followers of Jesus should expect the same.

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When Jesus was praying in Luke 22:39-45 it is clear that he desired relief from his suffering but he was also willing to endure it if it was God’s will. From this prayer we can see that sometimes God’s will is to use the pain and suffering we endure to benefit ourselves and/or others. In fact, Hebrews 5:7-9 indicates that Jesus “learned obedience through suffering” and was “made perfect” through it. As followers of Christ, we should expect the same to be true for us.

Suffering is something that most of us prefer to avoid if at all possible! To challenge this, Greg talked a bit about pleasure. He made a distinction between first order and second order pleasures. First order pleasures are those we experience immediately like good food, warm sunshine, exhilarating experiences and so forth. Second order pleasures are those that require delayed gratification, discipline, sacrifice, learning and other intermediate efforts to accomplish. Greg argued that these are the greatest pleasures. Usually we have to sacrifice first order pleasures to gain second order pleasures. Greg used his job as a preaching pastor as an example of a second order pleasure. There’s nothing he’d rather do than study and communicate in the way that he does, but it required lots of hard work to get to the point where this could be a viable option for him. Years of classes, stress, reading books he’d rather not, etc. But in the end, the joy of writing and preaching makes it worth all of the sacrifices.

Sometimes the suffering we face is a necessary part of a plan to gain a second order pleasure (training for a marathon, for example). But sometimes we fall victim to circumstances beyond our control and experience pain as a result. Either way, we are faced with a choice about how we will relate to that pain. Basically there are two options: cope with it in our own way, or give it over to God to shape us into a more godly person. When we cope with it on our own it often results in running away from pain, medicating it, suppressing it, ignoring it, etc. but if we give it over to God, God will use it for our benefit and for the benefit of those around us (Romans 8:28).

It comes down to how we “frame” our pain. If we frame it as altogether bad we’ll run from it, medicate it, etc. but if we frame it as having a positive role to play in our lives because God is at work in it we can embrace it, learn from it and grow.

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Topics: Discipleship, Pain & Suffering, Sacrifice

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Focus Scripture:

  • Luke 22:39-45

    Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

    When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow.

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9 thoughts on “The Gospel of Suffering

  1. Marsha McCain says:

    Great Message,

    Just what I needed to hear!

  2. Dave Johnson says:

    I appreciated your message. I was thinking about some people who are in the midst of suffering and hopefully they will be able to see God through their suffering and be transformed by it. The guys at the Salvation Army really appreciated hearing it.

  3. Teresa says:

    Hebrews 12:2:3

    “Jesus didn’t just do it for us… he did it as an example for us…. of what it means to live under the reign of God” GB


    Praise God.

  4. justin says:

    One criticism which I’ve heard of mega churches in general is that they offer sermons which are more like psychological self-help seminars than theological or exegetical works. I don’t want to criticize Greg, but during this sermon I couldn’t help but wonder if the service was an awful lot like a big group therapy session.

    When you boil down his sermon, he just said pain (though bad) is often a part of getting really good things like good relationships, and the gospel one of these sorts of good things and not like ice cream which you get to enjoy right away without any pain. I mean… should that message really be stretched into 25 minutes? I don’t know. I hope I don’t come off as condescending or mean. I really liked the service; I just had questions afterwards.

  5. Scott Boren says:

    I can see where someone could view this sermon in this way. I know that different people experience sermons in different ways. I’m sorry that this one did not speak to you as it did for many others.

    We don’t have any intention of being psychological and avoid theology and exegesis. I took this sermon differently and walked away thinking that it had some really good theology. Admittedly it was of a different sort but we never intend to create self-help seminars. We will consider your feedback so that we make sure we are not communicating such in the future

  6. Michael Berneche says:

    This Is One of the Most Powerfully Real messages that I’ve had the priviledge to Hear at WoodlandHills….
    Pastor Boyd was so right on with his analogies and comparisons, almost like he knew exactly what I have been goin thru?
    I am Blessed to be apart of the Ministry at Woodland Hills….
    Thank You All So Much for Speaking, Preaching and Teaching the Truth!

  7. Brendan Hayward says:


    Firstly, if there is one mega church that can not possibly be accused of lacking theological/exegetical substance, it is WH. Check out some of their Q&A sessions, or indeed any average sunday service to see what I mean. Maybe you just got the rare message that is light on theology.

    Second, the principle of sacrifice and dealing with suffering rather than just avoiding it, is very central to the life of a christian. We are called to lay down our life for Jesus (sacrifice), and for others. We are told to ‘rejoice when you suffer all kinds of trial…that your character may be complete,’ James 1.

    So this isn’t a self-help message at all, but an exposition of a core aspect of life as Jesus calls us to live it, and one which is all too rare in the western church today.

  8. neil says:

    Hey Justin, you were not alone in your feelings here. I also came away with like thoughts and I felt you said what was on your heart respectfully. I kept waiting for the sermon to get around to discussing the title, but it never did. It seemed heavy on the self-help to me too. Thanks for your honesty.

    When I had seen the title on my Ipod I was pretty fired up to listen. I had studied Soren Kierkegaards’ “The Gospel of Sufferings” years ago and was immensely challenged by it. Simply one of the most incredible discourses I’ve read on the topic and personally God used it to continue to change my life- though that doesn’t mean He’ll use it to move in yours. If you hunt around on some online book sellers I’m sure you can find a copy. I think I was comparing this discourse to Gregs’ sermon, which isn’t fair, but I was really hoping to hear some deeper substance stuff in the sermon. Didn’t happen. Still, Greg does a fine job.

    Scott- thanks for your respectful comment, and very nice job on your sermon on prayer. Thanks for sharing some of your life.


  9. toby says:

    sometimes Christianity is about theology, and sometimes it’s about real life. If I had one complaint about the churches I grew up in, it’s that there was next to no real life “this is what following Jesus looks like in this situation” type content. I have been in church my entire life, and feel like I am only recently beginning to understand the practical applications of any of it.

    As someone who has recently suffered a tragic and sudden loss, I have been struggling trying to find joy and peace in my new circumstances, and this message was one of tremendous hope and benefit to me. I listened to the podcast repeatedly the week it came out, and was very happy to find the link to the video here today so I can keep reminding myself of what was said.

    Thank you Greg and WH team for sharing this message, may God bless you all. I’ll be listening via podcast every week 🙂

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