When believers go through tough times it is common for them to wonder, "Why me? Why is life so painful at times? If God loves me why does He let me go through so much suffering." So, this morning I would like us to seek to get a biblical understanding of pain and suffering in the life of believers.
As Christians, we are blessed. Because of your faith in Christ, you know that your sins are forgiven. Your trust in the death of Yeshua for your sins gives you the assurance that you will go to heaven when your days here are over. But have you noticed that you are not blessed with having to never go through the same pain and difficulties that unbelievers face? Christians still have bad marriages. Have you ever gone through financial difficulties? Have you ever lost a job? And there is still physical suffering. Christians get sick and have accidents just like everyone else. Becoming a Christian does not mean that you will never lose your job. Becoming a Christian does not make you immune to cancer, or tornadoes, or financial failure.
Why is it important to understand this truth? Isn't it obvious that everyone suffers with the pains of life? We saw in our Scripture reading this morning that Paul suffered continually. We need to understand this truth; that the pains of life are inevitable even for believers in Christ, because there are people who would have you believe that there is something wrong with you if you are a Christian who is experiencing great pain. And there are others who suggest that once you attain a certain level of maturity, pain will disappear. They claim that poor health and poverty and every other pain of life occurs because you don't have enough faith, and that God will continue to bring trials into your life until you straighten up your act and grow up spiritually. The fact is everyone will experience pain, it doesn't matter who you are.
Two hundred years ago, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "The art of life is the avoiding of pain." When we first hear that statement, it appears to be true. None of us deliberately look for pain as we go about our daily life, all of us do our best to avoid pain, but pain is an important part of our spiritual development.
In our experience, there are many times when we have chosen not to avoid the pain. For an example, look at the matter of human birth, certainly there have been great advancements in medicine to protect the mother, but there is still a certain amount of pain in child birth. Every woman knows that child birth will be painful, yet women still get pregnant.
Think of the pain and sorrow that a mother and father experience as they seek to raise that child. Someone has said that when children are little, they step on your feet; but when they are older, they step on your heart! I have met many dedicated Christian parents whose hearts have been broken because of a wayward child who failed to heed their instruction and example. If everybody really lived to avoid pain, nobody would get married and raise a family; yet people do it all the time.
Some pain and suffering comes because of disobedience, but not all pain is the result of sin. Pain is a danger signal, and we should be thankful for it, if we never felt pain when something was wrong in our bodies, we would die from neglect. But what good is pain to us spiritually? This is where we want to focus our attention this morning. I want to give you four points to help you understand that pain is beneficial to our Christian lives. I want all of us to understand that pain is: Certain, Deserved, Sovereignly administered and Beneficial.
1. PAIN IN THIS LIFE IS CERTAIN:
Job, a man acquainted with much pain, stated,
"Man who is born of a woman is few of days and full of trouble. Job 14:1 ESV
He also said,
but man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. Job 5:7 ESV
God promises us that life will have pain. Solomon put it this way:
For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity. Ecclesiastes 2:23 ESV
Believer, the Bible doesn't teach a health, wealth, prosperity Gospel. But it clearly teaches that pain is a part of life, even the Christian life. The question is never, "Will we have pain?" But rather "How will we deal with the pain that life brings?"
2. ALL PAIN IN LIFE IS DESERVED:
as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; Romans 3:10 ESV
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23 ESV
Every human being who has ever lived, except for Yeshua, has sinned and lived an unrighteous life. Let's go back to the beginning and set our thinking right on this point. God said to Adam and Eve at the beginning:
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." Genesis 2:16-17 ESV
In other words, God said, "You sin, you die!" God created man to glorify Himself, but man rebelled and disobeyed God. Did Adam die the day he sinned? Some say that God decided to be merciful, and Adam didn't die. Did God mean what He said? Did Adam die? Yes, I believe that he died spiritually. Which means he was separated from God, kicked out of the garden and God's presence.
