The Role of Suffering in Sanctification

Desiring God 2010 Conference for Pastors

The Pastor, the People, and the Pursuit of Joy

Thank you pastor for inviting me out to share this opportunity with these gentlemen and their wives. I want to acknowledge that my wife is here with me, and also my mother-in-law is watching streamline. So hi mother-in-law, how are you doing? Want to make sure I acknowledge that she’s watching streamline.

Suffering and Sanctification

If you could, turn on your Bibles to 2 Thessalonians 1:1–12. We’re going to dive into a few verses here. By way of introduction. I grew up in inner-city Washington, D.C., and in growing up in Washington, D.C., I started in the projects of Southwest Washington D.C. We moved from there to uptown even though up really wasn’t up, it was down, in every sense of the word. I grew up during the crack era in Washington DC, where crack was rampant in the late 1970s and early 1980s. One of the things as a young kid growing up in the inner city is that you’re always hoping that things will get better. You’re always hoping that in some way, shape, or form — because of the hardship that you’ve experienced growing up in an inner city context — there has to be something better than that.

You almost feel like you even deserve for things to not get worse, because nothing in the mind of an inner-city kid could get worse than hearing gunshots and sirens and seeing friends across the street from them dying, and guys that lived across the street from them killing other guys. You’re living in that environment and you’re like, “Yo, I’m wondering whether or not, fam, things are going to get different.” I grew up in the church, but it was a very non-Christian, social-gospel church. I didn’t hear the gospel till I went to college.

I got up to college, heard the gospel for the first time, and was rocked by the gospel. I was blown away by the gospel and blown away by the ruler of lights. But the thing that drove me nuts was the fact that I hadn’t heard it all my life. I began developing and getting discipled under a theology that says whenever a Christian goes through something, God owes them something. I still had my pre-unredeemed philosophy of suffering and difficulty following me into my Christian life without a transformed mind. So as I was in the Christian life, whenever someone went through something people in the church would say, “Yo, in light of God allowing you to go through that, he owes you something. He owes you a blessing. He owes you to blow you up and make your name known.”

Then I went to seminary, and I got into my last Greek class, and we had to translate the book of Romans twice. And at the end of the class we had to do a paper — a thick paper, might I add. I’ll never forget that paper. We had to do a sanctification paper with Dr. Lowry at DTS, and we had to pick within the framework of the New Testament and do a diachronic study of a particular sub-subject of sanctification. So while I was in this class, I thought, which one am I going to do? I was thinking about all of God’s means of grace throughout the New Testament, which he uses to sanctify his people, and then I asked him, “What about the role of suffering in sanctification? Has anyone written on that yet?”

He was like, “Nah, that’d be a great paper, Mr. Mason. Go ahead, write that thing.” So I was like, “All right, bruh.” So I began going through from Matthew to Revelation, diametrically locking away, but you had to keep it centered kind of in Romans because the class was on Romans particularly. But he wanted you to do a diachronic study of the subject throughout the New Testament. And as I walked through this idea of sanctification and suffering’s role in it, I was blown away. I was blown away because I learned that sanctification — of course, as most of us know — is the process by which God makes the Christian actually holy.

Although positionally in Jesus we are sanctified, set aside, and imputed with Jesus’s righteousness, practically we are still raggedy. So in light of us still being raggedy, God has to use and rig things in life, by his sovereign grace, to sanctify us, to take us from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity. I was excited about that. I said, “That’s dope.” I was in seminary and it was booming right there. I was loving this.

Then I started getting more and more into the text, and I realized that suffering was one of the prime things that he utilizes to sanctify the Christian. It seemed to me that as I went through texts, Jesus talks about suffering, Acts talks about suffering, and the Pauline epistles and the general epistles talk about suffering. I began to see this concurring idea of suffering and married to this idea of suffering was sanctification. If sanctification is the process by which we become actually holy, then listen, fam, suffering is the superintendent and the foreman of the construction project of sanctification. In other words, he puts on a hard hat just for hardheads. So suffering kind of helps us and works with us if we can personify suffering or give characterization to suffering. He is our usher, if you will.

