Suffering in the Christian Life-
How does suffering glorify God?
March 23-28, 2008
KLMX Ministerial Alliance
1st Baptist Church, Des Moines, NM
Here we are again on KLMX radio, wrapping up another week of Bible study with the Ministerial Alliance program. I’m Bryan Kimsey from 1st Baptist Church in Des Moines and this week we’ve been looking at the subject of suffering, particularly as it pertains to the Christian life. If you missed any of these messages, see the church website at www.fbcdesmoines.org or give us a call at 278.2421 and we’ll send you a free CD.
As I said at the beginning of the week and every day since, I have 3 main foundational principles. These are (and I don’t mind repeating them!):
1) The Bible is inerrant, infallible, and 100% sufficient for our needs. Sola Scriptura.
2) God is truly Almighty. He is sovereign over all things.
3) All things work to the glory of God. Soli Deo Gloria
We are now going to look at the last aspect of suffering and that is “How does suffering glorify God?” Yesterday I looked at the question of “Does God ordain or simply allow suffering?” I hope I showed, through Scripture, that God actively allows suffering in Christians for the purpose of refining them. I used quite a few passages and there are even more than I could have used, but it’s tough to get a good meaty lesson into a short 15 minutes. But anyway, if God actively allows suffering, how does this give Him glory? If He actively allows suffering, doesn’t this make Him a big ol’ meany? In discussing this topic, I’ve even had people say “How dare you accuse God of causing suffering! God is love! He only wants the best for us!” Yes, and the reason He causes suffering is because He loves us and suffering is for our own good. Remember, God does everything for His glory, not ours. I think that many people are willing to give God the glory until it comes time to give up a little glory ourselves. Then they get a little bit possessive. But, let’s look at how suffering glorifies God.
Yesterday, we looked at Job’s suffering. As I showed yesterday, Job’s suffering not only brought Job into a closer relationship with God, but it glorified God in that Job’s faith withstood Satan’s onslaughts, just as God knew it would. Wait a minute… if Job’s faith was strong, shouldn’t Job get a little credit? Well, Ephesians tells us this:
Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, (9) not of works, lest anyone should boast.
The phrase “…that not of yourselves…” refers to the noun immediately preceding, and that noun is “faith.” Therefore, our faith is not even of ourselves. James 1:17 says that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights…” The Ephesians passage told us that faith is not only of ourselves, but “it is the gift of God.” And Romans 12:3 says that “…God has dealt to each a measure of faith.” So, given what Scripture says about faith, it certainly seems to me that Job’s faith is due entirely to God. The fact that this faith withstood Satan’s efforts therefore glorifies God. Job took his suffering to be from God and in saying this “Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.”
Let’s look at another example. In John, Jesus and his disciples come upon a blind man. The passage reads thus:
John 9:1-3 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?" (3) Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.
What an interesting passage. Jesus says that the man is blind not due to his sin or his parents sin, but “that the works of God should be revealed in him.” If you recall, Paul later said a similar thing regarding the “thorn in his flesh”:
2 Corinthians 12:8-10 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. (9) And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (10) Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Both the blind man and Paul are infirm so that God’s glory may be magnified in them. In the blind man’s case, Jesus knelt down and made a mud paste for his eyes which- after some obedience- healed his blindness. In this way, Jesus showed his power over these things and also fulfilled one of the prophesies of Isaiah 35. In Paul’s case, being infirm meant that he had to rely solely on God’s grace. The fact that Paul was able to accomplish what he did, while in God’s grace, magnifies the glory of God.
Now let me give you some personal testimonies of people who are suffering right now. One is a man with Crohn’s disease. This disease causes all kinds of intestinal problems and pains and is essentially incurable. I asked this man to tell me about his suffering and his relationship with God and he said “It clarifies my relationship with Him. Living with pain makes me focus on the thing that is really important and that important thing is God’s grace through Jesus Christ.”
