Helping Hand of Suffering

There is a suffering common to all—suffering in the flesh. In other words, we suffer from an onslaught of temptations that our hearts are drawn to like a magnet. Our hearts are bent towards the flesh. C.S. Lewis described the heart inside himself as, “a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds.”

Suffering is not something to be done in isolation or at least it shouldn’t be. Suffering, especially in the flesh is best fought in community where there are many helping hands to lift you up. If you are suffering it is a time to allow the community to serve you. Here is how to suffer well from 1 Peter 4:1-11:

Be Prepared

Suffering is normal for Christians because Christ suffered. Therefore, we must not be surprised by it, but be ready to for it. Christ knew when he came into this world that he would suffer. He prepared for it. He fought through it with spiritual weapons (cf. Ephesians 6:10ff). And if he did, so must we.

“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,” – 1 Peter 4:1, ESV

Break from sin

Sin is essentially idolatry. In other, words sin substitutes God with a greater love. Often idols are good things that turn bad because we love them much and love God less. In times of suffering our hearts cling to either our idols or God for security (vs.2-3). Many will ease suffering by sinning rather than break from it. Sadly, idols don’t keep you safe nor do they love you in return. God is the only one that truly loves you, serves you, and will bring you lasting joy.

Ready yourself for rejection

It surprises the world when Christians don’t participate in their wiles (vs.4-6). Sometimes we think we are missing out by not participating, but what we miss out on is greater misery. While rejection is a consequence for not participating, it is better to miss out on a little fun this side of heaven than to miss out on the great feast the other side of heaven. And though the world rejects you, God accepts you.

Give grace to others

When we suffer we don’t first think about others. We think about how we can get out from under suffering or how others can serve us. However, suffering is an opportunity to help and be helped by the community of Christ. There are many ways to express grace to one another while suffering and Peter shares a few: First, pray maturely (v.7). Second, love earnestly (v.8). Third, show hospitality (v.9). Fourth, serve with your gifts (vs.10-11).

“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” – 1 Peter 4:7-11, ESV

Suffering is a part of the will of God because Christ suffered. Suffering is a precious gift from God that he uses as a helping hand to pull you toward himself. It also an opportunity for you to push yourself toward others who are suffering and offer a helping hand.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • How has Jesus give you an example of suffering in the flesh? What does it mean to suffer in the flesh like Jesus?
  • How is God’s will less about where you live, who you marry, what job you take, and more about what kind of life you live? How does this help you understand God’s will? Why is it best to listen to God’s will?
  • What is our temptation as Christians when it comes to our ‘old ways of living’? What parts of culture and society do you need to reject? How will this set your apart from your friends or family? How can you do this in a loving way?
  • How does love cover a multitude of sins? (cf. Matthew 22:36-40) Why does Peter command us to love one another?
  • How will those who malign you be held accountable for their actions?
  • How does your understanding of the gospel inform your condition about community with other Christians? Is community optional for Christians? Explain.
  • How does hospitality show grace? How is God hospitable? (see Isaiah 25:6-8) What does it mean to be hospitable without grumbling?
  • Why does God give us spiritual gifts? How is God glorified when we serve one another? Why does serving bring joy? Where are you serving and helping in the community?
Advertisements

classroom of suffering

Suffering happens. It happens to all of us. However, it is in the suffering that we draw near to God and understand Jesus own sufferings. Jesus didn’t come into the world as an insurance salesman offering safety and security from suffering, but he shows us instead how to suffer well. While in the classroom of suffering we have a lot to learn.

See and study the suffering of Christ

‘For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey” – 1 Peter 3:18-20a, ESV

Jesus suffered once—for sins. When Jesus suffered once, it didn’t mean that he only suffered onetime in life, but that his suffering was unrepeatable. In other words, his sacrifice for sin was only needed once. What is interesting is that Jesus didn’t suffer for his own sins. He didn’t sin or bring suffering upon himself as a consequence of his sin. He was righteous and perfect, and died for the unrighteous and sinful. His suffering was undeserved. Rather Jesus is the hero and example.

See and study the suffering of Noah

“when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.” – 1 Peter 3:20b

Like Jesus, Noah was rejected by people. For 120 years, he built an enormous boat believing God would send rain even though he lived in the desert. Could you imagine the ridicule? The flood eventual came and only Noah and his family were saved.

When you express faith in Jesus coming to save people from their sins, you express a faith many think is unfounded, foolish and farfetched. So if you are rejected by others for following Jesus, you’re in good company.

See and study your baptism

“Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” 1 Peter 3:21

Baptism itself is a symbol. Jesus died, was buried, and rose from death to cleanse us from our sins. The symbol of baptism is your salvation. Through baptism one shows their belief in Jesus that he cleanses them from sin like water cleanses one from dirt. And since Jesus resurrected from the grave this guarantees that those who believe in him will one day be free from all suffering as Noah was safe in the ark.

See Christ as your victor

“[Jesus] who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.” 1 Peter 3:22

In order to ace the exam of suffering we need Jesus. It is impossible to pass tough times or survive without him. Jesus suffered greatly and he was victorious over evil. Today, Jesus is seated in heaven at God’s right hand. Everything is subject to him and nothing can thwart his power.

