All Things for Our Good

September 12, 2004 ~ Westney Heights Baptist Church

September 26, 2004 ~ Malvern Community Baptist Church

 

Romans 5:1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2  through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3  And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4  and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5  Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

 

Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

 

I'd like to talk to you for a minute about last Friday. It was an ordinary day and started like any other. I woke up around 6:00 and began to get ready for the day. Read my devotions, worked on this message and packed the children's lunches for school. Everything was going well, we were on schedule and things were looking good. During breakfast I noticed that a beautiful sunny day was in store for us. Perfect! On my way to the office I had a wonderful drive on the 401 until I reached Meadowvale at which point the traffic slowed to a crawl. No matter what I did I could not pick the quicker lanes of traffic and even the COMPASS signs were no use. I ended up just plodding along until I reached the 404. When I finally made it to my office I had to park in a different spot than usual because someone from one of the neighbouring units parked his car where I usually park. When I opened the office up I noticed that no one had set the alarm the night before. Upon arriving at my desk I turned on the overhead lights only to discover that the lights by one of my coworker's desk were not working. After repairing the lights I turned on my computer and found that it did not connect to the office's new wireless network. I fixed the problem and began to do some more work on this message on how all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. It was as I began to consider this that I began to realize that I'd been complaining about all these things for the past hour or more and that I had a history throughout my life of doing the same whenever things did not go my way. The more I thought about it the more I realized that I had not lived up to what is expected of me as a Christian and that there had been no reason at all for this to have happened. Consider the results of what I had been complaining about that morning:

 

Regarding the traffic: I did not arrive at the office significantly later than usual and I arrived safely.

Regarding the parking: I was actually able to park closer to my office than I usually do.

Regarding the alarm: It didn't really matter that the alarm wasn't set as there had been no break in.

Regarding the lights: They only needed a second or two of attention and did not need immediate replacing.

Regarding the network: I didn't have to use the wireless network as a wired network was available.

 

I could only come to the conclusion that the day was still glorious but my perspective of it had become seriously gloomy and increasingly self-centered. I had taken no notice of the opportunities that God have given me for growth as a Christian. Even worse, I realized, was that it was in the moments when things were "at their worst," when I needed God the most, that I had called upon Him the least. I had not endured events and overcome them but I had allowed them to overcome me.

 

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews addresses endurance and overcoming with these words:

 

Hebrews 12:1-3 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2  looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3  For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.

 

What I find very interesting about this passage is that it is immediately preceded by what we often call "The Hall of Faith," that incredible list of faithful Christians who remained faithful and even matured in their faith in spite of hardship. Even more interesting is that the writer of Hebrews seems to be calling attention to this list only so that he can establish the idea that Christians endure and appreciate hardship as children endure and appreciate a father's discipline.

 

There are those who teach that prosperity, health and an abundance of additional "good" things are all a part of the Christian faith and are thrown at the Christian like confetti at a wedding. Many of us seem to have the same idea of Christianity even though we may not specifically endorse the "health and wealth" gospel. The Bible shows that God does abundantly bless His people. Malachi has a very dramatic promise from God that He will do this:

 

Malachi 4:10-12 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this," Says the LORD of hosts, "If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it. 11  "And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, So that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, Nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field," Says the LORD of hosts; 12  "And all nations will call you blessed, For you will be a delightful land," Says the LORD of hosts.

 

But there is no support at all for the teaching that there is no escaping God's blessing if you are a Christian and that it is a reflection of your status with God if you are poor, ill or despised. Yet the expectation of good is prevalent in the world at large as well. How often do people question hardship yet never question the good that they receive. If this world truly came about through random chance as is popularly believed then why question good or bad at all? Why is there even a the idea of good or bad? For the Christian the temptation to complain about hardship is great. If we are truly the children of the great King of creation then why are we not treated as royalty why should we experience hardship at all?

 

The writer of Hebrews addresses these questions in the context of endurance. Although there may be many reasons why bad things happen there is really only one duty required of the Christian: To endure it as parental discipline that leads to maturity. Hardship may be the consequence of our own action, or it may come through no fault of our own. Hardship is in some ways a result of the curse given to our first parents and in other ways is direct evidence of our enemy's activity in the world. Yet regardless of its source the Christian's duty when experiencing hardship is to endure, to be faithful to God and to be faithful witnesses of the gospel of salvation.

