The “Secret” of Suffering
I’m gonna invite you to quiet your heart. Bow your head for a moment. We’re gonna pray as we open the Word of God. Father, the total work of your salvation on our behalf is complete.
There’s nothing that I can add, there’s nothing that we can add to make that salvation more complete, there’s nothing that we can add that will secure us even more, there’s nothing that we can add that will guarantee our glorification one day, there’s nothing we can add that can secure more justification today. There’s nothing we can do to make you love us more. We are complete in Christ.
As we go into your word this morning, Father, we need your clarity and we need your understanding, the spirit of understanding in us Lord, so that we can know the secret of suffering, so please be at work this morning, we ask and pray this in your precious name, amen.
Well, this is the last in a series that I’ve titled, The Secret of Spiritual Growth, as I’ve said each Sunday, they’re not much secrets in the common way we think of them, it’s not some grand conspiracy or anything like that, they’re just often forgotten truths, whether intentionally or unintentionally, they’re forgotten.
And this week, we will learn about the Secret of Suffering. The secret is that God uses suffering in our life to help us grow in righteousness and find a deeper fulfillment in our relationship with him, it’s a fulfillment that is deeper than anything else in the world, the problem, however, is that you and I often respond to suffering in ways that make it un-beneficial to us, God intends to use suffering to help us, but you and I often respond in ways that make it unhelpful.
So we mope, we wallow, we grumble. We distract event, we attention seek, we self-analyze, we use coping mechanisms, we do all things, but recognize what God is using the suffering for. ften what happens is the way that we cope with our suffering ends up leading to more suffering because of our poor decisions, and so it’s a cycle that leads further and further down, we’re gonna look at six ways in just a moment that we don’t respond well to suffering, that’s kinda gonna be your structure to follow along here today.
I want you to know that many of these… I’ve changed them slightly, but many of these are taken directly from John Piper’s book, Don’t Waste Your Cancer… He wrote a book, Don’t Waste Your Cancer years ago now, for people going through cancer and his order… I’ll follow, I skipped a few here, combined a couple, but largely the same.
So he’s a really hard question though to ask, and it’s a question that I struggle with a lot. What is suffering, right? What is a biblical definition of suffering? Because you know, and I know that we have it pretty good, right?
If I lost my job… For example, I could still say, but I still live in America, I can just go get another job. There are people around the world if they would be not eating or if I got sick, I would say, Well, yeah, but I’m not as sick as so and so. And so what we do oftentimes is we look at the suffering in our life and then we discount it or we deny it because, well, somebody else has it worse. Anyone ever do that? You look at suffering, you’re like, Oh, it’s not that bad. And that’s true, and sometimes it can be a thing where we look at other people and we thank God for what we do have comparisons, however, rarely lead to ultimate righteousness.
So if you do compare yourself to someone else and you’re worse off, then what do you do?
You wallow, you mope, right?
So what happens when you compare yourself to someone else and you’re worse off, well, you deny it, and therefore you’re denying the very instrument that God intends to use in your life to benefit you.
And so it’s so important that we understand the biblical definition of suffering, here’s what it is, biblical suffering is any trial in this life, some are big and some are small, some are difficult, and some are more easy to go through, sometimes they can be financial struggles or the loss of health, it can be persecution for your faith or general tension in relationships, it can include the hardness of work, the failure to reach our dreams that we long for, the lack of fruitfulness in our lives, it can include hatred, conflict, injustice and wickedness. It can include the struggle that we have daily against our sin and our tendency moment by moment to be numb toward God, it can include death and bereavement, it can include hurricanes, derecho, pandemics, and political turmoil. Suffering is all around us.
Biblical suffering is a big theological idea that includes all pain, all turmoil, all struggle caused by the curse, and so when you taste any suffering at all, you don’t have to discount it, it’s a result of the curse, if you have eyes to see, you can trace from Revelation 22, backward in the Bible, Revelation 22 is that great 21-22, the great promise that death will be no more and wipe away tears from their eyes, there’s this great hope that suffering is finally once and for all done away with… And then you trace it back in the Bible and you read the epistles, and you see each one of the Epistles warn you that you will suffer in this life, there’s no getting out of it.
