For the Joy of All People
The last three weeks we have defined a specific kind of suffering that is the most common shared suffering among the saints – that of resisting sin and the devil. Today, however, we are going to talk about a different kind of suffering. It is the biblical theme of affliction and persecution that comes with being a Christian. This is the kind of suffering that puts you in prison for sharing your faith and preaching the gospel, the kind of suffering where the enemies of the cross kill you and your family, the kind of suffering that tortures and beats you because you bear the name of Christ. The two sufferings are indeed tied together in many respects. As mentioned in week 3 where we talked about the main biblical theme of suffering as a saint being that of resisting sin, we discussed how this kind of suffering does not exclude sickness, loss, or persecution – for in all of those sufferings we are tempted to sin and listen to the devil. And so the same goes for persecution and affliction. In these sufferings we can be tested and tempted to sin as well. But for our purpose today we are not dealing with the suffering of resisting sin – rather we are looking at God’s purposes in our sharing in His sufferings (namely persecution and affliction) for the joy of all peoples – In other words today we are discussing the role of suffering in missions.
Before we break down several biblical texts that reveal God’s purposes, means, and gracious gifts in these afflictions, I want to start by revealing to you a little deeper what we talked about briefly in week 1. When we discussed the sovereignty of God in suffering, we mentioned that God is sovereign over all evil and suffering without being evil Himself. We talked about how on this earth, in suffering, man is sinful in nature, satan is active, but God is sovereign. We discussed in week 3 that God was sovereign over how we suffer against sin in that God sovereignly appoints trials (suffering) in order to test us – so that we may endure and reveal godly character. But I want to clarify one thing that will be necessary for us to understand for the remainder of today’s message – and that is, when we talk about God’s sovereignty over suffering (to produce character and genuine faith in us, and to reach the nations), the Bible does not teach that God simply allows suffering, it teaches that he appoints it. Let me say this a different way – too many times we talk about God and suffering in such a way where we act like His sovereignty simply means he allows suffering in a fallen world. Meaning we say He is in control but deny that He is active or purposeful in our suffering. But this is not the language of the Bible. From before the world was created, suffering was in the mind of God. It was His plan. He appointed it, He didn’t simply allow it. Let’s look at a few texts that reveal this.
“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
This man was not blind because of his sin
This man was not blind because of his parents sin
This man was blind because God created him to be blind
God appointed this man the suffering of blindness
Maybe many of you would say “What?!!” “God created him to suffer?!!” Yes – that is what the text says. Why? In order that on this specific day of his life, Jesus would walk by him and heal him – so that the work of God would be displayed.
Many however reject this type of thinking and cry out “that’s not God” - “God wouldn’t do that!” But where does that type of response come from? What is your defense of God not appointing that kind of suffering? Where is your theology of God and suffering coming from? We too often build our theology on too little of the Bible. We create a God in our head based off of Sunday School verses, and cliché Christian statements. (Think about the reality that the majority of Christian children and youth in America grow up with a theology of suffering – or even a submission to the total sovereignty of God. The bulk of American Christianity is Deist in many forms of its thinking and practice).
“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. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Paul was suffering – deeply. Remember last week in 2 Corinthians 1 we saw that Paul suffered so deeply he felt like he couldn’t live another day. He felt that he had received the death penalty. And here we find that God sovereignly appointed a messenger of satan to harass Paul. God did not allow this thorn, this messenger of satan. He appointed it! Yet when we feel like we are being harassed by the devil, or are suffering deeply with affliction today, we act as if God is just allowing it. And we miss the point that God appoints these things for His purposes – namely for His power and glory to be revealed, and so that we would be humbled and not give in to sin. You see if we believe that God simply allows things it strips God of having purpose in what He allows – if God isn’t appointing it then what is? How can we have joy in that suffering? But if God appoints it, there is purpose, and we will glorify God knowing that He gives His children good gifts. Therefore, we can rejoice in our sufferings and look for God to be glorified! Paul prayed 3 times for it to be removed and then he submitted to God’s sovereign appointed suffering. Maybe we should learn from that. Maybe too often we pray only for God to remove the suffering when it may be that God has specifically appointed it in order that He may be glorified, and we may be humbled. Pray rather that His will would be done, and that you would submit to His sovereign plan.