Paul’s Theology of Suffering

As I went through the Pauline corpus and was rocked by Paul’s philosophy of life and was diving into it, one of the passages that blew my mind during the study was 2 Thessalonians 1:1–12, and that’s where we’re going to be today. We’re only going to spend time in a couple of verses, and we’re going to try to chop those up a little bit in a good way. We’re going to read the whole first chapter:

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Suffering as the Common Expectation of Every Christian

Here in this passage we of course see the second letter to the Thessalonians, and I know I’m talking to the choir, but just humor me for a minute. The Thessalonians were those who some believed and viewed as the model church. So it’s unclear who the actual offenders or persecutors were in this context. Some fly by and wonder whether or not they were under the persecution of Nero, but we realize that’s later before the destruction of Jerusalem. So we’re wondering what was happening or who were the offenders, but it’s clear that they were being persecuted. They were afflicted and were suffering.

One of the things about Paul is that he gets worried about Christians when they experience their first sufferings. He gets very afraid. The reason why he gets very afraid is because he’s wondering if they understand that it is a part of the Christian life. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Acts 14:22. It says:

[Paul was] strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.

Wow, that is a young-buck believer. They’re not getting, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. Everything is going to increase every day. God has an increase for you and he’s going to bless you and he’s going to take it to the next level.” No, they said, “Sometimes God subtracts.” That was fundamental Bible doctrine for Christians, that sometimes God is not going to rock you by giving you something you like; sometimes he’s going to rock you by giving you something you don’t like. You’re going to struggle. Life is going to get feisty on you. So Paul is wondering whether or not they understand the principle of joy.

Do they understand the principle that this is normal for the Christian, that this is the place and this is the system and this is the funneling and piping technique which God utilizes to grow Christians from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity? He is an equal-opportunity employer for every Christian. There is no affirmative action when it comes to suffering. It’s okay to laugh. There is no disinfectant that you can utilize to anoint yourself out of suffering. It just doesn’t work like that. However, God, in using suffering, maximizes what he wants to get out of us by pressing on us what he’s placed in us. So here in this passage, we see that Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 1:11, “To this end we always pray for you . . .”

We have to go back up to 2 Thessalonians 11:3, and we see that he’s encouraging them based on when Timothy had been dispatched in 1 Thessalonians 3:1–10 and he went there to check on their faith. He encourages them that the word is out about them. The word is out that believers are getting blown away by the fact that they’re going through a hellacious struggle and other believers are applauding. Faith is being encouraged, depth is being developed, and other believers who are watching and hearing in HD what was happening to the Christians at Thessalonica were excited about it. Christians all over the world at that time and those who heard about it through their system of hearing — though they didn’t have Twitter or Facebook but just some good word of mouth that went out really fast — learned about it and were excited about it. It encouraged them.

Made Worthy of His Calling

Then he goes down and he goes in 2 Thessalonians 1:5 and states that their faithfulness to the gospel heralds the reality of the righteousness of God. He’s excited that they have not defected from the faith, which shows that they are being sustained by the living God and that God is righteous, and therefore God is using their suffering to store up wrath for their persecutors.

In 2 Thessalonians 1:6–10, he says that Jesus is going to cause those who cause them suffering to suffer in greater proportion to theirs. He says, “Do you think you’re suffering? Wait till you see the cats that are putting the beat down on you now. This is a light affliction, these are some little beatdowns, but because they can’t satisfy the wrath of God, he will.” Paul is saying, “It takes an eternity for God’s wrath to be satisfied, so they’ll spend eternity away from God forever and he will repay them for what they’ve done to you.”

And then he goes into what I love that Paul does. He says, “To this end we always pray for you . . .” (2 Thessalonians 1:11). I did a study one time on Paul’s prayers. Paul’s prayers are legendary when he prays for believers. All of his prayers from Corinthians to Philemon blow my mind in what he prays and through the pastoral epistles. His prayers for Christians are legendary and convicting. They have great depth. They’re extremely God-ward and they’re very distinct. Almost all of Paul’s prayers contain a thanksgiving to God for some aspect of Christian fruit that they are bearing. He gets into the hard part of the prayer. This is the part that blew my mind. I’m just going to walk through the text with no points. You can take notes if you want.

