2 Timothy 4:4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. (NKJV)
(Previous devotionals can be found at www.seriousfaith.com)
We live in a time of competition for church members; a time where success is measured primarily by numbers and income. There is no end of teachers, writers or churches who will present what feels good and tickles the ear. There is no shortage of churches that provide programs, support groups and myriads of resources that will “meet your need”.
This wouldn’t be so alarming were it not for the fact that many uncomfortable or unpopular issues are avoided because they aren’t “good marketing” and don’t put behinds into pews. The Bible has many unpleasant topics. I call them “distasteful doctrines”. These are being sorely neglected today and that’s a shame because they are a vital part of Christianity. Over the next few days we will take a look at Christian doctrines that you may have never studied, rarely studied or only lightly studied unless you are in a good, uncompromising Bible-teaching assembly – or you have studied them personally.
Jesus had much more to say about hell than heaven. Hell is a grim reality that is virtually ignored by Christians today as being too harsh, unloving or uncomfortable. We don’t want to scare people away with talk of hell, so we simply ignore it, or give it a quick passing mention before moving on to more friendly subjects. That’s a shame because our friendly intentions won’t count for much to those who find themselves in eternal torment. We’ll take a look at the facts about hell straight from the Bible.
It has been said by a very prominent “Christian” preacher that teaching about sin is one of the worst things we can do because it destroys self esteem. Quick, somebody tell Jesus and Paul. Regardless of whether we want to hear it or not, the Bible is very clear about the sinfulness of man. As Christians, we typically believe in the “idea” or doctrine of sin as it applies to humanity as a whole, but very rarely do we get honest about sin when it comes to ME. We’ll take a look from Scripture at the real nature of sin in our lives.
You would think that Christian liberty would be a very pleasant doctrine, but to teach it threatens our stranglehold on “truth” as we define it. I’m not talking about the core essentials of salvation, but all the other peripheral issues that have divided Christians into almost 3000 different “flavors”. We don’t hear much about Christian liberty because we’re afraid people might actually take hold of it and not do things OUR way. Christ died to bring us liberty, and we constantly want to rob other sincere Christians of it simply because they disagree with us on some issue or doctrine. We’ll take a look at liberty, where it applies, where it doesn’t apply and what it means to the Christian life.
Suffering is seen as something today that either is caused by a lack of faith, or is something to avoid and alleviate immediately as all costs. Does God have a use for suffering? Does He allow it? How are Christians supposed to think about suffering? We’ll examine the Bible to see if God agrees with today’s opinion about suffering..
- Christian Discipline
In this age of political correctness, competition for church members and fear of lawsuits, Church discipline has all but disappeared. That’s a shame because a leading factor in the ineffectiveness of the Church today is its hesitation to apply Church discipline. We’ll look at Scripture to find out what it is, how it works and what it accomplishes.
- Jealousy, Wrath & Judgment
We hear much about God’s love, mercy and forgiveness – and rightly so. But how much is our concept of those things distorted when we hear little about God’s jealousy, wrath and Judgment? The lack of teaching on these subjects certainly contributes to the lukewarmness of the average Christian. “Yeah, but you’re not supposed to SCARE people about God!” Oh, really? Who says? There are lots of scary and fearful things about God that we would do well to know and understand. We’ll take a look at the “unpleasant” side of God and how it affects our daily walk with Him.
- Intolerance & Exclusivity
There is only ONE way to avoid being eternally damned in hell, and spend an eternity with God in Heaven. There couldn’t be a more unpopular message today than that. All the political correctness, ecumenism, tolerance, diversity and inclusivism in the world doesn’t change that fact. We’ll look at the Bible to see how it teaches very plainly this “one way”.
The affluence of western society has made suffering a poorly understood subject. This aversion to, and misunderstanding of suffering has also led large segments of professing Christians to embrace ideas about suffering and poverty that are simply and unmistakably unscriptural.
“You are suffering because you’re stupid!” (Frederick K. C. Price, quoted in Crenshaw, Man as God, 156). Then we hear that suffering is only a lack of faith because God has put man in charge and we simply need to take authority, by faith: “If God is running everything, He does have things in a mess.” (Kenneth Hagin, The Interceding Christian (Tulsa: Kenneth E. Hagin Ministries, 1978, 14); the implication being that God is NOT running everything, we are. We have the power (faith) to clean up our “mess”. What is amazing is that the average Christian cannot discern for themselves the utter blashpemy of saying, “IF God is running everything….”