God said they would die the very day they ate. Satan said they would not die. Who told the truth? Physically, Adam lived for another 900 plus years. It is very important that we understand this. Satan lied. Adam died that day, spiritually. Man's problem is spiritual. He is separated from God because of his sin. In this state of spiritual death, he is under God's wrath. If we approach all of life from the perspective of the standard set at creation (sin brings spiritual death which puts us under the wrath of God), we realize that we "deserve" nothing but the wrath of God! We deserve pain! Right thinking about God's holiness and our sinfulness will change how we respond to the pain of life. Believer, the truth is, we don't deserve one moment of happiness. What we deserve is wrath.
You have heard me say over and over how important our thinking is. How we think affects how we live. The Bible has much to say about how we think, because our thought processes affect our actions.
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Proverbs 4:23 ESV
The heart to the Hebrew was your thinking. You are a product of your thinking. The mind is the command center which determines our conduct based upon what influences our thinking. A believer must guard his thinking to maintain a biblical viewpoint.
We could interpret it this way, "Guard your mind above everything else you do, because it will determine the life you live." If we think a certain way, we will act a certain way.
I think if I asked you what you thought about the health/wealth prosperity Gospel, you would all say that it is WRONG! But I would dare say that we all have bought into it more than you know. We may think that it is wrong as a doctrine, but we like the idea. We like the idea of an easy pain free life. I would even go so far as to say that when we experience great pain, we tend to think that God has forsaken us. Subconsciously, if not out right, we have bought into the teaching of Zig Ziglar. He was a success/motivation speaker who was widely read and accepted by many Christians and pastors, He said this, "As you accept yourself, you will see yourself as a person who truly deserves the good things in life." I would dare say that most believers believe that; they think they deserve the good things in life. Most believers think they deserve certain things from God. The word "deserve" means: "to be worthy." I think that most of the church believes that they are worthy of God's grace and goodness. We think that God owes us. In this twisted view, God is the debtor, and man is the creditor. We often think God owes us health; as a matter of fact, He owes us ninety years of healthy life. Or He owes us a certain level of wealth; we deserve to have enough money to meet out greeds, like a nice home and two cars. Or we deserve trouble free children, a loving and faithful spouse. The list of things that we think God owes us goes on and on. Be honest, do you feel that there are certain things that God owes you? Why? Is it because you're worthy?
Do you understand that God is holy and just, and He must punish sin. Even the slightest sin defies the authority of God, insults His majesty, and challenges His justice. Because of our sin, we all deserve God's WRATH according to:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. Romans 1:18 ESV
God's wrath in the Bible is never capricious, self-indulgent, or irritable. God's wrath is always judicial; the wrath of a judge administering justice. Each person gets exactly what he deserves. Wrath denotes God's resolute action in punishing sin, and it is the active manifestation of His hatred of sin. God is holy, and His holiness demands that He not tolerate unholiness. And men, all men, are unholy.
The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Genesis 6:5 ESV
You see, believer, the only thing we deserve is wrath; the only thing God owes us is wrath. If we really understood the depth of our sin and the holiness of God, we would thank God every day for every breath that we breathe. We would thank God for His mercy and grace no matter how much pain we were in.
3. ALL PAIN IS SOVEREIGNLY ADMINISTERED:
Without an understanding of God's sovereignty over our pain, we cannot understand the meaning of our suffering. We must learn to think biblically. Your stability is related to the attitudes that you have. It is not related to your circumstances, it is related to how you think.
Rabbi Kushner, in his book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, says, "God wants the righteous to live peaceful, happy lives, but sometimes even He can't bring that about. It is too difficult even for God to keep cruelty and chaos from claiming their innocent victims."
Kushner goes on to say, "If God is both powerful and good, why is there so much suffering, so much pain, so much heartache in the world? God is either good and not all powerful, or He is powerful and not all good. You can't have it both ways."
It seems that the majority of the Church has bought into this lie. I think, in an attempt to shield God from accusations that He is not loving, we make Him impotent in the face of pain. We think it is better to comfort the afflicted with the idea that God is full of sympathy, wishing the pain would just go away but unable to make it happen. Pain and suffering can often cause believers to question the goodness of God. Have you ever asked the question, "If God loves me, why am I suffering?
