12 HOW GOD USES SUFFERING IN OUR LIVES (part 12)
HOW GOD USES SUFFERING IN OUR LIVES
Grace: The Truth that Transforms - Part 12 of 36
In our last session we did an overview of the "Six Benefits of Believing" that are discussed in Romans, chapter 5. Today we will take a closer look at one of those benefits.
PAUL MENTIONS 3 THINGS CHRISTIANS ARE TO REJOICE ABOUT.
I. WE REJOICE IN HOPE BECAUSE WE HAVE PEACE WITH GOD - Romans 5:1-2
1. ______________________________ John 15:15
2. ______________________________ Heb. 2:14-15
3. ______________________________ Eph. 6:11, 16
4. ______________________________ Rom. 8:1
II. WE REJOICE IN SUFFERING - Romans 5:3
Philippians 1;29, 1 Peter 4:12-13
Definition of suffering
Misconceptions about "rejoicing in suffering"
Why can Christians rejoice in suffering? (verse 3a)
3 Things suffering can produce in your of: (vs. 3b)
III. SIX ATTITUDES TOWARD SUFFERING THAT COUNTERACT GOD'S PURPOSE
1. ______________________________ Prov. 17:11, 1 Samuel 15:23
2. ______________________________ Ecclesiastes 2:17
3. ______________________________ 1 Cor. 10:10, Phil.2:14-15, rom. 9;20
4. ______________________________ 1 Peter 5:7, Phil 4:6
5. ______________________________ 2 Tim. 1:7, Isaiah 43:1-2
6. ______________________________ Psalm 69:20
THE SECRET OF "REJOICING IN SUFFERING" - Romans 5:5
FACT: Suffering is an evidence of God's _______________, not His _______________.
HOW GOD USES SUFFERING IN OUR LIVES
Grace: The Truth that Transforms - Part 12 of 36
Review: We looked at the first 2 1/2 chapters and learned the fact that Paul points out that everybody has sinned. We've all made mistakes and we need to be saved -- the respectable person, the religious person, the rebellious person. All of us are in the same boat. It doesn't matter if you're a religious person or not a religious person we've all broken God's laws one way or the other. We need to be saved.
The next couple of chapters we've been looking at how to be saved. It's not by works, religion, doing good, a lot of things people think. But it's by justification by faith.
In chapter 5 he lists the benefits of being a Christian. There are six different benefits of believing. I want us to look at one particular benefit -- How God uses suffering in our lives.
v. 1 "Therefore since we have been justified through faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Therefore -- in light of everything he's said in the previous chapters that we're all sinners and we can all be saved through faith in Christ, "therefore we have peace with God with whom we have gained access to by faith into this grace in which we now stand. We rejoice in the hope and the glory of God. Not only so but we also rejoice in our suffering because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character and character, hope. Hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out His love in our hearts through the Holy Spirit whom He has given us."
The key word in this passage (and in Romans 5) is rejoice. Anytime you see a word that's used over and over you have a pretty good idea that that's the key. Paul says in Romans 5 that there are three things that every Christian ought to rejoice about.
1. v. 2 -- We ought to rejoice in hope. "We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God."
2. v. 3 -- We are to rejoice in our suffering.
3. v. 11 -- We rejoice in God. "...through our Lord Jesus Christ though whom we now have received reconciliation."
These three things actually represent three levels of spiritual maturity. They represent a development of growth in your personal life.
First you learn to rejoice in hope. Next, is to learn to rejoice in suffering. Many Christians never learn how to rejoice in suffering. Finally, ultimate maturity is rejoicing in God Himself. That is the greatest joy. Not from things, or anyone, or anybody but getting your joy actually from the Lord not circumstances.
Stage One is REJOICING IN HOPE. Paul says we are to rejoice in hope because we have peace with God. "Therefore we have been justified through faith and we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." How do you know that you have peace with God? First, what does it mean to have peace with God? It means you're a Christian, a believer -- saved.
