Our Proper Response to Suffering
James 1 – Our Proper Response to Suffering
I. Jesus said
A. Matt 11:28-30 - Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
B. Suffering in the world
1. Every year, Bangladesh suffers from major flooding during the monsoon season. This month (Nov 07), thousands were killed when a cyclone landed producing a 15’ storm surge.
2. In Somalia and Sudan today tens of thousands of Christians are being intentionally isolated and starved to death by rival factions. The tensions between Muslim and Christian populations in northern Africa are dangerously explosive. The millions of Christians in China and many other countries live in constant danger of harassment and imprisonment.
3. The U.S. Census bureau reported in 2002 that 43% of first marriages end in separation or divorce within 15 years.
4. Closer to home: heart attacks, car wrecks, house fires, family deaths, job crises, financial tragedies, sicknesses and pains, at-risk pregnancies, at-risk marriages, homelessness, war trauma, loneliness, and a general state of suffering.
C. It is not fair to say that suffering in the Christian life is inevitable; suffering in any life is inevitable. It is a foundational truth that needs no apologetic defense.
1. A large portion of the Bible details suffering: of pagans and believers; that is deserved and that which befalls the innocent.
2. The servant Job is the model example of suffering. King Saul suffered in his sin and as did King David, whom even suffered in his righteousness.
3. New Testament Saul was an instrument of suffering only to become Paul, a major recipient of suffering. Paul explains how he was beaten with rods, once stoned, three times shipwrecked spending a night and a day in the sea. He was in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of his own countrymen.
4. Venture to find one personality in the Bible who’s story does not include substantial helpings of affliction and misery.
5. One sees a myriad of responses to suffering in the Bible. None calls for Christian stoicism that denies the suffering, nor does God demand an artificial exaltation of joy in all things.
6. So how is the Christian to make sense of suffering and how is one to respond?
II. James 1 provides a good perspective on suffering that offers the Christian some aspect of understanding and a good measure of direction. (Read)
A. The book of James was most likely written during a period of severe persecution in the early church
1. Probably around the time Stephen was stoned in Acts 7 and 8.
2. Written mainly to Jewish believers dispersed throughout the world from their home in Israel, much of it the result of persecution.
B. There are three main points in this reading.
1. Suffering is for our benefit.
2. We are to respond to suffering in faith
3. Trails are permitted by God
C. V2-4, suffering is for our benefit
1. No biblical counseling manual can rightly instruct the counselor to begin their ministry to those suffering with a mandate for the believer to “count it all joy.”
a) However, James is writing this letter to brethren that had the benefit of discipleship by the original apostles, if not their direct ancestors. Somehow, the theological implications of the whole counsel of God must make this statement reasonable.
b) It is important to note that James did not say that a believer should be joyous for the trials but in the trials. James emphasizes the blessings of trials. They are something that we need. One may see trials as things one should avoid. But James says that rather than being an interruption to God’s work, trials are part of his plan.
2. V3 - The testing of your faith produces steadfastness (perseverance, patience) (v3)
a) The word Greek word used for patience does not describe a passive waiting, but an active endurance. It isn’t so much the quality that helps you sit quietly in the doctor’s waiting room as it is the quality that helps you finish a marathon.
b) Faith is tested through trials, not produced by trials. Trials reveal what faith we do have, not because God doesn’t know how much faith we have, but to make our faith evident to ourselves and those around us.
c) If trials do not produce faith, what does? Romans 10:17 tells us: So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Faith is built in us as we hear and understand and trust in God’s word.
3. V4 - The full effect, that you may be perfect and complete
a) God is sovereign. Yes, he could prevent the suffering. But without trials the believer would remain immature and incomplete. Trials are necessary for the sanctification process. Fallen sinners do not grow in periods of peace. We grow in suffering. Character is forged.