I’ve always been blown away by part of the prayer. He says:

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling . . . (2 Thessalonians 1:11).

It’s interesting. I’ve been trying to wonder what it looks like for God to make someone worthy of his calling. Now, what’s beautiful about him making them worthy is that they’re not making themselves worthy. So the worthiness that happens during the suffering is an act of God, not an act of man, even though it’s an act of God through man. Because of salvation, our will is taken out of bondage, joining God through regeneration in God’s works in us. So he’s calling them worthy of the calling with which they’ve been called. The act of worthiness in this passage is that Christian faithfulness is an act of God, and God makes the Christian worthy through the gospel, not something we obtain as a moralistic act of our own volition.

Saved for a Purpose

The desire here is that God would meet them in their trials in such a way that he causes the worthiness of their calling to be matched by how they’re handling the suffering. It’s beautiful. He says, “I want it to be matched.” In other words, “Show God by joining God in your suffering that he didn’t save you for nothing.” See, this idea that the Christian gets to become a Christian and has no fruit and doesn’t live out anything is not the purpose of salvation. God has saved us with particular purposes in mind. And because he saved us with these particular purposes in mind, he is going to get his glory no matter what, because he’s most passionate about it. Therefore, Paul is asking that they would be made worthy of their calling.

This is the soteriological goal that he’s pointing to. He says, “That God would make you worthy of his calling . . .” (2 Thessalonians 1:11). Which calling is that? It’s his calling of you to salvation in Jesus Christ. So now what’s happening for the Christian is that the Christian is graced by being able to join God without a choice because of the suffering that will come. As my Father in ministry used to always say, “You’re in one of three places in life as a Christian, three places always. You are either going into a trial, you’re in one, or you’re coming out of one.” Those are the three phases that you go through. But the issue is how the worthiness of God is being seen as you’re going through that particular trial. So the prayer of course anticipates the elevation of their conduct in light of God’s calling on their life.

The Deliverance in Our Distresses

But this is the part about the prayer that blew my mind. If you notice it, he says, “May God count you worthy of his calling” (2 Thessalonians 1:11). That’s powerful. In other words, he didn’t choose to take them out of the trial. He didn’t even pray for the trial to be removed. It’s interesting to me that Paul didn’t pray, “Lord, deliver them in the name of Jesus. God, bring them out right now in Jesus’s mighty name.” He didn’t say that. That would’ve been a good prayer and we can pray for deliverance.

But it’s interesting that in this prayer, during this suffering, as they’re going through this much, if Paul had been praying for me and he was my apostle at the time, I would’ve been like, “Why are you praying like that? You can get one through in a different way, right? Why in the world are you going to pray to keep me in the trial? Are you crazy? Tell me, ‘Deliverance is nigh?’ Tell me something.” But he didn’t tell them that. He didn’t tell Him that, because he knew the secret of this thing.

He says, “Count them worthy of the calling with which they’ve been called and make them stay in the trial.” David says something interesting in Psalm 4:1. He says:

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
     You have given me relief when I was in distress.

Wow, that’s a key preposition — in. In other words, God gave him a sense of deliverance even though he didn’t take him out of the distress. The word for “relief” here is interesting in the passage. It means “to find relief” or “to have momentary or sustained alleviation of trouble or anxiety.” An extension of the meaning also means “to broaden my place,” so as to have more room to move around. In other words, he’s feeling pressed, like Paul says, afflicted in every way, which means being surrounded by crowds. But David prayed, “Lord, you have given me relief within my distress.”

In other words, even though God chooses many times not to take us out of our trials, he will give us a sense of deliverance without being delivered from the sphere of our suffering. And in that space is where the joy happens. That’s where the joy happens. The joy happens when you say, “Okay, God, you gave me some breathing room. This feels really good. I felt like I was in a straight jacket for a minute. I felt like I had on a girdle, but you’ve loosened the girdle of my circumstance for a breather, even though I’m still in it. The fire is still hot. You’ve been so loving and so gracious that I cannot be so focused on my circumstances, but be able to enjoy you and have perspective while I’m in it.”