By remembering these lessons and learning them well you will be able to bear under the brunt of the suffering. When you suffer with Christ you are not suffering alone. The Master suffered for his students too.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • How is Jesus the greatest hero of all time?
  • What was the result of the suffering of Jesus?
  • What does it mean to be ‘put to death in the flesh’ and ‘made alive in the Spirit’? What does this look like in your life?
  • What is the connection between the Noah story and baptism? How is baptism connected to Christ’s suffering? (See Romans 6:2-4) How does baptism remind you of Jesus? Does baptism make you a Christian? How does Jesus cleanse you from sin?
  • How have you faced ridicule or reject for your faith like Noah?
  • What does it mean that Jesus is at the ‘right hand’ of God? Who and what is subject to Jesus? What are the implications of this? How does your life reflect the fact that Jesus is on his throne? What other things compete for the throne in your life?
  • How does the resurrection give you hope in the face of suffering? How does the victory of Jesus encourage your faith?
  • How does verse 22 inspire you to worship God?

blessing in suffering

Have you ever been slandered, bullied, or made fun of for doing the right thing? For being a Christian? Suffering for doing good or not being like for being a Christian is normal. The hard part is responding well to this kind of suffering. This is why Peter shares some ways to bless to others while suffering.

Respond in the way others least expect

Sometimes people are mean, they say mean things and do mean things. Even people in the church may treat you wrongly, but contrast their meanness by expressing a unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, tender heart and humility (vs.8-9). When you respond this way it will deflect evil and show others the attitude of Christ.

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” 1 Peter 3:8-9, ESV

Responding by blessings those who inflict suffering doesn’t come natural to us. However, you are called to bless, even in suffering. Our suffering is a picture of Christ’s suffering. It is an occasion to proclaim the gospel, not always in words but in the way you walk through suffering.

Remember what God has already said

The Scriptures are chalked full of promises, even in the midst of suffering (vs.10-12). In Psalm 34, David pens a song while he was on the run from from King Saul. The song helps us to reflect on truth and promises already spoken over us. They are good reminders to rest in while suffering.

“Whoever desires to love life
and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from speaking deceit;
let him turn away from evil and do good;
let him seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” – 1 Peter 3:10-12, ESV

Expect suffering for being a Jesus follower

It is not if, but when. The world currently and historically makes fun of Christians (vs.13-14a). It is normal. It started with Jesus and continues with his followers. The reason for this suffering is that the cross is foolishness to those who don’t know Christ.

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.” – 1 Peter 3:13-14a, ESV

Answer suffering with grace

Grace offers others what they do not deserve. When we respond to suffering and slander with grace, it puts our enemies to shame (vs.14b-17). The answer is not heaping more coals onto the fire, but to snuff it out with grace. It is God’s will that we suffer, but also that we suffer graciously. One who has received grace himself can freely give it to others too.

“Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” – 1 Peter 3:14b-17, ESV

The blessing of suffering is not suffering itself or getting even with those who cause your suffering. When you become a follower of Jesus you put yourself in the way of ridicule and rejection. However, as a Christian you are in good company. The blessing in suffering is helping the world see another way. The way of Jesus and his followers.

 

Questions for Reflection:

  • How can suffering be a blessing?
  • How do people tend to respond when hurt by others? Why would Peter contrast repaying evil with blessing? What does repaying evil with blessing look like? How is this so countercultural? Why is it important to suffer well? How does our response put others to shame? What is the difference between shaming someone and letting your behavior put them to shame?
  • Which of the characteristics in verse 8 do you need to grow in? What are the opposites of these characteristics? How can the Holy Spirit help you to grow in these areas?
  • What does it mean to have unity of mind with other Christians? Does this mean you agree on everything? How is living with others, even in the church an exercise of unity of mind? What important things can all Christians agree on? How can we have unity of mind and what should we do when we don’t?
  • What is the relationship between doing good and suffering? Who receives the blessing for suffering for righteousness? How have you suffered for righteousness sake?
  • What are some temptations you face when suffering for righteousness? What are the consequences of giving into those temptations?
  • How does the gospel help you to understand and deal with suffering for Jesus?
  • How have you received blessing through suffering?

Encouragements for Christians When their Faith is Under Fire

God never promised that this life will be easy, but he promises to be with you in the fire.

The consequences of saying that you love and worship Jesus can be real and hurtful. Those who are close to you may even turn their back on you.  For many around the world there is pain and suffering.  There is ridicule and rejection.

Peter knew what it was like to experience persecution, hardships, and suffering for Jesus Christ. This gave him a raw, yet real palate for encouraging other Christians who are walking through the same fire.