Kushner's argument assumes that a good God necessarily wouldn't want His creation to suffer. This assumption certainly appeals to us. Wouldn't it be great if God's goodness required that we experienced no suffering or pain?
But the love and goodness of God does not preclude Him from allowing suffering or pain. The real difficult question is not, "How could God allow us to suffer," but "How He could allow us, who rebel against His authority every day, ever to experience pleasure?" The mystery is why God would allow pleasure in the lives of those who not obey His commands.
God is sovereign, You understand that, don't you? I think you do, but do you understand that His sovereignty extends to our every pain? It is biblically wrong to say that God merely permits pain. Pain is something that God is actively involved in. The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way:
God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass (chapter 3, section 1).
The Bible puts it this way:
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, Ephesians 1:11 ESV
God doesn't permit, He ordains! When we say that God permits something to happen, we often mean that God, in His heart of hearts, doesn't want a thing to happen, but will allow it for some reason. This is not biblical. God works all things according to the counsel of His will. Or, as the NIV puts it, "Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will." God does not merely permit pain, He planned it. All that comes to pass in our lives is according to the eternal plan of the all-wise, all-powerful and all-loving great God and our Father.
The sovereignty of God is absolute, irresistible, infinite. God does as He pleases, only as He pleases, always as He pleases: whatever takes place in time is but the outworking of that which He decreed in eternity. Is this too strong for you? If it is, you do not understand the God of the Bible.
Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. Psalms 115:3 ESV
How could He do whatever He pleases if He is not sovereign? If God was merely to permit suffering, He would not be doing what He pleased. Believer, no pain, no suffering of any kind comes to us apart from the sovereign administration of our loving Heavenly Father.
Let me say something that may shock you, but it is something that we must set our thinking right on: Suffering is a gift of Yahweh's sovereign grace:
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, Philippians 1:29 ESV
In order to enable the Philippian Christians to bear up under persecution, Paul reminded them and us that suffering is as much a part of God's eternal purpose for our lives as believing in Christ.
Paul says, "It has been granted"—that is the Greek verb charizomai, which comes from charis, which means: "grace." So charizomai is grace. Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words says, "Charizomai primarily denotes to show favor or kindness as in Galatians 3:18; to give freely, bestow graciously." Paul is saying that suffering is a gift of God's grace. Do you think of your times of trouble as a "gift" of God's grace? Not likely. And that's our problem—we don't understand that suffering is a gift. God says that it is, and we need to believe Him?
"For the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake"—He compares suffering with salvation. Both are grace gifts. Salvation is a gift, according to Ephesians 2:8-9, and so is suffering. He doesn't say that suffering is punishment or that it is something that has happened to you by chance. God gives suffering as graciously and lovingly as He gives you the faith to believe in His Son.
Suffering is a gift, a privilege. What is a gift? It is something that reveals the giver's love for you; a gift is undeserved, not earned; a gift should cause thankfulness and gratitude. When is the last time you thanked God when you were suffering?
How can Paul say that suffering is a gift of God? This should show us how far we have come from the thinking of Christians in the first century. God giving suffering as a gracious gift doesn't make any sense to us. That we should be grateful for it, that it should make us happy, that it should make us feel honored and blessed, that we should see it as a manifestation of God's love—that doesn't make sense to us. But it did to the first century believers, because they were familiar with suffering.
Maybe we should just ignore this verse. Tear it out of the Bible and throw it out (just kidding). Maybe this is just one isolated instance of a raving man who has a martyr complex. No! This is God's inspired Word. I don't know how the health/wealth teachers deal with this verse. It sure doesn't fit their theology.