Your faith in God is not in an umbrella to protect you from suffering, it’s not the way it works, and anybody who says and otherwise as a false prophet, you will face suffering in the slide and you’ll need to do it well. And then you go back a little bit further and you read the Gospels, and you read about what Isaiah calls is the suffering servant, Jesus Christ, who though he himself was not enslaved by the curse, chose to humble himself and enter into a cursed world. And as he walks around this curse world, he touches people and talks to people, and in moments here and there, the curse is relieved from them, the lame walked the blind see, the curse has done away with sins are forgiven. And you see the stories, he proceeds forward to suffer and die as a way to free people today from the suffering of their sins, and once and for all in eternity, from all suffering.
That’s what our Savior did. You go back further, you go tell all the prophets and you see they are just frustrated because they know that much of Israel suffering is the result of their own wickedness, and the prophets themselves are suffering because they’re calling Israel out of that wickedness, the suffering after suffering you go back a little further. You read Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. How many love Proverbs out there? Okay, how many love Ecclesiastes have not there? Yeah, less of those. That tells you, who’s the optimist, who’s the pessimist right there.
Those two books give us kind of two sides of the same coin of what suffering is, Proverbs is basically giving you the rules of life, saying generally speaking, if you will pay good happens if you disobey bad happens. And Ecclesiastes goes well, yes, but I’ve seen a righteous man and he lost everything. The race doesn’t always go to the Swift, good things don’t always happen to those who are righteous, and both pictures together give you a full orb view of what life is like here.
You go back even further, you read in the Psalms of men who wrote songs weeping and they’re suffering to God, you go back even further, you read the judges and the monarchs and the people of Israel under both of them, and if you wanna know the key theme in those books is that if they decided to do things their own way, whether kings are judges or individuals, that it led to bat…
I led to suffering. I summarized like 1/4 of the Bible there for you, when you read it, keep that in mind, it’s gonna unlock the whole whole narrative.
You go back even further, and the, I would say quintessential, the pinnacle of all deliverance from suffering in world history is the exodus from Egypt, all of the Bible points back to the Exodus and longing for a greater Exodus, an Exodus from our sin, and yet that moment there is a moment of deliverance for people enslaved, and you go back even further to Genesis and you see where all the suffering started, you see that work became hard and thorny and fruitless as a result of the curse, you see that between the man and the woman and I would say this is general of all relationships, conflict came into being as a result of the curse, and in the next chapter, you see that conflict between brothers, the first murder, we could go on and on and on and see that the book… The word of God is a book about suffering.
Now, it’s not all it is, but they’re suffering on every single page, you could really argue that the word of God is a book that I sympathize is so deeply with the human condition and gives a narrative through which to understand the suffering that’s in this world. Why, it’s here. And what can be done about it?
It’s beautiful, it’s beautiful.
Our God is a sympathetic God, he’s sympathetic to those who are in suffering, he has a plan one day to relieve us from all suffering. Today, he relieves us at the very least from the suffering of our sin. We don’t have to sin, we don’t have to carry the weight of guilt for sin, we can be freed from that today, and yet there’s still much other suffering in this world. There are two kinds, primarily two kinds of suffering in this world, there’s the suffering, that’s the result of our decisions, our poor decisions, and there’s the suffering that happens through no fault of our own.
So when a hurricane hits Iowa, that’s not something that you and I did wrong, right?
