Tag Archives: trials

The Cosmic Value of Suffering

The Cosmic Value of Suffering | BaptismForLife.wordpress.comOne of the most perplexing questions we can ponder is, “Why does God allow us to experience so much pain and suffering in the church?” We all know someone in the churches of God who is really going through an agonizing health trial. Some are relatively short term trials, but others go back decades, and have caused years of intense pain and suffering. I know one man who has had Rheumatoid arthritis for 35 years, and has endured seven joint replacement operations. He is now on the strongest pain medication made, and even with that, he can barely endure it. The side effects of the meds are taking their toll too. He’s had two strokes, congestive heart failure, Chronic Obstructive Asthma, and has almost died of septic shock at least 3 times in the past two years. In spite of all of that, he’s one of the most inspiring examples of humble, unselfish service to the church I’ve ever known.

But every time I’m with him, that nagging question comes into my mind. Why him??? Why so much pain and suffering for so nice a guy?

This is one of those deep cosmic questions that men and women have been crying out in the darkness for an answer to since the time of Adam. Only the One who created the Cosmos has an answer that provides any comfort at all.

The Suffering Body

We all were advised to “count the cost” Luke 14:28, as we considered baptism into the Body of Christ. In Romans 8, we’re told what it costs to become glorified with Christ. … what it takes to join with Him in the family of God. Here, we find the Greek word sumpascho translated as “suffer with”. It refers to an intimate sharing within a Body made up of the called out ones (the ekklesia, the church). The next verses indicate that the reward for doing this will be well worth it.

and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. (Rom. 8:17-23)

So, we “suffer together, with Him” and with each other. How does that happen? We don’t endure crucifixion, scourging, and crowns of thorns – – so what do we go through together that equates with this word “sumpascho” — to experience pain jointly or of the same kind.

We find a clue to the answer to that question in the only other place in the New Testament where sumpascho is used, and that is in the description of the functional Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12. This whole chapter tells us how we are to function as a unified Body. Verses 1-11 tell us the purpose and the use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the common good. Then verse 12 begins to instruct us about joining together in one unified Body devoted to the well-being of every member.

That there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. (1 Cor. 12:25-26)

“Suffer with” is this word sumpascho again, “to experience pain jointly”. Notice, it says ALL of the members suffer with the one enduring the trial. So we can begin to see at least one purpose for some of the things some of us are enduring. All of us in the Body are to learn real EMPATHY for others.

Christ’s Sympathy

The book of Job teaches us about the natural human reaction to the suffering of a fellow Christian. the way Job’s friends reacted to his trials and affliction is typical — “It’s God’s punishment for something YOU did wrong, Job.” But God didn’t see it their way, and neither did Jesus agree with His disciples when they made a similar statement.

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?”

Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. (John 9:1-3)

How might the “works of God” be made manifest among us today?

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. (Heb. 4:12-13)

This is how personal Christ wants our lives “IN HIM” to be … everything about us, completely open and honest … nothing withheld, and … KNOW HIM intimately as we walk through life at His side, with His words to guide us.

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:14-16)

Jesus  went above and beyond the call of duty to show Himself as a sympathetic companion to us in life. The word “sympathize” here is another sum- word. We covered sumpascho (to suffer together with, to experience pain jointly), and here we have sumpatheo (to commiserate with, have compassion, to be touched with our feelings).

When we “come boldly to the throne of grace” God learns a lot about us … what our prayers are focused on, how much “like His Son” we are becoming”, and how much empathy we have for our suffering brethren who are enduring unimaginable trials. In the pain and suffering in today’s Body of Christ, you and I can learn from the example of Christ Himself to FEEL and EXPRESS sumpatheo, as He so often did during His encounters with people who were dealing with serious illness.

Children of Our Father

Remember the young guy in Matthew 19 that asked Christ what he could do to inherit eternal life? Christ told him to keep the commandments, and this young man was elated because he was already doing the lightweight stuff … the letter of the law things that human beings think make them “good people.” But then Christ gave him a heavy weight, and everything changed. “He went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Matt. 19:22). Isn’t that the way most of us are???

To Be Like Him

Christ used the example of the rich young man to teach His disciples that it is hard for a rich man to enter His kingdom, saying “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.” This caused the disciples to ask a question that has often come to my own mind, “Who then can be saved?”

 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth” (1 Peter 2:18-22)

Do I want to lift that weight? To really be like Him? Verse 21 tells us the the reason we were called is to follow Christ’s example … not just to see it from afar and marvel at it!

who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:23-25)

Verse 23 has always been a killer for me, brethren, because I was raised to hate injustice. It’s almost automatic when somebody hits you, you want to hit back … only harder! When they yell at you … to yell louder … to hurl a more cutting insult … a more penetrating jab. But to follow Christ’s example, we have to give up the smart comebacks, the “reviling in return,” and the threatening. There’s only one reason I’d want to do that … to follow His example, and in so doing, to return to the Shepherd, Overseer and Guardian of my soul.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you (Matt. 5:43-44)

This seemed so easy when it was just those faceless people out there in the mainstream persecuting us for keeping the Sabbath. It was more impersonal back then. During the last 20 years though, things have radically changed in the churches of God. We are a divided house, and the situation being what it is opens the door for some things to be said and done that we should never participate in.

