About a few months back I read this text that we have in front of us, while was in a sort of a study to understand the reason for suffering in a Christian’s life. I was deeply touched by the truths that this set of passages taught. So, I prayed over it, apart from the personal aspects of that prayer, one of the things that I specifically remember asking the Lord was that “Lord if it be in your will, allow the preaching of this text to the people of the church when it is most fitting. “So, when Pastor Mike presented me with the opportunity to preach, I felt that it was an answer to that prayer, mostly because of the times that we are in as a Church. For many of us here, it has been a tough set of weeks, whether it be challenges in our lives, illnesses that kept us down or illnesses of a loved one that we are labouring through with them.
So, my hope and prayer today, as I preach this text is that the Lord may use it to encourage your heart and renew your mind in a manner that you can look at suffering with your hope set on the God of the suffering.
And so, before I move into the text, I want to lay some context, that is of the nature of the Christian life.
- If there is one thing we know about the Christian life, it is no short of suffering. Whether it be in the form of persecution because of our commitment to God and the preaching of his word, or as an effect of the fall, through the weakness of our flesh, whether it be through sickness and pain, or the illness of another, whom we love and care for, or simply the effects of our ageing body.
- That is what the start of this text reminds us of in fact, but we have this treasure in jars of clay. Weak vessels, like we are, that can break at any time.
The question therefore that always remains in our minds, from the time we came to know the Lord and sometimes even to this day is, “Why do we suffer? Why does a God who loves us so dearly allow us to suffer?”
There it is the question that befalls us all. Let us see what the word of the Lord has to say about it.
God gives suffering for our Good and his Glory
This is the simple truth that we are taught as young Christians
- As we read from Colossians 1:16 and Isaiah 43:7, all things are made for his glory. So, if his creation, his people, go through suffering, it has to be for his glory, right?
- It is as simple as that.
- But isn’t it unfair?
- But if the question is on fairness or justice, we not only deserve the suffering we face now but eternal suffering. For all has fallen short of the Glory of God, and not one can glorify him. We by nature rebel and sin against him. So, the wages of sin against an eternal God is eternal suffering, that is hell.
- So, it would have been perfectly fair for God to look at the eternal suffering that we deserve and give it to us. He looked at your sin, with all the wrath that it rightfully deserved, it would have been fair for him to crush us. It would have been just for him to do that. But our God in his perfect justice and perfect love chose to look at your sin, take the wrath that it deserved and poured it out on his son, setting us free from the clutches of sin.
- He then looks at you, you who are still sinful, weak and frail, and he says “Yeah, I know that the road ahead is tough, it looks like knowing the Cross did not take away your affection for sin, you still seem to be sinning. But here is an encouragement I can give you; I saved you through my death and set you free from the clutches of sin. But I am not going to let you loose and watch you suffer; I am going to continue to purify you to completion. Purify you till the day comes when I can present you to the father as clean and unblemished”.
For it says in Colossians 1:22
22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,
And in Philippians 1:6
“…he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion…”
- But do you know how he brings forth this, promise?
- How does he purify you to the point that you can be blameless? One of the biggest ways that he does that is, through your suffering. So, if the question is, “how does suffering achieve this?” It is because when you suffer, you realise how unable you are, how able God truly is. Through that realisation, you let go of everything and cling on to him and him alone, thereby showing him your dependence on him, and the hope that you have in his unending grace and mercy.
- You ascribe to him to his glory through your dependence on him amid your suffering. That is how suffering Glorifies God.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
Another aspect of God glorification that happens in and through our suffering is that it manifests the life of Jesus.
- Meaning to say that when we look at the life of Jesus, the Holy one who came down from the heavens, and lived a life suffering and toiling for his people, as we suffer and depend on him to continue to live through him – this act, manifests the life and death of Jesus Christ.
