The Value of Suffering

Steve Viars March 29, 2008 James 1:1-8

 

- When I entered kindergarten...it was designed to be a very pleasant experience...

- of course this was back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, but I think the view then was your first year of school should be a way to get used to the idea of being away from home...

- so it lasted a half day...we played a lot...had a bunch of snacks...took naps...and went home before noon...

- we all remember certain phrases from our childhood and one from our family was my dad constantly kidding us that all we ever did in kindergarten was “drink milk and eat cookies”...for some reason that galled him as he went off to work, or he used to act like it did...

- but at least from my perspective...having an easy year in kindergarten suited me just fine...it helped make me the man I am today...[I still like cookies, and milk, and naps]...

- but we would we all agree with this...at some point if education is going to be worth much...it has to get a lot harder...

- much deeper content, much harder tests, a much more demanding schedule...

- in fact, we would probably say...at some point there probably even needs to be a bit of suffering involved in the curriculum if we’re going to be prepared for the real world?...

- would you agree with that?...

- now you might say – I’m not sure I’d go so far as to use the word “suffering”...

- well, think about it from the other perspective...we have 2 new hospitals being built in our town...has anybody noticed that?

- most of us will probably walk into those buildings in the next few years to visit someone or perhaps be a patient ourselves...

- the engineers who designed the structure of the building?...do you want the academic degree they received to have been rigorous?...do you want them to have to had endured some pressure?...to have some really hard tests...some really demanding projects?...absolutely...why?

- because the process of designing the hospital was going to be a challenge...

- and you only want people working on that project who have already proved that they can handle the pressure, and who had been taught how to handle pressure...

- if their entire education had been as easy as my kindergarten year, without an ounce of suffering...that would be unacceptable...

- what about the doctors who will work there?...

- do you want their training to have been rigorous?...

- do you want them to have been stretched?...

- you may know that there is actually a debate about whether medical training is needlessly hard...

- I’m sure there are many opinions on that...but I know this...

- if you need a doctor in the middle of the night...you’re going to want to know that’s not the first time he ever had to be up in the middle of the night...

- or if you need a doctor whose going to have to do significant research in a library or on the internet to come up with the correct diagnosis...you’re going to want a doctor who learned how to do that well, even if it involved a little suffering...

- so we would all agree, would we not, that all of life should not be like my experience in kindergarten...there is a place for being stretched...there is a value to things that are hard...there’s a benefit even to a reasonable amount of suffering...

- well if we would say that for the engineer designing the hospital, or the doctor making the diagnosis...would we also say that for each of us spiritually?...

- that’s what we hope to examine in the next 6 weeks together...

- Seeking God’s Plan in Suffering...

- this morning we’d like to think aboutThe Value of Suffering...

- if it’s good for the engineer, and good for the physician, could it possibly be good for us?

- with that mind, would you please open your Bible this morning to James chapter 1?...[page 177 of the back page of the Bible under the chair in front of you...]

- while you’re turning there, let me mention several introductory ideas to help set the stage for this series...

1. I am sure that we will have many persons with us who are in the midst of suffering right now...

- I would say first of all – thank you for coming...I am glad that you would come to church even if there might be reminders of the painful situation that you’ve faced...

- I want you to know that I have prayed for you, and I have prayed for me and the rest of our speakers...

- we do not want this to come off like a sterile, academic discussion...

- we understand that some people among us are suffering profoundly right now, and these discussions need to be characterized by carefulness, compassion, and grace...

2. I think I am duty bound to explain that I am coming to these discussions with two foundational pre-suppositions that some in the room might not share...

- first, that God truly exists, and second that He has revealed His will to us in the pages of Scripture...

- again, I am sure that we will have folks among us who have questions or doubts about that...and again, thank you for being willing to come...

- if you have questions about those two matters, there are some very helpful resources that we would be happy to put in your hands...

- one of the challenges with a series like this is...there are certain questions that can’t make it in the discussion for sake of time or focus...but I respect the fact that for some, those matters need to be cleared up too...

