I want to talk this morning about the purpose of pain. We have all had a painful week with the loss of our sister Betty Sue Hill. And it certainly breaks our hearts to see Glenn in such pain. So I thought it would be profitable for all of us to talk about the purpose of pain and see if we can get a biblical understanding of it.
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 the Christ for your sins gives you the assurance that when your days here on earth are over you will move into the dwelling place of Yahweh, the place we call heaven. 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 deal with severe pain in this life. Christians 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, or the loss of a loved one in death.
Why is it important to understand this truth? Isn't it obvious that everyone suffers with the pains of life? 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 spiritual 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.
Nearly 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 looks 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 three points to help you understand that pain is beneficial to our Christian lives. I want all of us to understand that pain is: certain, sovereignly administered, and beneficial.
1. PAIN IN THIS LIFE IS CERTAIN:
Job, a man acquainted with much pain, stated:
"Man, who is born of woman, Is short-lived and full of turmoil. Job 14:1 NASB
He also said:
For man is born for trouble, As sparks fly upward. Job 5:7 NASB
God promises us that life will have pain. Solomon put it this way:
Because all his days his task is painful and grievous; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is vanity. Ecclesiastes 2:23 NASB
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?"
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:
For as he thinks within himself, so he is. He says to you, "Eat and drink!" But his heart is not with you. Proverbs 23:7 NASB
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:
Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life. Proverbs 4:23 NASB
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 you 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 outright, we have bought into the teaching of Zig Ziglar. He is a success/motivation speaker who is widely read and accepted by many Christians and pastors, He says 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 our 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?
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.
2. 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 hate Him, and do 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:
also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, Ephesians 1:11 NASB
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:
But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases. Psalms 115:3 NASB
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.
Yahweh is sovereign and we must learn to trust Him in all circumstances. Look with me at what the book of Hebrews in chapter 11 tells us about faith:
who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection... Hebrews 11:33-35a NASB
I think that it's clear that the dominant thought in all these examples is triumph over adversity; victory in battle because of faith in God. This is one great side to the experience of faith, but there is another, and verses 35b-38 give the other side of the picture:
Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection; Hebrews 11:35 NASB
The transition is startling, from victory to torture. Believers, please grasp this: faith is not always rewarded in this life.
and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated 38 (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. Hebrews 11:36-38 NASB
Here is a group of people that didn't gain great victories out on the battlefield. They didn't perform great feats for Yahweh, but they trusted God when the day was dark, when the night was long, the suffering was great, and when there was no deliverance for them at all:
They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated Hebrews 11:37 NASB
These believers, these men of faith "were put to death with the sword"--I want you to notice a contrast here. Back in verse 34 we are told:
quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Hebrews 11:34 NASB
Some "Escaped the edge of the sword"--David escaped the sword of Goliath and Saul, and there are many other examples, but some through faith "were slain with the sword." Elijah escaped Jezebel's vengeance, but other prophets of the Lord were slain with the sword at that time.
So, too, in the apostolic age, Herod Agrippa killed James, the brother of John, with the sword:
And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword. Acts 12:2 NASB
When Herod tried to do the same thing to Peter, God delivered him:
And on the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains; and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison. 7 And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared, and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter's side and roused him, saying, "Get up quickly." And his chains fell off his hands. Acts 12:6-7 NASB
By faith one lived, and by faith the other died. James was put to death; Peter was set free. Just because we are Christians and love Yahweh does not mean that things will always turn out as we would like them to. All things will work together for our good, but we may not like how they turn out. We need to trust Yahweh in the bad times as well as the good.
Put yourself in the shoes of James' wife and then Peter's. One is grieving over the murder of her husband; the other rejoices over the miraculous deliverance of hers. Peter's wife rejoices and thanks God, but what does James' wife do? Was God any less sovereign in the death of James than He was in the deliverance of Peter? Is God sovereign only in the "good" circumstances of our lives? No, the Bible teaches that God is sovereign over both the good and bad circumstances of our lives.
