Study Guide: The Gospel of Suffering

Sunday August 1, 2010 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

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.

Extended Summary:

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.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Read each of the supporting texts. What stood out to you most from this message and the supporting texts?
  2. What are some of the first order pleasures you most enjoy? Share these with one another. What are some first order pleasures that occur in your group life together?
  3. What are some of the second order pleasures you have successfully pursued in your life? Share these with one another. What are some second order pleasures that your group has pursued together?
  4. What second order pleasures is your group aiming at in the future? What are you willing to sacrifice to gain those second order pleasures?