Learning the Theology We Preach

Some of you are in situations right now where you’re struggling with perspective. You’ve suffered many times and God has done many things in you. But I don’t know what it is about suffering, no matter how many times you go through a difficult time in the first quarter of the suffering, you tend to forget what the reason behind everything is. You begin to think, “Dang, man. God, here we go again.”

I’ll never forget my wife, we first got pregnant in our last year of seminary. We were really excited. We were really excited. She was six months pregnant and she needed a liver transplant. We were excited about having this baby. Then all of a sudden, it was the first time I didn’t go to an appointment with her. I was in class at this time sitting down, bottom of the ninth, and I got a text message. I think I had a beeper back then. I didn’t have a cell phone. I went out of class, called her, and she said, “There’s no heartbeat.” So I got in my car and I was going up 75 in Dallas. I was just crying out to God, having a fight of a conversation with him. I was fighting with him. I said, “God, I’m in here trying to serve you. What’s good? What’s happening? I know I did that study on the role of suffering and sanctification. I’ll talk to you about that in a minute.”

I was just saying, “God, help your boy out. I’m trying to figure out what in the world is going on. God, we’re trying to serve you. We don’t deserve this to happen to us.” I got there and I have some charismaniac in me. I laid my hand on her belly and I said, “God raise this child from the dead. Will you reinstate the heartbeat?” And I called the doctor back in and I said, “Doc, come in fam. Let’s do another sonogram. Let’s do another ultrasound.” And he said, “Okay.” I prayed again. We went in there and looked at the ultrasound and the lungs had collapsed. Then to make matters worse, she had to go through normal childbirth.

So even though we took a Lamaze class in preparation to have a living baby, I had to practice the Lamaze technique so she would be able to have a stillborn baby. I’ll never forget little Naomi being born and they whisked my wife out. She was lying there. I had like 50 people from the church there. I was in the room and a friend of mine was with me and we laid hands on her again, her limp body, and I was reading John 11 saying, “God, you’re the resurrection and the life, will you bring her back.” I even tried to use trick words thinking I was going to twist his arm. I said, “God, I know you can bring maximum glory to yourself this way.” I’m foreseeing better than him how he can be glorified, and it didn’t resurrect her.

To make matters worse, after that, we found out my wife needed a liver transplant. Then we get pregnant again. My wife was handicapped for almost two and a half years, barely able to walk, and she needed help putting her clothes on and washing herself for that period of time. She had back spasms as we went places and were walking around. She was in a wheelchair. During that season, God began making that paper enter my heart. And that paper was more than just some esoteric abstract theology. God began to use it to teach me that joy should not be situational. He began to tell me that steadfastness or persecution is consistency in the midst of adversity.

Attending to Our Duty in Suffering

I like the way Thomas Case says it. In his book, When Christians Suffer, he says:

God teaches [us in a] suffering condition, to study duty more than deliverance, and seriously to inquire what it is which God calls for under the present dispensation. The soul cries out with Paul, when laid for dead at Christ’s feet, “Lord, what will you have me to do?” (Acts 9:6). There is no condition or trial in the world, but it gives a man opportunity for the exercise of some special grace, and the doing of some special duty. It is the work of a Christian in every new state, and in every new trial — to mind what new duty God expects, and what new grace he is to exert and exercise.

To mind deliverance alone, is self-love, which is natural to man . . . Man in affliction would eagerly be delivered, have the burden taken off, and the yoke broken; he makes more haste to get his afflictions removed, than sanctified. “O,” thinks one, “if God would heal me of this sickness, deliver me out of this distress — I would walk more closely with him; I would be more abundant in family duties; I would be more fruitful in my converse; I would do thus and thus,” and so on.

Now though men should sit down in their afflictions, consider their ways, and make new resolutions for better things if God shall give better times — yet if this is all, it may be nothing else but a wile of the deceitful heart, a temptation and snare of the devil; a mere diversion to turn aside the heart from the present duty which God expects. And therefore when God intends good and happiness to the soul by the present chastisement, he pitches the soul upon the present duty . . .