1 Peter is an excellent book to read to be encouraged.  Here are a sampling of encouragements for Christians when their faith is under fire:

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1:6-7)

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (2:2-3)

The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” (2:7a-8)

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (2:9)

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. (2:13-15)

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. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. (2:20-21)

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, (3:13-18)

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. (4:8)

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. (4:12-16)

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (4:19)

Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (5:5-7)

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (5:10)

the long silence

sea of people

John Stott’s, The Cross of Christ is a rather filling and satisfying read, if you are looking for a book to bring you back to Jesus again. I recently turned the last page wanting more. Near the end of the book he includes a playlet by unknown author John McNeil entitled, The Long Silence. After a quick Google search I could not find it’s roots, but using my inner-Sherlock I noticed the choice of wording seems to be dated. It is well worth reading and reflecting.

At the end of time, billions of people were scattered on a great plain before God’s throne. Most shrank back from the brilliant light before them. But some groups near the front talked heatedly – not with cringing shame, but with belligerence.

“Can God judge us? How can he know about suffering?” snapped a pert brunette. She ripped open a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. “We endured terror…beatings…torture..death!”

In another group a Negro lowered his collar. “What about this?” he demanded, showing an ugly rope burn. “Lynched..for no crime but being black!”

In another crowd, a pregnant schoolgirl with sullen eyes. “Why should I suffer?”, she murmured, “It wasn’t my fault.”

Far out across the plain there were hundreds of such groups. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering he permitted in his world. How lucky God was to live in heaven where all was sweetness and light, where there was no weeping or fear, no hunger or hatred. What did God know of all that man had been forced to endure in this world? For God leads a pretty sheltered life, they said.

So each of these groups sent forth their leader, chosen because he had suffered most. A Jew, a Negro, a person form Hiroshima, a horribly deformed arthritic, a thalidomide child. In the centre of the plain they consulted with each other. At last they were ready to present their case. It was rather clever.

Before God could be qualified to be their judge, he must endure what they had endured. Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live one earth – as a man!

“Let him be born a Jew. Let the legitimacy of his birth be doubted. Give him a work so difficult that even his family will think him out of his mind when he tries to do it. Let him be betrayed by his closest friends. Let him face false charges, be tried by a prejudiced jury and convicted by a cowardly judge. Let him be tortured.

“At the last, let him see what it means to be terribly alone. Then let him die. Let him die so that there can be no doubt that he died. Let there be a great host of witnesses to verify it.

“As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the throng of people assembled.

“And when the last had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a long silence. No one uttered another word. No-one moved. For suddenly all knew that God had already served his sentence.”

a biblical theology of the book of Revelation

The book of Revelation has been studied by all generations of Christians with various interpretations of the book.  Often the studies have focused solely upon its Apocalyptic nature, seeking to interpret the prophetic messages of the book.  Yet Revelation has a vast theological message that has been largely ignored.

Within a three part series and two guest bloggers we will attempt to trace the theological themes of the book of Revelation through the lenses of

1) the glory of God,

2) suffering and victory, and

3) redemption.

Theology of suffering and victory from the book of Revelation

This article was written by my friend Scott Tiede. Scott attended Purdue University where he studied mechanical engineering. He worked as an engineer for about 10 years while serving and growing at Bethel Bible Church in Winomac, Indiana. He was called into a staff position at Bethel Bible Church in 2005, and he attended seminary at Faith Bible Seminary in Lafeyette, Indiana, earning his Masters of Divinity in 2010. Pastor Scott joined the staff at Delaware Bible Church in the summer of 2012. Pastor Scott married his wife, Tracy, in 1995 and has four children: Caleb, Keziah, Jacobi, and Elizabeth.

When it comes to the book of Revelation, there are various themes woven throughout the letter.  Of the many themes, two that are very apparent are suffering and victory.  The thesis of suffering and victory is nowhere better represented than by Christ Himself, who suffered death on the cross and now is triumphant (5:5-6).  These themes of suffering and victory present themselves in various ways throughout the book.

Suffering is used to encourage sanctification

This idea is on full display in the letter to the churches in chapters 2 and 3.  Each of the seven churches were contending with some type of trial (2:4, 10, 14-15, 20; 3:1, 10, 15).  Jesus Himself reveals that He will pour out some brand of suffering on each of the churches with the goal of repentance and restoration.  God is not one who does not fulfill His promises, but is continuously active in bringing the necessary countermeasure to sin in the lives of the faithful that will produce righteousness.  In the case of the seven churches of Revelation 2-3, those countermeasures include suffering (2:5, 16, 21-25; 3:2-3, 11, 16-18).  Bennetch states it this way, “Varied as were the trials and experiences that the saints passed through, he[1] was always in their midst, proceeding to fulfill his aim of perfecting the good work begun in each soul.”[2]  Revelation 3:19 makes it clear that the Lord rebukes and disciplines those He loves.  Suffering is used in Revelation to produce sanctification.

