Preaching back in Antrim, New Hampshire I was famous for quoting songs in my sermons…and sometimes having them be the actual inspiration for the talk.
Or perhaps it might be more accurate to say I was infamous for it 🙂
In either case, don’t worry…I’m not going to start singing up here. I already like all of you too much to do that. 🙂
However, I am going to quote the late Ray Charles, who famously…and quite soulfully…sang:
If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.1
Do you ever feel that way? That nothing…at least nothing major…ever goes right for you?
- That if you get mail it’s going to be a bill?
- That if you are going to hear from your boss it is because he or she is mad at you…and you didn’t do anything wrong?
- That if you get a call from long distance family it’s going to be to tell you someone has died, has cancer, or some other awful news?
- That the one time you don’t watch the speedometer closely you are guaranteed to see flashing lights in your review mirror?
What else would you add to the list? How long is your list?
I suspect there are some sitting here before me who aren’t being unreasonable to feel that way. The last half-decade has been especially hard on many of us, and it seems tragedy is striking closer to home…and more often. As a church family we still mourn the recent loss of Tyler…who should be in our pews instead of in our memories. I’m sure there are others of us who are fighting a disease whose outcome isn’t yet sure. Still others may not know how they are going to pay their upcoming rent or mortgage.
In our sin-scarred world there seems to be one thing that is as sure as death and taxes:
We will suffer.
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
Five Reasons Christians Suffer
Of course, the fact that we are Christian doesn’t change this reality. If anything, it exacerbates the oft asked question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” We worship a God of miracles, yet our loved ones still die, we still get cancer, and sometimes we still can’t pay our bills.
We followers of Jesus are no less immune from the fact that…
We will suffer.
But why? Why do the adopted sons and daughters of God suffer?
I’ve thought about his in part because Michelle and I have a couple of great Christian friends back in Antrim in their 70s who, when they should be figuring out what exciting things to do in their retirement, are wrestling with myriad things that would make the youngest person feel old.
If there is anybody Michelle and I know who deserve to have God step in and fix things, it is them.
And as I pondered it I came up with 5 reasons Christians suffer. I am going to try to scrunch them quickly into a 20ish minute sermon. Do you have your Bible page turning fingers prepared? 🙂
#1 — Because We Misbehave
To start off my list, let’s go with the hardest one. The one we don’t want to admit…but all experience. Please turn to 1 Peter 2:18-20:
18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.
The first reason Christians suffer is because we misbehave.
Sometimes we sin and are beaten for it…hopefully just metaphorically for all of us in this sanctuary.
I suspect none of us here has yet attained perfection…if I am wrong, please raise your hand. 🙂
And as such, when we do wrong…and we will do wrong…there will be both natural and well-deserved consequences.
Even when the consequences are beyond what is reasonable, the fact is our suffering in this case is our fault.
Well, enough focusing on the “worst” reason we suffer…let’s move to #2…
#2 — Because We Are Christian
We can find our second reason Christians suffer in John 15:20 from the mouth of our Savior:
20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
The second reason we suffer because we are Christians.
We suffer because we become like our master, and if they persecuted Him, they will persecute us. We shouldn’t be surprised by it, especially if we also consider 2 Timothy 3:10-12?:
10 You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,
Do you desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus?
You will be persecuted.
You will suffer.
#3 — We Suffer Because We Live in a Dangerous World
Heading to reason #3 Christians suffer let’s turn to a Scripture you might consider a stretch.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now (Romans 8:18-22).
Ever since our original father and mother made their rebellious (and disastrous) decision, all creation has been under a curse…subject to futility. It longs to be freed from this situation…because it…like us…suffer just because…thanks to Adam and Eve…we live in a dangerous world.
The third reason Christians suffer is because we live in a dangerous world.
The analogy I often use is a dark alley in a bad part of a large city. If you go down that alley and get mugged, are you surprised?
If not, then why are you surprised when you are, metaphorically, mugged on a planet given that John 12:31, 14:30, and 16:11 say that the Devil is “the ruler of this world” and 2 Corinthians 4:4 refers to Satan as “the god of this world”?
The whole world is one big dark alley in the middle huge urban cesspool of sin—if anything the amazing thing is that we aren’t mugged more often.
#4 — We Suffer Because it Helps Us Depend on God
Well, we are more than half-way through my 5 reasons Christians suffer. Ready for the next one?
I mentioned how we’ve got a couple of great friends…I actually prefer to think of them as family…back in Antrim who…if there is anybody who deserves miraculous interventions in their lives…they are the ones deserve it.