D. V5-12 - We are to respond to suffering in faith
1. V6-8 - But let him ask in faith, with no doubting
a) Because the wisdom will come through the mechanism of suffering
b) Without living by faith one will not benefit from suffering
2. V9-11 - Both rich and poor will receive wisdom through suffering
a) Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation [his suffering]
b) And the rich in his humiliation [his suffering and futility because riches and the man will both fade away]
3. V12 - Remain steadfast under trial and you will be blessed for when he has stood the test [suffered in faith] he will have salvation [demonstrated his true faith]
E. V13-17 - Trials are not temptations from God to sin, but trails permitted by God for our benefit
1. V14-15 - God cannot be tempted with evil and He himself tempts no one
a) James knew that most people have an evil tendency to blame God when they find themselves in trials.
b) But by His very nature, God is unable to either be tempted (in the sense we are tempted), nor can He Himself tempt anyone.
2. V14-15 - But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire
a) desire gives birth to sin,
b) sin when it is fully grown brings forth death
3. V16 - Do not be deceived in this matter
4. V17 - Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above
a) What are these gifts? Grace, wisdom, peace, love, joy, and yes, even suffering
b) Just as it was with Job (and the others)
c) Because we are his beloved creation, His firstfruits.
• We are new creations, in Christ. This is where it all starts. I can’t help you, God’s grace cannot be poured out on you, unless you take up the yoke of Christ. His blessings are reserved for those who have forsaken this life and surrendered all to Him as Lord and savior.
• 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. Gal 2:20
III. God has a purpose in our suffering (four purposes):
A. The moral purpose (Romans 5:1–8)
1) Rom 5:3-4 - More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.
2) In suffering we come to hope more fully in God and put less confidence in the things of the world. Because suffering refines our holiness and hope
3) God ordains that we suffer for the gospel and for the cause of righteousness because of the moral and spiritual effects that it has on us.
B. The intimacy purpose, (Philippians 3:7–14)
1) Phil 3:7-8, 10 - But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ… that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.
2) We come to know Christ better when we share his sufferings.
3) In suffering our relationship with Christ becomes deeper and sweeter
4) The people who write most deeply and sweetly about the preciousness of Christ are people who have suffered with him deeply.
C. The missions purpose (Colossians 1:24)
1) Col 1:24-25 - Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known.
2) The infinite value of Christ's afflictions are not known in the world. They are still a mystery (hidden) to most peoples.
3) God's intention is that the mystery be revealed, extended to all the Gentiles.
4) So the afflictions are lacking in the sense that they are not seen and known among the nations.
5) They must be carried by ministers of the Word. And those ministers of the Word fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ by extending them to others.
D. The glory purpose, (2 Corinthians 4:16–18).
1) 2 Cor 4:7-11 - But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
2) because this slight, momentary affliction is working for us an eternal weight of glory
3) Because God's power is exalted in our weakness.
4) Others are being strengthened by our weaknesses and suffering.
E. Four purposes – for our sanctification, to grow in intimacy with Christ, in making him known to all peoples, and finally, for His glory
F. The Bible presents the ugly truths of suffering so that when tragedy strikes, believers will not ask like so many in the media, “How could God let this happen?” Or ask, “Where is God in the midst of this tragedy?” The truth is that He is right there with us in the middle of it.
1) God never promised that life would be easy, even as Christians–just the opposite in fact.
2) We cannot promise sufferers that if they come to Jesus, everything will work out. However, God did promise that he would never leave us or forsake us.
3) We all suffer, but suffering is relative. I by no means desire to make light of anyone’s pain or tragedy. In many of your situations, I have no real understanding of your suffering.
4) How can I possibly say anything to you that will sound relevant in light of your situation? How can this message to us from the Bible be worked out practically in our lives?
5) Here is the central Biblical truth for the proper reaction to suffering modeled throughout the Bible: in our trials, we are to run to God and not away from Him.
IV. Two responses - In this very complex situation, this couple can respond in one of two general ways.
A. First, they can run from God
1. In this reaction, the result of their suffering is bitterness, anger, and unanswerable questions.
a) They place their hope in themselves, in man, or they have no hope at all.
b) Their hearts are casualties of the situation.
c) Rather than the suffering producing fruit in their lives, it produces thorns.
2. The thorn bush reaction can manifest itself in a number of ways.
a) They can deny, avoid, and escape.