Paul studied more how to adorn the cross, than to avoid it; how to render persecution amiable; and if he must suffer for Christ, yet that Christ might not suffer by him; that Christ might be exalted, and the Church edified. And lastly, to commit the keeping of our souls to God in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator.

Thomas Case is letting us know that there is a duty for us during suffering and that God wants us to attend to this duty. He talks about the biblical theology of Paul in his suffering, that he was always trying to see what type of attention he could bring to Jesus through it. We’re not masochists, beating ourselves. We allow God to providentially assign times in our life that he sees, that we’ll go through, and that he will ultimately utilize for his glory.

Enabled to Draw Near to God

One of the most powerful statements was Jonathan Edwards talking about David Brainerd in some of his notes of his life through his journal. He speaks of this reality in the life of David Brainerd as he speaks of his emotional and physical challenges of suffering. He says:

Was in bitter anguish of soul in the morning, such as I have scarce ever felt, with a sense of sin and guilt. I continued in distress the whole day, attempting to pray wherever I went; and indeed could not help so doing, but looked upon myself so vile, I dared not look anybody in the face; and was even grieved that anybody should show me any respect, or at least that they should be so deceived as to think I deserved it.

That’s how he’s feeling one day. Then the next day seems like God made room for him. On the next day, he says:

In the evening I could not but think that God helped me to “draw near to the throne of grace . . .”

It doesn’t even sound like the same dude. He continues:

Though most unworthy, [he] gave me a sense of his favor, which gave me inexpressible support and encouragement.

That’s what it’s about. Family, some days you’ll feel this whack, blah feeling. It’s normal. But the question is will we move and pursue the joy that God gives us? Because God is near to the brokenhearted. God loves to scoot up next to those who are crushed in spirit. He loves to hang out with those who are having hard times. He loves it because he knows you ain’t got nothing to prove. See, when you are going through a good time, you fly with yours. You know what I’m saying? You might be walking on with swagger but then when a struggle happens, your swag is off that day. So God is like, “I don’t want the sense that I’m with you, the unmovable aspect or part of the fruit of the Spirit called joy to make you miss out on what I’m trying to work in you and trying to get others to see through you.”

I can remember when my wife went through her liver transplant, then went through the rejection of the liver right after that, with an infection twice, and then cancer three times in the same new liver. We had to work through it. I thought, “Is this dense, abstract theology going to make its way into our practice?” I was blown away many times and began to learn what it meant when God said, “You know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness, and let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:3–4). This is the time when joy counts, though joy is good to have all the time. I know we say, “God is good, all the time; all the time, God is good,” but the question is, does that joy still impact us while we are going through the difficulties of our circumstances?

Every Resolve for Good

Paul prays, “That our God may make you worthy of his calling . . .” (2 Thessalonians 1:11). Then, he goes and starts chopping up some of the ways the worthiness is made visible. The first way is beautiful, and there are two or three ways in this passage. He says, “May [he] fulfill every resolve for good . . .” (2 Thessalonians 1:11). It’s great. I like that. Now this is interesting, because here is the anatomy of how God keeps us joyous. This is the anatomy of it. He says it’s every resolve for good, and not necessarily things that are good from our perspective but good from God’s perspective.

This idea of “fulfill” here means to complete or finish something already initiated. The ideal appeals to the fact that they have been purified through God using the trial to clarify and purify his people in such a way that their passions and their affections are unified to his. In other words, God has passions and God has desires, but most of us want God to be aligned with our desires. But true joy doesn’t come from trying to think that we can align God with our desires because it will always lead to deep depression and a lack of application of joy.

But if you approach a trial saying, “God, my prayer is not to align you with my will, but I want to be aligned with your will” — as he says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4) — then your desires are transformed through delight in him and therefore when you pray, you pray back to him stuff that he’ll already answer because it came from him in the first place. Jesus says:

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you (John 15:7).