But as much as I love them, I’ll have to admit that Paul was even more deserving. With that in mind, let’s turn to 2 Corinthians 12:7-9:
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
The fourth reason we suffer is because it helps us depend on God.
I don’t know about you, but when things are going great it’s easy for me to get caught up…well…in all the things that are going great. But, when things are going awry…for instance I’ve been out of work twice since 2011 (including one time we were only a couple weeks from going bankrupt)…
When things are going awry I am suddenly reminded how the only sure thing I have in life…and death…is God.
I’m not saying I want to suffer, but I am admitting that when I do I am far more likely to depend on our heavenly Father than when everything clicks along perfectly.
And, I know even if my prayers aren’t answered “[His] grace is sufficient for [me]” and “[His] power is made perfect in [my] weakness.”
#5 — We Suffer Because God Loves Us
The final reason Christians suffer is connected with the first…but this time with a much better punch line. The writer of Hebrews refers back to Proverbs when he says:
5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:5-6).
And Jesus is even more succinct in Revelation when He states:
Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent (Revelation 3:19).
The fifth reason we suffer is because God loves us.
Now, I realize this may seem as counterintuitive as the famous parental saying, “This is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you”… 🙂
But just think about it. Because the Lord loves you He’ll do whatever it takes to make sure your spend eternity with Him instead of the god of this world.
Although I could state the fifth reason as “we suffer because God is disciplining us”…praise His holy name that the real reason is…
Because He loves us.
Now, some of you may be sitting there saying, “Okay Alan, that last reason Christians suffer wasn’t quite so depressing, but overall your first sermon at the Arvada Church of Christ is quite the downer.”
Well, I’m not done yet…and I’m here to tell you that every one of those is actually great news.
- It’s good news that we suffer because we misbehave?!
- It’s good news that we suffer because we are Christian?!
- It’s good news that we suffer because we live in a dangerous world?!
- It’s good news that we suffer because it helps us depend on God?!
- It’s good news we suffer because God disciplines us?
Suffering because we misbehave reminds us that our misbehavior is temporary:
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:51-53).
Our new, perfect, imperishable body will be one with a new heart and a new spirit (see Ezekiel 11:19-20)…
And no misbehavior!
We follow the one who will deliver us from our bodies of death! (See Romans 7:24.)
Suffering because we are Christian reminds us who our master is…and instead of fretting about the unfair suffering we face because we are Christians, instead we should be like the apostles and rejoice that we are “counted worthy to suffer dishonor for [Jesus’] name” (Acts 5:41).
I mean, isn’t it good news that your master is Jesus instead of the ruler of this world?!
Suffering because we live in a dangerous world reminds us how temporary this globe of rampant sin and tragedy is.
Whether by Jesus’ return or our body’s mortality we will soon be in a place where..
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).
No matter how much (and how long) we get mugged down here it is nothing compared to the eternity we’ll spend in joy up there.
Suffering because it helps us depend on God reminds us that our conditions don’t have to dictate our happiness. Instead, by depending on our Lord we can be like Paul who said…
11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:11-13).
We can be content in every situation…including suffering…
Finally, suffering because God disciplines us…well…we’ve already said…
Suffering because God disciplines us reminds us that God loves us and should be instead be stated as…
We suffer because God loves us.
And isn’t God’s love the ultimate driver of all the good news?
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
If it weren’t for that love I wouldn’t be standing here and you wouldn’t be sitting there.
5 reasons you suffer.
5 reason that’s good news.
“One Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:5-6).
Thank you Lord for our suffering.
Although my sermon is over, I probably should make one more note. After sharing his first bit of bad news in “If It Wasn’t for Bad Luck” (“You know the woman had packed up and gone”), Ray Charles says:
That’s why I say if everybody went to heaven
I believe I’d miss the call
The sad truth about Ray’s humorous is that everybody is not going to heaven.
However, everybody has been called and could go to heaven…the question is whether you are going to answer that call.
If you don’t, then all my good news about suffering is not good news for you. Your suffering is meaningless because you’ll spend an eternity away from the One who loved you so much he sent His only begotten son.
If you haven’t yet been adopted as a child of the Most High, please answer that call, please come up front or visit an elder…repent, accept Jesus as your Lord, and be baptized for the remission of sins.
The fact the God of Love gave so much to make that possible is amazing good news!
1“If It Wasn’t for Bad Luck” (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8AodHdQ4O_U).