The Christian Hope in Suffering

10 08 2010

We’ve recently had some tragic deaths in our community this past week.  In response to those things I wanted to post some notes from my sermon on Sunday.  The text is Romans 8:18-30. Now first of all, I want to say that I understand how richly packed these 13 verses are.  We literally could probably preach 100 sermons from this text alone! The sermon from Sunday was more of a “fly over” of these verses due to time constraints.  Because of the situations in our church this is a passage that the Lord laid on my heart to preach.  However, this is a passage that all Christians need to be reminded of because we all will experience different levels of suffering in this life on almost a regular basis until Jesus returns or we leave this life to meet Him in glory.

I. Understand Sufferings’ Cause (v. 19-23)

Key Word: SIN

When God created this world He created it in a state of no suffering.  Adam and Eve had the perfect set up, a place where they could enjoy life and God without the presence of human Sin.  But the Fall, in which we all had a part with Adam, ended this state of no suffering.  Back to our passage, Paul says that Creation is groaning because of Sin.

We need to understand the full effect of the Fall. In one since I don’t think we will ever really be able to fully understand the depths of our own depravity but passages like this in Romans 8 help remind us that Sin is a big deal. That everything is out of whack because of Adam’s decision (and ours) to disobey God.  This doesn’t always mean that a direct sin causes a direct suffering (although that definitely can be the case).  In other words, it doesn’t mean that because you lied God gives you cancer.  It means that because of this broken world, bad things happen.  Yes, we are all held culpable for Adam’s Sin and we all deserve death, but many passages of Scripture tell us that God, because of His love, grace, and mercy, does not delight in our suffering or even our death (cf. Lam. 3:32-33, Ezekiel 18:32).

II. Feel Sufferings’ Comfort (v.24-27)

Key Word: WEAKNESS

Continuing in our passage, Paul says that not only is creation groaning, but we too are groaning.  He explains that although we are “saved” in the hope of Christ, we have not ultimately met that salvation until we see Him face to face.  Christians still face sufferings.  In fact, sometimes we face more sufferings because we are Christians (persecutions, trials, etc.).  We are still very much dependant creatures even though we are saved.  The truth is that now we are able to acknowledge our dependency and Who we must be dependant upon: Jesus Christ.

Paul goes on to say that the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, helps us in our weakness. I believe in context that this is all tied to suffering (see v.18 and 28)! And then Paul says that not only is Creation groaning, and that we are groaning, but that the Holy Spirit of God is groaning in our behalf! This means that when we suffer we have not been left alone.  We must fight the urge to “be strong” and try to get through this on our own.  We must become weak and allow God to work in our hearts.  Sometimes suffering causes so many emotions that we just don’t know what to say and the Bible says that in those times the Holy Spirit will talk for us (cf. 8:26).

In our weakness, the strength of God is shown and He is glorified (cf. 2 Cor. 12:7-10).  Also, Hebrews 4:14-16 tells us that Jesus is able to relate to our trials because He is the God-man.  Remember Jesus’ response when Lazarus died? He wept! Yes, Paul says that he can do all things…But all things through who? Christ!  During times of suffering God must be our strength.  We must not be proud and deny our own human inability.  We must become weak and turn to God as the only source for true healing and comfort.

III. Trust Sufferings’ Conqueror (v. 28-30)

Key Word: GOD

Now, these final 3 verses (8:28-30) could honestly be 90 out of the 100 sermons we mentioned earlier! There is a lot of truth here, but I want to talk about how these 3 verses pertain to our suffering.

First of all, God is not a God of “reaction”.  God is a God of action!  This passage does not mean that “all things” are “good”.  Hurting and suffering are not good things. But guess what? NOTHING can escape the providential sovereignty of God. The good, the bad, the neutral are all used by God to bring about His plan! All things here means this: ALL THINGS, everything, God is in control of, and using, all.

God is not caught off guard by our suffering, rather it is in His plan to bring about our sanctification.  Through suffering He is making us more and more like Jesus.  This is why “all things work together for good” for those who love God. We know that all things work together for our good because we desire to be like Christ and for God to be glorified.

Now, R.C. Sproul comments “God orders His providences so as not to cancel out secondary causes”.  This means that humans are still held responsible for our actions.  The story of Joseph really helps to illustrate this: Gen. 50:20.  Also, so does Christ going to the Cross: Acts 4:26-28.  In other words, God was in complete control of these things that were bad and that were done with the intention of causing suffering.  The whole time one force was pushing towards evil God was the ultimate force in control of those situations pushing them towards good.  The more evil people thought they were doing, the greater good God was completing! God is in control of every particle of dust that you stir up traveling down a dirt road- Not only is He in control of it, but He has ordained the very place that each particle of dust will land!

The anchor for this whole passage of Scripture is Romans 8:29-30. What solid truth! Before the foundations of the world God chose a group of people (refered to as the “elect” in the Bible) who He would save from total depravity and conform them into the image of His Son!  When we think of the splendor of God’s election, then we should be comforted to know that God is so much bigger than our suffering (cf. 8:18).  He will ultimately conquer our suffering and one day we will reside with Him forever in a place where there will be no more suffering!

C.H. Spurgeon said this about suffering: “I have learned to kiss the wave that strikes me against the Rock of Ages.”  Simple statement, but hard to apply to our lives in the midst of our trials.  I know that during this time many people are feeling a wide range of emotions.  There are no words that I have that can ease your suffering.  The Bible, however, has those words.  During your time of suffering I pray that God comforts you, and that you will turn to Him as your source of peace and strength.

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