The story of Nate Saint – according to his son Stephen
Stephen Saint is the son of Nate Saint who was one of the missionary pilots with Jim Elliot. Stephen, Jim, and a few other men were seeking to bring the gospel to the unreached Waodani Indians. These men were speared to death, chopped into pieces by a machete, and fed to turtles and fish in a river in 1956.
Stephen travels around the world with who they now call Grandfather Mincaye, who was one of the converts among the men who killed the missionaries. Together they tell the story of what God did in this tribe as the result of 5 men who laid down their lives and the women who came back to those who murdered their husbands and brother to finish the work that was begun. At a speaking engagement several years ago, Stephen said “I don’t think God merely tolerated my dad’s death. I don’t think he turned away when it was happening. I think He planned it. Otherwise I don’t think it would have happened.” When he finished speaking, a man from the church came up to him and said “don’t you ever say that again about my God.”
Stephen’s point was that God didn’t simply allow his father to die, he appointed it. And He appointed it so that the supreme worth of Christ would be revealed to a tribe that was under God’s wrath, so that courageous women would come back and share the gospel, so that hundreds of people would come to know Christ, so that thousands of missionaries would hear the call to go, so that thousands of saints would be emboldened in their faith and lay down their lives for the sake of the gospel.
But maybe many of you today would find that same statement incredibly offensive, that God appoints suffering, even to the point of death. Maybe you would have been that man who walked up to Stephen after that message. Let me implore you to reconsider with two final texts.
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”
“it was the will of the Lord to crush him”.
God killed His Son. God did not allow the Gentiles and the Jews to kill him. God did not allow satan to lead Jesus to the cross. God appointed it. God killed His Son, it was His will. It was appointed before the world began. This was the greatest suffering this world has ever known and will ever know. And God was not passive. He did not simply allow it, He appointed it. He orchestrated it to display the depths of His glorious grace, His power, His love, His mercy. If God planned the death of His Son, how foolish it would be to say that God has nothing to do with our suffering, even death.
But God is not just some maniac in heaven who appoints suffering for fun. No there is a purpose. A glorious purpose. One that comes with a great reward. One that converts sinners. One that increases our joy. So, let’s talk about how God has appointed us to share in His suffering for the joy of all people’s.
Main text: Colossians 1:24-29
Paul looks at His divinely appointed suffering, and he gladly rejoices in it. He receives it knowing that He is filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of the church. Paul told Timothy the same thing in 2 Timothy 2:8-10 “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.”
We have talked about this before, so I will be brief here, but let me clarify what Paul does and doesn’t mean by filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.
What doesn’t it mean:
• It does not mean that Jesus death on the cross was insufficient to pay for our sin.
• It does not mean that Jesus death on the cross didn’t satisfy the wrath of God.
• It does not mean that Jesus death on the cross was not fully successful in accomplishing all that God had purposed.
Jesus’ afflictions and death were completely sufficient in what God purposed it to do. There is nothing lacking in its effectiveness. So what is Paul saying? Well he uses the same word in Philippians when he is thanking the church in Philippi for giving Him a gift. In Philippians 2:30 he commends Epaphroditus to the church because “he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.” Paul was not saying that the gift of the Philippians was insufficient, but that Epaphroditus filled what was lacking in it: namely the delivery - bringing the gift to Paul. And He almost died doing it. This is what Paul is saying in Colossians 1. Jesus died for every generation, but He did not die in every generation. What is lacking is actually what God has ordained: that we, the church, are to be the deliverers of His gospel to the world. We are to fulfill what is lacking in His sufficient incredible gift. We are to suffer, like Christ, like Epaphroditus, and like Paul, by bringing the gospel to the ends of the earth.
Paul says - this is why God saved me. This is why I became a minister. To proclaim Him, to warn everyone, to teach with wisdom, so that I may present God’s church to Him mature in Christ. I toil, and struggle, with all of the energy that He powerfully works in me. I endure suffering for the sake of the elect – that they may obtain salvation. For Paul, the salvation of the nations, missions, and the joy of all people’s was inseparable from suffering. Paul literally teaches that his suffering, and our suffering, is the means in which we will reach the world.