Four ways you can know when you have peace with God:
1. You loose your fear of God. You don't see God as the angry judge waiting to stomp on you. John 15:15, Jesus said, "I don't call you servants; I call you my friends." God calls us His friends. You have peace with God when you know that God is your friend and not your enemy, that God is for you and not against you, that God is someone to be loved and not afraid of.
2. You loose your fear of death. You are no longer afraid to die. One of the main reasons people are afraid to die is they don't know what's going to happen to them after they die. And we're always afraid of the unknown. Yet if you know the Lord, you know that the moment you die you'll be going into His presence, to be living with Him forever, in eternity, happy, with no problems or pressures. Hebrews 2:14-15 "Since the children had flesh and blood He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death, that is the devil and free those who all their lives were held in slavery in fear of death. There is a universal fear around the world. People don't like to die. One of the things when you really have peace with God is you don't fear death. I'm not talking about the pain of actually dying but the fear of what's going to happen after you die. You know you're going to be taken care of.
3. You don't panic when the devil suggests doubts. When you have peace with God you don't panic when the devil suggests doubts. Revelation says that Satan is the accuser of the brethren. He loves to accuse people. For the rest of your life the devil is going to suggest doubts. "You did that and you call yourself a Christian? You must not even be a believer because a believer wouldn't do that! What if it's all a bunch of lies?" You never, ever get over all of your doubts. There will always be doubts in your mind. But you learn to cope with them and you don't panic because you don't depend on your feelings, you depend on the facts of Scripture. When you start to have doubts you simply review the facts of Scripture. Then your doubts will have their proper place. You don't depend on your feelings. Eph. 6:11, 16 "Put on the whole armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. In addition to all of this take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one." Arrows of doubt, despair, discouragement. Satan's flinging these arrows at you all the time. But when you take the shield of faith you doubt panic when you doubt. It doesn't mean you won't have doubts but you don't panic.
4. You have confidence before God even though you're imperfect. Romans 8:1 "There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." You can still be a confident Christian even though you don't have it all together, even though you still have hang ups and you're still growing. Even Paul, at the end of his life, said "I don't have it all together." We all have imperfections and areas where we need to grow, but that doesn't mean we can't be a confident Christian. We have peace with God because of Jesus Christ. It's not because of what we do but because of what's already been done. Because our peace is based on what Jesus has done not what I do on a day by day basis. That means that God loves me just as much on the days that I blow it as on the days that I do fairly good. And God loves me just as much on the days that I don't feel close to Him as on the days I do feel close to Him. I don't' depend on my feelings. I'm not intimidated by the devil and I'm not intimidated by my conscious. That is peace with God. You have a clear confidence before the Lord even though you're imperfect.
That's what it means to rejoice in hope. Rejoice that you don't have to be afraid of God, of death, that the devil can't destroy your life, and that you have confidence before God even though you're imperfect. That's what Paul is talking about.
WE REJOICE IN SUFFERING
I want to spend most of tonight on the second rejoicing. That's a little bit harder stage. It's easy to rejoice in hope, but not easy in suffering. v. 3 "Not only this but we also rejoice in our sufferings."
Phil. 1:29 "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him but also to suffer for Him." There are two privileges in the Christian life: believing in Christ and suffering for Christ. How come when I was a brand new Christian somebody only told me about the first part of that verse? The suffering part is also as valid. 1 Peter 4:12-13 "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering as though something strange were happening to you." When you get in a problem, don't panic. Just realize it's normal, nothing strange or unusual when you have problems. I've seen this happen: Somebody becomes a Christian and at first everything goes really smooth in the Christian life. I think God kind of protects baby Christians. When you're a baby Christian it seems everything you pray for you get. Everything goes smoothly at first. But inevitably as you begin to grow a little bit you're going to face it -- the problem. It will be different for every one of us. We'll have to face a trial. The typical reaction for the Christian when they hit their first big whammy is "What happened? God, don't You love me anymore. I must not be a Christian. God must not like me." We think that God promised a rose garden and they've never seen these verses. Paul says, Don't be surprised when these things happen.