As it reads in Verse 10 – 12 says,
10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
Let us think about that for a second:
We who come from a life that was so far away from God, bound to attain eternal wrath are not only given the privilege to know God and for God to be pleased in us through our faith in Christ. But we are given more privileges in that, there are things that we can actually do in our lives that can be held as worthy enough to manifest the life of Jesus. That is, we can be afflicted by suffering but go on to depend on him, cling to him, and have hope in him that he will protect and deliver us, all of which ultimately points to the life of Christ. Praise be to God, for such is the gift that he has given us.
Our endurance in suffering benefits others
We know that the bible presents us with many laws and commandments that we are called to follow out of our Love for him. John 14:15 says, “If you love me, you will follow my commandments.” But God graciously helps and enables us to, through the guidance of his Holy Spirit, to be able to know and keep his commandments.
On the other hand, if we were to look into his word and seek after what is most important, we see that God tells us that the most important of the laws, almost summarising the whole of the bible in doing so, has to do with loving him and loving our neighbour.
That is in Matthew 22: 36-40,
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
The amount of Love one has for God is seen in how one glorifies God in his life.
So as we read earlier, he enables us to do this, through our suffering. As we love him, we desire to please and glorify him. So when we are afflicted with hardship, the way we respond to it, the way we cling to him, all of it adds to our glorification of him, therefore enabling us to love him more.
Similarly, suffering has a lot to do with how we love our neighbours. Let us see how the word of the Lord tells us that we can do this.
It is a known fact that one of the simplest ways for us to love our neighbour and care for him in Christ is by praying for him. But naturally, one of the ways that Christ expects us to Love them is through our fruit, through the Christ-like life that we live. So as god is most glorified in us, they look at that Glory and give glory to him.
Therefore, when we suffer, that is exactly what is happening.
15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
Let us think about that for a second:
- As we represent Christ in our lives, when we are presented with suffering, the way we cling on to him, the way please him through our dependence on him, paves the way for our neighbours to look at our glorification of him in our suffering and it enables them to give glory to him.
- So in other words, suffering is not given for your blessing alone but for the blessing of others.
- This changes everything, with anything in our lives, the more we do certain things, repeatedly, we tend to get bored of them, and we tend to lose our interest in wanting to do them. But the moment we get to know that one of our loved ones gets affected by it, we immediately have a newfound interest to do it. Our intentions shift, as we put all our effort and mind into it so that those that we love are most benefited from it.
- God expects the same reaction when we look at suffering. He expects us to endure suffering so that others are benefited from it. Who would have that that suffering can be endured for the good of those whom we love?
- We now have a personal aspect to suffering, that it is for our good and a relational aspect to it, that others too are benefitted from it, and it has a spiritual aspect to it, that God ultimately benefits from it.
Now that we know this, it kind of gets tricky. In my personal life, when I was afflicted with hardship, I see that it could crush me and I run away from it. The last thing I remember is these truths, that it is for his Glory, my good and for the good of others.
The reason this is so, the reason we run away is the thought of it crushing us. Whether it be an illness that we are afflicted with, whether it is the illness of another with whom we are labouring, or as we are faced with persecution because of our stand in faith, in our workplace or society, the hardest part there is the thought of it ending us, ending in death.
- The fact that I’ve lived all my life, budling myself a career or a family and thought of it all washing away through one moment of affliction, kills us to think of that possibility.
But 2 Corinthians 4 teaches us exactly how to handle it.
He will keep us, and sustain us through our suffering
The area that we are the weakest at, the area that brings us the most amount of fear, which is the end of our suffering. “What if this suffering takes me, what if this is the end of me.” Or when we are labouring with a loved one, the constant fear, that gives us anxiety and inevitably takes us away from the hope we have in God, “What if he/she doesn’t make it through this? What if I can never spend more time with her, see her happy, make her happy.” The very thought kills us. But the solution that these set of passages offer us is different,
“8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed”
Interesting dabble of words here, it literally says, afflicted in every way, or in other words, hard pressed, but yet not crushed. We are pressed hard in the sense we are afflicted and under a lot of pressure, but one thing is for sure, we will not be crushed. And that is the promise that the bible gives us.
One way we can understand this better is if we compare and contrast it with the life of an unbeliever, or even our own lives, during the times we did not know Jesus.