Look at all the examples of this in Paul’s life:
Colossians 4:2-4. When Paul was in prison for the gospel, he asked the Colossians to
pray for a door of ministry to open to him while he was in prison rather than praying that he would be released from prison.
And these are no small sufferings that Paul endured for the sake of the elect... Look at what we find out about Paul’s sufferings from His final letter to the Corinthians:
“far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”
2 Corinthians 11:23-30
Let’s break down just one of these sufferings. Verse 24 says five times he received forty lashes less one. Paul was stripped and tied to some kind of stake so that he could not run or fall. Then a torturer trained in flogging would take a whip, probably with shards tied at the end of it, and lash Paul’s back 39 times. Early in the flogging, the skin would break and tear. Paul’s back would be mush. The cuts were not clean. The skin would be torn and shredded, healing would be slow and even complicated by infection. It would be months before Paul could wear a garment on his back without pain. Paul said this happened a second time. All the healed wounds reopened, this time worse, and the healing process longer. Then it happened a third time. And then it happened a fourth time. And then it happened a fifth time. And this was just one of Paul’s sufferings.
And to this Paul says:
2 Timothy 3:12 “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”
Philippians 1:27, 29 “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.. For
it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.”
Galatians 2:20-21” I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Thessalonians 3:2-3 “we sent Timothy, our brother and God's coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, 3 that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.”
2 Timothy 4:5 “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
After Paul’s conversion, God sent Ananias to Paul to deliver a message:
“Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
God didn’t allow Paul’s sufferings, He appointed them! For the sake of His name! God is God- centered! And in His God-centeredness He loves us with a steadfast love full of grace, mercy, and the promise of eternal life in the fullness of His joy!
Jesus Himself taught his disciples and followers this:
Matthew 5:10-12 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Luke 21:10-19 “Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name's sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.”
What does Jesus say about this suffering and persecution? This will be your opportunity to bear witness about me! The Mark account of this text reveals that these opportunities through suffering are because “the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations.” God is appointing suffering to His servants in order that they may have opportunities to boldly proclaim the gospel and show the surpassing worth of Christ over all worldly comfort. This is how the nations are reached. Glad suffering servants!
And the disciples obeyed this. They refused to see suffering as simply a reality in a fallen world. They refused to see God as simply allowing it. They refused to cling to this life and all its comforts. Rather, they heeded the words of Jesus, with great joy, and with great urgency because of the reality of hell and eternal damnation. As Acts 5:40-42 says they preached boldly, were beaten for it and “charged not to speak in the name of Jesus..” So, what did the apostles do when they were released? “they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.”
Before we conclude today, I want to remind you of a few things from today’s texts - this was not simply the call of Jesus, or Paul, or the disciples, or the early church only. We are called to share in the sufferings of Christ.. all who desire to live a godly life will be persecuted. We must all take up our cross and follow Christ. Paul says this explicitly in 2 Corinthians.
“Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised... Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
2 Corinthians 5:11, 14-15, 17-20
Peter reveals that we must always be prepared to suffer for righteousness sake:
“But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 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.” 1 Peter 3:14-15
“If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.. Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”
1 Peter 4:14, 19
It is amazing to think about the reality of suffering in the Bible, and God’s purposes in appointing it. Today our brothers and sisters across the world are being beaten, imprisoned, raped, tortured, sold, and killed. And if they are released, they go back to preaching the gospel. They know that God has called us to this. They know our best life comes later. Paul knew this. Peter knew this. The early church was constantly exhorted to do this.