God pours out suffering in such a way as to demonstrate His mercy

Clearly the Creator of the universe has the power to wipe His creation away instantaneously.  In the book of Revelation, however, this is not the case.  Instead, there are three sets of plagues rolled out (seal, trumpet, and bowl), and each set of plagues ratchets up the amount of the severity of the suffering while also shortening the time span between judgments.  What is the reason for this?  Could it be that God is a merciful God and that these judgments are rolled out in such a way as to bring the greatest possible number of souls to Himself?  Thielman states it this way, “Prior to the end of all things, the steadily increasing level of suffering does not lie outside God’s control – it is both a punishment on the wicked for their evil, particularly for their persecution of God’s people, and a merciful pedagogical effort designed to extend to them every possible opportunity to repent prior to the final outpouring of God’s wrath on them.”[3]  In fact, the Greek word for repent (μετανοέω) is used 12 times in the book of Revelation, which constitutes over one-third of the total uses in the entire New Testament (34).  Indeed some of the wicked will repent during this time of suffering and will give glory to God (11:13).  The way that God releases His judgment upon the earth puts His great mercy on display.

God pours out suffering in such a way as to demonstrate His justice

If God’s mercy is on one end of the spectrum, then on the other end of the spectrum is God’s Justice.  After mercifully pouring out judgment and suffering on the earth so that all who might come to Him would repent, God’s justice is on full display in the vision of the glorious Rider on the white horse of 19:11-18 who comes to stand against the Beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies (19:19).  This mysterious Rider is none other than Christ Himself (19:11, 13 [cf. John 1:1, 14], 16).  As He comes, the evil forces who gather to make war against Him (19:19) instead find themselves captured or killed before any fighting can begin (19:20-21).  The fact that Christ can defeat His enemies without lifting a finger in battle shows His great power.  God’s justice is powerfully revealed in the fall of Babylon (chapter 18), the destruction of those who refuse to repent (20:15), the destruction of the Beast and the False Prophet (19:20), the destruction of death and Hades (20:14), and in the final destruction of Satan himself (20:10).  Strauss writes regarding the appearance of the Rider on the white horse, “These verses (19:11-21) introduce that great event anticipated for centuries and about which the Old Testament prophets wrote.  It is the golden age on earth when all creation shall be subject to its Creator and Redeemer.  But before He reigns He must subdue every enemy and opposing force.”[4]  The suffering in the book of Revelation points to God’s justice.

Suffering produces a division among people

The awful judgments poured out in the book of Revelation separate people into two different groups; those who align themselves with evil, and those who respond to God in faith.  This theme is present from the beginning when John writes, Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near (1:3).  Lenski states, “Revelation is a book of promise and of judgment.  The promise is intended for those who are sealed; the judgment is intended for Satan and for all who are allied with him.”[5]  The price of being on God’s side is not cheap.  Some of those allied with God had suffered death because they had maintained their testimonies (6:9).  On the other hand, those on the side of evil will experience enormous fear to the point of wishing that they could be hidden from the face of Christ (6:16).  The wicked will also experience great pain (9:4-5) to the point that they will seek death, but not find it (9:6).  Some of the wicked will die during the judgments (9:15).  Those on God’s side are to be sealed on their foreheads (7:3), while those who associate with evil receive the mark of the Beast (13:16-17).  Also, there is a contrast to the activity of each group.  While the godly are singing praises to Him (7:10, for example) and serving Him (7:15), the wicked refuse to stop worshiping idols (9:20), refuse to repent of their evil deeds (9:21), are gloating over the death of the witnesses of God (11:10), and are aligning themselves to make war against Him (19:19).  The wicked are burdened with sin, but the righteous have had their sins washed away by the blood of the Lamb (7:14).  Even in the intensity of the bowl judgments, the wicked curse the name of God and refuse to repent (16:9, 11, 21).  The end of the wicked is eternal torment (20:14), but the end of God’s people is an existence where there is no hunger, thirst, tears, scorching heat (7:16-17), or sin curse (22:3); instead there is eternal life (22:14).

Another key theological thread running through the book is that of victory.  In the end, God will be victorious over Satan and his minions.  This is apparent in at least three ways in the Revelation.

Victory is on display through Christ’s cross work

John speaks in Revelation about the fact that Jesus has achieved victory already through His death on the cross and resurrection.  John refers to Christ as the “firstborn from the dead” as well as “the One who has freed us from our sins by His blood” (1:5).  Revelation 1:18 refers to Christ as the one who has had victory over death forever.  When John is confronted by the fact that there is no one worthy to open the seals of the scroll (5:4), one of the elders tells him not to weep because Jesus is able to open the scroll (5:5).  Why is He able to do this?  The elder says that Christ can do this because he has overcome (5:5).  Before any of the judgments are manifested, Christ has already achieved the victory by His death on the cross and resurrection.  Revelation 7:14 makes it clear that people are being saved through Christ’s cross work when it says, “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”  It is not the judgments being doled out in the end that will provide salvation for the faithful, but only the work Christ did on the cross.  Revelation 19:11-16 presents a scene wherein Christ makes a magnificent entrance into the world as a great and victorious Warrior King.  Standing in contrast to His entrance into Jerusalem on the back of a lowly donkey to eventually be crucified is the fact that Christ now sits upon a white steed dressed in splendor, and crowned with many crowns.[6]