We need to understand that Paul isn't the only one who holds to this view. If he was, we would still have to believe it, but it is also taught by Yeshua and many of the New Testament writers.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:10-12 ESV
The persecuted are blessed, not cursed. Yeshua says we are to rejoice when we suffer! There is a connection in the New Testament between suffering and joy. That may seem like a contradiction, but that is what the Scriptures teach. Notice what the basis of rejoicing is, it is our reward in heaven. When we are persecuted, we are to rejoice.
and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Yeshua, and let them go. Acts 5:40 ESV
These men were physically beaten for sharing the Gospel. Please notice their response:
Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Yeshua. Acts 5:41-42 ESV
They rejoiced! And they kept on preaching. Their suffering caused them to rejoice. They didn't get hurt feelings or get depressed or mad at God, they rejoiced.
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. 1 Peter 4:12-13 ESV
Again, we see the idea of suffering and rejoicing. Suffering is not a curse, it is a blessing. Get that! It is a gift of God's sovereign grace. It is the very essence of Christian experience.
4. PAIN HAS A PURPOSE IN OUR LIVES:
Since God is sovereign and all-wise, every pain that we experience has a purpose. What is the purpose of pain? There are all kinds of lessons to be learned from our pain. Let's look at a few.
1. Pain can be caused by our sin:
For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 1 Corinthians 11:29-30 ESV
Many of the Corinthians were sick and dying, experiencing great pain, because of their sinfulness. Caution: We must be careful here not to conclude that we can measure the sinfulness of a person by the degree of his or her suffering. All suffering is a result of sin; had Adam not sinned, there would not be suffering in the world, but not all suffering is a result of personal sinfulness.
2. Pain helps to mature us in our practical Christian lives:
God uses pain as a training tool. God lovingly and faithfully uses pain to develop personal righteousness, maturity, and our walk with Him.
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives." Hebrews 12:5-6 ESV
The word "chastening" is the Greek word paideia, which means: "tutorage; education or training; by implication disciplinary correction, punishment." God uses suffering and pain in our lives to help us grow into mature believers.
3. Pain weans us from self-reliance:
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 ESV
Many men and women have testified that God taught them this lesson, that they are dependent upon Him, by taking away all the things they had mistakenly depended on. Much of the pain we experience is to bring about continued dependence on the grace and power of God. Pain is designed to cause us to walk by God's ability, power, and provision, rather than by our own. It causes us to turn from our resources to His resources.
4. Our Pain can be an evangelistic tool:
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. Philippians 1:12-14 ESV
When believers handle suffering joyfully and with stability, it becomes a powerful testimony to the power and life of Christ that we claim and name. Suffering provides key opportunities to manifest and magnify the power of God through His servants in order to verify and confirm the messenger and His message.
5. Our pain helps us to develop our capacity and sympathy in comforting others:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 ESV
Often God sends suffering to give us an opportunity to minister to one another. How can I help those in need, unless God causes someone to be in need? In the midst of the pain of others, we must see an opportunity to minister in His name.
God uses the pain in your life for the benefit of others when you encourage other people who are going through life's problems. And you can approach someone who is going through a difficult time, and tell them, "I went through the same thing you're going through today. It was the worst experience of my life, and I hurt inside for a long time. But let me tell you how my faith in Yeshua helped me get through."
6. Pain and affliction reveal spiritual needs:
Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. Psalms 119:67 ESV
Here was a man who was enjoying considerable material prosperity. His life was full and satisfying, but he did not see that his natural prosperity was disguising his spiritual bankruptcy. His affliction revealed his need spiritually. Remember, not all pain and suffering is intended as a warning against spiritual decline, but there are times when this is the case. We see this in the life of Paul:
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 2 Corinthians 12:7 ESV
The Apostle Paul saw his thorn in the flesh as an instrument of God to help him maintain a spirit of humility and dependence on the Lord, because of the special revelations he had seen as one who had been caught up to the third heaven.
We all have our own thorns in the flesh, be they physical, emotional, personality based, psychological, cultural, social, financial, interpersonal, educational, or general. God gives each of us a measure of pain to keep us humble and trusting in Him rather than in ourselves.
There are many reasons given in the Bible why God sends suffering into our lives, but the supreme reason is the ultimate reason for all He does.