 

Prior to discussing hardship and our necessary response to it he speaks at length on the faith of those believers who have gone before us. He uses as examples a man like Abraham who was required to wait for twenty five years to receive the son God had promised him. He speaks of Moses who gave up the splendour of the palaces of Egypt to lead God's people through a desert. He speaks of nameless men and women who gave up Earthly pleasure for Heavenly glory, who did not receive God's promised blessing and who yet remained faithful through hardship. He lays the foundation for his discussion of faith in the preceding chapters where he emphasizes in a number of ways the sufficiency of Jesus Christ as our Saviour. He shows Jesus' superiority to angels, God's messengers, through His receiving a greater name and higher honour than them. He shows Jesus' superiority to Moses, the highly revered servant within God's house, in that Jesus was not only a faithful servant within the house but also the Creator of the house. He shows the superiority of Jesus' High Priestly ministry to that of Aaron and his descendants in that the Aaronic priesthood was required to offer repeated sacrifices that could not atone for sin while Jesus' own sacrifice on our behalf was a once for all time occurrence that covers the sin of all who call upon His name. Through all of this discussion he shows that our faith is safely placed when placed in Jesus and that the reward of being steadfast in our faith is far greater than any earthly benefit that might be gained rejecting our faith.

 

Hebrews 10:32-35  But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: 33  partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; 34  for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. 35  Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward.

 

Notice that the writer does not address the reason for suffering other than to indicate that the suffering was the result of his readers being saved. In verse 32 above he states that "after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings." Jesus spoke much the same words, again in the context of endurance, when He gave His disciples this warning:

 

Matthew 10:17-22 …behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. 17  But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. 18  You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. 19  But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; 20  for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. 21  Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. 22  And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.

 

The warning in both places is not so much to give reason for hardship, that hardship will come is rather assumed, but to ensure that we do not fall away on account of hardship.

 

While we experience hardship and God seems to take His time in resolving our pain (or even not resolve our pain at all) we may be and often are tempted to turn our backs on God and take the easy road, to try to obtain blessing in our own time instead of God's. The writer of Hebrews encourages us not to give up but to remain steadfast. Then, going further, he seems to criticize his readers for not suffering enough:

 

Hebrews 12:4 You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.

 

It is interesting to note that he seems to be saying that unless you have resisted sin to the point of bloodshed you have not resisted enough and yet once you have resisted sin to the point of bloodshed it is often too late to stop. Referring again to the "hall of faith" in Hebrews 11 we find that almost every person on the list is praised because they endured hardship rather than giving up. The impact of his argument is that allowing suffering to negatively modify our attitude toward God is wrong, not just because it fails to recognized the authority of God over every part of our lives but also because it would cause us to learn nothing from the work of God in our lives and shows that we are more concerned with our problems than with His will.

 

Take the example of Job. Throughout his trial Job defends his righteousness and implores God for the opportunity to defend himself, to prove that he does not deserve what is happening to him. Yet when God finally speaks to Job it is not to give Job a chance to speak but to say instead that Job has no right to do anything but to endure what he receives from God and with meekness and humility to remain faithful to God, something Job himself spoke of earlier:

 

Job 2:9-10 Then his wife said to him, "Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!" 10  But he said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

 

The first two chapters of Job make very clear that Job's hardship was caused by Satan's attempt to discredit his faith in God. Yet no mention is made of Satan after Job himself is struck, no one who speaks sees Job's hardship as anything other than the work of God. At the end of the book, when God Himself appears to Job and his friends, He seems to take responsibility for what happened to Job:

 

Job 40:6-14 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: 7  "Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me: 8  "Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified? 9  Have you an arm like God? Or can you thunder with a voice like His? 10  Then adorn yourself with majesty and splendor, and array yourself with glory and beauty. 11  Disperse the rage of your wrath; Look on everyone who is proud, and humble him. 12  Look on everyone who is proud, and bring him low; Tread down the wicked in their place. 13  Hide them in the dust together, Bind their faces in hidden darkness. 14  Then I will also confess to you That your own right hand can save you."

 

Job's response to God is very interesting in that now that he is standing before God he does not attempt to plead his case as he had hoped to but he apologizes to God instead:

 

Job 42:1-6 Then Job answered the LORD and said: 2  "I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. 3  You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 4  Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’ 5  "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. 6  Therefore I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes."

 

We often look at Job and see as the ultimate lesson of the book that he was restored to his previous position, he again had children, wealth and fame. But this is a very materialistic understanding of Job's story and cannot be the lesson of the book for where are these blessings now? Job is dead, his children also and his wealth has been dispersed for thousands of years. The true lesson of the book is a spiritual lesson, it is that Job was able to be sorry that he had complained about what God had allowed to be done to him. He had grown in his understanding of God through what he had experienced.