We can’t take blame for that nor should we, and yet it’s still suffering, and yet if I lose my job because I told off my boss- that suffering… That’s my fault. Two different kinds of suffering. So here they are, we’re gonna work through six ways to respond poorly to suffering that make our suffering un-beneficial, and the first one is that if we fail to see the good design behind our suffering, then we’ll waste our suffering. If we see it as ultimately bad, not ultimately good, would you open with me please to Romans Chapter 8…
Romans Chapter 8, as one of the most quoted verses in all the Bible, Romans chapter 8 verse 28, I wanna read through verse 30, and we’re gonna make a few applications here. Romans Chapter 8-28, And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He fore new, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. are brothers and sisters. And those whom He predestined, He also called, and those whom He called, He also justified, and those whom He justified, He also glorified.
What does it say? Our suffering? All things work together for good.
Now, in just a few verses down, he’s gonna list off what he means by all things, let the text define what they mean, if you can, so read down and we know that nothing… I’m gonna butcher it. Verse 35, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
What are the all things?
Tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword.
That’s the suffering. That’s the all things. Now, I wanna submit to you a thought, I want you to chew on this, throw it out… If you don’t think it’s worth anything.
If all things work together for good, for those who love God.
For those who don’t love God. What do all things work together for?
What’s their end? Condemnation, that means that every trial for the unbeliever who will remain in their unbelief, every trial that they go through, every success that they take taste, every single thing is working together where they’re invited to repent from their sin, and you today are invited to repent from your sin, and yet if you don’t, all of those things are leading you to a moment of condemnation in hell, you’re bad.
But for those who love God, for those who have trusted in Christ alone for their salvation, all things are working together for good.
Give you a illustration here, I think this will be helpful. Let me ask you this, in the hands of an unsupervised three-year-old, a paint brush and an open can of paint can lead to a disaster.
What’s that suffering?
Yeah, yeah, right.
Now, in the hands of a trained artist, a paint brush and a PAC can lead to beauty.
It’s not the tool that change, it’s the one behind the tool, and this is to kind of help you understand that before you’re a Christian in your life, you’re going through suffering, and all of that suffering is leading to chaos in your life.
Now, God is ultimately sovereign over all of this life, and yet this passage shows he takes a special interest in using the suffering of this life for His people for their good, and so he takes the suffering from the hands of Satan, the suffering that Satan would use for your bad, a suffering that he would use to create chaos in your life, he takes that from his hands and he says, No, I will use these to create something of beauty. The suffering didn’t change.
Our God is in control over all in this life, and he is using the suffering for your good.
Now, just a thought. I’ve emphasized this multiple times in my preaching in the last few years, what is good in the Bible, God is the first pages of the Word of God, right. And I do think that linguistically, these two words are connected… What the first pages of the Word of God, God looks at what he created and he says, What?
It was good. It was good. I don’t think that’s accidental, I think what’s going on here is that God is working in you, he’s doing a new almost creation work to make you a new creation and bringing good in your life, and he looks at it and he says, This is good. And that brings us to point number two, the first point again, as we wait, start suffering if we fail to see the good design, the second is we waste are suffering if we don’t examine ourselves, if we don’t use it as an opportunity to examine ourselves, what is the end… What does Verse 29 say?
It says that those who he for new, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.
We waste our suffering if we do not look specifically at the sins that the suffering is revealing, and use that opportunity as an opportunity to repent… To grow into the image of Jesus Christ.
Eventually, I’m gonna do a sermon series on the image of God, I’ve been chewing on it for a few years, and I’m not quite there with it, but I’m pretty sure that the image of Christ here is a reference all the way back to Genesis 1, when God creates man and woman in his image.
That is something inherent that all of us have, it’s what gives humanity value above the animals, and yet there’s something about sin and the curse that mars, that image. And I think part of Christ’s redemption plan was to show what true humanity was, now he was totally God, totally man, but he was the most human that there’s ever been as well, he was… What humanity is supposed to be, in his love and his gentleness and His righteousness, His… That is the image of Jesus Christ. And so when it talks about being conformed into the image of Christ, it’s about a good that maybe you don’t have on your radar, but… God does.
