The Place of Suffering in Your Spiritual Growth

Steve Viars October 13, 2007 Romans 8:17-25

 

- many of you, in the past several years, experienced buying a new car...

- and if that’s the case, you also experienced working with a car salesman...or saleswoman...

- now we have a car salesman or two in our church, and they are very ethical, reputable people...

- but the sales process is what it is...whether we’re talking about cars or any other item...

- often the salesperson’s goal is to point out the positive reasons you should make the purchase...

- so they’ll point out the strengths of the product...

- they’ll explain why theirs is better than their competitors...

- they’ll let you sit inside the car, smell those new car smells, take it out for a spin...imagine yourself driving it...

- they’ll give you some glossy brochures with pictures of the car taken in exactly the right light, with handsome or beautiful models...

- they’ll talk to you about the price and offer certain deals if you decide today...because after all the tent sale is over tomorrow...and I’ll have to check that with my manager but maybe we can come down a few hundred more dollars if you buy it today...

- the whole process is focused on the positive aspects of making the purchase and why you should buy that one right away...

- have you ever been in that situation where a salesperson says...

- the moment you buy this product and drive it off the lot it will depreciate by 25%...

- or, this is a payment book...I hope you like it because you’ll be spending time with it once a month for the next 5 years...

- or, that 100,000 mile power-train warranty...let me tell you the 400 items on this car that does not cover...

- or, over here in the corner of the showroom we have that same model after it's been driven a year...

- that’s what your paint is going to look like...

- that’s what your car is going to smell like...

- nothing wrong with any of that, I just want to be sure we’re practicing full disclosure...

- now, I’m not saying that if a person doesn’t do that in the sales process they are being unethical...

- but I would like to point this out this morning...

- you can be sure that the God of heaven and earth will always practice full disclosure with you...

- there’s no fine print in the Bible...

- He wants us to have a clear picture in advance of what it means to be one of His followers...

- and one of the clearest examples of that truth is found in Romans chapter 8 – I’d like to invite you to open your Bible there this morning...page 124 of the back section of the Bible under the chair in front of you...

- we’re coming down to the end of this study we’ve been doing this fall on Reaching New Heights in our Ability to Grow.

- we’re studying Romans chapters 6-8...the most extensive discussion in all of Scripture on this topic...

- and I think that many of us would say that this material is stretching us...these aren’t the kind of thoughts you have while standing in line at McDonalds...

- they require thoughtful reflection and purposeful application...

- but many of us have tried to change using quick-fix methods or the latest self-help techniques and have found approaches to be fruitless and ineffective...

- so if we are going to go to the God of heaven for instruction, it shouldn’t surprise us that His methods would stretch us...who would want a God whose methods didn’t?

- in these verses Paul has been stacking truth on top of truth to help convince us that His way of motivating men and women to grow is truly superior to anything we would have designed on our own...

- in last week’s verses, the truth He focused on was the fact that when we admit our sin and come to Him in repentance and faith, we are adopted into His family...and we can approach Him not as a cruel tyrant and distant despot...but as a loving father...crying out abba...father...pappa..daddy...

- that is what motivates us to, as verse 13 teaches, put to death the deeds of the flesh...

- not out of fear or uncertainty...but in response to the pleasure of having growing intimacy with our Father... 

- and as we do that, we even have the ministry of the Holy Spirit leading us...motivating us and empowering us to put to death the deeds of the body that don’t please God...

- all of that is quite amazing...quite humbling...quite inspiring...

- if that would not encourage us to change, I’m not sure what it would take...

- but, you may have noticed that right at the end of the verses we read last week, Paul brought something else into the discussion...

- and even when we read it at the end of verse 17, you might have said...what?...what did he just say?...

- and on purpose last week, we did not take time to discuss it because it warrants a message all its own, if not an entire series...

- because here’s where the full disclosure comes in...Paul raises the issue of suffering...

- this morning we want to focus on The Place of Suffering in Your Spiritual Growth

- it would probably be best to get a running start by reading the verses we studied last week, and see how Paul seamlessly moves into this next idea – Read Romans 8:12-25

- would you agree with me that God practices full disclosure?...so it’s important for us to think about the place of suffering in your spiritual growth...

- and if you’ve been here for a period of time, you know I’m not real big of illiterated outlines...but here’s the way this one sort of fell out this morning...

I. The Presence of Suffering

II. The Purpose of Suffering

III. The Perspective of Suffering

IV. The Patience of Suffering

I. The Presence of Suffering

- you may have seen one of the old Andy Griffith shows where Barney Fife goes in the real estate business and he talks Andy and Aunt Bea into trying to sell their house...

- and one night they’re showing it to prospective buyers and little Opie keeps bringing up things that are wrong about the house...