• Here they would pretend that things are okay when they are not.
• Their escape may be found in drugs, alcohol, overspending, overeating, television, people, work, withdrawal, unrealistic goals, or any number of other excesses.
• Whatever the escape, they would be refusing to deal with what has happened to them.
b) Or, they could magnify, expand, and catastrophize.
• Here they would give in to thinking that their lives are defined by the suffering —there is no good, truth or beauty to make life worth living.
• Since the physical injuries are very real and permanent, what is the profit of life?
• In this response, suffering is the lens through which they view the entire world.
c) Or, as another thorn bush reaction, they can become bogged down, paralyzed, and captured.
• They can quit in the face of suffering.
• They no longer pursue friends and family, read their Bibles, or pray.
• Nothing seems worth investment. What they face seems insurmountable.
B. Alternatively, they can run to God.
1. They can run not seeking answers to “why,” but in a complete brokenness uniquely known only by those who have endured so much.
a) In this reaction, their hearts are cut out by the situation, and replaced with the heart of Christ.
b) They are made available for His service.
c) The result of this reaction is spiritual fruit.
d) Christ becomes a fountain of living water that overflows them, pouring on to those whom they encounter.
2. This fruit tree response is manifested in a person who faces reality.
a) It is right for this couple to experience the grief, sorrow, anguish, and pain that accompanies suffering.
• But they must also realize that they are still living.
• They have a future and a hope, both in the present and in eternity.
b) Also, they must remain alert.
• Suffering is an opportunity for God’s infinite grace to be fully manifested in their lives.
• It is a time to experience in new ways all of the truths they have professed as their hope (or to learn of the hope of Christ they never knew before).
c) They can engage in constructive activity.
• God is calling them to do what is good.
• They can seek God, engage the body of Christ, and find comfort in the Word.
• All of the hope and promise of the gospel belongs to them.
V. Conclusion - I cannot minister to this family with words that will resolve their suffering and despair.
A. All I can do is love them, and continually point them to Christ.
1. While these two reactions to suffering and their resulting fruit may be accurate theoretical depictions, the practical outworking of human choice to follow one or the other is much more difficult. “Just do it” does not do it.
2. This couple cannot fix this situation themselves. In fact, they can do nothing of themselves.
3. The only solution is to fall at the feet of Christ and His promises. He is the Wonderful Counselor.
B. The author of the book of Hebrews speaks of suffering in quoting the Old Testament.
1. Hebrews 12:25-27 - …‘Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.’ Now this, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.
2. What remains in this family after this traumatic ordeal? They are struggling to find that answer. They struggle to make it through each day.
3. They must realize, however, all that remains is that which cannot be shaken. They have been given the opportunity to cling to the Living God.
4. James’ model for responding to suffering is not “gut it out,” but “cry out.” When we cry out to the all-sufficient God, we will receive all the wisdom we need.
C. Warren Wiersbe, “When Paul became a Christian, he evaluated his life and set new goals and priorities. Things that were once important to him became ‘garbage’ in the light of his experience with Christ.”
1. The Christian faced with suffering must evaluate their trials in the light of what God is doing for him.
a) As seen with Job, in the midst of what Satan meant for evil, God used for good.
b) As a result, all of history would marvel in studying God’s faithfulness and how He sustained Job.
2. “When a trial comes your way, Satan will be there the same day to try to get you to do what Mrs. Job suggested her husband do—to curse God and die (Job 2:9).
3. But God will be there as well, waiting to show you His strength in seeing you through.” Allow God to grow spiritual fruit through your suffering! Run to God!
D. Those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.
What This Means Practically
• It means that whenever I am called upon to choose between anything in this world and Christ, I choose Christ.
• It means that I will deal with the things of this world in ways that draw me nearer to Christ so that I gain more of Christ and enjoy more of him by the way I use the world.
• It means that I will always deal with the things of this world in ways that show that they are not my treasure, but rather show that Christ is my treasure.
• It means that if I lose any or all the things this world can offer, I will not lose my joy or my treasure or my life, because Christ is all.