I wanna pause here, let’s talk like real nitty-gritty specifics because… It’s great an idea. This stinks. When you’re confronted with this… Yeah, anyone ever get confronted with this, where you are in the middle of a suffering because you wanted something that you’re not gonna get, whatever it might be, and you’re suffering for it and it’s frustrating to you, and then you’re confronted with this idea that maybe that wasn’t good for you, and maybe what was good for you was that you wanted to get that thing so that you could be conformed into the image of Jesus Christ. This happened with me earlier this year, I still don’t quite know how to shape it in my mind, but I do know this, that I thought it would be good for our church to get that other facility, like biblical definition Good, I thought it would be good. And God, in His wisdom, did not think it would be good, in his wisdom instead, he thought it would be better for us not to get that building, which stunck. And yet, that goodness, the problem that I had for months was that instead of looking at that suffering as an opportunity to be conformed into the image of Jesus Christ, I moved…
I didn’t see how it could be good, I didn’t trust that God was working a good plan in my life, and I missed an opportunity that I’ve since tried to take… To grow into the image of Christ more and more. You see how that works. In the moment when you realize it, the suffering happens, you’re sick and you just wanna be healthy again, and you think, Man, it would be much better, it’d be good, Father, if I could be healthy again, and then you confronted with the reality that God says, Well, apparently being unhealthy is, you’re good right now, it’s working good in you, and you’ve gotta figure out a way to get there, you gotta figure out a way to believe that and understand that… Anybody else come to that moment where you’re like, Oh, I gotta recognize that everything I defined as bad was actually good and I need to embrace this…
I know, I have… See, oftentimes, I’ve used the illustration before of my drink up here, the trials of this life are like an earthquake that shake us, spilling water all over the ground, but why did water spill… Why did coffee spill?
See, if this cup stood here and was just there, it would never spill right after church, the kids are running around, I might spill dot, but you get what I’m saying and what it spills, it knocked. You would never know what’s on the inside if it wasn’t shaken up, but when it gets shaken, it reveals what’s inside, and that’s the truth of suffering for you and me, the truth of suffering is that it shakes it up, and if you are already prone to Moines despondency, pessimism, if you’re already prone to addictions, if you’re already prone to anger, if you’re already prone to independence from God, that’s what’s going to come out, ’cause that’s what it was inside, it might have been uncover undercover, it might have been in there deep and you didn’t see it, it might have been a blind spot, but when the suffering happens, shakes you up and it reveals what’s really inside, and so in your suffering, you’ll waste your suffering if you do not use it as an opportunity to examine yourself, get some friends to help you examine yourself and see what’s going on in your heart. And how Christ is forming in you.
Number three you’ll waste your suffering. If you neglect hope you waste your suffering. If you neglect, hope, we waste are suffering, if we do not, now are suffering to push our vision beyond the brokenness of this life, to long for the hope of life when God, when He will make all things new.
I made that joke earlier, but I do gravitate toward Ecclesiastes when I’m going through a tough time… You can’t read too much Ecclesiastes.
Yeah, I mean, you can, but you’re going through it, and if you spend too much time in Ecclesiastes, man, I can… Without Proverbs to balance it out, it can start to get depressing.
Turn your Bibles with me to 1 Peter, Chapter 3.
1 Peter chapter one, I’m sorry, verse 3.
1 Peter is a book about suffering and suffering… Well, that’s it.
1 Peter Chapter 1, Verse 3 says, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be good, born again, to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. To an inheritance that is imperishable. un-defiled. Un-fading kept in Heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time. And this rejoice though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.
