Monday, December 18, 2006

The Value of Suffering

I value suffering. I grow through suffering. I learn to love Christ in suffering.

Talking about suffering in that way may sound odd, but those are some lessons I learned about myself in a seminar a few weeks ago. It was a time for us to think through what we value and what has shaped us. I found that suffering has brought some of the greatest times of spiritual growth in my life. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Paul says in Romans 5 that those who suffer in Christ will ultimately end up with strong hope. So, how do we go from suffering to hope?

That is the topic I hope to work through in a set of three articles based on Romans 5:1-11. Lord willing, the first article will deal with preparing to suffer; the second will talk about the process of suffering; and the final article will help us understand hope in Christ.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.(ESV)

If we are going to suffer well, we must have a proper understanding of who Christ is and what He has done for those that follow Him. First, Paul says that we have peace with God when we place our faith in Christ. We trust that God will forgive us of our sins and credit Christ’s righteousness to our account because He has died for our sins and has been raised from the grave offering us peace with God. Jesus has broken the bindings that sin has on us both now and eternally. We can suffer well because we know that the long-term, final consequences of sin (i.e., Hell, separation from God, eternal hopelessness) have been defeated by Christ. We are confident that while suffering may hurt today, it will not last forever.

Second, Paul says that those who suffer in Christ have access to God’s grace. It is important to have peace with God, as noted in verse 1, because this gives us access to God’s grace which allows us: (1) the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives to better understand and live out the Word of God, (2) to approach God with confidence through prayer, (3) to be a part of the family of God, the church. Let’s think through these for a moment to understand their significance in suffering. Jesus called the Holy Spirit the “Comforter” in John 14. At times of great pain and suffering the Holy Spirit brings encouragement. (2 Corinthians 6:2-10) We may not be able to explain this strange peace at the most painful time in our life, but we know it is the Spirit of God at work in us. Next, Christians are also called to be people of prayer that pray boldly and cast their anxieties on God. (Hebrews 4:16, 1 Peter 5:7) This does not mean that we do nothing to prevent suffering or to improve conditions when suffering is going on, but it means that we continue on trusting that God works all things for our good to transform us into the likeness of Christ. (Romans 8:28-29) As God’s children, we have also been relieved of the burden of suffering alone. God has given us the church where we can join in the sharing of our burdens and the burdens of others. (Romans 12) The church is one of God’s great gifts to believers that allows us to live every aspect of life together with those that share our hope in Christ.

Paul says that our peace with God and our access to God should cause us to rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. We rejoice when we are reminded that our hope finds its resting place in the majesty and power of the God that is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Can you really believe that? The God that holds countless planets, solar systems and universes in order joyfully helps with your suffering? Isn’t it encouraging that the God who knows the color of the fish in the darkest part of the ocean knows of your shattered heart and wants to refill it with His joy! Christians rejoice to know that one day God will right all wrongs and that the many pains believers face will be no more.

In the next article, Lord willing, we will talk about what God accomplishes through our suffering. For now, though, does peace with God and access to God bring you hope? If it does, why not praise God for His goodness to us even in times of suffering. If it does not bring you hope, perhaps you need to investigate who holds superiority in your life. Are your problems bigger than God? Rest assured there is nothing that is beyond the authority of Jesus Christ. (Matthew 10:28) He is surely able to work all things for His glory and our good.

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