3. If you have questions or concerns or suggestions as we move through this series, please do not hesitate to e-mail them to me.

- I receive hundreds of e-mails every week and am finding it to be a very important part of ministry in this culture...

- if you would prefer to meet face to face, please let me know that and we can make that happen as well...

4. Lastly, I’d like to recommend some other resources for your study as we move through this series...

- It might be a good idea to study one or more of these books in the next 6 weeks...many of these are available in our resource center, or will be soon...

Trusting God – Jerry Bridges

How Long, O Lord – D.A. Carson

Beyond the Suffering – Bob Kellemen

Why Does God Allow Suffering – Martin Lloyd Jones

A Tearful Celebration – James Means

The Power of Suffering – John MacArthur

Suffering and the Sovereignty of God – John Piper and Justin Taylor

More Precious than Gold – John Vaughn

- now, for our purposes this morning...The Value of Suffering...

- before we read these verses, let me mention just one other idea...

- I imagine that we will have some folks with us today who have never studied the Bible before...

- let me just “warn” you about something...

- the way God thinks about things is often a lot different than the way we do...

- and if you chew on that long enough, you’d probably conclude...I guess that is what I would want in a God...if He was just like me...He wouldn’t be much of a god...

- well, please let that impact how you respond to these verses...otherwise you might respond to God’s view of suffering with words like...that’s not possible, that’s ridiculous, nobody does that...

- let me ask you to do this...please “hear God out”...generally when God says something that is vastly different than the view we would have had on our own...He also gives us the reasons...that is certainly true of suffering in general, and of James chapter 1 in particular...

- read James 1:1-8

- with the time we have remaining, let’s think about:

I. The Challenge [in this passage]

II. The Reason [for the challenge]

III. The Hope [available for people who choose to try to live this way...]

I. The Challenge – Learn to Rejoice in Suffering.

- as outrageous as that might sound, would you at least agree with me that this is clearly what James is calling us to do?...

- this isn’t a matter of putting up with it...

- its not getting through it with a frown on our face and a complaint in our heart...

- James says – you and I can learn to rejoice in times of suffering...

- now, maybe we need to just stop there and say – I hope that all of us are already thinking about trials and difficulties we might be facing right now, or ones that we have faced in the past, or ones we could anticipate coming down the pike...

- I said that this wasn’t going to be just an academic discussion...

- one of the ways we prevent that is to evaluate ourselves in light of what the Scripture says...

- would your standard response to suffering be something akin to joy?

- while you’re mulling on that...

A. Take note that this is the first topic James raises with his readers.

- the sequence of material in this book is very significant...

- sometimes people try to bury the hard stuff in the fine print...

- well, we better not talk about that...if we do, it could be embarrassing to the cause...

- that was not James’ view at all...

- now, you might say – well, who was he writing to?...

- did you see it in the middle of verse 1 – 1:1 - ...to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad.

- so these readers are Jewish individuals [that’s the point of the words “12 tribes”]

- but also that they are scattered...or dispersed...something has driven them away from their homes and all that was familiar to them...

- that may because by now, the first man to be martyred for his faith has occurred – who was that?...Stephen...you can read about that in Acts 6-7

- It also may be because the first persecution of the church has begun under Herod Agrippa I around AD 44 (you can read about that in Acts 12)

- of course if you’ve studied church history you know that conditions were going to get worse for followers of Christ...but these individuals were suffering...and instead of sweeping that topic under the rug...James deals with it head on...right at the beginning of the book...

B. Think about the relationship between the way James views himself and the way he views his circumstances.

- did you notice the way the book began?...

- 1:1 – James, a bond-servant of God...

- of course that brings up the question, who was James?...

- there were at least 4 different James in the Bible...and most students of Scripture believe that this was the half-brother of Jesus, and also the brother of Jude...

- that in and of itself is a fascinating story because many in Jesus’ own family did not believe in Him until after the resurrection...

- but when James became a follower of Jesus, he didn’t try to capitalize on the fact that they were related, humanly speaking...