I will say that Isaiah was a great help to me in suffering, particularly the suffering of disappointed dreams or hopes, I say is a great hope to me, a great help to me, because Isaiah through his entire life never saw the fruition of what he hoped for an Israel, them to finally repent and turn back to him, he never saw it. He saw moments of it with Hezekiah that must have thrilled a soul, but over and over and over again, Isaiah actually has seven different visions of a great hope, and they’re described in different ways, it starts in Chapter Two, where it’s described as Mount sign and lifted up on this holy mountain, Chapter Four then comes around and it begins to talk about kind of a garden picture in Zion, you move forward and you got Chapter 11, which reveals this picture of everything at peace, animals at peace and fruitfulness and no more war, and all this stuff, and then you move forward to Chapter 24-ish to 27. in there, it’s called the mini Apocalypse of Isaiah. It is what most of the language in Revelation is based off of. It’s this beautiful picture, and in that, by the way, is where he’ll like away, the tears from their eyes comes from that right there, by the way is where death is swallowed up in victory comes from the often quoted passage that I love, that in that day, he’ll prepare a great feast, a feast with meat that is full of marrow and well-aged wine, and we will celebrate with God in that day.
And I long for that day.
You see, if you think that all your hope is in this life, is it making the most of this life is in fulfilling all your dreams and your goals, and this light is getting everything you want out of this life, is it making this world a better place if that’s everything that’s on your mind, then you will miss the fact that this world is broken and is cursed and will not be anything like what God will make it one day.
How to try. It doesn’t mean we don’t pursue and dream and work hard and labor, and defend the rights of the poor and the needy and love God with everything we are doesn’t mean that we don’t try. But every step of the way, you will be faced with suffering, and if you do not use that suffering as an opportunity to look beyond the suffering to that greater moment, if you don’t use the darkness as an opportunity to focus your eyes on the light, then you’ll miss one of the points of suffering forthw.
We waste our suffering when we focus on self, turn with me to 2 Corinthians chapter 1. We waste our suffering when we become me-focused instead of recognizing that our suffering can benefit others. What does Paul say in 2 Corinthians Chapter 1:3, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are… In any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God, for as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ, we share abundantly in comfort to… If we are afflicted, listen to this. If we are afflicted, listen to this, it is for your comfort and salvation. If we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings we endure, our hope for you is un-shaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you also share in our comfort.
Paul’s view on suffering that I think is often forgotten, is that your suffering might actually be for the good of someone else.
Do you ever think about that?
See so many people, myself included, when I suffer. What do we do? We isolate, right. Anyone else? You go through a tough time. You just don’t wanna talk to anyone. Leave me alone.
I’ll be on my basketball blog, I’ll be working on a project, I’ll be playing basketball, I’ll be doing whatever. But just leave me alone.
And what does that do when we cut ties from other people, when we’re going through suffering, perhaps the way that God intends to use that suffering is for someone else is good, not your own.
Something to consider. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take time, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go and go up to a high mountain and be with God for a while and pray, it doesn’t mean that you can’t do those things, it doesn’t mean that you don’t see comfort from other people in those times, that’s not what it means. But there are times when you’re suffering will be best served for someone else, think about how like Jesus, that is right. Jesus suffers. Was it for his good?
As far as glory. Yeah, I guess is for our good, if you go through suffering, you can actually minister to other people through that, Jesus Christ.
Number five, you waste your suffering when you take your eyes off God, we waste are suffering if we focus on the problem or seek comfort or relief from the circumstances instead of from God. If you keep reading in 2 Corinthians Chapter 1, look at Verse 8, For we do not want you to be unaware brothers of the affliction that we experienced in Asia, for We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. You ever hear somebody say, God will not give you more than you can handle. This verse flies right in the face of that.
Paul says, I was burdened beyond my strength. That’s not a verse in the Bible, by the way.
Now, God can be with us in all things and help us see through all suffering, but it is a very real thing to be burdened beyond our strength. And verse 9 says, Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death, but that was to make us rely not on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead. What was part of the purpose of that suffering?
Paul had to get to the point where he thought he was gonna die. Anybody else get to that point yet? And you’re suffering. I think I’m gonna die. Now, was to make Paul rely on God who raises the dead. Not on himself. My dad talked about this a little bit in his Sunday school, I appreciate your words on the greatest sin that we can commit is when suffering happens, we turn to ourselves, we turn to others, it actually… It’s a great sin and of itself, but it also just reveals an independence or a self-dependence that was there all along.
