Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Biblical Understanding of Suffering - Part 1 of 5

Romans 5:3-5 - And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Consider it joy when you encounter suffering of all types. It’s the recurring theme of the Bible. We have a hope that through Christ we will one day stand with Him and be in the Glorious presence of God FOREVER!

There is no hope for eternity outside of the Grace of God. It is the duty of those of us who have this hope to always rejoice in it.

3 And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;

and not only this!!! Paul’s joy is uncontainable! Pardon from God and peace with Him is infinitely valuable enough to give salvation worth. But we also rejoice in our tribulations! Here described is the process of sanctification as separate from the world. As we pull out and the world tries to grasp for us, we will be persecuted and afflicted, but we rejoice even still!

James 1:2 - Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,

We don’t simply rejoice for the absence of tribulation, but tribulations, persecution, and afflictions actually serve to increase our hope and joy. They don’t hinder them.

Matthew 5:12 - “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

We glory in our tribulations, especially when those tribulations are for the sake of righteousness.

Acts 5:40 - They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them.

Peter and the disciples had been preaching Christ. And the Pharisees were torqued about it. But rather than kill them this particular time for it they decide instead to flog them. They beat them and then they sent them out saying for them not to preach Christ any longer. But look at their response.

Acts 5:41-42 - So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

This is crazy! A source of joy and hope and resolve this strong can only come from a Divine source! No man could ever stand up under this affliction without a supernatural intervention that protected his joy and hope. It conclusively proves that their focus was on the end of the race. On what was to come. What had been promised to them, namely forgiveness and eternal life. We rejoice in tribulation because they contribute to our ultimate glory and reward in Heaven.

The word tribulation has with it the underlying meaning of something being under extreme pressure. The same root word was used to describe the process of squeezing a grape in a wine press to get all of its juice out.

I spent some time working on a vineyard just after I graduated High School. Now our grape press looked different than their, but the principle was the same. Of course I always get asked the same question when people find out that I worked on a vineyard. They always ask, ‘Did you get to squash the grapes with your feet like Lucy did that time?’. The answer is yes, and it was awesome. But that only happened once or twice when the real press broke down.

For the real press, though, we’d put the grapes into a large metal cylinder that had small holes all around it. It was about 9 feet long or so I’d guess. Inside the cylinder was a large rubber rube that ran the entire length.

Now, just by the process of putting those grapes into the tube alone, some of the juice would begin to flow out and down into the pan below. But not much. Then, once we’d filled the grape press full we would lock down the lid and turn on an air compressor that would inflate the rubber tube. Effectively it would squeeze the juice out of the grape producing gallons of grape juice by the second.

I remember my first week of harvest ever. We pressed out the grapes and got, what I thought, was a lot of juice. And I was about to open the press and dump the skins and my boss, the owner of the vineyard, told me to spin the cylinder and press them again. Spinning it caused it to deflate the tube and tumble the skins like a dryer would clothing. So I did it, all the while thinking that those grapes had no more juice to give, and to my surprise we got even more juice out of them.

He had me do that 5-10 times more. And each time I thought there was no way we’d get anything, we always got more juice. You see it wasn’t about the grape, but what the grape produced that my boss was after. And he knew that the more we’d press them, the more juice they’d produce.

Lacking illustrations aside... In our context, it isn’t about us having an easy life. No, on the contrary it is persecutions that increase and strengthen our hope and faith in God. Produce more faith, produce more prayer and diligent reading of the Scriptures to find strength there.

And the results of that pressing produces more reward for us in Heaven as we persevere. More crowns laid up for us to lay at the feet of the Savior, because we live and suffer and die for His Glory and not our own.

2 Corinthians 4:17 - For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison,

Jesus said in John 15:20 - “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.

We have no reason to despair… no matter how great our suffering may become. Why? 1 Peter 4:19 - Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.

I should think that you ought to be more concerned about your soul if you are not now or have never gone through any persecution or affliction for your faith in God.