Victory is on display in the Church

Endurance and perseverance are the keys to victory in the book of Revelations.  As Christ suffered horribly and died, but persevered, so believers are to remain strong in the face of suffering.  Beale states it this way, “The Lamb’s followers are to recapitulate the model of his ironic victory in their own lives; by means of enduring through the tribulation they reign in the invisible kingdom of the Messiah (see 1:6, 9).”[7]  In the letters to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3, promises are made to each church if that church will overcome (Gk. νικάω).  These promises include being able to eat from the tree of life (2:7), authority over the nations (2:26), and the right to sit with Christ on His throne (3:21).  The key to these and the other promises mentioned in Revelation 2-3 is perseverance.  Flora states it this way, “Revelation says that one overcomes by endurance and by faithfulness — not just a quick fix saying, “Lord, I believe,” but the faith which walks that out in faithfulness every day of one’s life.”[8]  In the end, the faithful will, by the power of the Holy Spirit, overcome and will inhabit the New Jerusalem (21:24-27).

Victory is already complete, but will be fully realized when Satan is defeated

As mentioned above, Christ has already achieved the victory through His death on the cross and resurrection.  However, the effects of sin and Satan on the world remain until Satan is ultimately defeated for good.  In effect, the world is still under the curse of sin.  However, John reveals that after Satan, death, and Hades are thrown into the Lake of Fire (20:10, 14) the sin curse will be lifted (22:3).  This will open the door for Christ to renew all things, and a new heaven and a new earth will be the result (21:1).  John describes this as a magnificent place that is constructed and decorated with what appears to be precious metals and stones (21:11, 18-21), a place where no outside illumination is necessary because light is sufficiently provided by the glory of God (21:23).  John reveals that this future estate will be the fully-realized victory of God over Satan and evil.

To conclude this section on suffering and victory, John Walvoord summarizes well the anticipation of man since the fall, and the joyous eternal state that is described in the end of Revelation:

With the close of the prophetic narrative, the Biblical revelation of Jesus Christ also comes to its conclusion. In the beginning of eternity, all that was anticipated in the first and second comings of Christ is fulfilled, and Christ is honored as King of kings and Lord of lords. The eternity which stretches beyond the horizon of Scriptural revelation is one of unspeakable bliss for the saints and unending joy in the presence of God. In the center of the service and worship of the saints will be Jesus Christ, “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” To this eternal destiny every believing heart turns in anticipation and joyous expectation.[9]


[1]He refers here to Christ.

[2]John H. Bennetch, “The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ for the Seven Churches of the Apocalypse,” Bibliotheca Sacra 96 (July 1939): 364.

[3]Frank Thielman, Theology of the New Testament: A Canonical and Synthetic Approach (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 626.

[4] Lehman Strauss, The Book of the Revelation (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1964), 322.

[5]R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Revelation (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1943), 21.

[6]David J. MacLeod, “The First “Last Things”: The Second Coming of Christ (Rev 19:11-16),” Bibliotheca Sacra 156 (April 1999): 209.

[7] G.K. Beale, “Revelation (Book)” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. by T. Desmond Alexander, Brian S. Rosner, D.A. Carson, and Graeme Goldsworthy (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2000), 356.

[8]Jerry Flora, “New Testament Perspectives on Evil,” Ashland Theological Journal 24 (1992): 20.

[9]John F. Walvoord, “The Future Work of Christ Part IV: The Millennial Kingdom and the Eternal State,” Bibliotheca Sacra 123 (October 1966):299-300.

How God uses Suffering

The cross and the resurrection are the ultimate answer to suffering. And we really can trust the good purposes of God in suffering to make us more like Jesus.

1. God uses suffering to teach us His Word.

Suffering makes us more receptive to God’s transforming Word. “Though the word and the Spirit do the main work, yet suffering so unbolts the door of the heart, that the word hath an easier entrance.” (Richard Baxter) Thomas Watson called afflictions our “preacher and tutor,” and “A sickbed often teaches more than a sermon.” (Ps.119:67, 71, 75, note: Matin Luther said Psalm 119 follows the pattern of prayer > meditation > trial)

2. God uses suffering to wean us from idols.

“Sinful desires can lurk in our hearts unnoticed because those desires are neither threatened nor thwarted. But suffering stirs the calm waters of latent sinful desires. It reveals the true state of our hearts. It’s God diagnostic tool, preparing the way of the medicine of gospel truth.” (Tim Chester, Ps.119:50, 92, 107, 153; Ecc. 7:13-14)

3. God uses suffering to discipline us.

Suffering through discipline is a badge of sonship. There is a distinction between God’s father discipline and punishment for guilt (Ps.103:10-13). Suffering is part of our training (Heb. 12:5-11). “God’s rod is a pencil to draw Christ’s image more lively on us.” (Thomas Watson)

4. God uses suffering to test and purify our faith.

Endurance is essential, not optional (Mt. 10:20; Rom. 5:3-5). Rejoicing in trials reveals the genuineness of our faith (Js. 1:2-4; 1 Pt. 1:3-7) Suffering refines our faith (Ps.12:6; Prov.27:21; Job 1:13-19; 2:7-8; 23:1-10). Like a Damascus blade, a believer is strengthen only by sleeping in the flames. The refiners fire is hot–but it burns away the dross and tempers the metal of our faith, making it stronger.