v. 13 "But rejoice that you participate in the suffering of Christ so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed." There is a misconception that being a Christian exempts you from problems. It doesn't. There are people who think that everything you pray for you'll get, and every time you're sick you ought to be healed. God is a miracle working God but not everybody gets healed. Why?
v. 19 "So then those who suffer according to God's will commit themselves to their faithful creator and continue to do good." Is suffering sometimes God's will? The Bible says it is. People think that when you get into a problem you must be out of God's will but it says "...those who suffer according to God's will..."
There is a place for suffering in the Christian life. When Paul wrote this to the Romans the Christians were being persecuted by Nero. They were being fed to lions and all kinds of stuff. Suffering is normal and natural in the Christian life.
God has a purpose in our suffering. One of the benefits is that problems take on a new meaning if you're a believer.
Suffering is the will of God in certain instances and it is given to us on behalf of Christ not only to believe but also to suffer -- you're going to have problems. What is suffering?
Romans 5. Suffering -- the Greek word literally means distress. Suffering in the Bible literally means anything that causes distress. When we talk about how God uses suffering in your life we could say how God uses stress in your life, pressure in your life, problems, difficulty in your life. Anything that causes distress can be labeled suffering. There's a wide variety of intensity from a minor irritation to a major catastrophe. The intensity makes no difference. God can use even irritations and even major tragedies to bring good in your life if you understand how he does it.
Paul says we are to rejoice in our suffering.
He doesn't mean faking it. He's not talking about putting on a plastic smile and pretending everything's OK. He's not saying be a Polyanna and deny reality. He's not talking about an artificial happiness. Many people take these verses and think that as a Christian you ought always to be smiling. That's hypocrisy, being a phoney. Jesus never expects you to be a phoney. That's not what rejoicing in suffering means -- that you pretend that everything is OK when it's not, that you wear a phoney smile and fake it.
It doesn't mean enjoying the suffering. Masochism. Some people don't feel they've really been preached at on Sunday unless they've been given a spiritual whipping and told all the things they're doing wrong. [Lady tells a pastor: "That was such a great sermon! It made me feel so bad!] Many don't feel they've really worshipped unless they've been run over by a Biblical bulldozer! A lot of pastors would be glad to do that to you. That's spiritual masochism. Many Christians torture themselves with false guilt and unnatural pain because they think it makes them more spiritual.
The most important word in this verse is "in". We rejoice in our suffering. It does not say we rejoice because of our suffering. It does not say we rejoice for our suffering. It does not say we rejoice that we are suffering. We rejoice in our suffering.
What does that mean? You rejoice knowing there is a purpose behind it. Why can a Christian rejoice in suffering? "Not only this but we also rejoice in our suffering because we know..." Why can a Christian rejoice in suffering? Because we know something other people don't know. We have a perspective other people don't have. We have an understanding that non believers don't understand. We have a different perspective from the world. We rejoice because we know something.
What is it that we know? "...we know that suffering produces..." Suffering accomplishes something. It is productive. It has value. It has meaning, significance, a positive purpose. It's not just meaningless. But for the Christian, suffering produces something.
All three of our kids were born by natural childbirth. I was in the delivery room with Kay for all three babies. I have seen the pained expression of my wife in labor. It was tough to watch her in pain. I have also seen the expression, once the baby was delivered, when her whole expression changes. Because the pain produced something worthwhile!
That's what Paul is talking about here. He's saying, We know there is pain in life. Suffering, trials, problems, distress. But for the Christian it produces something. So we can rejoice in it. We know that it's not just meaningless. There is a purpose behind the pain. It will be all worth while.