- A life that has no purpose and meaning, without the knowledge of God, the moment suffering comes into our lives, there is nothing that we can do to make sense of it.
- “It was all going okay, but now, everything is falling apart.”
- “What is the purpose in all this, why do I do what I do?”
- “Why do I work so hard, only for everything to crumble down because of one moment of hardship?”
- “Why do I have to endure all this, if I am going to die and be completely erased from existence?”
- One can never get answers to these questions if their worldview does not have Jesus as the central purpose. If your understanding of life is such that there is no God, that there is no central reason for existence, that all that we see around us comes from a random combination of events only for us to live a life that is a combination of random events and die to be erased from existence, if this is our understanding of life, there is no way we can make sense of suffering. When we lose a loved one, when we are afflicted with a terminal illness, when our life is filled with failures and hardship, it will only result in unspeakable pain, for there is no ultimate purpose for your existence
So, if we take the life of a believer and that of an unbeliever as two sides of a coin:
- On the side of the unbeliever, while suffering, the burden is heavy, they are hard-pressed, and they will get crushed.
- On the side of the believer, while suffering, the burden is light, we are still hard-pressed, but they will not get crushed
Therefore, the bible promises us that, no matter how hard your life is, no matter how hard your suffering is, God will never give you something that you cannot bear.
- God will never give you suffering that you cannot bear.
- God will never give your loved one an affliction that they cannot bear.
- That is the simple promise of the bible, and we just have to believe it because the bible says so. We have to take God’s word for it. So in the midst of suffering, we might have all the doubts and worries of this ending in the worst-case scenario, and that we will not be able to handle it, but you need to counter that fear with the thought that, that is not what the eternal God promised you, he will never give you hardship that you cannot bear.
Moving on to more teachings that the passage has for us on the topic of suffering, let us consider another point that closely relates to the previous, that is when we consider the possibility of the end of our suffering to be death. Or the grief of another, one who we love and with whom we have been labouring, only to end up at the point of their death.
That brings us to our next point:
Not even death can do us part from God!
knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.
In other words, it does not matter if the end is death. For even when we stare death in the eye, and we do die, we live.
- We are going to live again, a life that is beyond our imaginations, far ahead of the lives that we have on earth, that is, a life in the presence of God.
Although fulfilled in parts through our lives on earth, death, in fact, is the ultimate fulfilment of the prayer every Christian prays at one point or another in their lives, if not longing for it daily. The Psalm 27 prayer,
- “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.”
- It is interesting to know that one of the ways God will answer this prayer is through death. But this should not scare us, death should not instil ungodly fear in our hearts.
- When we die, we do not go into a life that is far worse than the life that we live on earth, we are not going into a scary and more painful version of our lives on earth, but we go into a life filled with the presence and Glory of God. Filled with unending happiness, joy and thanksgiving, for there will be no more sin, no more suffering, no more pain, but only the sweet sight of our God, revealed in the fulness of Glory.
- We need not fear death, for it is the gateway for a more glorious life, for in heaven, we do not pray to a god who is in secret, but we will be in presence of this Glorious God. It will not be that he will hide his face and show only his backside for we cannot bear his glory as he did with Moses. But we will have a body that will be able to withstand his Glory. We will see his face, gaze upon his beauty and dwell in his house.
I do not say this, so that we may desire death, nor do I say this that we may desire to suffer. That is the exact opposite of how a Christian should live.
- The Bible always asks us to desire what is good, not to desire pain but to desire joy, gladness, delight, the opposite of suffering.
- So, when we are afflicted with suffering, it should not be that we long to suffer more for the sake of Christ. Our dependence on him, that which glorifies him, should be such that we do not lose heart and that we pray for him to remove the suffering from our lives. We should be pleading to him, that he may end the suffering.
- Similarly, the thought of heaven should not lead us to pray that he may take our life so that we go away from this life of sin to a life of glory, but we are called to bear the pain of suffering and sin, for the glory of God. We are called to pray for more life, so that we can spend more of this life glorifying God through Jesus, preparing for the life to come. We are not called to hate this life but to love and cherish it because of the meaning that Jesus has given it, through his death and resurrection.
