How God Uses Suffering in Our Lives as Believers

When there is pain and suffering in our lives as believers, we shouldn’t be surprised. Suffering is a reality of this fallen world. We must remember that whatever the immediate source of suffering is in our lives, the ultimate source is a loving God who is working for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). God uses “all things” in our lives to conform us to the image of His Son, Jesus. Suffering in sometimes a form of God’s disciplining His children (see Hebrews 12:4-11). Sometimes as parents we can be guilty of disciplining our children for our own convenience or for the sake of our pride, but God only disciplines us for our good (Heb. 12:10-11).

I believe God disciplines His children for corrective, preventative, & educational purposes. Therefore, whenever we experience suffering we should ask the following diagnostic questions:

1. Is God correcting me for some specific sin of which I need to repent?

We must distinguish between God’s corrective discipline and His judgmental punishment. God brings suffering into our lives as Christians because of sin, but He will never judge us fully for our sins. Our sin account has already been settled at Calvary where Jesus Christ took all the punishment for our sins. If you’ve never trusted in Christ there is an eternal day of judgment coming for you which will make the sufferings of this life pale in comparison. Corrective discipline then is God’s loving response of some specific area of disobedience in our lives as Christians. The best way to think of this is in the context of the relationship between a loving parent and their child. God disciplines us in this way because we belong to Him and because He loves us.

2. Am I heading in a dangerous direction that God is warning me about through preventive discipline?

God may also discipline His children to prevent them from putting themselves in danger. Parents do this for their children all the time. We want to protect our children from things that will harm them (eg., electric outlets, roads, knives, etc). God loves us more than we love our own children (Matthew 7:7-11). If He sees us heading in a dangerous direction, He will often bring adversity in our lives to keep us from going down that wrong path. The classic biblical example of this type of discipline is the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12. There Paul says that he was given a thorn in the flesh to keep him from becoming proud (2 Cor. 12:7). God sometimes uses suffering in our lives to keep us from sin.

3. What is God teaching me through this suffering in my life?

God uses suffering to teach us. I think this is always true, whether or not the other two purposes our true in your specific situation. When we suffer we learn more about ourselves and more about God. In our sufferings, we learn of our weakness and we learn of God’s strength. In our sufferings, we learn of our insufficiency and that God is all-sufficient. In our sufferings, we learn that we are undependable and that God is always faithful.

For the Christian, suffering always has a purpose. There is no meaningless pain for the child of God. Usually, when a Christian faces suffering, the question is asked, “When will it end?” Instead of asking the “when” question, we should ask the “what” question. What is God teaching me through this trial? God’s ultimate desire for us as believers is to conform us to the image of His Son. To grow in Christlikeness is also the ultimate desire of the true child of God. Using the three questions above will help ensure that we receive the benefit that God intends in our suffering.

The Third Sunday of September of 1978

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Upstairs window is in bedroom where my father was converted.

On the third Sunday of September of 1978, I was four years old. On the third Sunday of September of 1978, my mom and dad were having marriage problems. On the third Sunday of September of 1978, they decided to go to church and turn over a new leaf. On the third Sunday of September of 1978, they were having an argument about the second coming in Sunday School at Bell Avenue Baptist Church in Lenoir City, TN. On the third Sunday of September of 1978, the pastor wrapped up the Sunday School hour by saying, “No matter what you believe about the timing of the second coming, one thing’s for sure. Jesus is coming again and you better be ready. If you’re not a believer you should tell your friends and family that are trusting in Christ good-bye, because when Jesus comes you will be forever separated.” On the third Sunday of September of 1978, my dad was struck with his lost condition and fell under conviction. On the third Sunday of September of 1978, my dad went forward during the invitation and prayed, but could find no peace. He asked God for a sign and for a feeling, but no sign or feeling came. He stayed in the altar until everyone else had gone home and his legs began to ache. Finally, he went home himself still with no peace. On the third Sunday of September of 1978, he went up to the upstairs back bedroom of 701 Kingston Street, Lenoir City, TN. On the third Sunday of September of 1978, he cried out, “God, I’ve done all I know to do. All I know to do now is trust You!” On the third Sunday of September of 1978, my dad received assurance of his sins forgiven and his life was transformed. He was almost immediately called to preach and within two years was serving as pastor of his first church. My dad’s life was forever changed and so was mine and my siblings.

