Treasuring Christ and the Call to Suffer

Part 1

Wheaton College | Wheaton, Illinois

These are notes that were taken during the message, not a manuscript.

Seven Aims in This Series

Our theme is “Treasuring Christ and the Call to Suffer,” and I have at least seven aims in our time together:

  1. I want to persuade you that your suffering is an essential part of Christian existence. You will suffer (Acts 14:22). And there is kind of suffer that honors Christ and a kind that does not.
  2. I hope to be able to help you suffer in a way that will make Christ look great (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
  3. I hope to help you taste and see that Christ is more precious than everything else in the universe (Ps. 73:24; Phil. 3:8; 1:20; Ps. 63:3).
  4. I want to help you believe that nothing will happen to you apart from God’s will. And in the worst of times, he is 100 percent for you—and not against you—if you are in Christ. Not 99.9 but totally for you (Matt. 10:28-31; Rom. 8:31-32). Everything you need is yours in Christ.
  5. I would like to persuade you that you are in Christ by faith alone apart from any works you do before or after your conversion (Phil. 3:9-10). If being in Christ is the place where everything works for your good, then how you get there really matters. And by works is not how you get there—before or after your conversion.
  6. I want to motivate you and empower you to embrace suffering and hardship and risk and danger for the relief of human suffering, especially eternal suffering, for the glory of Christ. May Wheaton not be one of those ludicrous places where it is thought to be loving to relieve physical suffering for people who are on the road to hell without mention of the gospel. You don’t have to choose between those. Love will embrace the hard-to-reach place and go at life’s peril (Mark 8:34-35).
  7. I am praing that God will use these talks to introduce you into, or confirm you in, the mysterious way of life found in 2 Corinthians 6:10, which we wave as a banner over our church: “Sorrowful yet always rejoicing.”

A World of Suffering

Three thousand children die everyday of malaria. Our missionaries get malaria like headaches. Thirty million people have died of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. Fifty million die each year—and most die young and in agony. While we’re talking here, one hundred are dying each minute. If you could hear them all, you’d hear so many screams you’d go insane. Only God can hear them all and not go insane. God parcels out our awareness in small amounts lest we go under.

How can you live in a world like that as a loving person and rejoice in the Lord? By learning the mystery of 2 Corinthians 6:10. If that seems like an emotional impossibility to you, then ask the Lord to do the impossible. What you’ll hear in our time together is not theoretical. This is pastoral theology. We are not speechless in times of suffering. We have a great revelation in the gospel. We have spectacular news. There is something to say. God has not spoken in vain. If you want to minister to others, you must have the theology of suffering. I hope that I can help you do that.

Suffering Is Essential

Let me underline one of the statements I’ve already made: Suffering is an essential part of your Christian existence. I choose the word essential very carefully. Paul said to new believers in Acts 14:22, “Through many tribulations we will enter the kingdom of heaven.” This is Christianity 101. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 3:2-3 that we Christians are destined for suffering. This is your destiny—suffering. Think it not strange when the fiery ordeal comes upon you. And 2 Timothy 3:12: All who desire to live a godly life will be persecuted. And Romans 8:16: We are fellow heirs if we suffer with him. There is one God-appointed path to glorification—suffering. If you are making it your life ambition to avoid suffering, you will perish and suffer forever. And all this Pauline talk is based on Jesus’ talk.

All Suffering in One Pot?

One last question: I have lumped all affliction in one pot and used it everywhere I saw suffering in the New Testament. Is this right? When Paul talked about suffering did he mean cancer or being treated badly? I have them in one pot because I think the Bible has them in one pot. Here are three reasons why I lump all affliction in one pot:

  1. Paul seems to do this. In 2 Corinthians 12:10, Paul lists his sufferings twice and then says that “for the sake of Christ [he is] content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, calamities . . . .” And in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 he mentions imprisonment, beatings, stonings, danger from rivers, danger from robbers, toil, hardship, cold, etc. The pain that happens to you in the path of obedience to Christ is suffering with Christ.
  2. When I try to distinguish them it doesn’t work. Paul’s back was lacerated five times. Where do you draw the line between what was persecution and what was illness when a bad back is connected to sickness and pain months or years down the line.
  3. All affliction in your life—from man or nature—has the same potential to destroy your faith or make Christ look good. Will Christ be enough—when my health is failing or when my friends are failing? The magnifying of Christ is the issue whether it’s cancer or persecution.

You Will Suffer

Suffering is an essential part of the Christian life. You will suffer. You must suffer. My hope is that during our times together we’ll be prepared to suffer for the glory of Christ.