A lot of people quote that, but when you abide in him and his word with the proper context and theology is downloaded into you, and God works it into you, then what you’re asking is not something that you would normally ask. When God allows you to go through these struggles for your joy and for his joy and joy in the circumstances of suffering, he’s fulfilling every good resolve that’s based on his understanding of it, not ours. Therefore, we begin to get aligned with his will and begin to develop God-centered affections. Thomas Case is going to give us some wisdom on this again. He said:

Affliction is God’s forge where he softens the iron heart. You cannot work with iron while it remains cold and hard. Put it into the fire though, and make it red hot there and you may stamp upon it any figure or impression you please. Melted vessels are impressionable to any form, and so it is with the heart of man. By nature, it is cold and hard, and this is much increased by prosperity and the long-suffering of God towards sinners. The furnace makes the soul pliable to God’s counsel and sometimes God is forced to make the furnace heated seven times hotter to work out the dross that renders men so resistant to the ministry of the word.

When the earthly heart of man is so dry and hardened by the long sunshine of prosperity so that the plow of the spiritual husbandman cannot enter, God softens it with the showers of adversity that it might receive the immortal seed. The seed falls upon stony ground until God turns the heart of stone into a heart of flesh through difficulty that he takes us through.

Therefore, it is a necessity. The construction worker, the superintendent called suffering, must come in order that the resolutions of God and the passions of God may be worked in us during a time where that is not unique to us, but very, very unique to him. He wants “every work of faith” to be done by his power (2 Thessalonians 1:11), as it says in the latter part of that verse.

Every Work of Faith

He goes on and he says, “[That you may] fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power . . .” (2 Thessalonians 1:11).

This is dope. It’s dope right here. Now, before we go back into this, let’s go back to that point where God develops his resolve. Many of us need to recognize that the beauty of God’s working of his resolve in us is necessary for us. Many of us are here and are hurting. You’re going through a particular time of pain where you’re saying, “God, I cannot see your resolve. I’m frustrated with you right now.” Some of you may not even admit it, but right behind what you’re saying, which is right theology, your heart isn’t aligned with the theology that you want to enter your heart practically.

God is using this to align you with it so it won’t just be esoteric information. That’s why it says in Malachi 3:1–4 that the Messiah is going to come and refine us as silver. Then he goes further, and Paul says, “And every work of faith by his power.” This is powerful here. This is interesting because right here in the text, Paul is talking about the works that are done while we are going through difficulty and while God is working acts of joy into our lives. I like this. It’s interesting that he says this work is produced. This is a generative production, this work of faith. In other words, you could say “the work produced by faith.” These are faith-based works, and Jesus is the object of our faith.

We’re not just a faith-based organization that has faith in our faith, because if you have faith in your faith, that’s not faith. But you have faith in the object of your faith, Jesus Christ. Therefore, these acts of faith are faith-based works that God produces in us during these beautiful times. It says God causes these faith-based works to be empowered in every act prompted by him. When Christians go through difficult times, God allows special attention to be brought to them, so that they might be trophies of his grace and examples and encouragements, like Paul said, to all the saints of God.

When we look at these works of faith, we thank God that we do works, and that God somehow in the pressure and difficulty of our circumstances allows these works to count more than normal works because these works were done under the pressure cooker. These weren’t done when the sun was shining. This was done when the sun was not shining.

Christ’s Glory in Us

But then he goes into a very powerful section and gives the purpose of all of this. He says:

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling . . .

God does the making of the Christian worthy. It’s an act of God in the life of the believer to count them worthy of the calling, with which he’s called them and to fulfill every resolve of good. That means that we must be aligned with what God sees as good versus what we would think good is.

Then he goes from there and gives a purpose clause. He says, “So that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you” (2 Thessalonians 1:12). That is so powerful to me. He says the purpose of this trial, Thessalonians — I want you to get on focus and I don’t want your joy to be rigged to go in a whole other direction — is that the Lord Jesus may be glorified in you. Now, the word “glorified” here is interesting in the way it’s being used. The word “glorified” here is a proleptic aorist. In other words, it’s past tense, and it’s talking about something that hasn’t happened or maybe is happening. It’s kind of like a done deal so to speak. If God does this, it’s a done deal. He’ll be glorified. But the place of glorification is in the saint.

