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July 19, 2020  Beneficial Suffering

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Dear Brothers & Sisters in Christ, 

Romans 8:18 said to us:  “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time   are not worth comparing   with the glory  that will be revealed to us.”

This part of the letter to the Romans  is considered the ‘Triumphal Hope’ section.    Here,  Paul is talking about the future glory of the Christian,  and the re-creation of the children of God.  We have a wonderful guarantee from the Triune God;  so we have an eager expectation of entering our promised heavenly home.   Yet,  that wonderful news & promise is given in view of our current sufferings;  so our happiness is ‘coming’,  but we don’t have it yet.  We are groaning now,  & the new-birth into eternal life is almost here.   It’s a ‘mixed’ message.

God’s Word assures us of a glorious future,  while it acknowledges the un-glorious present.  God confirms our bright heavenly hope,  so that we will be able to endure whatever is  /unfair, /painful,  /or sad & depressing right now.  This is the priceless perspective of our Christian faith.   On the inside  we want to jump for joy,  & go to be with the Lord right now;   but on the outside  we know we have to  /face another day,  /endure our trouble,  /& wait for God to call our name, & bring us thru the gate of heaven.

Those without God’s promise  feel like they’re drowning in their troubles with no way out & no future;  so they just give-up  without hope.   Those who trust God  have another way to view & handle our present reality.  With Rom.8,  the Lord wants us to ponder this ‘bitter-sweet’ reality which combines 2 un-like things:   future glories  and  present sufferings.

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Let’s consider Three Suffering People.  They are 3 people you know;   and all of these suffering people  either have suffered already,  or will suffer at some point,  for the benefit of you & me.   That’s the main thought for the day:  someone’s suffering is good for you.

In fact,  it has been God’s WILL that suffering happen for you.   But  *WHY would a loving God allow suffering?  The answer is:  there is a benefit that suffering accomplishes,  because there is more involved  than just ‘a loving God’  and ‘bad things happening.’   As every athlete knows,  sore muscles hurt today;  but it means you’re a little stronger tomorrow.   THAT’S how God views suffering;  our view is = it hurts;   His view is = it has a deeper benefit.

So,  *are we willing to adopt His view?   We say ‘yes’ now, but what happens when  /a child is killed by a stray bullet; /a person finds out they have cancer;   /someone is injured in a vehicle accident;  /people are wounded in a terrorist bombing;  /towns & lives are destroyed by a tornado. Especially when we,  or someone we love,  is suffering,  we ask the question:  ‘why?’

The fact is,  God DOES allow suffering;  He can even cause it ~ He’s God.  He gets no pleasure in it;  but, He has purpose thru it.   He did not create the world with suffering, pain or sorrow.   But when man sinned & turned away from God & true life,  God made suffering the consequence,  so that we would not be comfortable in this fallen world,  and blindly move from this life into eternal destruction.   Because of His love,  He has this view:  brief suffering is better than eternal death.  Our view is = it hurts;  His view is = it’s far better than the alternative.

It’s like having medicine  that has unpleasant side-effects,  but it will make you better. Like having painful surgery;  you get cut open  in order to fix what’s wrong & heal up right.

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So,  3 suffering people for your benefit.  The FIRST suffering person  is by far the most important.   His suffering has been done already,  almost 2,000 years ago.  God spoke thru His prophets about His ‘suffering servant,’  especially thru Isaiah:  53:  3~6,  /  9~10a,  / 12 a&c

Of course,  we’re talking about JESUS = who is the Christ,  God-the-Son.  He laid aside His heavenly glory to become that suffering servant.   He was opposed & rejected.  He was /arrested,  /condemned falsely,  /beaten,  /whipped,  /nailed to a large piece of wood,  /& hung out naked in public until dead.   He suffered under the Father’s anger;   it was God‘s will!        But His suffering benefited US.  It was according to God’s plan of grace for us  that He suffered.   God’s justice against sin had to be paid;  there had to be blood shed to pay for & to forgive  our unholy spiritual crimes.

That suffering & death  was our deserved suffering & death.   And now because of that plan & will of God upon Jesus,  we are innocent of all charges.  Jesus’ suffering has given us the promise of life eternal,  & a glorious heavenly home.   Paul says  this is our hope of glory.

Yet,  this news is bitter-sweet.   We sing hymns of victory,  such as:  “The strife is o’er,   the battle done;   now is the Victor’s triumph won;   now be the song of praise begun.   Alleluia!”

At the same time,  we are humbled & speechless  that such a steep price was paid for us;  that Jesus would use-up His earthly life for sinners  like you & me.   *Are we worth it?

*Would you trade your life for someone’s ? ….for an undeserving person?  It’s like asking: *Would you trade places with someone in prison = you get their life behind bars,  & they get your life & your possessions?   Jesus gave-up a regular earthly life for you & me,  He took our place in suffering & death  so that we could live,  freed from spiritual prison.  For that, we can’t just shout for joy & do what we want;  we daily give humble thanks & we live a worthy life.