Think Peter on the waves, the chaotic waters. What happens?
Why was that narrative there for us, Jesus walks out on the chaotic waters, there are stormy oceans that are everywhere, right?
And he has absolute mastery over that, think about all of the storming oceans throughout the Word of God, back from the very beginning, Genesis Chapter One, the chaotic waters that are there, you move all the way forward to the parting of the Red Sea, also remember to flood waters, and yet Jesus is Lord and walks on them, absolute sovereign over them, and Peter wants to go join Jesus there, and he goes and he steps out on the water and he begins to walk.
But what happens?
He takes his eyes off of Jesus, he looks at the problem, he looks at his own feet, he looks at his own inability to be able to do that, and what happens, you sink that story in there is for our example, when you go through the chaos and the suffering of this life. It’s when you take your eyes off of Jesus that you’ll think. If Peter was just walking on solid ground to Jesus, he would never need to think about it. The suffering was necessary for Peter to learn to rely on Jesus finally. We waste are suffering if we stay silent, we waste our suffering, if we do not use it as an opportunity to bear witness to the glory of God… This is how Luke says it. Luke 21, Verse 12, it says, But before all this, they will lay their hands on you, they will persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness.
You waste your suffering if you stay silent. How many people going through cancer have learned that they had more opportunities to share Christ than ever before?
How often when your life is going good, people look at you much like Satan looked at Job and we’re like, Well, you know you’re good with God, your life’s perfect right now, but when you’re going through suffering, when you lose that job, financial struggles, when your health is failing when your family is crumbling, there’s relationship struggles, when your dreams are frustrated, whatever it might be, you’re going through that suffering, is those moments that people watch… What’s the real God? Is it themselves? Are they gonna trust themselves, are they gonna pull themselves up by the bootstraps, are they on… Are they gonna move? Are they gonna win.. Are they gonna turn to addictions, are they gonna do this or that? What are they going to do? Or are they gonna rely on Jesus Christ, that has a profound impact on people who struggle to have hope in this life, people who don’t know how to make sense of the suffering in their life… You will go through suffering.
You will face suffering.
When it happens, if it’s happening now, don’t waste it. Many a saint have often said that they would not want to go through that suffering season again, and yet they wouldn’t trade it for the world because of how it impacted them, they wouldn’t wanna do it again, ’cause it stinks, we’re not… We don’t hate ourselves, we don’t wanna brutalized herself, but after you get out of it, if you’ve done the right way, if you relied on God, you’ve turned to him, you trusted Him, if you’ve done the right things, you get out of it and you find… That was good. It was good. It was brutal. But it was good. I’m better off.
I always offer you, Okay, if you have gone through a season of suffering that you’re still trying to figure out what God is working on you with, or you’re currently going through a season of suffering, come talk to me, talk to a trusted friend, come talk to me schedule, we’ll get together, alright?
And I’ll do everything I can to help you sift through the pain, the suffering of it, and I hope you know that… I’m not a latitude guy, I’m not gonna just give you platitudes a week with you, cry with you, and then we’ll look at the promises is able to go together and invite that. Don’t be afraid. Don’t isolate yourself. Don’t waste your suffering. Let’s take a moment and pray. We’re gonna close with a song here.
So this is an opportunity for you to pray, pray in your heart to God, maybe you need to confess that you bode your back, you grumble, you are even angry at him over suffering that you faced. And you need to confess that to God now. Maybe you need to confess that you rely on yourself or you turn to addictions or distractions… Father, you are…. our good is to know you to be found in Jesus Christ, not having our own righteousness that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ Jesus.
And I know that the sufferings of this world are so diverse that I couldn’t possibly touch on all of them, and people here are struggling with many different ways would you… Minister comfort.
Minister your peace. I help them to remember that you are their greatest good knowing you, drawing close to you, confessing their sins so that they could have more of You, Father. I ask that you would do that..