Sunday, November 01, 2009

Suffering - God's Way

This sermon was preached on October 11, 2009 

Suffering – God's Way

Intro.: In 1894 a man died who struggled most of his life with tuberculosis.[1]
  1. Though he lived the last part of his life in American Somoa, a memorial stone near his home in Scotland reads: 

Give us grace and strength to forbear and to persevere. Give us courage and gaiety and the quiet mind, spare to us our friends, soften to us our enemies.

  1. Shortly after being diagnosed with TB, Robert Lewis Stevenson traveled with his new American wife to American Somoa in order to care for his disease. He wrote, “Not every man is so great a coward as he thinks he is—nor yet so good a Christian."[2]
  2. I expect none of us would like to leave our homes, with or without a new bride, because of some disease that we have. Yet, Robert Lewis Stevenson did exactly that – and still made a major impact on English literature that is not forgotten even today.
  3. Stevenson was a believer that did not let his suffering stop him from making an impact on his world.
  4. I want to look at a writer in the NT that understood suffering and helped the early Christians deal with it.

Read: I Peter 4:1-6


Trans: We return today to a series that we began last year at about this time.
  1. Peter had spent three years with Jesus. He was a leader in the early church.
  2. Peter knew his own suffering – as he wrote in the early years of Nero's reign of the Roman Empire. In Rome, where Peter probably lived at this time, Christians were used to feed wild animals, they were burned alive as torches for Nero's festivities.
  3. Yet Peter calls Christians to consider why they are suffering.
T.S. Let's take a look at what Peter tries to teach the early church about suffering.
  1. Suffering is a normal part of life.
    1. Peter is does not try to minimize the difficulties that we face in life.
    2. He is readily aware of that Christians, as well as everyone else, will face suffering as part of their life.

(Ill.) In fact suffering is major part of the letter that Peter writes to the Christians who are living throughout Asia minor. Seventeen times in this short 5 chapter book, Peter mentions suffering. Every chapter of his letter draws his listeners to this topic.

      1. In chapter Peter reminds his readers that even the OT prophets wondered about the suffering that Christ would suffer.
      2. Chapter 2 shows how Christ endured unjust suffering
      3. Chapter 3 demonstrates that when we suffer for doing well, we will be blessed
      4. Chapter 4 tells us – well, we'll say more about that later
      5. In Chapter 5, we will see that suffering is not just for the dispersion, but is common to all believers in all parts of the world.

(Appl.) This week when you find yourself suffering (and most of your will), remember that you are not alone. You are not being picked on, you are not the only one being hurt. When you find yourself facing a major decision that leaves you feeling overwhelmed, the pain and confusion that you feel is not yours alone. Suffering is common to all mankind.

  1. There are three causes of suffering.
    1. I would like to suggest that there are three kinds of suffering.
    2. Common suffering
      1. As broken people we experience suffering
      2. It might be an illness – as simple as a common cold or as complex as a mental illness
      3. It might be an accident – if I take plan on using this hammer to put a nail into a board, but hit my thumb – I suffer. But so would everyone else who hits their thumb.(
      4. Common suffering is a result of the limitations we have as humans.
      5. But when Peter speaks of suffering in chapter 4, he never mentions the common suffering that we all share as human beings. Instead he has two other sources of suffering in mind.
    3. Consequential suffering – Peter does discuss what I am calling “consequential suffering” - suffering that is the result of being out of the will of God.
      1. Peter hopes that the believers are willing to aside the way they lived their lives as gentiles.
      2. He list some of the behaviors that had led to their suffering - lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.
      3. It is amazing that the same problems that were so prominent 2000 years ago are still present in our world. And Peter's advice has not changed.
      4. I find myself too often making sin general – Peter gets specific. God is not as concerned about the general idea of sin as he is about how it gets played out in our individual lives. I doubt that the list here is intended to be all inclusive – but it is indicative of the fact that living our lives outside the will of God, can contribute to the suffering we experience in this life.

(Ill.) There is a factory in France where spiderwebs are regularly cultivated, and of the delicate fibers ropes for military or weather balloons are constantly made. It seems almost incredible that so frail a thing can, by multiplying, be made into a strong rope, strong enough to strangle a man; yet so it is. Cobwebs can now literally become cables. Sinful thoughts, shadowy and filmy at the first, may become so strong by constant indulgence that the strong cords of avarice, lust, and hate may at last bind the soul to its utter undoing. Beware of the beginnings of evil.[3]

      1. As Peter says it, “You have already lived long enough like people who don’t know God.” The six sins listed in I Peter 4:3 are not meant to be all inclusive, but Peter is clear in that God is concerned about how we live our lives.
    1. Righteous suffering – I Peter 4 has another type of suffering.
      1. In fact, this third type of suffering is what most of I Peter is about.
      2. It is the same suffering that Jesus experienced – He suffered not because being out of God's will, rather He suffered because He was in God's will.
      3. Those around you will think it strange when you do things God's way, rather than their way. You will seem out of place, you may even, like Jesus, suffer for doing things that seem strange to this world.

(Appl.) Collary – because suffering comes from three different causes, we cannot assume that because we are suffering, that we have done something wrong. Or because someone else is suffering, we cannot assume they have done something wrong.

(Ill.) Do you remember the story in John 9. Jesus and His disciples were walking and passed a man who had been blind from birth. One of the disciples asked the inevitable question, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” The answer is that neither happened – Jesus was there to heal the man. The question is not who sinned, but what does God want of us?



[1]Federer, W. J. (2001). Great Quotations : A Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Quotations Influencing Early and Modern World History Referenced according to their Sources in Literature, Memoirs, Letters, Governmental Documents, Speeches, Charters, Court Decisions and Constitutions. St. Louis, MO: AmeriSearch.

[2]Stevenson, Robert Louis. 1889, in his work The Master of Ballantrae—Mr. Mackellar’s Journey. John Bartlett, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1855, 1980), p. 669. Found in Federer, W. J. (2001). Great Quotations : A Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Quotations Influencing Early and Modern World History Referenced according to their Sources in Literature, Memoirs, Letters, Governmental Documents, Speeches, Charters, Court Decisions and Constitutions. St. Louis, MO: AmeriSearch.

[3]AMG Bible Illustrations. 2000 (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; Bible Illustrations Series. Chattanooga: AMG Publishers.

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