God’s Precious Gift of Suffering

Please see teaching notes below (not intended to be grammatically correct).

Review

  • Last week we did the best we could to define suffering without necessarily giving away it’s biblical solution.
  • We wanted to understand what the difference is between circumstances and events that cause mere complaining and grumbling (from which we should refrain), and those earth-shattering events that feel as though God has left us.
  • We looked at Psalm 42 (and also see Psalm 22) where the Psalmist is such anguish of the soul that he believes God has abandoned him.
  • And that’s ultimately how we defined suffering:
    • An anguish of the soul,
    • Something that causes grief and tears,
    • Loss of sleep,
    • A feeling of being cast down and forgotten.
  • We talked about how it’s appropriate that we feel suffering in the heart because that’s the part of us God endeavors to change through it.

Introduction

  • It’s important that we understand all of this because today we’re going to look at the comfort God’s Word offers to the sufferer, and how we can not waste our suffering.
    • That’s a title that came from John Piper in his book on Cancer.
    • We want to recognize suffering in our lives so that we can understand God’s purposes in it.
    • This is also as good a place as any to clarify that this morning we are only talking about suffering for those who are in Christ Jesus.
      • There is no hope in suffering for the unbeliever, other than that which God may choose to use as a platform for the Gospel.
      • Outside of the Gospel, there is no hope. The atheist simply has no answer for why his soul remains in turmoil.
  • (Last week we also talked about the issue with) seeking to minimize our suffering because someone else is suffering more.
    • If we minimize our affliction, we’ll miss the potential blessings and growth that come from it.
    • For the same reason, we also do not want to sedate or numb ourselves to our suffering.
    • I’m going to show you this morning why God wants us to feel and acknowledge our suffering.
  • So, when we help others, who are struggling we need to steer them away from these two mindsets, but we have to do so in a way that isn’t insensitive or unkind.
  • So, the main question we want to answer this morning is this: How do we encourage a fellow brother or sister in their suffering?
  • This morning I want to look at God’s purpose for suffering in our lives, and I want to do that by looking at four different aspects of it.
    • The Call to Suffering
    • The Training Through Suffering
    • The Promise in Suffering
    • The Command to Use Your Suffering
  • But before we start down this path, let’s first look at the world’s response to suffering, and to do that we’ll look at a familiar story:

The Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10.17-31). [RED]

  • Summary
    • The man who approached Jesus lacked something—the recesses of his soul revealed this to him daily.
    • Though he owned much property, he also concluded that there must be more to life.
    • He wanted and needed God but did not understand his current spiritual void.
    • By his own estimation he had lived a righteous life—he believed himself to be a good man.
    • The man insisted to Jesus that he had kept the entire law and yet he also still knew he needed eternal life.
    • The problem is he wanted eternal life on his own terms—he was look for a reward for his good behavior, not a relationship.
    • Jesus exposed his idolatrous heart by challenging him to give up the one thing he didn’t want to live without—his comfort.
  • The rich young ruler didn’t want to give up his comfort and possessions to follow Christ. The world will tell you we should all be rich young rulers, and often times our prayers reflect that.
    • We want to be rich in the sense of possessions we acquire, income, things we want, the financial freedom to be loosed from dependency on God.
    • We want to be young in the sense of good health and vitality.
    • We want to be a ruler as one having the respect of others, prominence, a high paying position, security, etc.
  • At the core of most of our prayers is the freedom to do what we want financially, with good health to enjoy life, while also being respected and envied by others.
  • We pray for greatness and blessing from God, and then in the same breath we pray for relief and protection from the divine procedure that accomplishes this.
  • The world says we should be comfortable all costs, even if it means breaking the law or ethical standards, as long as we can get away with it.
    • Our flesh tries to convince us that we should pursue comfort at all times, no matter the cost.
    • What we’re about to learn this morning is that Scripture tells us something very different.
    • The Bible says that if we want to walk closely with Christ, we must be willing to share in his sufferings.
    • And that brings us to the first tenet, The Call.