Bless means to speak well of … to wish good things for. Curse means to give one over to ruin … to wish evil upon them … A natural, human, and easy thing to do when someone is cursing you!

A Prayer Request

BaptismForLife.wordpress.comWe all hear many urgent prayer requests, brethren. There is much illness and suffering in the churches of God today, and many prayer requests each week, but I would submit to you that Christ Himself is giving us an urgent ‘prayer request’ here in the last sentence in vs. 44.

What Christ is doing here with this ‘prayer request’ is presenting us with a great opportunity to prove something to His father … that we want to be His sons and daughters enough to do whatever He asks us to do. Let’s look at verse 44 again, with the rest of the sentence going on into verse 45.

But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.(Matt. 5:44-45)

I’d like to examine this phrase a little more closely. “That you may be children of your Father” — The words, “you may be” G1096, ginomai mean: to come into existence, be made, to be ordained to be, turned into.   We are to be “formed in the image” of His firstborn son, who reviled not nor threatened, but committed His cause to the Father.

For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. (1 Cor. 11:18)

You see, there have been divisions and abuses and heresies in the churches of God from the start,  but it has always been allowed to happen for a purpose. It’s so that those who want to be children of their Father can rise above it and be made in the image of Christ.

And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”And they divided His garments and cast lots. (Luke 23:33-34)

The first words He spoke after the scourging, and after the excruciating pain of being actually nailed to the stake were, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Brethren, in the midst of the turmoil and conflict that exists in the end-time churches of God, God is offering us an opportunity to distinguish ourselves as his children by answering a simple ‘prayer request’ from Jesus Christ: “Pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” The reward for doing so is very great indeed … that we may be the children of our Father in heaven.

Forsaken

This time of year always brings to mind the real humanity of Jesus Christ as He approached and then endured His last Passover as a human being. It’s hard for me at times to fathom a great God who so loved His human creation that He wanted to experience every aspect of human life … especially as I myself experience some of the real frailties of the flesh, and see so many of my closest friends and relatives going through severe trials.

To think that a Being who was actually God would leave the throne of the universe, even for a brief 30+ years, to live in human flesh with all of its pain, temptation and frustration so that He could be of greater service to us is a bit beyond my grasp

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell (Col. 1:15-19)

bg image credit: Sean MacEntee
bg image credit: Sean MacEntee

These verses provide us with one of my personal favorite assessments of the real greatness of this Being  …of how highly esteemed He was by His Father in heaven, and how much He was actually giving up to live a mortal life. Yet even He was required to come to a point where He was totally deserted by His closest friends, and left in the hands of the executioners to be tortured, shamed, and humiliated, and to suffer one of the most heinous forms of execution ever devised, and then … to feel the emotional emptiness of Matt 27:46, and separation from His father.

I’ve heard and read for years that the reason for Christ being forsaken was that the Father is so Holy that He can’t abide being in the presence of sin, so when the sins of the whole world were shouldered by His totally innocent Son, He had to temporarily turn His back on Him. I DO understand the reasoning behind that, but I’d like to bring up a scripture that points to a reason for this separation that is even more personal for each man and woman who has ever lived.

 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:15-16)

This great Being, who sacrificed everything for human beings, also came to experience and identify with every major emotion and weakness that we have in the flesh. There isn’t a one of us who has not, or will not  have this feeling of being forsaken as we reach our lowest points in life … even by God Himself.

It is the greatest comfort to realize that our High Priest and Savior has an intimate knowledge of ALL that we are experiencing in this fleshly form. Knowing that He, with His experiential knowledge of what we feel, can so readily sympathize with us, we CAN come boldly to the throne of grace, and obtain His mercy and help having His enduring promise that He will never leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5).

Should Christians Defend Themselves?

A good friend of mine asked a serious question about the Bible last week that I would like to answer in today’s post. The question was about Matt. 5:38-39, and 5:43-44.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. … You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you (Matt. 5:38-39)

When we read this instruction, it gives all of us reason to scratch our heads and question ourselves, “Am I ‘Christian’ enough to DO that?” We might also wonder if Christ is really telling us not to defend ourselves. Today, I’d like to take the time to give a studied answer to this serious question.

Self-Preservation

The same Jesus Christ who said “not to resist an evil person” also advised His disciples in Luke 22:36, “he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.” Yet this was also the same Jesus who said in Matthew 26:52, after Peter had cut off Malchus’s ear in the garden, “put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

I may be totally alone in this, but I have found it a bit confusing when I look at all of these verses together. Can’t help it … I’m human, not Superman, and … in case you’re wondering, I HAVE been smacked in the mouth a time or two, and have not retaliated!

Back on the topic of self-defense, Matthew Henry’s Commentary has this to say on Matt. 5: 39:

“this does not repeal the law of self-preservation, and the care we are to take of our families; we may avoid evil, and may resist it, so far as is necessary to our own security; but we must not render evil for evil, must not bear a grudge, nor avenge ourselves, nor study to be even with those that have treated us unkindly, but we must go beyond them by forgiving them.”