What does suffering produce? How does God use suffering in my life? Paul says suffering produces three things:
1. Suffering produces perseverance. The Greek word for perseverance literally means the ability to handle pressure. It means the ability to stay under pressure. Usually we want to get out of pressure, run from it. We want to get on top of it, not under it. Perseverance is the ability to stay under pressure. Today you could use the word patience, endurance, stability. God uses suffering to teach you how to handle pressure, how to hang in there, never give up, keep on keeping on, be consistent.
The opposite of perseverance is panic. You want to bail out, cop out, fall apart. You can either panic or persevere when you're under pressure. Paul says that God's very first purpose of suffering is to teach us how to handle pressure. Remember when Jesus and the disciples are out in a boat on the Sea of Galilee and Jesus goes to sleep in the boat. A big storm comes up and knocks the boat back and forth. Maybe you feel that way, knocked around in life. The disciples panicked. They come to Jesus, shake Him, wake Him up, "Lord, don't You know what's happening? Don't you care?" Those are the two things we always ask God in the storm: Don't You know what's going on -- Don't You see my problem? Don't You care? Those are two common responses to trials. Jesus gets up and says, "Peace, be still!" and it's silent automatically. In Greek that phrase literally means "Sit down and shut up!" You learn endurance through suffering. You become more stable.
Paul's testimony. 2 Corinthians 1:8 "We don't want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardship we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure so that we despaired even of life. Indeed in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead." Even Paul got depressed. He was ready to give up on life. If Paul, the greatest Christian who ever lived next to Jesus Christ, can get depressed I can relate to that. He said, I was pushed so bad I didn't think I could make it! The man who experienced that wrote what we just read -- suffering produces perseverance. Paul learned two things in suffering: he learned about himself and about God. He learned that, in his own ability, he could not handle the stress of life. But he learned in God's ability he could handle the stress of life. Those are two things every Christian has to learn to get to stage two. Until you learn them you're not going to rejoice in suffering.
Romans 5. Suffering produces perseverance. Perseverance produces character. This is a relatively rare term in the New Testament. Paul is the only person who uses this word. It's used seven times in the Bible. It's used to mean two things. Character was used to refer to something that was tested and proven reliable.
When you get luggage they show these American Tourister ads of the gorilla stomping on it, it being thrown out the window, cars running over it. The ad says, "It's been tested so that you know it's solid and reliable." You could say that that luggage has character. Tires on cars, and even cars are tested to prove reliable before they put it on the market.
The other way to use this word is to refer to metal that has been purified by heat and fire. When you heat up a metal the impurities rise to the top. When they're purifying gold or silver they will heat it up real hot and the dross -- the impurities -- rise to the top and they skim it off. Someone asked a silversmith, "How do you know when the silver is pure?" He said, "When I can see my reflection in it." That's the neat thing about the Christian life. You know when a Christian is pure when you can see Christ's reflection in their life. Perseverance produces character.
Hebrews 2:10 is talking about Jesus, "In bringing many sons to glory [bringing many children into the kingdom of God] it was fitting for whom and through whom everything exists should make the author of their salvation [Jesus] perfect through suffering." Jesus Christ was made perfect through suffering. The word "perfect" does not mean sinless. Jesus was already sinless. He never sinned. It means mature, lacking nothing -- character. Jesus was made perfect through suffering. It's the same "perfect" we talk about in character -- character meaning proven reliable. Jesus was proven reliable through suffering. He lived through the temptations and came out OK. He went through the cross. He went through the suffering and was proven reliable through those circumstances.
If that is the way Jesus was made perfect how do you think you're going to be made perfect? What makes you think you're any different? If Jesus was made perfect through suffering, do you think God's going to do differently for you? In James is the same word -- perfect, meaning maturity. James 1:2 "Consider it pure joy my brothers when you face trials of many kinds." This is not a one time lesson in the New Testament, it's all the way through. The Christians response to problems is rejoice! Romans, 1 Peter, James -- three different authors say, consider it joy when you're going through problems. Why? Because you know! You know something about that problem. You know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance -- the same word we just looked at in Romans -- the ability to handle pressure. "Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete not lacking anything." The word mature is the same word used for Jesus in Hebrews -- perfect. You'll be mature, complete. Suffering produces perseverance and perseverance produces character. It makes you a veteran. One thing about veterans is they're stable in crises if they've been through the war and handled it. They have been through a situation. Once you've been through it you can handle another one.