 

We are often tempted to live this life as though it were itself our ultimate goal. The ultimate goal of life, however, is to develop within ourselves the character of Jesus. When faced with hardship we need to keep our eyes focused upon our goal, Jesus. The song "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus" has a wonderful chorus:

 

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

Look full in His wonderful face

And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace

 

The writer of Hebrews compares life to a race and uses his previous examples of righteous men and women to encourage his readers to run that race well by keeping their attention on the goal rather than on this life:

 

Hebrews 12:1-3 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2  looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3  For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.

 

In the same way Paul, in his letter to the Corinthian church, compares life to a race and places himself in the position of one of the runners:

 

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. 25  And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. 26  Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. 27  But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.

 

Anyone who has ever run in a footrace knows that running such a race is not comfortable. It is not something that you would do to relax before going to bed and prepare you for the day ahead. Footraces are tests of endurance, they are exhausting and physically use the body in ways that it is not normally used. Yet the discomfort is endured so that the prize may be attained. The obvious corollary of this is that if the discomfort is not endured and the runner stops running before the race is done then he does not attain the prize. The example that the writer is using is of a runner in a race who looks to other runners for inspiration and encouragement. Just so are we to look toward those believers who precede and accompany us as well as toward Jesus who endured far more than we ever will in order to achieve our salvation and attain His own reward.

 

Are the runners bitter as they run the race? No, for bitterness would take their mind off of their goal. Do they view their pain as a curse or something for which they are at fault? No, they view their pain as something that must be endured and overcome so that they will be able to attain the prize for which they compete. The prize is more important than the pain.

 

Our prize is Jesus, it is He who should command all of our attention through all of life.

 

In his second letter to the Corinthian church Paul describes how the hardship that Christians encounter is not unique and is something that must be endured and overcome if the prize it to be attained. The prize is far more important than the pain.

 

2 Corinthians 4:8-18 We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9  persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed—— 10  always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. 11  For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12  So then death is working in us, but life in you. 13  And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, "I believed and therefore I spoke," we also believe and therefore speak, 14  knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you. 15  For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God. 16  Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18  while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

 

It is no secret that this life will end. We have seen above how both Paul and the writer of Hebrews make the point that we cannot hang onto this earthly life. No matter how hard we work at it there will come a day when we die and all that we have fought to preserve will be taken away from us. Paul uses the words "our outward man is perishing." Others have said that man is born to die. With that in mind the encouragement that the Bible gives us to live for eternity rather than today makes a great deal of sense.

 

In 1949 Jim Elliot wrote these words: "He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." Six years later he and his companions would be murdered in South America at the hands of those they had worked to bring to salvation. From a merely human point of view this was a bad thing and certainly the act of his murder was an evil act. Yet out of the sacrifice of Jim and his companions many of that same tribe that murdered these missionaries were saved and from a Heavenly point of view that is excellent. It is very likely that no martyr has ever enjoyed the moment of their death yet it is also very likely that Jim Elliot and his companions would rejoice to see that the result of their sacrifice was the salvation of many.

 

We are not required to rejoice that evil happens to us but we are required not to give in to it and to rejoice in God while evil is happening to us. Even in our hardship there is a way to worship God:

 

Acts 16:22-25 Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. 23  And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. 24  Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.  25   But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.

 

To keep us from seeing this as an exercise in futility Luke tells us as well what happened because of their faithfulness and we suddenly see that God can use the worst circumstances to work not only for our good, but for the good of those we meet and for the good of His plan for mankind:

 

Acts 16:26-33 Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. 27  And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. 28  But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, "Do yourself no harm, for we are all here." 29  Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30  And he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" 31  So they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household." 32  Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33  And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized.

 

I would like to end this message with the words of Evelyn Husband from her book "High Calling." In this book she describes her life with her husband Rick Husband (commander of the space shuttle Columbia on its final mission), and their growth together as Christians. She includes the following words of her husband from one of his journals:

 

Faith doesn't give us the power to change things—it gives us the ability to cope with the tough things that come our way. God lets us endure pressure we can't handle on our own—to help us realize we can't live without Him. You have to give God control of your life and let Him rain…in your life the He wants to—not the way you want Him to.

 

Evelyn Husband, "High Calling," pp. 66

 

The final words of her book are very inspirational, where because of her certainty of a God who loves her she is able to say:

 

All is well. Hallelujah!

 

Evelyn Husband, "High Calling," pp. 233