5. God uses suffering to increase our usefulness.

“Let a Christian be but two or three years without an affliction and he is almost good for nothing.” (John Flavel) God uses suffering to work on our character to become dependent on Christ and useful to others (Jn.15:1-2). Sometimes, God positions us in difficult circumstances that paradoxically make us more effective (i.e. Paul, Philippians 1:12-14; 2  Cor. 1:3-7; 4:7-12). The gospel achieves victory through our apparent defeat.

6. God uses suffering to prepare us for glory.

Present afflictions actually work for our future glory (Rom.8:18; 2  Cor. 4:16-18). “They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.” (C.S. Lewis) View your trials as seeds of eternal glory planted in the soil of your present lives. God is using our trials to make us better, more beautiful creatures than we could ever otherwise become. Demolishing our old cottage is painful, but God is building a palace is you allow Him.

Suffering is not good in itself. It is the result of sin and brokenness in our world. Yet God promises to weave dark threads of affliction and trial into the tapestry of His ultimate saving plan. He is a sovereign God, but His ways involve suffering. With wisdom, love, and goodness, He designs our difficulties and assigns our afflictions to conform us to the character of Christ (233).

My greatest comfort comes from knowing that, because of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus; the suffering will someday cease once and for all, and that God’s ultimate purpose to glorify Himself in bringing many some and daughters to glory will be fulfilled (234).

Adapted from Brian G. Hedges, Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change. Shepherds Press, Wapwallopen, PA. 2010. p.222-234

thumb licks [9.6.11]

5 Early Warning Signs Your Shields Should Be Up

From a Beggar to the Nations: The Name of Jesus Spoken With Boldness

Grow Up. Settle Down. Keep Reforming. Advice for the Young, Restless, Reformed from John MacArthur..

How to Talk to God When You are Suffering

The Danger of Defining Yourself by What You Are Against. Are you an angry prophet?

Freshman 15. Great tips for those heading to college.

thumb lick thursday [5.19.11]

hospitality and small children

I’ve been thinking about the joys and challenges of being hospitable with small children at home. Having toddlers afoot amid home and meal preparations, while expecting a large or small gathering of people, can be a challenge. So much so that many people just don’t do it much at all. But it can also be a great joy and delight.

Transforming Neighborhoods by Transforming Public Schools

Despite our history of antagonism toward public schools, especially as a cultural darkness seems to have settled on them, it’s intriguing to wonder: what if Christians flooded public schools with practical help? What if Christians became more willing to enroll their children in public schools? And what if the lines between public and private educations began to blur?

Where the Twelve Apostles Died

Geographic Travels has put together a map of locations identifying where, according to tradition, the 12 Apostles of Christ died. Blue markers represent commonly accepted death locations while yellow markers represent disputed locations.

On Being Better Bereans

So how can we be better Bereans? Most Christians are eager to receive the word, especially when we get new insights and background information, but how many go the extra step and examine the Scripture to see if the new nugget is actually true (Acts 17:11)? Here are a few things to keep in mind when we hear an exciting new teaching or connection…

Warfare Causes Suffering

“Warfare causes suffering, spiritual warfare being no exception. Those who take up the mission of God’s people by simply living, working and witnessing in the public square so dominated by the gods of this world, who choose to live by the distrinctive ethical standards that flow from their biblical worldview, who confess Jesus as Lord, and not Caesar or Mammon – such people will suffer in one way or another” – Christopher Wright in The Mission of God’s People

Spring Rains

“This song that I wrote is a reflection of what happened in the Garden of Eden. It is an expression of longing and aching for what was lost and looking for what is to come. In his book, Dr. Kapic talks about the moment that Adam and Eve “first began to doubt God’s generosity.” I was overwhelmed with this idea that Dr. Kapic presents in his book, that God, in response to our sin, gives more to us and pours out himself for us. God delights in giving to me and that is just one way in which he shows his love.”  – Esther Ellis

thumb lick thursday [3.31.11]

Lick it, flip it, clip it, quote it. A thumb lick is a term used to describe the action taken when turning the page of a book. While reading I often find great one-liners, statements and paragraphs that are golden nuggets of biblical wisdom. So Thumb Lick Thursday is a way to pass along great tidbits of truth.

Is Mandated Bible Reading Healthy for Kids?

This is probably one of the most common questions  I hear from parents wanting to establish Christian disciplines in their kids. Every Christian parent deals with this at some point. They struggle with what they should mandate vs just encourage their kids to do. And with this, how much? At what point will we defeat our purpose and discourage them?

Hope for hurting marriages

There are far too many marriages in our Churches and communities that are hanging together by very thin threads. When marriages are like this, patterns of neglect are almost always part of the reason. It takes commitment and work for a marriage to be the mutually satisfying relationship it was intended to be (Note: 5 key commitments for a good marriage).