Another man, Greg Harris, is the author of the book “The Cup and the Glory” that I mentioned on Monday. Harris suffered through the stillbirth of twins and shortly thereafter came down with a debilitating rheumatoid arthritis. He has this to say “As painful as it is, suffering can produce one unique effect: It can give us a better vantage of God’s approaching glory than we had before. Our view of anticipated glory is no so much the glory of a physical sunrise, but the approaching glory of the Lord Jesus Christ…Suffering can produce a yearning for the Bright Morning Star. Suffering tends to make us look to others for help and support- Jesus desires a large part of such looking to be directed toward him….In simplest terms these verses remind us that our suffering is temporary; the glory of God is eternal.”
I quoted Joni Eareckson Tada earlier this week. Ms. Tada is quadriplegic due to a swimming accident when she was 17 years old. She was confined to a rotating stretcher where she alternatively stared at the floor for hours and then at the ceiling for hours. At first she was suicidal, asking friends to bring her sleeping pills or razors. Then a friend put a Bible on a stool in front of her, with a pencil that she could hold in her mouth to turn the pages. Ms. Tada read Psalm 18 which reads, in part:
Psalms 18:6-19 In my distress I called upon the LORD, And cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, And my cry came before Him, even to His ears. (7) Then the earth shook and trembled; …. (8) Smoke went up from His nostrils, … (9) He bowed the heavens also, and came down With darkness under His feet. (10) And He rode upon a cherub, and flew; He flew upon the wings of the wind. …. (13) The LORD thundered from heaven, And the Most High uttered His voice, Hailstones and coals of fire. … He drew me out of many waters. ….(19) He also brought me out into a broad place; He delivered me because He delighted in me.
These were the words that started her climb from despair and darkness. Thirty something years of wheelchair bound life later, Ms. Tada can write this sentence: “It is when your soul has been blasted bare, when you feel raw and undone, that you can better be bonded to the Savior. And then you not only meet suffering on God’s terms, but you meet joy on God’s terms…He injects his peace, power, and perspective into your spiritual being. He imparts a new way of looking at your hardships. He puts a song in your heart.” Suffering is what drove Ms. Tada to this relationship.
Finally, I’m reminded of the great hymn writer Fanny Crosby who wrote such classics as “Blessed Assurance” and hundreds more, and recited all from memory alone. Go online and read about her! She was blinded at an early age by a incompetent doctor. When asked later in life if she wished her sight had not been taken away she replied with an amazing statement of faith. She said “No, because now the first face I shall see will be that of my Savior.”
The faith of these people is humbling and utterly God-glorifying. As far as I can tell, everyone suffers in some way or another. Some suffer more than others, but all of us have some kind of issue that prevents us from enjoying the perfect life. And if this less than perfect life drives toward God, as it should, and magnifies His grace and glory, then so it must be.
I’ll close this study as I started. The point here is not to make light of suffering in any way at all. Joni Tada says “...desperation is part of a quadriplegic’s life each and every day.” Suffering hurts. My point is not to accuse God of maliciously causing suffering. And my point is not to tell any of you who are suffering to just buck up and follow Job’s example. Instead, my point is to show you how God’s plan for your life may include suffering. It’s to show you that suffering will chip away at your own rocks of resistance, as Ms. Tada says, and make you more reliant on Christ. My point is to hopefully encourage you in whatever struggles you might be going through. It’s to help keep you from sinning with your lips when trials and trouble come up you, as they will in this world. Give not Satan the credit for your trials, but do as Job did and say “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10). Ask God to help you say, along with James:
James 1:2-4 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, (3) knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. (4) But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
I’ve given you a lot of Bible passages to consider. In addition to these, let me recommend once again 4 books, all written by Christians with great experience in suffering: “Suffering and the Sovereignty of God” edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor, “The Cup and the Glory” by Greg Harris, “The Hand of God” by Fredrick Leahy, and “The Invisible Hand” by RC Sproul. Visit the church website at www.fbcdesmoines.org for the text of this week’s messages.
Let me leave you with this passage from Hebrews:
Hebrews 12:1-3 …let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, (2) looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (3) For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.
May God bless you and sustain you through your trials and tribulations. I’m Bryan Kimsey from 1st Baptist Church in Des Moines NM. Thank you for listening and thanks to KLMX for their continued support of the Ministerial Alliance program.
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