This aberrant teaching from well known Christian personalities is only part of the problem. The other difficulty comes from the sheer level of comfort, ease and wealth that most of us in Western society enjoy. You’re first reaction might be, “I AM NOT RICH!”
If you have clothes on your back, a roof over your head,
and do not have to worry about
where your next meal is coming from….
you are rich compared to most of the world.
We are taught both by society, and by an increasing number of Christian leaders, that suffering is not only to be avoided and alleviated, but that suffering represents a deficiency in your spiritual life and Biblical understanding. Hmmm….. I wonder if someone forgot to tell Jesus, the Apostles, the early Christians, the Apostle Paul and all those dear saints who suffer on behalf of the Gospel even today. If Fred Price is to be believed, then Jesus must have been the most stupid person on the planet.
Contrary to the modern belief that suffering is a lack of faith, that suffering is to be avoided at all costs and that suffering should be immediately alleviated under all circumstances – the Bible paints a much different picture of the purpose and blessing of suffering:
- To produce the fruit of patience Rom. 5:3; James 1:3-4; Heb. 10:36
- Through adversity Christians learn the blessing of long-suffering and delayed gratification.
- To produce the fruit of joy Ps. 30:5; 126:5-6
- It is easy to be joyful when times are good but you have authentic rejoicing when you experience it through suffering.
- To produce the fruit of maturity Eccles. 7:3; 1 Pet. 5:10
- Through affliction we discover the true reality of living in a sin cursed world. When we endure suffering with the attitude of Jesus Christ we are perfected, established and strengthened.
- To produce the fruit of righteousness Heb. 12:11
- Adversity, when responded to according to God’s word, will train us to be righteous and holy.
- To silence the devil Job 1:9, 10, 20-22
- God permits suffering and when we respond to it in a Christlike manner the accusations of Satan against us will be in vain.
- To teach us Ps. 119:67, 71
- The more we suffer the more God’s word becomes real to us and the less we will stray from obeying the Lord. It then becomes a good thing that we have suffered because it has resulted in increased Godliness.
- To purify our lives Job 23:10; Ps. 66:10-12; Isa. 1:25; 48:10; Prov. 17:3; 1 Pet. 1:7
- God tests, strengthens and purifies us through affliction. Our faith is much more precious than anything the world can offer and like pure gold it is refined in the fires of suffering.
- To make us like Christ Heb. 12:9, 10; 1 Pet. 4:12-13; Phil. 3:10; 2 Cor. 4:7-10
- As we suffer, we come to understand and better relate to the suffering that Jesus endured on our behalf. Through persecution and affliction we are conformed into the image of Christ manifesting through our bodies a living example of Christ’s sacrifice for us.
- To glorify God Ps. 50:15; John 9:1-3; 11:1-4; 21:18-19; Phil. 1:19-20
- Every time we respond to suffering with a Godly attitude, we bring glory to God in such an unselfish manner that it directs attention solely to God, and not to us.
- To prevent us from sinning 2 Cor. 12:7, 9-10
- God may permit us to suffer in order to keep us humble and to keep us from the sin of self-exaltation.
- To make us confess when we do sin Judg. 10:6-7, 15-16; Ps. 32:3-5; Hos. 5:15; 6:1; 2 Chron. 15:3-4
- There will be times when God uses suffering to force us to confront our sin and confess it. Enduring the effects of a sin cursed world heightens our awareness of sin and deepens our understanding of just how truly awful sin really is.
- To chasten us for our sin 1 Pet. 4:17
- Suffering may often times be a direct result of our own personal sin and God may be chastising us for it. Adversity motivates us to carefully examine our lives for holiness and devotion.
- To prove our sonship Heb. 12:5-6
- Adversity is like an identification badge for the Christian. Scripture clearly says, “that whom the Lord loves He chastens”. So any time that you suffer you can be sure of two things: that you belong to the Lord, and that He loves you.
- To reveal ourselves to ourselves Job 42:6; Luke 15:18
- When the pressure is on you can be sure that what is deep down inside of a person will come boiling to the top. When you squeeze a lemon, you get lemon juice. There is no way to fake what you are truly all about when you are under great stress or enduring significant adversity. You can be sure that what you are genuinely made of will surface not only for you to see but also for everyone around you to see.
- To help our prayer life Isa. 26:16
- There is no doubt that affliction helps our prayer life. For most people greater suffering equals greater prayer.
