What NOT to Say When Friends Are Suffering

By Nikki Dabney

There are three popular verses that many believers misinterpret, and as a result, falsely counsel others and misguide their own hearts. Let’s look at these three verses in context: Jeremiah 29:11, Philippians 4:13, and Romans 8:28.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” – Jeremiah 29:11

Jeremiah 29 is a letter Jeremiah sent to all the Judahites who had gone into exile in Babylon. The Lord instructed the exiles not to let the “prophets” among them deceive them into thinking that the captivity would be short (29:8-9). In fact, the captivity would last 70 years. At the end of that time, the Lord would again intervene in their affairs, fulfill His promise to them, and bring them back to the Promised Land (29:10).

This passage is talking about God’s people as a whole in regard to a long time scale, not our individual circumstances. Seventy years is a lifetime. Some people suffer their entire lives. That is their reality. Some people are sick their entire lives, poor their entire lives, single their entire lives, depressed their entire lives, or persecuted their entire lives. It is foolish to promise that “things will get better.” Each of our lives is a part of God’s beautiful creation and redemption story. He has a plan and a future in store for His People.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13

Paul is writing this letter to the Philippians while he is in prison in Rome. Paul is praising God because being in prison has “served to advance the gospel” (1:12) and will turn out for his deliverance/salvation (1:19).

Paul writes Philippians 4:13 in response to a gift the Philippians sent him. In the verse before, Paul writes, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (4:12).

Paul isn’t saying he can accomplish anything through Christ. Rather, he’s saying he can endure anything through Christ. He isn’t saying we can get an A on a test because of Jesus. He is saying we can endure rejection. We can be content when we don’t get an internship or job we wanted. All of our needs are met in Him.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. – Romans 8:28

In Romans 8, Paul is discussing spiritual maturity. He declares, “We share in His suffering in order that we may also share in His glory” (8:17). Glorification is the final removal of sin from the lives of Christians at the end of time. Again, this is addressing God’s people from an eternal perspective.

Paul is not saying that things will always go well for us. He is saying that our trials and suffering will sanctify us and work for our spiritual good, bringing us closer to Him and making us more like Him.

We have Americanized these verses, ripped them out of context, and stripped them of their true meaning. When we stop expecting a life free from suffering, we can embrace every season of life, proclaim the gospel at all times, and experience His true goodness, love, and faithfulness. “For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” – Psalm 100:5




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