It's the 6th of January and a time when many preachers take the opportunity to talk about resolutions. I considered it, but the thing that has been on my mind lately has been "pain". There are so many of you that are dealing with great pain that I thought it would be more profitable for all of us to talk about pain rather than resolutions. So, this morning I would like us to seek to get a biblical understanding of pain.
Now, you might be thinking, "Why do we need to talk about pain?" As Christians, we are blessed. Because of your faith in Christ, you know that your sins are forgiven. Your trust in the death of Jesus Christ 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 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.
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 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.
Job, a man acquainted with much pain, stated, "Man who is born of woman Is of few days and full of trouble" (Job 14:1). He also said, in Job 5:7, "Yet man is born to trouble, As the sparks fly upward." God promises us that life will have pain. Solomon put it this way:
Ecclesiastes 2:23 (NKJV) For all his days are sorrowful, and his work burdensome; even in the night his heart takes no rest. This also is vanity.
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?"
Romans 3:10 (NKJV) As it is written: "There is none righteous, no, not one;
Romans 3:23 (NKJV) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Every human being who has ever lived, except for Jesus Christ, 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:
Genesis 2:17 (NKJV) "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."
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 commentators say that God decided to be merciful, and Adam didn't die. Did God mean what he said? Did Adam die? Yes, he died spiritually. If we say that the death God promised Adam for disobedience was physical, we are making God a liar and Satan the truthful one.
God said they would die the very day they ate. Satan said they would not die. Who told the truth? If God was talking about physical death, then Satan was the one telling 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.
Proverbs 23:7 (NKJV) For as he thinks in his heart, so is he....
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.
Proverbs 4:23 (NKJV) Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.
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 out right, 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 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:
Romans 1:18 (NKJV) For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,
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.
Genesis 6:5 (NKJV) Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
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.
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:
Ephesians 1:11 (NKJV) In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will,
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.
Psalms 115:3 (NKJV) But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.
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. Which brings me to my next point:
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 Corinthians 11:29-30 (NKJV) For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.
Many of the Corinthians were sick and dying, experiencing great pain, because of their sinfulness.
Romans 13:2 (NKJV) Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.
Pain can come as a result of not living in submission, which is sin.
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.
God uses pain as a training tool. God lovingly and faithfully uses pain to develop personal righteousness, maturity, and our walk with Him .
Hebrews 12:5-6 (NKJV) And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: "My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; 6 For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives."
The word "chastening" is the Greek word paideia, which means: "tutorage; education or training; by implication disciplinary correction." God uses suffering and pain in our lives to help us grow into mature believers.
2 Corinthians 1:9 (NKJV) Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead,
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.
God 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 God's impending judgment on them for their moral evils: their wide class distinctions between the rich & the poor, their drunkenness & sexual immoralities, their religious perversions, their idolatry, their criticizing of the faithful, plus their indifference to the Lord & all that He had done for them.
Philippians 1:12 (NKJV) But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel,
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.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (NKJV) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.
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 Jesus Christ helped me get through."
Psalms 119:67 (NKJV) Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word.
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:
2 Corinthians 12:7 (NKJV) And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.
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. God gives each of us a measure of pain to keep us humble & 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.
John 9:1-2 (NKJV) Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. 2 And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
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. Jesus corrects their misunderstanding by teaching that this suffering was not a result of personal sin:
John 9:3-5 (NKJV) Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. 4 "I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. 5 "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
Jesus 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:
Romans 8:28 (NKJV) And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
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.