The Call to Suffering

  • It’s perplexing that the same one by whose stripes we are healed would also call us to suffer along with him.
    • Why not do away with all suffering for all time at the cross?
    • Why does God use suffering as such a key and pointed instrument in our sanctification?
  • After all, Philippians 1.29 says, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.”
    • Do you know what that word granted means?
    • It’s the Greek word for giving someone a gift. God gifts to us our suffering.
    • That changes how we look at suffering doesn’t it?
  • Paul says just a few chapters later, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
    • Knowing and sharing in his sufferings means that we know him better—not know about him better.
    • Suffering with Christ means that we experience him observationally instead of theoretically.
    • We learn what it was like for him. We understand him more and walk away with a clearer definition and greater appreciation of his love.
    • This could not happen, at least not with any depth, if our lives were always perfect.
  • Paul rejoices in his sufferings in Romans 5.3. He says, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance…”
    • Now, there must be a reason for this because that sounds completely backwards from our typical understanding, right?
    • How many of you would say your initial reaction to anguish of the soul is rejoicing?
    • Why was it Paul’s reaction?
  • Peter’s first epistle is perhaps the most extensive NT book on suffering.
    • The Christians in Peter’s audience were going through unthinkable persecution at the hands of the Emperor, Nero.
    • And yet Peter says the same thing Paul did, “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.”
    • A statement like that to Christians who were facing being dipped in wax and burned alive would sound wildly insensitive…unless there truly was something grander than we can imagine about suffering.
  • The call to us in the midst of suffering is to rejoice in the gift God has given to us.
    • But we have to be careful how we say this to someone don’t we?
    • We can’t ask suffering people to rejoice and then leave it at that. If we do, we have failed to offer hope.
    • We must tell them how to endure their suffering and the reward for those who do.

As we travel down this road of thinking, we must first look at the training that comes through suffering.

  • What is the believers’ responsibility in suffering? How do they rejoice? What does it produce?
  • A great place to start is James 1.
  • James was written to a very immature group of Christians who had recently been saved and had no direction.
    • Their flesh was still wildly dominate over their new righteous nature.
    • Even to the point, if you look in Chapter 4, that they were perhaps killing one another over disagreements. Serious stuff.
    • James wants his audience to see how trials expose their weakness and their utter inability to accomplish anything on their own.
    • Faith in Christ that produces God-given endurance is required.
  • Read 1.2-4, 12 [WHITE]
  • While many passages shows how God works in our suffering, this passage emphasizes the role of the believer—that we should respond with faithful endurance.
  • James derives this word steadfastness from a popular Greek noun which literally means “to bear up under.”
    • This was actually one of Paul’s favorite words and he used it to describe many aspects of the Christian life.
    • It’s important to understand that his word conveys action, not passivity.
    • It’s like standing and holding up a weight that has been placed on our shoulders.
    • One might even say, that at least spiritually, we are bearing our cross.
    • This isn’t a hopeless attitude, but rather an active faith in the midst of trial.
    • For James, endurance was the foremost responsibility of the believer during suffering.
    • James repeatedly asks the question, “Are you currently abiding under whatever trial God has allowed into your life?” If you are not, you need to be. You can’t advance in your relationship with Christ until you do.
  • Most of us do not seek “to abide under” suffering when it comes our way. We take the normal worldly way out and seek to minimize or numb it.
    • Now we’re not saying that if someone has a clear way out of their suffering that they should not take it. We’re saying that we should not seek false refuges to shelter us from the pain (such as drugs/alcohol, sleep, binging on food or television, video games, any way you check out and rely on self instead of God, etc.).
    • One can be in the midst of suffering, have no way out of it, and yet not “abide under” it.
    • One can hold resentment toward God for what He has done, or at least in their estimation of what he has done.
    • Dr. Greg Harris writes, “Steadfast endurance is not for cowards. It involves an active submission of the will and a trusting heart that reach beyond any present difficulties—but it is a prerequisite for God to bestow deeper blessings.”
  • God is the one who produces the endurance—we do not.
    • God specifically and precisely works in our lives to produce the steadfast endurance we would not be able to manufacture by our own efforts.
    • This goes beyond anything we could bring about on our own.
    • And he does this as we properly respond to our trials.
  • So in summary we have two responsibilities in suffering: to submit to God and bear up under in faith, even when we feel like giving up.
    • Don’t seek fleshly escapes but instead look to God who is your refuge.
    • Buckle down in him and see where the storm takes you, for however long he has ordained it to last.