- and he’s doing it innocently...but Barney’s face is turning redder and redder, which is pretty hard since the episodes were in black and white...but finally Andy just puts his hand over Opie’s mouth and says something like, “Go up to your room, Ope”...don’t say another word...

- if we were trying to sell God’s approach to growth and change to a prospective buyer...we might say the same thing to the apostle Paul at the end of verse 17...don’t bring up the topic of suffering...

- but that is exactly what Paul does...the Bible contains a robust theology of suffering...for example...

A. Suffering was an essential aspect of our Lord’s experience on earth.

- Everything about the crucifixion process was designed by the Romans to maximize the physical torture of the victim. 

- it might be a good exercise this week to read through the end of each of the gospels and just be reminded of what Christ endured for us...

- and Jesus explained that over and over to his disciples... Luke 9:22 - ...The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day.

- another good exercise would be to take out a concordance and review all the uses of the word suffer in the Bible...it is amazing how frequently this topic comes up...

- of course students of the Bible know that the physical torture was not the greatest aspect of Christ’s suffering...and where we are in Romans is the perfect place to make that point...Paul just spoke about the intimacy that we can have with the Father...

- that is because Christ was willing to have that intimacy broken while He died for us [eloi, eloi, lama...]

- this suffering was so essential to the ministry of Christ that the writer of Hebrews goes so far as to say... Hebrews 5:8 - Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.

- and you might say, how could a Savior who was perfect ever need to learn anything?...the answer is that by taking on a body, He learned experientially what it was like to face pain, and torture, and temptation, and suffering...

- and the reason for that was... Hebrews 4:15 - For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.

- now, let’s push it further...

B. Suffering should be anticipated by every follower of Christ.

- the Bible makes that point in many places [that is why the health/wealth gospel is so incorrect...]

- Matthew 10:24-25 - A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!

- 2 Timothy 3:12 - Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

- now, when you put these 2 ideas together in the context we’ve been studying this fall, you come with this...

C. Suffering is a demonstration of our union with Him.

- please look especially at Romans 8:17 now...do you see the words...

- Romans 8:17 – “if indeed”...

- that’s obviously stating a condition...

- you are heirs of God and fellow heirs of Christ if what?

- if indeed we suffer with Him...

- so if you’re here this morning and would say something like...you know, I thought I was a follower of Jesus Christ...but I’m experiencing some trials, I have some difficulties going on, I’m suffering in some way...and I’m starting to wonder if that would prove that I don’t really know the Lord...

- according to this verse, it could actually prove what?...the polar opposite...

- suffering is a demonstration of our union with Him...

- that’s why the apostle Paul said... 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;

- Paul is saying that “I understand that I need the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings”....

- so the point thus far is that we ought to expect the presence of suffering...

- and I would be very surprised if there was anyone here who could not illustrate that in one way or another, and to one degree or another...

- one thing that I’ve learned as a pastor is that there’s no “trial free” stage of life on this earth, and it is unwise to seek one...[cf. I’ll be happy when I graduate from college, graduate school, post graduate school, when we have kids, when the kids get out of diapers...]

- now, that’s true, but that’s not where the most helpful information in the text lies...because Paul also gives us...

II. The Purpose of Suffering.

- do you see the “purpose clause” in verse 17...

- Overall principle – Suffering produces glory.

- Romans 8:17 – if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.

- now, if you respond to that with something like, PV—that’s great I’m sure, but I’m not sure I understand it and I’m not sure how it would apply to me right now---that is a fair position to be in...

- so let’s break this down...what does it mean---suffering produces glory, if we suffer with Him we may also be glorified with Him...let’s go all the way back and take a hard pass at this...think about how...

A. The glory in the garden was 2-fold.

- prior to the fall into sin...

1. Humans were intimately aware of God’s glory.

- they could walk with God in the garden in the cool of the day...His glory was fully on display and fully understood...

2. They in turn mirrored God’s glory well.

- think about the joy of perfect intimacy with the Father...coupled with a lifestyle that rightly honored Him and reflected that glory...no guilt, no shame, no distance...

B. That is why sin is so scandalous.

- Because it moves you away from knowing God’s glory, experiencing God’s glory, and enjoying/desiring God’s glory...and in turn, moves you away from being able to reflect that glory in the way you live...

- that’s why that short little verse in Romans 3 is so terrible...

- Romans 3:23 – For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

- in both respects...you can no longer know Him intimately or reflect Him accurately.

- that’s one of the many reasons why the gospel is such great news...

C. Trusting Christ puts you back on the right path to glorification.

- do you remember what Jesus prayed in another garden?...the garden of Gethsemane...

- John 17:22 – The glory which You have given Me I have given to them...

- in what sense?...please factor this back into our verse...we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him....how so?

1. in the “far term”.

- the Scripture teaches that the moment you step foot in heaven, you will be glorified...that is, you will become perfectly like Jesus Christ, and you will once again properly and fully reflect His image.