Worth-ship

Worship is “worth-ship”, an acknowledgement of the worth of Almighty God…It is therefore impossible for me to worship God and yet not care two cents whether anybody else worships Him too…Worship does not beget witness is hypocrisy. We cannot acclaim worth of God if we have no desire to proclaim it. – John Stott, Our Guilty Silence. 27-28

Suffering & Death

The Greatest single secret of evangelistic or missionary effectiveness is the willingness to suffer and die. It may be a death to popularity (by fatefully preaching the unpopular biblical gospel), or to pride (by the use of modest methods in reliance on the Holy Spirit), or to radical and national prejudice (by identification with another culture), or to material comfort (by adopting a simpler lifestyle). But the servant must suffer if he is to bring light to the nations, and the seed must die if it is to multiply. – John Stott, The Cross of Christ, Leicester: IVP, and Downers Grove, IL. 1986. 322.

What are you Sinking about?

It is easy for communication to be lost in translation. This commercial by the German Coast Guard and their new recruit emphasize this point.

real men cry

man weeping

Real men cry: a study of lamentation

Sure men cry. I am not talking about the tear shed from watching Bambi, a favorite chick flick, seeing your team lose the Super Bowl or cutting an onion for dinner. What about the true gut wrenching weep of sorrow. Men can be painfully shy. To pouring out their hearts before God to be seen as less than masculine.

What I am talking about is sacred sorrow. The kind of sorrow you have at injustice or self-inflicted judgment and the only thing you can turn to is God. The book of Lamentations is a fitting thesis for sacred sorrow. The theme of Lamentations is the God who is Righteous and Faithful. The author of these poems is a real dude who is really crying. And you can see why:

The scene depicted in Lamentations is so bad that the author has to find some simile to relate to what is reality. He can still smell the rot and hear the wailing of horrific bloodshed. Jerusalem is desolate. Jerusalem is pictured as a lonely widow, weeping the death of her beloved. She once was a queen, full of splendor, invisible to attack, but now is a abandoned as a slave. She is like a raped virgin that has been rejected and cannot find anyone to comfort her. No one is invincible to God’s wrath, not even His own people. The question is not “why” has this affliction occurred for the people know God is punishing their sin.

God who was seemingly absent is now back with vengeance as an angry “enemy” who has “cast down the splendor of Israel” and “in his anger has set the daughter of Zion under a cloud!” (2:1) God who had once protective presence upon His people had now become a fierce storm cloud of anger. He use to fight for them, but now He is against them as their enemy as He has “thrown Israel down without pity” (2:17).

And then in the midst or ruin and rubble comes the turning point of the lament. A glimmer of hope. Exhausted towards God His enemy (3:18) the author pours out one of the richest lines of hope in God (3:22-24):

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they     are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, therefore I will hope in him.”

The author praises God despite being bruised and bloody, hungry and destitute. “It is good to wait quietly for Him…to hope in Him…to seek Him.” Can you get any more realistic than this? There is hope in a God who is his enemy, but whose “compassion never fails.” The author may be left alone in silence, may have to bury his face in the dust or give his cheek to the one who strikes, but God promises “men are not cast off by the Lord forever.” (3:28-31)

The author acknowledges that they are now orphans, weary, hungry, bearing the punishment for their fathers sins, women are ravished, princes hung by their hands, ruled by slaves, joy has ceased, and their dancing has turned to mourning. He pleads in prayer to the the LORD to “remember” them (5:1) that they might be “restored” (5:21). In the midst of their cataclysmic circumstances there is hope in the LORD who “reigns forever” and whose “throne endures to all generations” (5:19). This God, the only God, is again to begin again with the people.

What can we learn from Lamentations?

A theology of Suffering from A to Z. Lamentations reveals a complete and exhaustive expression of sorrow. The suffering of Lamentations explains the ways of God to humanity. Human suffering always brings about probing questions about God. The faith of many Jews must have been shattered by the events of Jerusalem’s destruction for they believed that Jerusalem was invisible and that God’s temple could not be destroyed because He dwelt there.

Lamentations gives us a glimpse into individual suffering (Ch.3) and national suffering (Ch.5). Lamentations that helps us gain a perspective on suffering when we see the famine, warfare and genocide in places like Cambodia, Columbine, Congo, and countless others. Suffering can make you bitter towards God or better understand God’s purposes.1 From the personalization of the author and front-row-seat depictions of the nations suffering we see suffering mixed with hope. Lamentations is a “theodicy”: despair amid suffering should always give root to hope in the presence and rule of God. Here are some principles Lamentation offers as a theology on suffering, when suffering comes:

  • Confess your sins (1:5, 8, 18, 20, 22).
  • Recognize who is the Judge (2:1-8, 17).
  • Give special attention to God’s leaders (4:16).
  • Pray for the future (5:1, 21-22).
  • Hope in God (3:21-42).

A Balance between God’s Righteousness and Hesed. Throughout the painful memories of Lamentations God’s righteousness is never throw to the wayside. God’s judgment is not viewed as wrong by those who strolled through Jerusalem’s ashes, rather they see their sinful ways. God keeps His promises of punishment for disobedience. “The LORD has done what he purposed; he has carried out his word, which he commanded long ago” (2:17).