So, what must we do with the understanding of the glories of life after death, amid suffering?
- The Bible teaches us about life after death, not to desire death but prevent us from having an ungodly fear at the thought of death. A fear that diminishes the power of God, that he is powerless if the end of our suffering is death.
- It is quite the opposite, for in the midst of suffering if death be the end of suffering, we must still not lose heart for our God is so powerful that even death will not do us part from him. Therefore, although we pray against death, the thought of it should not bring fear into our hearts but a refuge in God for death is also in the plans of God, and it is for my good, for death brings me to new life, life in the presence of God.
Therefore, when we suffer, although we are praying and pleading to God that he will keep us, having full hope that he will answer our prayer by sustaining our lives, we need to realise that hope does not lie only in him answering our prayer as we desire it but there is hope NO MATTER how he answers. Either life or death.
So, what do have so far from this set of verses? To summarise:
- We know that when we suffer it is for the Glory of God, therefore, it is for our Good, for the good of others. Not only that, but the cherry on top is that even if we are afflicted God will never give us something we cannot handle and even if the affliction leads to the end of our life on earth, that is death, there is hope for we go from this life to a better life.
- In other words, no matter the direction we look at suffering from, we only see the comfort and refuge that God offers.
These truths that we have learned about suffering are so rich and encouraging, but what are we to do with them? Now that Paul has taught us, to look at suffering and make sense of it, what then should be the Christian response, when a Christian is afflicted with this suffering?
Let’s go to verse 16 to help us understand it.
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.
So, or therefore we do not lose heart. Or in other words don’t do the one thing that you would do when you are afflicted with suffering, which is to get disheartened. But Paul in this set of verses does something interesting. He says the suffering in your life is for the Glory of God, for your good and the good of your loved ones. You know this, therefore do not lose heart but wait, there’s more, there are more biblical truths that can help you enrich this Christian response.
So, let’s read on and come back to this verse so that we can understand it better. Why should we not lose heart?
- “though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”
- Just as we learned from Colossians earlier, that is, though we are growing old, depleting day by day, our inner self reflects the exact opposite of what is happening to our outer self
- That is, our Lord saved us and he does it to perfection. Working in our hearts and teaching us through our happiness and our suffering, renewing us day by day.
V17, now this is where it gets important.
- “For this light momentary affliction”, let’s pause there for a second. Paul looked at our lives and says that it is filled with suffering, and whether it be 20 years of living, 50 or 90, it is a momentary phase. It is negligible. An outrageous statement, isn’t it?
- But the fact that this can be said of the suffering in our lives that it is negligible, is not because of the life itself, but that it is negligible in comparison to the eternal life to come. The span of that life is so large that our present life looks like a passing-by phase. The things that are in store for us in that life are so glorious that the afflictions that we go through in this life, no matter how big, are little in comparison.
Do not let that undermine your suffering. When you put the effort and hard work, in your prayer and in diligent efforts to work with God to overcome your suffering, that effort is not put to waste because of the eternal life to come.
- But the light, momentary suffering that you go through now, holds eternal glory because it prepares you for the life to come.
- Isn’t it beautiful brother and sisters, the way that this verse encourages and motivates us at the same time, encourages us in that we have very little to be worried about, it’s only a lifetime of suffering? But motivates us in that, everything that we do, every little act of dependence we show on God through the little afflictions we have, holds an eternal weight.
- Every single minute that you spend praying in the midst of suffering, every minute you spend in the Hospital pouring out your heart for your loved ones, every minute you spend on your knees pleading despite your pains, every minute you praying for your enemy that they too may know the Lord, all of it matters because every bit of it has glory attached to it, it prepares you for Glory.
- Therefore, V17, “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison”.