Romans 5. Suffering produces perseverance. Perseverance produces character. Character produces hope. Trials, rather than destroying our hope, are meant to increase our hope. Hope is the diploma you get for passing the test. What is hope? In the New Testament, hope does not mean wishful thinking. It means confidence. In this development period of your life, God says I'm going to use problems in your life to give you the ability to handle pressure and that will make you reliable and a person of character, Christlike character. And when you have this Christlike character you will be confident. Trials will give you more confidence. The first time you have the problem you don't know what to do. The second time you had the problem you handle it a little bit better. The third time... You get confidence because you've been through the situation. When you become a veteran in the crises of life it produces confidence, stability and you become bold from the experiences because you can say from experience, not just from head knowledge, Phil. 4;13 "I can handle all things through Christ who strengthens me." The Bible says that but it's been proven in your life. You're living proof that you can handle all things through Christ who strengthens.
There is only one problem. Suffering does not automatically produce these things in your life. How many of you know people even Christians who have been through the suffering but it didn't produce any character in their lives? No confidence in their lives? No ability to handle pressure in their lives? In fact, instead of that, they became bitter and angry at God and may have even given up on their faith when they went through trials. It's not automatic.
This process only works for Christians and it only works for Christians who are cooperating with God. What makes the difference whether that problem, that distress in my life is beneficial, produces character and hope or it's just wasted and I become a bitter resentful person. The difference is attitude.
Six attitudes toward problems and pressures that will cause defeat in your life. These are attitudes that will counteract God's purpose. If you have these attitudes in your life then all the problems you're going through are for naught.
1. Rebellion. Rebellion against the problem. "God's not fair! He's treating me wrong! I don't deserve this!" It's a spirit of resentment. Rebelling against the problem defeats the purpose. 1 Samuel 15:23 "Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft." It is just as evil to rebel against God's purpose in your life as it is to get involved in the occult. We don't have a right to be rebellious.
2. Resignation. Resignation is not openly rebelling but a grin and bear it approach. No smile, no joy, a stiff upper lip approach -- stoicism. Non Christians can do that! There are a lot of Christians who can stiff upper lip it through difficult situations. They do it simply through will power. Remember G. Gordon Liddy who would not crack during Watergate. No matter what they did to him he would not be disloyal to his president. Willpower. He didn't rely on the Holy Spirit. Ecclesiastes 2:17.
3. Murmuring. The common term is complaining. This was one of the major sins of the Israelites in the Old Testament. It's mentioned ten times in the book of Exodus. It was this sin -- complaining -- that kept them out of the promised land. They had seven different tests. They'd blow it -- one more lap around the desert! They spent 40 years and they finally died out there. Many Christians never get into the abundant life because they are chronic complainers that keeps them out of the joy of the Lord. Canaan, in the Old Testament, does not represent heaven, contrary to popular opinion and hymns like "On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand". It's not heaven; it represents the abundant, spirit filled Christian life. In Canaan there were giants. Even after the got into the Promised Land there were problems. There are no problems in heaven but there are problems in the abundant Christian life.
1 Corinthians 10:10 "Do not grumble as some of them did and they were killed by the destroying angel." Philippians 2:14-15 "Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and deprived generation in which you shine as stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life." He says in a dark society, people who don't complain are so unusual they stand out like stars at night. When you find somebody who does not grumble and complain and argue they are so unusual that they are like a bright star shining out at night. You see a difference.