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There’s a SECOND person  who’s suffering is a benefit to us.  This person is any aged,  or disabled Christian who is in your life = family members & friends.  It’s a sad thing to see frail bodies or minds,  & those suffering the effects of many years of living;  or the effects of disease or accidents.   *Why does the Lord have them suffer in these ways?   And,  *what is it that keeps them faithful to God  to face another day?

The answer is:  it’s the hope to come;  the future promise  -obtained by Jesus’ suffering-  causes people to not give up.   Thru pain,  or limitations of sight or hearing or movement,  those who suffer  with trust in God  are His witnesses to the truth of sin & death,  and to that glorious future hope.   Every day that they can no longer do what they used to  is a sign  (to themselves & others)  that the future is coming = a future with God  or without Him.   Their lives benefit us by pointing away from human strength – to God’s strong Word,  / pointing away from this earth & life  to God’s heaven & eternal life;  / they show us what it means  to trust God,  and to be patient for His promise.

God knows we need to SEE how it’s done,  how faith is lived.  Those Christians  are given the strength to endure their suffering,  and to keep the faith in the future glory,   so that OUR faith & hope will be strengthened.   The world will say that the aged or the disabled  have no purpose in life,  or no ‘quality’ or ‘dignity’ to life,  just because they can’t do certain functions;  but the world is wrong.   In Philippians,  Paul said, ‘to live is Christ.’  He didn’t say that only a ‘healthy’ life is Christ,   or that only fully-functional lives are good & useful.

          In both sickness and health,  life can be lived as a sign & a witness to the saving God.  God also uses the sick  so that the care-givers will have a way to serve with their own fruit of faith.  Suffering keeps us ALL from putting our hope in this passing life.  *Who says that the elderly or sick or disabled  don’t have a purpose = or have less of a purpose than others?   It is God who ordains purpose for each human life;  the purpose of physical suffering is to showcase & strengthen deep spiritual faith in Christ.

Those around us who are aged or disabled,  with faith in Christ,  have a special purpose;  to be living examples of Romans 8:18 = “For I consider that our present sufferings  are not worth comparing with the glory  that will be revealed in us.”   The Christian who handles their suffering in patient faith  is a benefit to us.

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And finally there is a THIRD suffering person.   A person who’s suffering will benefit you.  That person is…you.    Paul says here in verse 23:   “we ourselves… groan inwardly  as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons,   the redemption of our bodies.”  With God’s help,  your suffering,  -whether it’s more or less-  is ultimately a benefit for the sake of your faith.   It has a way of taking your mind off less important & earthly things.

Paul suffered with something he referred to as a ‘thorn in the flesh’;  it was some sort of ailment or pain or limitation;  it was given to him  so that he would not be too self-reliant, or proud.

He was more useful to God’s Church  if he was relying on God for strength-for-the- day,  and in the hope of a better life to come.   He didn’t like this ailment,  & had prayed earnestly that God would take it away;  but God said ‘no.’   It was God’s will  that he have some suffering,  because only in his weakness  did he not forget God’s grace, forgiveness & heaven in Christ.   God knows that if our lives are trouble-free,  we’ll be tempted to think we don’t need Him.

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We don’t wish ourselves trouble;  & we don’t seek out our own suffering.  We trust our Creator to assign us  what He knows is beneficial for us.  Our suffering may come slow with age;  or it may come suddenly  with an accident or illness;  but it will come,  because that’s the world we live in.   And when it happens,  *what will you have to live for?  For the faith  that your gracious God has made suffering beneficial.  Just as Jesus’ suffering has guaranteed you a future,  so your own suffering is a way to show others your faith & hope in that future.

I know = that’s a ‘bitter-sweet’ message!  But it’s real.  It’s a bitter truth  made sweet by a promise of hope.   It’s a present life in a broken world,  but a future in God’s heaven.   Scripture says  that suffering produces perseverance;   perseverance produces character;   and character produces hope.    And this hope of faith in Christ  does not disappoint us,  Paul says,  for in this hope we are saved.  For who hopes for what he sees,  or has?   But if we hope for what we do not yet see or have,  we wait for it with patience.’ 

This is how our faith in Christ has transformed our lives.   *Is your life pretty good right now;  or  is it pretty tough & hard?   Either way,  your hope of the future is strengthened;  and your hope is encouraged with  3 suffering people:

+Your hope of adoption & redemption & heaven  is because of the suffering of your Savior Jesus.   +Your fruit of faith is put into service  as you take care of those around you who are suffering,  & they show you faith.    +And your own ‘thorn in the flesh’  & limitations  keep you relying on the Lord’s help,  and keep you looking forward  -with eager longing-  for the heavenly life to come.

Amen