- in His mind, he was any other believer...simply a bond-servant of God...

- and if you are new to studying the Bible...I need to be sure I practice full-disclosure...

- that is the way we view ourselves...God does not exist to further our plan—we exist to further His...

- and if that includes the possibility of enduring suffering...we approach that from the perspective of a self image that joyfully seeks to serve Him because He is worthy of that kind of devotion, and that kind of allegiance...

C. Rejoicing in trials is a discipline of the mind.

- often when studying the Bible, it is important to concentrate on the controlling verbs...

- that is certainly true here – what jumps out is the word...

- consider – hageomai – to engage in an intellectual process

- trials are not intrinsically joyful...

- and they definitely don’t cause us to feel joyful...

- now, the Bible is not telling us to act like its something that its not...

- or to put on some kind of plastic smile or engage in what amount to Christian masochism...

- James is challenging us to engage in an intellectual process...to think about this event through the lens of scripture and when we choose to do that...it will produce joy...

- there are reasons to rejoice during a time of suffering...

- now, we’ll come back to that in a minute...but here are a few more ideas to add to this part of the discussion...

1. Doing this partially is not one of the options.

- why do we know that?....because of the word “all”...

- 1:2 - Consider it all joy...

- this isn’t something we’re called to do some of the time, or half of the time...or after we’ve spent the first 2 weeks complaining or griping about every facet of it we didn’t like...

- now, lest we say...I don’t want to...please remember this...

2. We are commanded to do this.

- the word consider is an indicative verb – in other words, it is a command of God.

3. The Bible says this in many other places as well.

Matthew 5:11-12 - Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

1 Peter 4:13 - but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.

- so it is not like James is out on a limb here --- what he is saying about suffering matches what is said in many other places as well...

4. Jesus Christ set the example in this area.

- Hebrews 12:2 - fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

- when a person chooses to follow this command, they are choosing to be like Jesus Christ...

- now, I realize that some might hear this and say – that is non-sense...there is no way that a person should/would ever be able to respond to suffering in this way...

- that response might reveal a growing tendency in the church to lack the necessary depth to process challenging topics well...

- theologian David Wells made that point in a book he wrote right after 9/11...

      This moment of tragedy and evil [referring to 9/11] shone its own light on the Church and what we came to see was not a happy sight.  For what has become conspicuous by its scarcity, and not least in the evangelical corner of it, is a spiritual gravitas, one which could match the depth of horrendous evil and address issues of such seriousness.  Evangelicalism, now much absorbed by the arts and tricks of marketing, is simply not very serious anymore. (David Wells - Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World)

John Piper referred to that quote and then went on to say -- In other words, our vision of God in relation to evil and suffering was shown to be frivolous.  The church has not been spending its energy to go deep with the unfathomable God of the Bible.  Against the overwhelming weight and seriousness of the Bible, much of the church is choosing, at this very moment, to become more light and shallow and entertainment-oriented, and therefore successful in its irrelevance to massive suffering and evil.  The popular God of fun-church is simply too small and too affable to hold a hurricane in his hand.  The biblical categories of God’s sovereignty lie like land mines in the pages of the Bible waiting for someone to seriously open the book.  They don’t kill, but they do explode trivial notions of the Almighty. (John Piper – Suffering and the Sovereignty of God).

- now let’s go back to something we said at the beginning...generally when God says something that is vastly different than the view we would have had on our own...He also gives us the reasons...and that is definitely the case here...

II. The Reason – Suffering Can Help You Grow.

- kindergarten is fine...but at some point it’s time to be promoted to something more challenging...

- James says that suffering can have a positive impact on you like few other experiences in life...

A. Ideas from this passage.

- please tell me, from verse 3...what does the testing of your faith produce?

1. Produces endurance.

- endurance – hupomone – often translated patience, but the emphasis here is on the product, consequence of patience.

- when you hear that word, you might think of the great Arctic explorer named Ernest Shakleton...

- he led a group of 27 men to attempt to cross the Antarctic continent on foot...