Matthew Henry also comments on Luke 22:38, saying, “The disciples hereupon enquire what strength they had, and find they had among them two swords (Luke 22:38), of which one was Peter’s. The Galileans generally traveled with swords. Christ wore none himself, but He was not against His disciples wearing them.”

I will not dismiss the practice of total pacifism. I get it … you want to obey Christ, whatever the cost, to the very spirit of His Word and His law as you read it. But I will also defend the right of the Christian who seeks to defend himself and his family with the APPROPRIATE use of a “sword” in today’s world, and I’d like to use a current story in the news to do so.

Wise And Harmless

An elderly gentleman in Texas was accosted from behind in a parking garage, and told not to turn around. Thinking some of his friends were playing a practical joke on him, he began to turn his head, and got a hard punch to the kidney for doing so. The thug took his wallet out of his back pocket, and then walked around to the passenger’s side of the car where his wife was seated, with the intention of robbing her as well. Seeing this, the man drew his weapon, and aimed it at the robber which caused him to flee the scene. He was later apprehended because his image showed up on the garage’s security cameras.

 Behold I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.(Matt. 10:16)

There is a “wise” and “harmless” way to live in an increasingly violent world like the one we live in today — a world much like the one described in Isaiah 59, where “truth fails, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.”

Should Christians Defend Themselves?| BaptismForLife.wordpress.comThis man in Texas intended the thief no harm. He never had to fire his weapon, but he HAD protected his wife from possible harm. The only harm this gentleman suffered was a punch to the kidney, and the loss of his wallet. The thief was not injured, and faced the justice system for his crime as he should have done. Great outcome for all concerned, unless you consider the thief himself an “innocent victim” as some do today.

I will also say this. The great martyrs of the Bible were not just allowing themselves to be victims of street criminals and brigands. They were persecuted FOR THEIR FAITH, by the legal and religious authorities of the day as Christ was. The martyrs in Foxes’ Book of Martyrs were the victims of state-sanctioned religious persecution, not roving bands of street thugs.

You can probably tell by now that I’m not a big fan of “one size fits all” answers, OR of quick, pat answers as if I’m the only guy with “the right” Biblical answer to every question. Like most serious Bible questions, one quick answer doesn’t fit all situations that may arise in relation to a Christian’s self-defense, and the most obvious answer to some may not be the best answer for all situations and people.

God’s Faithfulness to Christ

Last week, we talked about God’s faithfulness to make sure that the word He sows into our lives has a good outcome. He is committed to making “all things work together for good” in the lives of “those who love God” and “are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). To further ensure success in this operation, He sends another type of “the Word” into our lives to perform a miracle in us.

Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.” (Luke 24:44-49)

No man can open his own mind, or the mind of another to the true meaning of God’s word, but this Being does it at will. In John 6:29, Jesus said “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” Here, “the work of God” as defined by Jesus Christ is obviously talking about something that goes on within our heads and our hearts that no man can do for us, nor can we do it for ourselves. If we really believe in the One Sent, the work of God that He is doing in us is yet another piece of evidence of God’s “inner, effectual working” – His energia (G1753) that we defined and discussed in last week’s post.

Follow in Suffering

God's Faithfulness To Christ | BaptismForLife.wordpress.comThere are many things that contribute to our ability to understand and react in the right way to God’s word – our life experiences, frustrations, our failures to “overcome” on our own, our failure to impose our will upon God (that’s a big one!). All of that adds up to one word: suffering. Jesus Christ submitted Himself to suffering as an example to us, and I really don’t think anything contributes as much to God’s end goal for us as our suffering while we follow the example of Jesus Christ.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name (Phil. 2:5-9)

A great reward followed this suffering, but look at the mindset that it took to achieve that end. This is the mind of Christ, which is supposed to be in our minds as well.

who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him (Heb 5:7-9)

Notice again, the reward follows the suffering. We can’t follow Christ’s footsteps toward the reward without following His footsteps through suffering.

For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: “Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Pet 2:21- 25)

So we see again this example, and we see again the mind of Christ revealed. I like the wording in verse 23 … He “committed Himself” with complete faith and trust to the One who was working out His end goal to accomplish good things in Christ’s life.

Come In Faith

Let’s go to Hebrews 4, and look at a part of that end goal for Jesus Christ that is now contributing mightily to our own quest to achieve God’s end for us.

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:14-16)

I recently read an article in one of United Church of God‘s publications that pointed out that Jesus Christ is simultaneously the “great shepherd of the sheep” and “the lamb of God” (a description used 27 times in the book of Revelation). He understands both the role of the guide and of the follower. He knows what it is like to be in our shoes, having been tempted in all points as we are, and having followed His “shepherd” – the Father – as we are to follow Him.

So let’s do just as we’re told in Hebrews 4:16, and come boldly to the throne of grace to see if we can find grace to help us in our times of need. If anyone knows “the faith of the operation of God” it is Jesus Christ, and we can follow Him with full assurance that God will be faithful to us as well.