Suffering

Throwback Thursday ~ God’s Good Purposes in Suffering

Originally published June 16, 2017

In my previous article True or False: Is Your Theology of Suffering Biblical? we examined some unbiblical ideas and approaches Christians often have toward suffering. Why is it important to have a biblical view of suffering? Because suffering is painful enough without piling on things like, “God is punishing me,” or “This wouldn’t be happening if I just had more faith,” that aren’t even true. The biblical view of suffering frees you from from the additional agony of inappropriate guilt, the mindset that God is harsh or unloving, and the burden of striving to appease a God who’s not asking you to. A biblical view of suffering sets you free to rest in Christ and trust Him.

God’s purposes toward you, His child, are always good, even when He permits difficult things into your life. Let’s think about Romans 8:28 for just a second:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

It doesn’t say all things are good. It says that God uses all circumstances for good for His people – even the difficult ones – because He is good and His plans and goals are good.

Even Joseph saw this, way back in Genesis. After everything his brothers put him through, he said,

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good,

As parents, sometimes we give our child ice cream to eat and sometimes we give him Brussels sprouts. Do we give ice cream because we love him and Brussels sprouts because we hate him? No. Both are done out of love, the ice cream because it brings him joy, and the Brussels sprouts because it has the nutrients he needs to be strong and healthy. It would not be loving for a parent to give only ice cream or only Brussels sprouts. In the same way, it would not be loving for God to give us only blessings or only difficult times. Everything God does in our lives, He does for His glory and our good.

So what are some of God’s good purposes in our suffering?

1. To bring glory to God
We touched on Job’s story in the previous article and saw how his suffering glorified God. Another great passage that talks about God being glorified through suffering is John 9:1-3:

As he [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.

If you thought suffering was God’s punishment for sin, you’re in good company- the disciples thought so, too! But Jesus was about to do something amazing in this guy’s life that would showcase God’s glory, and it would not have happened had he not suffered.

2. Suffering can be a witness to the lost
When we suffer without forsaking Christ and trust Him to carry us through it, it’s a testimony to others – especially lost people – that God is faithful and worthy of
their faith and trust. Your suffering might open the door to sharing the gospel with someone.

3. The logical consequences of sin
In the previous article, we dealt with the topic of suffering we “deserve,” and how, even though it’s painful, it’s easier to come to grips with that kind of suffering. That’s because we’re made in the image of God, and one of God’s attributes that is reflected in us is justice. We have this innate sense of wanting to see justice done. And when we, or anyone else, suffer the natural consequences of our sin, that points to God being a just God.
We tend to lump all suffering into the one basket of “that’s unfair!” but this is the kind of suffering that is just.

4. Discipline

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.
Revelation 3:19

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
   nor be weary when reproved by him.
6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
   and chastises every son whom he receives.”
7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:5-11

When we stray off into a pattern of sin, God can use suffering (often the natural consequences of our sin) to correct us and point us back to the Christlike direction we ought to be heading. He does that because He loves us.

5. Suffering can teach us humility and dependence on God
“Independence” is pretty much a motto for us here in the United States. Independence from England, rugged individualism, pull yourself up by your own bootstraps…Guess what? God doesn’t want you to be independent. He wants you to be
dependent- on Him. And nothing can grow that dependence and humility like suffering. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:7:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

6. Suffering can grow us in spiritual strength and maturity
Romans 3:3-4 says:

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,

Endurance, character, hope. These are all aspects of Christian character that God wants to build in each of us, and even though we wish He would just hit us on the head with a magic wand and instantly give us these things, that’s not the way He does it. He often produces these things in us by way of suffering.

7. Experiencing suffering gives us compassion for others, and equips us to help them

[God] comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
2 Corinthians 1:4

God doesn’t do anything, including putting you through suffering, for no good reason. It could be to glorify Him. It could be to do something in you. Or, it could be to help someone else (or all three). God never wastes an experience in your life. If you’ve been through something, God can use that “been there, done that” experience to equip you to minister to someone else who’s going through the same thing.