On this third Sunday of September I am spending the night in the city where my father was converted 3 dozen years ago and I can’t help but think about how different my life would have been had God not saved my father that day. I would likely not have ever met my wife. My children would not exist. I would not be a preacher of the same gospel that saved my dad. On this third Sunday of September I am grateful to God for His providential grace shown on the third Sunday of September of 1978.

The First General Assembly of Particular Baptists (1689)

1689 GA Cover PageAfter the Act of Toleration, which was passed by Parliament in 1688 and enacted by the king on May 24, 1689, dissenters began to exercise their new-found freedom to assemble publicly to great avail. In 1689, the Baptists gathered in London for their first national assembly. This group of “divers Pastors, Messengers and Ministring Brethren of the Baptized Churches” met in London from September 3-12, 1689, and claimed to represent “more than one hundred Congregations of the same Faith with Themselves.”[1] The common faith which distinguished this group of churches is specified on the cover page as “the Doctrine of Personal Election, and final Perseverance.”[2] This group would further identify themselves in their first meeting by adopting what would become known as the Second London Confession of Faith. This confession was originally composed and published in 1677 having originated in the Petty France congregation under the oversight of William Collins and Nehemiah Coxe.[3] The confession was republished in 1688[4] and subsequently adopted by the General Assembly in 1689. The members of the assembly declared that this confession contained “the Doctrine of our Faith and Practice” and expressed their desire that “the Members of our Churches respectively do furnish themselves therewith.”[5] When the confession was published for the third time in 1699, it included the signatures of thirty-seven ministers and messengers of the Assembly who had allowed their names to be affixed “In the name and behalf of the whole Assembly.”[6] Among the signatories were such men as William Collins, Hanserd Knollys, William Kiffin, Benjamin Keach, and  Hercules Collins.

The primary purpose of the general assemblies was stated in a letter to the churches printed in the published minutes of the inaugural meeting. The messengers gathered,

chiefly to consider of the present state and condition of all the Congregations respectively under our Care and Charge; and what might be the causes of that Spiritual Decay and loss of Strength, Beauty and Glory in our Churches; and to see (if we might be helped by the Lord herein), what might be done to attain to a better and more prosperous State and Condition.[7]

Accordingly, they spent the first day “in humbling ourselves before the Lord, and to seek of him a right way to direct into the best Means and Method to repair our Breaches, and to recover our selves into our former Order, Beauty, and Glory.”[8] The assembly also issued a call for a day of humiliation and fasting for the churches they represented, to be held on October 10, 1689.[9] The primary function of the assemblies was to provide advice and counsel to the churches. The messengers clearly wanted to disavow themselves from any sense that they were an authoritative body. Indeed, their first declaration was to “disclaim all manner of Superiority, Superintendency over the Churches; and that we have no Authority or Power, to prescribe or impose any thing upon the Faith or Practice of any of the Churches of Christ.” They would go on to state their intention merely “to be helpers together of one another, by way of Counsel and Advice, in the right understanding of that Perfect Rule which our Lord Jesus, the only Bishop of our Souls, hath prescribed, and given to his Churches in his Word.”[10] Thus, much of their time meeting together was spent responding to queries posed by the messengers on behalf of their respective congregations. Their most significant action historically, however, was the adoption of the 1677 Baptist Confession of Faith, which would prove to have a lasting impact on Baptist life and thought down to the present day.

___________________

[1]A Narrative of the Proceedings of the General Assembly Of divers Pastors, Messengers and Ministring Brethren of the Baptized Churches, met together in London, from Septemb. 3. To 12. 1689, from divers parts of England and Wales: Owning the Doctrine of Personal Election, and final Perseverance (London, 1689), 1.