Believer, no pain, no suffering of any kind comes to us apart from the sovereign administration of our loving Heavenly Father. Which brings me to my next point:
3. PAIN HAS A PURPOSE IN OUR LIVES:
Since Yahweh 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 me give you a few of them.
A) Pain can be caused by our sin:
For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. 1 Corinthians 11:29-30 NASB
Many of the Corinthians were sick and dying, experiencing great pain, because of their sinfulness. I think it is always good to examine your life when suffering and make sure that it isn't a result of sin. If you think your suffering is a result of sin, repent. As a young Christian I suffered as a result of sin. I was totally paralyzed from the neck down for a period of time. I realized quickly that Yahweh was getting my attention, and I repented quickly.
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. The righteous suffer along with the wicked. Paul suffered greatly, but not for sin. Don't be one of Job's comforters trying to second guess why someone is suffering. They were wrong! And Yahweh dealt with them because of it.
B) Pain helps to mature us in our practical Christian lives:
Yahweh uses pain as a training tool. He lovingly and faithfully uses pain to develop personal righteousness, maturity, and our walk with Him:
and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, "MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES." Hebrews 12:5-6 NASB
The word "discipline" is the Greek word paideia, which means: "tutorage; education or training; by implication disciplinary correction." Yahweh uses suffering and pain in our lives to help us grow into mature believers.
C) Pain weans us from self-reliance:
indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; 2 Corinthians 1:9 NASB
Many men and women have testified that God taught them 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.
Yahweh used pain in the life of Amos to teach the people of Israel that they were allowing temporal security to replace their trust in the living God. Amos warned his people of Yahweh's impending judgment on them for their moral evils: their wide class distinctions between the rich and the poor, their drunkenness and sexual immoralities, their religious perversions, their idolatry, their criticizing of the faithful, plus their indifference to the Lord and all that He had done for them.
D) Our Pain can be an evangelistic tool:
Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, Philippians 1:12 NASB
When believers handle suffering joyfully and with stability, it becomes a marvelous 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.
E) 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 will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 NASB
Often Yahweh 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.
Yahweh 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."
F) Pain and affliction reveal spiritual needs:
Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word. Psalms 119:67 NASB
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:
Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me--to keep me from exalting myself! 2 Corinthians 12:7 NASB
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, historical, political, educational, or general. Yahweh 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.
G) We go through pain to bring glory to Yahweh:
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 would be born blind?" John 9:1-2 NASB
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 neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. "We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. "While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world." John 9:3-5 NASB
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 Yahweh 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 God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28 NASB
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.
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 Yahweh 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.
Let me share with you the testimony of a man who understood that all the pain and suffering in our lives is under the control of a loving and good God. Horatio G. Spafford was a dedicated Christian businessman whose life was much like that of Job. Sorrow and grief seemed to follow him. He lost his only son at age four to pneumonia. Later, he lost a large part of his life's savings in the great Chicago fire when all his buildings on the waterfront burned down. In 1873, he booked passage for a family trip to England. He wanted to attend one of the great revivals sweeping that country at that time. However, the day before they were to leave an important business delayed him. His wife and his three daughters went on, and he was to follow on the next ship. An iceberg struck his family's ship, and it went down very quickly. All three daughters perished. Only his wife survived. Her telegram said, "Saved alone." Heartsick on his voyage to meet his wife in England, he asked the ship's captain to let him know when they were at the place where his daughters plunged into the icy sea. He went up to the deck to pray and be comforted by God. While he did, he thought it was so peaceful-- it was like a river now, and how terrible it must have been that night. Words and feelings kept pouring into his mind. He went back to his stateroom and wrote these words:
When peace like a river attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, "It is well, it is well with my soul.
It is well because our sovereign God is in control, and He is working all things together for His glory and our good. There is a purpose in our pain. Trust Him in the pain.