I was talking yesterday about the fact that when Christians are drafted on God’s eternal team, we are given an endorsement deal. We’re given an endorsement deal. See, back in the 1980s, I don’t know if you remember when Jordan put on those black and white red sneakers. Most of the time he wore black sneakers or white sneakers, but during that time he got black and red and people were just wearing it. It was weird. But what Nike did was they brought Jordan on to say, “Yo, we want to put our name on the shoes (Jordan), so that when you get on the basketball court doing your thing, all-out killing it, we want others to be attracted and blown away by you so that they may wear our name.” When Christians are glorifying and honoring God, we’re reflecting the fact that God has given us a divine endorsement deal.

Now, we don’t wear gear on the outside of us, but we wear gear on the inside of us because Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:10 that we are “always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus.” So our gear is on the inside, and God rigs our souls as mirrors. And he uses trials as a way to get the mess off the mirror so that the beauty of his glory can shine on our mirrors and hit everybody and blind them so that they’re like, “Man, what’s up with that? What’s up with all of this shining you’re doing? You’re not wearing any diamonds, you’re not wearing any rubies, you’re not wearing any sapphires, but there’s a shining going on in your life in this unexplainable difficulty.” It’s the joy that God brings through his glory while we go through difficulty by showing Jesus off.

See, it’s okay to be a show-off just as long as you’re not showing you off. You can be a show-off if you are flossing and showing off the living God. So Paul says, “The goal of this is that the name of Jesus Christ may be glorified in you.” Everything that God wants to do, he doesn’t do from the outside in. He always does it from the inside out. Many of us are working to keep up with the church down the street. We want the glory that we see on the outside but don’t want the health and depth that is needed for us on the inside because we view goodness from a different rubric.

Our Glory in Christ

Then he says, “So that the name of Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in him” (2 Thessalonians 1:12). It’s beautiful. Paul is showing that when Christians suffer, it is one of the top ways that Jesus Christ’s name gets honored through them. It is the ID card of sorts as the believer most identifies with the person of Christ, especially in works of faith during suffering. John Stott says:

The stress is not on the glorification of the saved but on the glorification of the Savior in the saved.

So our hope as believers and as men who are called to show off the glory of Christ during difficulty as a pastor is to be trophies of what it looks like to be consistent in adversity. Enjoyment of God isn’t flighty because some hell broke loose. But there is an ability to have ecstatic, rock-solid joy while you’re still yet in the circumstances and not necessarily asking for deliverance from it, but having the theological depth to say, “God, work in your boy and get all that you want out of me. Olive press me. Gethsemane me all that you want. Will you get it out of my life? Will you get your glory?”

Let me tell you something, fellas. God is concerned about one thing and one thing only in our lives: that we look like Jesus. He doesn’t care about anything else. He is spit-shining us with himself to make us practically in the image of God. He’s not concerned about anything else, and he will do that at any cost. But he doesn’t want it to cost us our joy. He wants it to increase our joy, where you get to the point where you say, like my wife and I, “I think a trial is coming. I can just smell the rain right now.” You know how, when it’s about to rain, you can smell the moisture sometimes. You can smell it coming on. In the same way, I’ll begin praying about trials, saying, “Lord prepare us that you may get maximum glory out of us. Help us not to front on you. Help us to make sure that you’re getting every last drop of glory that you want out of us. And Lord God, help us to see this the right way.”

So we ask for wisdom, that God would give us ḥǒkmā like the Old Testament talks about. In the New Testament, it’s Sophia. We pray, “Will you give us skillful living? Will you give us the application of knowledge? Will you give us depth? Will you teach us richer information about you? But Lord God, help us to walk through and help our joy to not be something that looks flighty. Help us to never deny you in how we respond to you in the difficulty of this time.” As pastors, God is going to always press us the most because we’re the most visible and we’re so insecure. We’re so worried about the words of men. We’re so worried about how we appear. So I pray that God would strengthen us, that we would live for an audience of one, that we would live for the triune audience — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit, hanging out for eternity, enjoying themselves and waiting for us to come into eternity, to spend time and enjoy them forever.

is the founder and pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia.