Sermon Series: Things that make a Difference
One of the dichotomies of life is that out of suffering comes joy. The joy that a woman experiences from housing and bringing forth life from within her womb enables her to endure the pain that accompanies childbirth. The joy that a student realizes when their name is called and they receive their diploma or degree overshadows the years of sacrifice they must go through to earn their credential. The joy that a builder or craftsman feels after they have assembled something with their own hands supersedes the struggles and setbacks they may have faced during the process. The joy that fills a job seeker when they get the call for a job they have been pursuing dispels the air of depression that formed from all of the rejections they have endured. All of these examples and many more highlight one of life’s mysteries that out of suffering can come great joy.
Helen Keller was once quoted as saying, “While the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” Someone asked C. S. Lewis, “Why do the Righteous suffer?” C. S. Lewis replied, “Why not?” “They are the only ones who can handle it.” The apostle Paul in his letter to the church at Rome echoes the sentiments of both Helen Keller and C. S. Lewis. In the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans, the apostle communicates to believers that God does not abandon us in our suffering, but rather God has equipped us to endure whatever sufferings a believer may face. One of the most challenging things for anyone to wrap their minds around is the idea that suffering is part of the Christian experience. It comes with the territory. It is part of a believer’s job description. As with any job, it is the employer’s responsibility to make sure that their employees have what they need to do their job well. To do any job well the right or appropriate tools are required. According to the apostle, since suffering is part of our Christian experience God provides us with a sufferer’s tool kit so that we can handle the sufferings we face.
The apostle Paul begins in verse 18 by pointing out, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” The apostle is both admonishing and reminding believers to keep your focus on the Glory of Christ. One of the tools God gives us to help us endure our sufferings is a future focus. Scripture tells us that when Christ comes back for His church (believers), the glory of Christ will be revealed. When Christ returns all of creation will see His splendor, His radiant beauty, and behold the majesty of our Lord and Savior. Therefore, believers are encouraged in the midst of their suffering to always look beyond their present circumstances and look ahead at what is still yet to come. Literally, Paul is saying look this stuff here that you and I are going through and that we are experiencing cannot be compared to what we will see and experience in the future when Christ returns. One of the ways we can keep a future focus is by being hungry to see Jesus. Hunger is a base primal human desire that will drive us toward an object we believe will satisfy and satiate our hunger. If we stay hungry for more of Jesus, the desire for and to see Jesus will drive us beyond the pain of our present sufferings, because we realize that only Jesus can satisfy us. Another way to keep a future focus is to consider all that we are presently enduring as preparation and training for a future goal we will attain. In another passage of scripture, the apostle Paul compares the believer’s journey to that of athletes who train to compete. Paul points out that all of the training and preparation athletes go through has but one end in mind to be victorious at the end. Our victory over suffering comes when we are standing in the glory and presence of Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, keep our eyes on the future glory of Christ.
Another article in our tool kit is found in verse 25 the apostle says, “But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” In the two preceding verses the apostle Paul defines exactly where a believer’s hope lies. In verse 23 he says, “We wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” Then in verse 24 the apostle says, “For in this hope we are saved.” The salvation of every believer is found in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is because we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that Jesus, who was crucified, rose from the dead that we are saved. With this in mind then, in the midst of our sufferings and trials believers must remember that our hope is in the Resurrection. The Resurrection was a transformational event. Previously, people believed that once you died that was it and there was no coming back. In fact, in John 11 we read of Lazarus who the Bible says was dead and in the grave four days. His body was beginning to smell. All hope was gone until Jesus reminded Martha that He, Jesus, was the resurrection and the life. All who believe in Him will never die. While suffering may make us feel like we are at the brink of death, the power of the resurrected Christ brings us back. The resurrection teaches us that comebacks are possible for the people of God if they believe. The Resurrection teaches believers that no matter how far away suffering may carry us the power of Christ in us can bring us back. When believer’s view suffering through the eyes of the Resurrection their understanding of suffering is transformed. They come to realize that no suffering they face can kill them, because Jesus said if we believe in Him the Resurrection, we would never die. Since our hope then is in the resurrection, the apostle Paul encourages us to keep hope alive. Paul says you can only hope for what you do not have yet. Therefore, if we are in the midst of suffering it simply means that our comeback has not happened yet, but the hope in us reminds us that it is on the way and we will keep hoping until it comes.
The third tool in our kit is found in verse 26. Here the apostle tells us that, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.” Our help comes from The Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to believers and He is also the believer’s link to God and Christ. The apostle Paul reveals to us in this text that one of the roles of the Holy Spirit in the life of every believer is to intercede. The Holy Spirit speaks to God directly on behalf of believers. This is good news! When a person is hurting and unable to articulate their pain they need someone who can step up and speak on their behalf. There are times when the burden of suffering is so great that we lose the ability to put into words what we are feeling and experiencing. It is at this point that the Holy Spirit uses His powers of translation. The Holy Spirit reads, interprets and translates our groans, our pain, and our deepest hurts and then conveys them to God. Suffering has the ability to make a person feel as though they are alone in a room full of people. Suffering has the power to bring the strongest person to their knees and make them feel as though no one knows what they are going through. The apostle Paul reminds us that in the midst of our sufferings our help comes from the Holy Spirit.
To every believer God gives three tools the help them through their times of suffering, a future focus, a present help, and an intercessor. As we learn to use these tools we also come to understand that there is a three-fold purpose to all suffering that believer’s endure.
1) To Purify Believer’s – Like precious metals that must be exposed to extreme heat to rid them of all their impurities, so too must believer’s be rid of their impurities. God uses the heat of suffering to burn away the dross - all of the stuff that renders us ineffective in our use and service to God in His kingdom. After the dross has been discarded then God uses the heat of suffering to make us pliable so that we can more easily be molded into the image and likeness of Christ.
2) To Help Believer’s Identify with Christ - Each individual episode of suffering that believer’s experience provides them with a window into the suffering that Christ experienced throughout His Crucifixion for us. Our personal suffering, which will never match that of Christ’s, helps us only in part to gain a better understanding of what Christ went through and endured on our behalf. The believer’s suffering helps him or her to spend a little time walking in the shoes of Christ.
3) To Prepare Believer’s to share in the Glory of Christ – Christ was an over comer. He overcame the cross, death and the grave. Christ secured for all believer’s the ultimate victory. Our ability to endure the sufferings we face in this life are a testimony to the overcoming Spirit of Christ in us that is moving us closer to sharing in the ultimate glory of Christ at His return.
As believers use the tools that God has given them to endure their sufferings and grow in their understanding of the purpose for suffering in their lives they realize that it does make a difference. Sufferer’s do not have to be victims or victimized by their circumstances they only have to use the tools that God has given them and live in the power of the victory that Christ has won and will share with all believer’s upon His return.