And when the storm has run its course, the Bible offers wonderful promises to those who endured.

  • Paul writes in Romans 8, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
    • There is a promise that if we suffer with Christ we will be glorified with him.
    • Even the worst suffering we can imagine here on earth will seem negligible when we step into the glory that is promised.
    • It will seem but the distant memory of a paper cut compared to the magnitude of our glorified bodies.
  • In fact, Paul makes this exact contrast in 2 Corinthians 4.17. [READ: BLACK]
    • He compares the weight of affliction with the weight of glory.
    • Glory has a weight to it—it’s measurable. Interesting, but another story for another time.
    • Paul’s contrast shows that we’re trading temporal pain for eternal joy, and that the disparity between the two is so great that there is no way to explain the comparison in human terms.
  • Paul says in Romans 8.35 that nothing can separate us from this outcome. No amount of trial or distress will keep us from the glory that awaits.
  • One of the best promises regarding the outcome of suffering is found in 1 Peter 5. Let’s turn there.
    • The key passage we want to look at is 5.10. [READ] But what does it begin with?
    • So we have to go back and figure out what came before this verse.
    • And what we find is a pointed list of imperatives that we’re required to live out before the promise of 5.10 can occur.
    • First, we are to humble ourselves.
      • When we humble ourselves, we abandon all sources of hope except God.
      • Often God uses trials, as we saw in James 1, to bring us to this point—where we can hope in nothing other than him.
      • And the endurance that comes from the trial is an endurance that only he can manufacture in us.
    • Next, he says we are to cast all of our anxieties on Christ.
      • This is an appropriate term for a fisherman to use isn’t it?
      • One way we can know whether or not we are humbling ourselves in the midst of trials is by looking at whether or not we are casting all of our anxieties on the Lord.
      • When we cast our anxieties on God points to a determined attitude or a settled conviction and it shows in how we deal with each episode of anxiety in our lives.
    • He also says we are to be sober and alert, which means keep watch during trials and don’t lose ourselves into mind-numbing habits like media, food, and substances.
      • How many understand the image of the broken-hearted young man or woman sitting in front of the television for days at a time eating ice cream?
      • This is a silly example, but more serious is the man who hates his life so much that he drinks himself into obliviousness every night—just trying to forget.
      • Or the under the radar example of the woman who is driven into a hopeless, depressive state because her husband left her and she chooses to pop pills so she feels no pain.
    • Now let’s look at the four future tense verbs Peter writes to indicate the promises that await the one who endures suffering.
      • That he will restore us means that he will put us back together again in the same way a fisherman mends torn nets.
        • It’s also used of resetting bone.
        • When the time is right, God will intervene and fix what is broken.
        • But this does mean God takes the suffering away. He does not say he will make things as they were before, but rather that he will intervene and rebuild.
        • How God achieves us this is up to him.
      • Next, he says he will confirm us which has the idea of establishing us or strengthening our resolve. He places us firmly.
      • The word for strengthen (our third promise) does not show up anywhere else in the NT so it’s difficult to make comparisons.
        • God is not redundant so it’s safe to assume he meant something different than the previous two words that also denote strength.
        • In fact there’s almost an overkill here of different types of strengthening, as if God wants the sufferer to be absolutely sure his intervention will make the believer stronger than he was before.
      • And finally he says that he will intervene and establish the believer.
        • This is laying a firm foundation which is slightly different than confirm which means to build up that which is wobbly.
        • This has more to do with the foundation on which the believer will rest.
        • The first has more to do with the believers’ faith and endurance where the second has more to do with their experiential knowledge of on whom they stand.
    • God gives us the victory, but he refines us, rebuilds us, and remakes us in the process. Stand firm.

As we close, there is one more major reason that we suffer. We suffer because it allows us to help others.

  • 2 Corinthians 1.3-7 not only speaks of the unshakable comfort from God in our suffering, but also tells us that God uses our suffering to minister to others. Let’s read it.
  • God’s comfort is about more than just making us feel better.
  • This takes us full circle to the purpose of this course, learning how to bear one another’s burdens.
  • If we haven’t ourselves suffered, we can’t offer the same level of comfort that God calls us to give to others.
  • Suffering is the way God equips the church to love one another.
  • And next week we’ll pick up on how we practically do this in the life of someone who is suffering.

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