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Can Pain Be Good?

September 23rd, 2014

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

Matthew 5:11-12

One area where our theology could use improvement is understanding what the Bible teaches about suffering and pain.

Can pain be good? I believe the answer is no. Pain is always pain. Does pain always bring gain? Some people do get better through pain, but some get bitter through pain, so it is not the pain alone that brings good things. Some of the pains in life are devastating to people and they do not recover from the emotional trauma for many years, if ever. For example, sexual molestation leaves devastating and lingering effects that even years afterwards still thwart emotional development. Sexual molestation is the evil “gift” that “keeps on giving” evil throughout one’s life. The words of hope that Christ spoke here, and other encouragements we receive in scripture, such as Romans 8:28-29 and 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, do not mean to teach us that pain is or should be considered pleasurable.

But, we can grow through our pain, if we allow God to use it, and we may even rejoice through our pain. There are two reasons this is so.

First, we may rejoice when pain comes to us due to our Christian witness, that we have joined the ranks of the faithful witnesses of Christ through the ages. This world that crucified Christ will also put to death His followers - a slave is not above his master (John 15:20), and followers of Christ should expect some rejection. If we have sought to follow Christ and have never faced rejection, we would then have to admit that we certainly did not aggravate the world to any significant degree. And frankly, holy people should be a bit irritating to others in an unholy world - not because we are rude, judgmental, arrogant, self-righteous or mean spirited, but because we are God’s holy people.

It is one thing to look for a fight, and the scripture says that the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but should be kind to everyone (2 Tim 2:24), but it is another thing to never have rubbed the world wrong, or irritated it by our goodness. So when the world reacts negatively to us, and we have done nothing wrong to provoke its anger other than teach and practice the truth of God, realize that this simply means that we have joined the good company of the faithful witnesses through the ages. Rejoice as the early church did that God has counted you worthy to suffer for the sake of the name of Christ (Acts 5:41).

Second, in all suffering we find the motivation to search for a deeper experience of God’s grace. Paul wrote, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor 12:9). The recognition of our need is the precursor to searching for and receiving a greater and more profound experience of God’s grace.

In heaven it will be different, that there we will see clearly and plainly the truth of God and all pain shall be removed. But here on this earth we are all slow to learn spiritual lessons. I have found that my heart is so quickly drawn to pride and so easily drawn away from God, that the Lord has had to often keep me before Him on the basis of my personal needs. (I will keep to myself the nature of these needs.) But if I never felt weak and inadequate I would be so easily tempted to pride and to neglect the Lord. I have found Him and a greater and more profound spiritual experience through my needs and pains.

So if you are misunderstood, rejected, or judged because you have graciously sought to be God’s light in the darkness around you, or if you are struggling with painful personal matters or inner challenges, do not be discouraged. Rather rejoice and be glad for the Lord shall show Himself to you as your Deliverer and Redeemer. Our needs draw us to Him and He is up to the task to give us consolation and joy in the midst of difficulty.

Beatitudes ,

Blessed Are the Persecuted

September 22nd, 2014

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:10

This beatitude is given both as a consolation for persecution and as a direction for our priorities in life. We read in 1 Timothy 5:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” so every Christian will experience some persecution. As a consolation it reminds us that God watches over our lives here on earth and when we face persecution - whether it be mild rejection or harsh and brutal persecution - due to our faith in Christ, that God will reward us.

As a consolation, the reward that is promised is simply heaven itself - and the reward unembellished here with statements of crowns or future ruling statuses that we are told about in other New Testament passages. The reward is simply heavenly citizenship, and the meaning is that this reward is sufficient for us. It is enough if all we receive is the promise of citizenship in God’s kingdom. This means that this future kingdom has no low-life, no underprivileged, no second class citizens. Christ said, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11).

The rewards that are mentioned in Scripture are not the type that would set us apart as superior to others or others inferior to us. Dedication shall be rewarded, but saints shall live in a beautiful peaceful equality in terms of dignity, importance, and significance. There will be no boasting in ourselves in heaven (Eph. 2:8), only boasting in Christ and what he has achieved in our lives (Gal. 6:14). No one shall endure suffering and rejection here on earth and enter into heaven disappointed. The kingdom we inherit is the unshakable kingdom of God (Heb. 12:28).

As a directive for living, it tells us that we are to follow Christ where He leads us and not worry about the earthly rewards. I have many friends in ministry and some have received very good financial rewards for their ministry - and they have earned these rewards, for the laborer is worthy of his hire (1 Tim. 5:18). I have other friends who have served faithfully who have not received as much financial reward, but have just enough their entire lives. It would be wrong to look at either of these and say that one was successful and the other a failure, or that one did right and the other did wrong, or that one was wise and the other foolish. Though it is possible that one may have made better financial decisions that the other, the goal of service to Christ cannot be measured by earthly rewards - whether they are money, popularity, or comfort. Neither are we to strive for these things in our dedication to Christ. We are to simply follow Him and trust Him to provide for us.

This changes for those outside of ministry only slightly. Certainly anyone going into business does so to make a profit, but every Christian has a higher calling than money and profit. Every follower of Christ must set his affections on the things of heaven and not the things of this earth. Our hopes and our directions in life transcend this world and are invested in God’s kingdom. His life becomes ours. His eternal peace, joy, and love dwell within us and this is worth all the gold in the world. God pays in spiritual dividends that give purpose and meaning, as well as immeasurable inner joy and spiritual wealth to our souls.

The goal of the Christian life must always be first and foremost faithfulness to the name and calling of Christ. Our success is only measurable in those terms, not in financial ones. Of course, there is one exception to that statement - how much of our financial resources we give for the cause of Christ. The world sees how much we keep for ourselves, but heaven notices how much we give for Christ.

Beatitudes