The Testimony of Pastor Wang Yi
Pastor Wang Yi has been imprisoned in China for calling the government to repentance and boldly preaching the gospel. I listened again this week to part of Pastor Wang Yi’s message he gave before his imprisonment. To my current knowledge Pastor Wang still remains in secret imprisonment and is facing upwards of 15 years. Dozens of his church members are also in prison. And when I watched him preparing his church for this kind of suffering, I was overcome with emotion. Here is a pastor who knows that he is about to be persecuted, imprisoned, and potentially killed. He knows that he may never see friends and family again, and he is preaching on suffering, calling his congregation to suffer with him. He makes no apologies for the cross and the offensiveness of the gospel. He unashamedly preaches about sin, repentance, heaven and hell. He boldly proclaims Christ is the only way and that He freely forgives and saves all who confess Him as Lord. But as he is preaching – and loudly, and with passion, and with truth – I thought to myself how different this gospel is than the bulk of what is preached in our rich, comfortable, self-centered, apathetic country. I thought to myself – what would this pastor preach if he came to Cornerstone today? It is amazing that the gospel being preached in many areas of the world today is literally calling congregations to suffer and preparing saints to suffer. Suffering that may involve losing their family, losing their jobs, losing their homes, and losing their health. Suffering that leads to being tortured and imprisoned and killed. And yet here in America we work so hard not to offend people or make the gospel too serious. We structure churches and ministries around such ridiculous stuff.
“Don’t call out too much sin. Preach more grace. Don’t call people to a wartime mentality. Don’t make people feel guilty for spending 5 hours a day on their phones, 30 hours a week in front of a television, and addictions to pornography. Preach balance.”
Overseas they are preparing their congregations to give everything and lay down their lives so that others may know Christ – and here in America we lock our church doors, set up security cameras, train security teams, and encourage members to pack heat – so that we can be ready when suffering knocks on our door! AT ALL COSTS PROTECT YOUR MAN-MADE GOSPEL AND YOUR COMFORTS!
Our lives don’t match our theology! They don’t! We love to preach a sovereign God. We love to preach missions. We love to preach that Jesus saves by grace and not by works. We will confess that we were depraved just like the Muslims next door. But the moment anyone begins to confront our comforts, our traditions, our idol of a church and man-made God, we will kill before we are killed.
Church, If we avoid suffering, if we don’t share our faith, if we don’t give, if we don’t weep with our prayers for the lost then we must ask ourselves whether this Savior and this salvation means to us what we say it does!
God has told us that we are called to suffer! If we want to live godly lives, we will suffer! God tells us He saved us so that we would no longer live for ourselves, but so that we would be ambassadors of Christ and ministers of reconciliation – and every example I see of that in Scripture and church history involves people who suffer and suffer gladly.
God tells us we have been called to this and yet we spend all of our time, energy, and money to avoid it! Oh God forgive us!
Who among you will go? Who among you is ready to lay down your life if that’s what the Lord brings to your doorstep? Who among you will decide today, by God’s grace, to live as an ambassador on the road of suffering? Who among you will live different than every other American?
My point is not that we should be seeking out suffering and persecution. My point is not that we don’t have responsibilities within the right context to protect our families. My point is not that there aren’t true enemies of the cross. That’s not today’s message. My point is that prosperity and worldly comfort is more devastating to the mission of God than we could ever possibly imagine. God has appointed suffering to be the vehicle in which he reaches His people across the globe. And it is how He displays His supreme worth and matchless power in all the earth.
A Challenge from Rich Wurmbrand
Richard Wurmbrand, who endured 14 years of imprisonment and torture in Romania between 1948-1964, took a group of about a dozen boys to the zoo. Before the cage of the lions he said “Your forefathers in faith were thrown before such wild beasts for their faith. Know that you also will have to suffer. You will not be thrown before lions, but you will have to deal with men who would be much worse than lions. Decide here and now if you wish to pledge allegiance to Christ.” These boys had tears in their eyes when they said yes.
That is the altar call for us today. Not the fluffy add Jesus to your life to make it better, get out of hell free card, prosperity garbage that is being preached in this country.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” But all Dietrich was doing was quoting Jesus, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Who will take up that cross – that instrument of pain and execution –and join him on the suffering path to Golgotha? Who will join share in His suffering? Who will hear the call to fulfill what is lacking in His afflictions by going to a broken world that will hate you and persecute you – knowing that great is your reward in heaven, and His grace is sufficient in your weakness, and His joy will be made known in suffering, and through your suffering God will call the lost to Himself!
DECIDE TODAY CHURCH! WHO WILL COME AND FOLLOW JESUS!
John 12:24-26 “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”