[2]Narrative of the Proceedings of the General Assembly 1689, 1.

[3]Petty France Church Minute Book, 1.

[4]A Confession of Faith, Put forth by the Elders and Brethren Of many Congregations of Christians, (Baptized upon Profession of their Faith) in London and the Country (London: John Harris, 1688).

[5]Narrative of the Proceedings of the General Assembly 1689, 18.

[6]A Confession of Faith, Put forth by the Elders and Brethren Of many Congregations of Christians (Baptized upon Profession of their Faith) in London and the Countrey, 3rd ed. (London: S. Bridge, 1699), back cover; Lumpkin, Baptist Confessions of Faith, 239.

[7]Narrative of the Proceedings of the General Assembly 1689, 3.

[8]Narrative of the Proceedings of the General Assembly 1689, 9.

[9]Narrative of the Proceedings of the General Assembly 1689, 7.

[10]Narrative of the Proceedings of the General Assembly 1689, 10.

The Message of Daniel

James Hamilton, associate professor of biblical theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, has written a helpful book explaining the place of the Old Testament book of Daniel in biblical theology. I read the book in preparation for my sermon series on the book of Daniel at Farmdale Baptist Church. It served as a great introduction to the book and the larger themes of redemptive history that are prominent in the book.

Hamilton uses the chiastic structure of Daniel to summarize the message of Daniel into one sentence. I find this to be a helpful and concise, yet comprehensive explanation of the message of Daniel. It reflects the overall structure of the book and accounts for the content of each chapter (see below).2014-07-30 14.16.55-1

Daniel encourages the faithful by showing them that though Israel was exiled from the land of promise, they will be restored to the realm of life at the resurrection of the dead, when the four kingdoms are followed by the kingdom of God, so the people of God can trust him and persevere through persecution until God humbles proud human kings, gives everlasting dominion to the son of man, and the saints reign with him.

James M. Hamilton, Jr. With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical TheologyNew Studies in Biblical Theology 32. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014, 83.

The book is not available in the US until next month (September 2014), but you can pre-order the volume here. If you can’t wait until then, consider ordering the book from the UK where it has already been released.

The Three Tenses of the Lord’s Supper

In Richard Barcellos’ helpful book on the Lord’s Supper,  The Lord’s Supper as a Means of Grace, he outlines in summary form the three tenses of the Lord’s Supper.

There are three tenses of the Lord’s Supper – past (the accomplishment of redemption), present (the application of redemption), and future (the consummation of redemption). When we take the Supper, we do so in remembrance of Christ’s death. At the Supper, we enjoy present communion with Christ. But our Lord said he will drink with his people in the future in his Father’s kingdom. It is of interest to note that at the inauguration of the Old (Exod. 24:1-11) and New Covenants (Matt. 26:26-29) God was with his people, and eating occurred. There is also a prospect held out for us, an eschatological feast in the New Heavens and the New Earth (Matt. 26:29; Luke 14:14; Rev. 19:9). There will be eating and feasting at the consummation. All of this is due to the blood of the Lamb, slain for sinners, in order to bring us to God. The Lord’s Supper reminds us of the past, blesses us in the present, and looks to future eating, future feasting with the Lamb in all his glory. As Vos said, in it ‘there is an anticipation of what the eschatological state has in store for the believer’.

From Richard C. Barcellos, The Lord’s Supper as a Means of Grace: More than a Memory (Mentor, 2013), 38-39.

I highly recommend Barcellos’ book for a rich understanding of the Supper. It is a great introduction to the biblical teaching on the Lord’s Supper, with a special emphasis on how the Lord’s Supper functions as a means of grace for the believer.

C. S. Lewis on Reading Old Books

C. S. Lewis, in his Introduction to a translation of Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, warned that: “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.” He went on to explain:

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?”—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.

Postscript:  I wrote and scheduled this post for publication last week. Since that time, my friend David Schrock posted “Twelve ‘Old Books’ Every Christian Should Read”, inspired, in part, by Lewis’ admonition quoted above. It is a great list that will get you started on your quest to read old books!