7. We go through pain to bring glory to God:
Yeshua taught His disciples this lessen in John 9:
As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" John 9:1-2 ESV
The disciples either hadn't studied Job, or if they did, they didn't learn much from it. Their false assumption was that there must have been a terrible sin to warrant the blindness. Yeshua corrects their misunderstanding by teaching that this suffering was not a result of personal sin:
Yeshua answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." John 9:3-5 ESV
Yeshua tells them that the man was blind, not because either he or his parents sinned, but rather that God might be glorified in the healing of the man.
Here is where we find comfort in our pain. This is not an isolated case wherein this man's pain served the purpose of glorifying God. All pain is designed to glorify God. When we are in the midst of pain and suffering, we must remember that in the ultimate sense, all is right with the world. Things are operating as they should. Not one thing happens in our lives that God had not planned to happen.
When we are in the midst of a severe trial, it can be very difficult to celebrate God's glory. When we are hurting, we tend to be rather consumed with ourselves and find it difficult to say with much sincerity, "I sure am glad this pain in my life is glorifying you, Lord. Please let me know any time that I can suffer great pain to bring you glory."
So, let me give you another reason to celebrate our pain. We have a guarantee from the Lord that everything that happens to us is for our good:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 ESV
This is, in fact, a promise that nothing bad will ever happen to us. Think about it! If everything works for our good, then nothing can be bad, because it is always turning out for our good.
Are these words of Paul so familiar to you that they have lost their power? This verse should always give us hope and comfort. We aggravate our pain when we do not take this promise to heart. Or worse, we call God a liar.
Did your car break down when you could least afford the repairs? Did you lose your job? Did a loved one come down with a terminal disease? Has your spouse walked out on you? The God, who created and controls the world, also controls the machinery on your car; your boss; your spouse; and every virus, germ or disease. If we are going to make sense of our pain, we must understand that God is in control of every thing that happens in our lives.
Let's remember that Romans 8:28 didn't just drop out of the sky all by itself. It must be studied in light of its context. Romans 8:18-30, is a unit that deals with the subject of comfort in suffering.
We may have no idea how our pain could ever be seen as good. And we may never on this earth see how God is glorified. But our inability to understand all of reality is no reason not to believe what God has revealed about reality. He has told us He is glorified in all our pain. And He has promised that the pain of those who belong to Him will work for their good. Faith is believing God.
We must remember this wonderful truth about God in the midst of our storms; He is sovereign and He is working all things for our good. When we don't understand, we need to trust.
Believer, you will experience pain and as you do, remember that pain is: Certain, everyone goes through some kind of pain; Deserved, we have all sinned and deserve God's wrath; Sovereignly administered, we never suffer by chance, God always has a purpose in our suffering; Beneficial, all pain has a purpose in our lives.
Alright, so that's 4 points now let me give you a poem. Some 200 years ago, Madame Guyon, who was one of the key advocates of Quietism, was imprisoned from 1695 to 1703 by the Roman Catholic Church, which considered Quietism heretical. She spent nine years in a dungeon, lying far below the surface of the ground, lit only by a candle at meal-times, but wrote a poem I want to read to you. Before I read you her words, think with me for a moment, what would you have to say to God if you had been in a dark dungeon for nine years? What would your attitude be towards God? Here is what she wrote:
"A little bird I am,
Shut from the fields of air;
Yet in my cage I sit and sing
To Him who placed me there;
Well please a prisoner to be,
Because, my God, it pleases Thee.
Nought have I else to do
I sing the whole day long;
And He whom most I love to please,
Doth listen to my song;
He caught and bound my wandering wing
But still He bends to hear me sing.
My cage confines me round;
Abroad I cannot fly;
But though my wing is closely bound,
My heart's at liberty.
My prison walls cannot control
The flight, the freedom of the soul.
Ah! It is good to soar
These bolts and bars above.
To Him whose purpose I adore,
Whose Providence I love;
And in Thy mighty will to find
The joy, the freedom of the mind."