Rejoice in trials so that I get stronger. To an unregenerate soul, this is madness! But it actually can be evidence of our salvation. Assurance of our salvation. If we persevere and never waiver.

The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints says that though Christians will by no means lead sinless or perfect lives, they will live a life that pursues holiness. It means that after the point in time that God saved you, you are continuing on in the faith. Obeying the teaching that you’ve been entrusted to.

John 8:31-32 - So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

If you continue on, then you are truly a disciple. So in our perseverance, in our continuing on and rejoicing in trials, we develop the proven character of one who has been redeemed by Jesus.

Those who continue on in the faith until the end demonstrate that God has sovereignly regenerated their heart.

Colossians 1:22-23 - And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, 22 yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach— 23 if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.

As we grow and our new hearts are further revealed and purified by testing and affliction we see that God is at work in us. He must have saved us! If not, you would not continue on in obedient faith. And the more God strengthens us, the more we see He is keeping us and THAT, Paul says, produces hope.

5a and hope does not disappoint – And Hope does NOT disappoint. And that hope is coming from God! Our hope produces a joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation in the God who is the foundation of all our joy and faith.

Why does hope not disappoint? Because v5b - because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

God’s love, poured out in our hearts. Not withheld! The King James Version says the love of God is ‘shed’ on our hearts, through the Holy Spirit that He has given you. It is no mistake that the word for shed there draws images for me and for you of the shed blood of the Savior.

Galatians 4:6 - Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

Our perseverance is the testimony of the Holy Spirit within us. Enabling us to cry out to God! Crying Abba Father!

Now we unpacked this verse last week. And it is not my usual practice to preach a topical sermon but I’d like to take the theme that Paul introduces here about our tribulations… which is essentially to say our suffering… and unpack that thought a bit more.

Ultimately suffering of any kind exists because sin exists. So God didn’t create suffering, man did by his sin, but He does allow it and use it for His purpose.

There are five categories that I think we can lay out our sufferings into. Or rather, five reasons for it that we see in Scripture. The first of these categories:

1.) Constructive suffering – Now, we won’t spend too much time here this morning because we really looked at this last week and also have been studying it through the life of Joseph in Sunday School. Sufficing to say, however, that this kind of suffering is suffering that God allows or ordains to prepare us for something later on.

Look at how God allowed all that suffering to come on Joseph. Sold into slavery, abandoned by his family, jailed, but ultimately ends up the most powerful man in Egypt next to Pharaoh. God ordained and allowed those things to happen to Joseph, in order to shape Joseph and put him in places that he needed to be in to advance to where God had planned for him.

Another beautiful example of this same type of suffering would be the account of the life of Esther. Now we don’t know the circumstances behind this, but for some reason Esther had lost her parents.

Esther 2:7 - He was bringing up Hadassah, that is Esther, his uncle’s daughter, for she had no father or mother. Now the young lady was beautiful of form and face, and when her father and her mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter.

Mordecai was raising Esther. Esther was his cousin. He was raising her because she had no parents Scripture tells us. Doesn’t say why, but her parents are gone. We can safely assume that her parents had died because if they were living I suspect that we’d learn her parents simply lived elsewhere.

None of us would suggest that a child without parents was better off than a child without parents. Obviously this is not an ideal situation. But God allowed and ordained for her parents to die. We must say that because we know that God has appointed the time and date that we will all die. So they have passed and Esther is being raised by her cousin. Clearly she had a tough life thus far at least emotionally.

Now, all of these things, God is using to shape and prepare her to stand before King Xerxes… one of the most ruthless Kings that world has ever known… stood before him to ask him to save her people, the Jews, from an evil plot by one of his own men to kill them.

God used her to save her people, just as he had used Joseph to save people from a famine. Sometimes it is that God ordains suffering in our lives to prepare us for something else.

We persevere through our suffering because God uses it to produce character and integrity in us. Hope in God produces perseverance, which produces character and character returns us to that hope that we have in Christ.

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