4. Worry. It doesn't do any good. Worry is mental and physical suicide. Doctors have said it wrecks your health. It's like setting in a rocking chair -- you waste a lot of energy but you don't make any progress -- back and forth. The more you worry, the bigger it gets in your mind. A tiny problem gets bigger every time you worry about it until it gets enormous and finally out of control. 1 Peter 5:7 "Cast all your cares on Him for He cares for you." Philippians 4:6 "Don't worry about anything but in everything with prayer and thanksgiving make your requests known to God. And the peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."
5. Don't fear. This is related to worry. This is simply not trusting God. The reason we fear is we really don't think God has our best interest at heart. That's typical. When a problem comes we think "God, do you really love me? Are you sure you know what you're doing?" We begin to doubt His love and power. We begin to be afraid. 1 Timothy 1:7 "God has not given to us the spirit of fear but the spirit of power and love and a sound mind." If you're going through a problem you have a right to a sound mind as a Christian. Isaiah 43:1-2 "But now this is what the Lord says, `He who created you, O Jacob. He who formed you, O Israel Fear not [365 "fear not"s in the Bible -- one for every day of the year] for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. [God's got your number. You might think God's forgotten you in your problem. He hasn't. He's got your number.] You are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you pass through the fire, you will not be burned. The flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God." You relax in God's plan. You recognize God's presence. You rely on God's protection.
Only one thing I don't like about this verse: "When you pass through..." Why can't it be around? over? beside? No, God is going to take you through the problem and He says I'll be with you, I'll protect you, you can rely on Me. Don't be afraid.
6. Self pity. This is the one that is almost incurable. It's probably the most dangerous because the person who is having the pity party is enjoying it. We want to have a pity party. We want people to feel sorry for us. We're enjoying feeling sorry for ourselves. David says in Psalm 69:20 "I looked for comforters and those who would help me but none would give me sympathy." David had a pity party but nobody came.
What is the secret of rejoicing in suffering? Romans 5:5 "And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out His love in our hearts by the Holy spirit whom He has given us."
Review: We've said that what makes the difference whether suffering has a positive or negative effect on your life is your attitude. Paul says that the truth that gives you a positive attitude is this: You realize that suffering is the evidence of God's love, not His wrath. There are two important words in verse 5: "love" -- this is the first time the word love is used in the book of Romans. And "Holy Spirit" -- this is the first time this is used in the book of Romans. The first mention of love and the Holy Spirit. Too often we see our problems as evidence of God's wrath and we feel rejected and alone and we think "God doesn't love me. God has rejected me. God must be mad at me. God is punishing me." Therefore you become resentful. v. 5 says that God allows the problems and troubles so He can show us His love.
There are two responses to suffering: "Why?" or "Help!" Why is it that we get mad at the one who can help us the most? Instead of becoming resentful against God we become submissive and say, "God, take this problem." Even in your suffering God loves you and has your best interest at heart. Paul concludes by giving the example of the cross. He says that if God loved you so much to die for you on the cross when you were totally rejecting Him, how much more does God love you now that you're a part of His family? If God loved you when you were totally rejecting Him, certainly He loves His children when they're going through problems and trials and through the fire.
The conclusion, Paul says, that suffering is allowed in your life, not because God is upset or mad or angry but suffering is allowed in your life because He loves you and there is a purpose behind it. The purposes are three fold:
(1) to give you the ability to stand up under pressure;
(2) to develop Christlike character;
(3) to have the confidence that comes from hope in God.
Maybe you're going through a tough time right now or maybe you're going to be going through a tough time. Don't rebel! Don't resign! Simply rejoice! You don't rejoice for the problem, but you rejoice in the problem knowing that even in the problem God has a purpose. Pray, "Father, would You give me the ability to stand up under pressure?" That's perseverance. "Father, would You produce proven character in my life. Help me to be like Jesus." Jesus learned obedience and the Bible says Jesus was made perfect, reliable, proven, tested, through suffering. "Lord, give me the confidence that comes from hope in You. Make me a confident Christian."
Father, I want to thank You for this powerful passage of Scripture. We thank You for it. Apply it to our lives as You see fit. In Jesus' name. Amen.