- “as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
- Brothers and sisters, the last thing you want as an outcome of the time we spent the word this morning, is to make your life about your suffering. You do not want to go into the week, rejoicing at your suffering in a manner that all you do is pray about your suffering, all you think about is your suffering, because hey, it seems like it is for the Glory of God. Yes, it is for him, and yes you must pray but if you lose sight of eternal life to come, your suffering will muddle your thoughts and you’d be lost before you know it. Your life will be about your suffering. Therefore, no matter the situation, you must not look first at your suffering and make sense of the eternal life, but you must look to the heavens, the eternal life to come and then make sense of your suffering.
- This basic principle applies to all aspects of our life doesn’t, no matter what we do, even if it is as righteous as studying the word of God, if you lose sight of the end goal, you soon start to see that your study of God becomes about you. It is all about how much YOU know of him, how much you can speak of him, and how much you can debate in his name, and it becomes very little about the eternal life to come.
- Therefore, we as Christians in all things must have our sight set heavenward and our hearts set on the hope that Jesus Christ offers through his death, marching the walk of life, labouring and toiling, all the way till the end. Until the day comes when you enter his presence and He invites you with open arms saying, “Well done my disciple, welcome home”.
- Have your eyes set on that hope, that which is unseen now but eternal and to be seen in the life to come.
- When it comes to suffering, it works the same way, the moment you lose sight of eternal life, the main goal, your entire life becomes about your suffering.
- You become a perpetually dejected person who in every who can only talk of his suffering. His mornings are about praying for suffering, his day is in remembrance of his suffering, and his nights are about praying about his suffering.
- Sooner or later, you see that they are not able to fellowship with their brothers and sisters, they are not able to glorify God in their workplace, and they are not praying for others.
- This happens when we lose sight of the end goal, and our life is all about our suffering.
- Therefore, as verse 18 says, look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal
I want to close by going back to where we left off, the Christian repose to suffering, that is, to not lose heart.
- Keep your hope set on the truths that God teaches you, that it is all for his glory, for your good and the good of your loved ones. Your eternal security gives more meaning to this suffering.
- But the idea is not to simply remember these truths and therefore have a solution.
- You don’t see someone fall and break their leg and immediately go, point 1, this is for his glory, point 2, it is for my good. No that is not how it works, in fact, the last thing you will remember are the things that we learned today.
- But the key to not losing heart, the key that the bible presents us with to remember these truths amid suffering, is found in nothing else but prayer.
- That is simply it. No matter what is going on around you, the pain, the confusion, the agony, all you need to do is to cry out to him. It doesn’t need to be anything complicated, it could be as simple as, “I don’t know, nothing makes sense, but O Lord, I know one thing, that you are with me”, and you will be surprised to see how the Holy Spirit can move in your heart through that little act of dependence you showed him, and remind of all these truths, bringing you peace in your heart, while suffering.
It could be that we could go into our lives, after having understood all this and be faced with suffering that eats us from within. It could be that we have a family to take care of, a job place where I am expected to work hard to glorify God and fellowship to take care of my brothers and sisters at church. In the midst of all this, be afflicted with suffering that knocks us down. It was all fine up until this point, but now, it is all falling apart. My health is failing me and due to this I am not able to care for my family, I am falling away at work, and I am growing distant from my brothers and sisters. Here you are, hard-pressed, the walls are closing in and you can’t take it anymore. Collapsed on the floor, helpless and unable to do anything that helps. But in the midst of all this, you cry out to the Lord, “Lord I need you now, I can’t do this without you”. The moment you say this and look up, you see Jesus standing there, holding the walls away, keeping them from crushing you, hard-pressed but not crushed. Then you begin to see, just a call to him changes everything. Suddenly you have a sense of assurance in your heart, a sense of hope that you can make it out alive. This beloved is the assurance we have, that the moment we cling on to him, HE WILL help and guide us out of our suffering. You will begin to see that all these truths that you learn about suffering will be soul food for you, as he takes your call to him and brings to remembrance his word through the power of the Holy Spirit, enabling you not only to be strengthened and nourished but see that he can protect and keep you.
Therefore beloved, do not lose heart.