- 1 John 3:2-3 - Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

- that fits together theologically like this...

- justification occurs the moment you are saved -- you are declared righteous before God because He sees you clothed in the finished work of His Son

- we just said that glorification occurs the moment you get to heaven – you become perfectly like Christ because you’ll see Him as He is...

- what’s happening in the intervening time?....progressive sanctification...where the conditions that will be one day true in heaven are being realized to some degree even now because you are personally related to the king...

2. in the “near term”.

- what does that have to do with God’s glory?...

- answer – even now, as you change, you can be glorifying God more and more over time...

- what does that have to do with Romans 3:23?...[you fall short of God’s glory]...

- in Christ, even here and now, that should be less and less true of you all the time...

- 1 Corinthians 10:31 - Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

- now, put all of this together...how does this inform the topic we’re trying to understand this morning?...

D. God allows suffering to produce greater glory.

- if you really want to be on the trail of glorifying God [reflecting His image, giving others the right opinion of....]...then suffering is something that can be very helpful to you.

- that is the point of this passage...we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him...

- now you might say...c’mon...how could suffering possibly be useful?...how could suffering possibly make it easier for my life to glorify God now and better prepared for glorification in heaven?...

- here’s just a partial list...

1. To reduce your love for the world that is passing away.

- 1 John 2:15-17 - Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.

- have you ever noticed how many of our hassles have to do with material things...

- that car breaks down, that house needs repairing, that furniture and those clothes wear out...I don’t know if we would call that suffering, but we’d certainly call it the frustration of daily living...

- why, because if we’re careful, we can start ordering our lives around all that material stuff...we can fall in love with stuff instead of falling in love with God and people...

- Matthew 6:19-21 – Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

[- cf. doing flood relief – all that stuff stuck the same, whether it was purchased at Ethan Allen or Wal Mart]...

2. To help you focus on the inner man.

- 2 Corinthians 4:8-11 - we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

- suffering can reveal the inner workings of your heart like nothing else...and since that is where the nuts and bolts of the change process occur, you should view suffering as your friend...

3. To draw you closer to the Lord of grace.

- 1 Peter 5:10 - After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.

4. To prepare you to help fellow sufferers.

- 2 Corinthians 1:6-7 - But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.

- now, if you’re tracking with this, a good question at this point would be, what do I do with all of this?...that brings us to...

III. The Perspective of Suffering.

- re-read verse 18

A. It comes down, yet again, to what to choose to consider.

- this is the same key word that we encountered back in chapter 6 verse 11...

- it’s the word logizomia...

- it has to do with reckoning; or to count; to take into account; to calculate or reason; to consider; to ponder; to be in the process of logically and reasonably thinking about whatever it is you’re considering.  It could have to do with supposing; judging; or deeming something to be what it is. Here are some of the various ways it is used in Scripture:

  • Romans 2:3—“Do you suppose?
  • Romans 3:28—“For we hold
  • Romans 6:11—“So you also must consider
  • Romans 14:14—“It is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.”
  • 1 Corinthians 4:1—“This is how one should regard us.”
  • 2 Corinthians 10:7, 11—“If anyone is confident that he is Christ’s, let him remind himself that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we. . . . Let such a person understand that what we say by letter when absent, we do when present.”
  • 2 Corinthians 11:5—“I consider.”
  • Philippians 4:8—“Think about these things.”

- please factor that back into what we’re studying...when Paul compares the intensity of his suffering to what that suffering will produce, and how long that product will last...it gives him a perspective that helps him embrace suffering because of what it can/will do...

- that really brings us to a key question...

B. How much do you value the glory that is to be revealed in you?

- see, the key to growing is not the absence of trial, suffering...[that is a major misconception]...

- the key is thinking correctly about the suffering you face...putting it in its biblical perspective...

- some times [many times?], the very thing that God has given to produce Christ likeness in us...has the opposite effect not because there was something wrong with the trial...but because there was something wrong with the way we chose to think about it...

- and part of what is required to keep that perspective is something that some of us find lacking far too often...which is why Paul concludes this discussion by speaking about...

IV. The Patience of Suffering

- he even gives...

A. The example of creation.

- not that rocks and trees are literally groaning...but that our physical earth shows the effects of sin...and every time we see or hear about a flood or an earthquake or a wildfire we should be reminded of the effect sin has had even on the physical universe and why it is so delightful to think about a day when there will be a new heaven and new earth...full of God’s glory...

- and that is why...

B. With perseverance, we eagerly wait for it.

- friend, how are you suffering today?...

- which would you rather have...immediate relief from the suffering, or the glory that comes from responding to the suffering well?...

- this text has been a bit of a curve ball – but it explains a main reason why some people reach new heights spiritually, and some don’t...

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video