His righteousness demands that sin be dealt with fairly. He is also faithful to Israel and will be their hope for the future (3:22-23; cf Deut.30; Is.65-66; Jer.30-33; Ezek.36-37). His faithfulness (hesed) demands His promises to be kept. God’s righteousness and faithfulness are equally relevant facets to the nature of God, which are illustrated horrifically and beautifully in Lamentations.

Sacred sorrow is okay as long as one acknowledges that God is righteous and faithful. Praise God in the midst of pain (3:21-42). There must come a point in our lamenting that is it turned to joy. In the case of Lamentations, out of the destruction rose a song of praise for the faithfulness of God.

“How” not “why”. When sin is in the “camp” we must not question God’s vengeance for it is the inevitable promise for disobedience. Rather we must access the consequences of how His vengeance is displayed in our lives and how we will will respond. Jerusalem’s wounds were self-inflicted. The book of Lamentations is one long illustration of the eternal principle that “a man reaps what he sows.” (Gal.6:7b)

When all is gone, all you have is all you need. Everything is destroyed, the days seem dark and God distant He is still there. We have a hope in the God who reigns forever. God does not abandon those who turn to Him for help.

real questions: suffering?

suffering

Ned Anzers: It doesn’t seem fair that a loving God would allow bad things to happen. Why does God allow so much suffering?

This is an honest question.

I have often wondered the answer to this question myself. Years ago as a young boy, I would visit the nursing home to see my great grandmother Loretta. I remember these visits to this day. I was enamored by my great grandfather Roman’s care for his wife. They had been married for over half a century, but for many years she had been degenerating from the disease of Alzheimer’s. It was incredibly painful to see such a wonderful, witty woman who was so alive, not recognize who you were. As a young boy and even now as an adult it is still hard to understand why God allows this to happen, especially to one so undeserving. I will talk more about this in my conclusion.

I hear the stories my girlfriend Sarah, who tells me about where she grew up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. How the authorities have raped and pillaged a beautiful land. I see and feel the emotion she bears from the scars of her home land.

Jesus tells a story in the Bible about a real life catastrophe. It was about landmark tower took years to build, and seconds to fall. It stood as a powerful symbol of strength, security and prosperity, but in only moments became cloud of dust that blanketed the neighboring streets. As the dust and debris settled and the death toll rang out to the shaken city (18 people), the skyline was now empty and mournful. People were trying to make sense of the calamity. When Jesus talked about this tragedy at Siloam He knew it wouldn’t be the last (Luke 13:5).

We want explanation for the disaster, injustice, abuse, sickness, poverty, pain and suffering. So did people of the Bible (Jer.12:1, Hab.1:2-3, Ps.6:3). Where are you now God? Have you forgotten? Don’t you care?

Sometimes people think that the presence of suffering means the absence of God. Does suffering mean there is no God?

Certainly not. I would certainly be more fearful of the consequence of believing there is no God.  Jesus says there is significance to the human life (Luke 12:6-7, 24). Those who die are not forgotten by God. If we reject God because of suffering then we have to face a world that is much worse: meaningless suffering. Without God there would be no justice (Ecc.3:16ff; Acts 17:31; Mal.4:5), and no future (Ecc.3:20; John 11:25-26). Death would be the end of life. No after life. Without God there would be no significance to life (Ecc.3:18). We would be just animals with clothes on. Killing becomes like that of a lion killing a antelope. The killings of Cambodia, Columbine, Congo, Auschwitz, Manhattan, Virginia Tech and others would be without pity or horror. That is a scary world to me. A world without hope or meaning.

What is the meaning of suffering?

Going back to the story of Jesus and the collapsed tower we learn some very practical principles about suffering (Luke 12:54-13:5). First, we see the reality of sin. Suffering is not always caused because of man’s sinfulness or lack of acknowledgment that there is a God. God is not a bully trying to pressure His creation into submission. Second, through suffering we see the fragility of life. Life is short and we must trust God with our eternal destiny’s. Third, we see that God is with us through the suffering. Fourth, we see that suffering cause us to depend upon God.

We have a God that knows all about suffering. He is a God that has experienced suffering Himself. Jesus experienced abuse, betrayal of friends, gossip, hunger, alienation from family, torture, thirst, homelessness, religious persecution, bullied, death of close friends, unfair trial, excruciation prolonged execution. He wept and saw suffering like we do and gave up his own life to do something about it. The cross represents forgiveness for all those who cause suffering or experience suffering. On the cross we see a suffering God, suffering for His own people because He loves them and wants to free them from all suffering in eternity (John 3:16). God’s suffering was for our greater good and a proof of His love.

What does this love in suffering look like in real life?

Going back to the story of my great grandmother Loretta Rothe: I the mist of her suffering I saw an amazing picture of love that I would only wish to aspire for one day. My great grandfather would care for her when most in his shoes would bail. He would comb her hair, feed her dinner, read to her and prove that his love for his wife was “in sickness and health, until death do us part.” Suffering shows our true colors. I would only hope to have a similar perseverance in the midst of pain.