- the expedition began at Sea...and they named their ship Endurance...[pic]

- eventually their ship became trapped in the ice and was destroyed...[pic]

- Shakleton then led them the crew to a place called Elephant Island and took five of his men in two small boats to attempt an ocean crossing to find help...

- their story is retold in a book named Endurance and if you have never read it, it is a great book...

- against all odds, Shakleton and his party eventually made it to a whaling station where they secured another ship to rescue the rest of the party...

- when they got back to Elephant Island...all of the men were still alive, and they made it back to civilization safely...

- James says – one of the reasons we should rejoice during times of suffering is because it can produce that...it can produce the all important quality of endurance...

- please notice something else about this – the word at the beginning of verse 3 is...

- knowing – Ginosko

- even first year Greek students know that ginosko is speaking about experiential knowledge...

- James is saying – this isn’t just book learning...this is something that you have gained through the crucible of experience...and in this case, the crucible of suffering...

- of course the question all of us would have to answer is – do we value endurance so much that we are willing to pay the price to achieve it?

2. Makes you “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

- we’ve all heard the phrase “the complete package”...

- it’s been said a lot these last couple of weeks about basketball players who can do it all...they can pass well, they can shoot, they can play defense, they’re big, they’re fast...the complete package...

- and James says that one of the reasons you and I ought to rejoice during a time of suffering is because it can complete us, (round us out) in ways that nothing else can...

- one of my counselees from another town was telling me this week about an event that occurred in the life of her 13 year old daughter...

- she had been to a youth retreat that really impacted her and so she was telling some of her friends at school about the great time she had, and all that she had learned, and the way she planned to live as a result...

- and one of the kids called her a “Jesus freak”...

- and as soon as I heard those words, my first thought was, how sad that a young girl had to be spoken to that way...

- but that wasn’t the end of the story...do you know how her daughter responded...she said to the boy --  thank you very much...

- and she wasn’t being snide about it – she was pointing out – its OK to get fired up about sports, or fired up about the latest trend in culture...but you’re going to call me a name because I’m fired up about my faith...

- there’s a young girl heading somewhere...if she’s not going to be intimidated by some goof calling her a name in an attempt to mock her love/enthusiasm for Christ...she’s on the right road...

- and that bit of suffering///and her right response to it very well may be used of God to help complete her...

- now, what about...

B. Ideas from other places in God’s Word.

- Scripture speaks of dozens and dozens of ways that suffering can help you grow...

- here’s just a sampling, but an important one...

1. Helps you reject materialism.

- often our suffering has to do with the breakdown or failure of some material thing...

- Matthew 6:24 - No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

- Hebrews 11:24-26 - By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.

2. Helps you test your faith.

- cf. Abraham 

- Hebrews 11:17-19 - By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “In Isaac your descendants shall be called.” He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.

- the Christian who never wants to suffer is like the basketball team that never wants to face an opponent...any athlete will tell you---the most boring thing in the world is just having endless practice against yourself...you want to play a game...against a strong opponent...and hopefully prove that you can win...

- in Christ---you can...

1 Corinthians 10:13 - No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

- it’s one thing to know that verse as words on a page...but its something else to say...I found that to be true in the crucible of suffering...God demonstrated that He could give me the faith necessary to handle whatever situation He brought my way...

3. Helps you focus your heart.

- suffering can loosen our grip on the here and now and help us focus on eternity...

- 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 - Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

[ask some evaluative questions based on what we’ve studied thus far]

- now, if you would say – PV, I don’t possess the strength, and the wisdom to be able to handle suffering this way...

- the rest of this text has some great news...

III. The Hope – God Will Give You All the Wisdom You Need if You Simply Ask for It.

A. If you lack wisdom?

- is there anyone here who would say – no, I have all I need, thank you very much!

B. Let him ask of God.

- when is the last time you can remember asking God for wisdom to handle suffering well?

- many people would be able to honestly answer that question with, all the time!

C. God will give it to you generously without reproach.

D. Remember, you must ask in faith.

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