- To become an example to others 2 Cor. 6:4-5; 1 Thess. 1:6-7
- When we respond to adversity in a Godly manner it provides a living example for all those who observe us.
- To qualify us as counselors Rom. 12:15; Gal. 6:2; 2 Cor. 1:3-5
- There is nothing like real-life experience to qualify you as a teacher. It is an academic exercise at best to proclaim truths that you have not lived and experienced.
- To further the gospel witness Acts 8:1-5; 16:25-34; Phil. 1:12-13; 2 Tim. 4:6-8, 16-17
- By enduring suffering with a Godly attitude we participate in validating the power of the Gospel. When another person sees you rejoicing in the midst of affliction they can’t help but wonder where you derive the power for such a response.
- To make us more than conquerors 2 Cor. 2:14; Rom. 8:35, 37
- As God proves faithful to see us through adversity we become more and more confident about the things of God. We become increasingly victorious over sin and “more than conquerors”.
- To give us insight into God’s nature Job 42:5; Rom. 8:14-15, 18
- Through suffering we know more about God and His purposes. We better understand His attributes, His nature and His sovereignty.
- To drive us closer to God 1 Pet. 4:14; 2 Cor. 12:10
- Whether we have actively strayed from God or are just in the sanctifying process of growing closer to him, suffering is an important means to push us and turn us towards God.
- To prepare us for a greater ministry 1 Kings 17-18; John 12:24
- Like the potter’s clay that is worked and reworked, or the lump of dough that is kneaded until soft and blended, affliction breaks us down, makes us soft and prepares us to be used by the Lord.
- To provide for us a reward Matt. 5:10-12; 19:27-29; Rom. 8:16-17; 2 Cor. 4:17
- It is a wondrous truth that God permits us to suffer for His glory and yet it turns out to be an incredible blessing for us, not only in this lifetime, but also through the eternal reward we will receive in Heaven.
- To prepare us for the kingdom 2 Thess. 1:5; 2 Tim. 2:12
- Suffering prepares us for our eternal life with God. It conditions us, trains us and equips us to reign with Christ forever and ever.
- To show God’s sovereignty Rom. 8:28; 1 Cor. 10:13; Ps. 66:10-12; Gen. 45:5-8; 50:20
- The suffering Christian is a tangible demonstration of God’s sovereignty, who in His infinite wisdom can take all things (good and bad) and work them together for His ultimate glory and eternal purpose.
So you see the Bible paints quite a different picture about suffering. Does this mean we are to run out looking for suffering? No. There is plenty to go around – just wait, it will find you. When it does, don’t lament that you “lack faith” because of it. Rejoice that God has honored you and blessed you with a circumstance that will allow you to grow closer to Him, depend on Him more and see His glorious hand at work as He sustains you.
Hebrews 13:5-6 Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (NKJV)
Psalm 46:1 God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. (NKJV)
Philippians 3:10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, (NKJV)
We live in a sin-cursed world. Suffering reminds us that the current creation has been corrupted and is not what God wants for us in the long run. Suffering keeps us from getting to attached to or enamored with this world which is soon to pass away forever. Suffering keeps our mind off striving for what the world offers and keeps us dependent on God. Suffering reminds us that we should be thinking eternally because this life will come and go in the blink of an eye.
Suffering is God’s way of saying, “hey, look up here; get your eyes off the world and your circumstances. I AM your hope and reason for living. Don’t get comfortable, you’ll be coming home soon.”
Lord, Help us to understand suffering from Your viewpoint. Teach us to discern the wrong teaching that is so prevalent today and embrace what Your Word says about suffering. When suffering does come, we pray that You will honor your promise to walk through it with us, never forsake us and be our ever present help in times of trouble. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Contemplation: Have you ever thought about God’s purpose when it comes to suffering? Did you know that God has a purpose in suffering or did you just think it was “punishment” for something lacking in your life? Is suffering just a random fate that unlucky people have to endure? Have you ever suffered in any way that caused you to grow closer to God?
Application: God doesn’t cause suffering, and eventually He will relieve all suffering. But for now, He is taking what is bad and has turned it out for good (Rom 8.28). The Christian is to expect suffering and see God’s hand in it. We need to learn what the Bible has to say about suffering so that when it comes our way, we benefit from it, rather than lament it. For a more in depth study on suffering, see my series, “The Blessing of Tough Times” (https://www.seriousfaith.com/series_details.asp?seriesid=25)
James 1:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (NKJV)
- What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
- What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
- What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?