8. Suffering can cause the lost to cry out to God for salvation
Remember the parable of the prodigal son? Sadly it’s a common tale. Some people basically have to hit rock bottom in their lives before they finally give it up and surrender to Christ, just like the prodigal son.

And how about the story of Jesus healing the woman with the issue of blood? Sometimes life is great. You don’t need Jesus, you’re doing life just fine on your own…until something devastating happens that you can’t handle, and you get desperate. Mark 5:26-28 tells us she

had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.”

She was desperate. And God can use desperation and suffering to turn the heart of a lost person to Himself for salvation.

 

God is a good God, and His purposes in our suffering are always good. So the next time you’re suffering, think of those 8‘s in Romans 8:28, and remember these 8 good purposes God has for your pain, purposes that bring Him glory, work out His good plans, grow us in good ways, and enable us to do good to others.

Suffering

God’s Good Purposes in Suffering

In my previous article True or False: Is Your Theology of Suffering Biblical? we examined some unbiblical ideas and approaches Christians often have toward suffering. Why is it important to have a biblical view of suffering? Because suffering is painful enough without piling on things like, “God is punishing me,” or “This wouldn’t be happening if I just had more faith,” that aren’t even true. The biblical view of suffering frees you from from the additional agony of inappropriate guilt, the mindset that God is harsh or unloving, and the burden of striving to appease a God who’s not asking you to. A biblical view of suffering sets you free to rest in Christ and trust Him.

God’s purposes toward you, His child, are always good, even when He permits difficult things into your life. Let’s think about Romans 8:28 for just a second:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

It doesn’t say all things are good. It says that God uses all circumstances for good for His people – even the difficult ones – because He is good and His plans and goals are good.

Even Joseph saw this, way back in Genesis. After everything his brothers put him through, he said,

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good,

As parents, sometimes we give our child ice cream to eat and sometimes we give him Brussels sprouts. Do we give ice cream because we love him and Brussels sprouts because we hate him? No. Both are done out of love, the ice cream because it brings him joy, and the Brussels sprouts because it has the nutrients he needs to be strong and healthy. It would not be loving for a parent to give only ice cream or only Brussels sprouts. In the same way, it would not be loving for God to give us only blessings or only difficult times. Everything God does in our lives, He does for His glory and our good.

So what are some of God’s good purposes in our suffering?

1. To bring glory to God
We touched on Job’s story in the previous article and saw how his suffering glorified God. Another great passage that talks about God being glorified through suffering is John 9:1-3:

As he [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.

If you thought suffering was God’s punishment for sin, you’re in good company- the disciples thought so, too! But Jesus was about to do something amazing in this guy’s life that would showcase God’s glory, and it would not have happened had he not suffered.

2. Suffering can be a witness to the lost
When we suffer without forsaking Christ and trust Him to carry us through it, it’s a testimony to others – especially lost people – that God is faithful and worthy of
their faith and trust. Your suffering might open the door to sharing the gospel with someone.

3. The logical consequences of sin
In the previous article, we dealt with the topic of suffering we “deserve,” and how, even though it’s painful, it’s easier to come to grips with that kind of suffering. That’s because we’re made in the image of God, and one of God’s attributes that is reflected in us is justice. We have this innate sense of wanting to see justice done. And when we, or anyone else, suffer the natural consequences of our sin, that points to God being a just God.
We tend to lump all suffering into the one basket of “that’s unfair!” but this is the kind of suffering that is just.

4. Discipline

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.
Revelation 3:19

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
   nor be weary when reproved by him.
6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
   and chastises every son whom he receives.”
7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:5-11

When we stray off into a pattern of sin, God can use suffering (often the natural consequences of our sin) to correct us and point us back to the Christlike direction we ought to be heading. He does that because He loves us.

5. Suffering can teach us humility and dependence on God
“Independence” is pretty much a motto for us here in the United States. Independence from England, rugged individualism, pull yourself up by your own bootstraps…Guess what? God doesn’t want you to be independent. He wants you to be
dependent- on Him. And nothing can grow that dependence and humility like suffering. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:7:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

6. Suffering can grow us in spiritual strength and maturity
Romans 3:3-4 says:

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,

Endurance, character, hope. These are all aspects of Christian character that God wants to build in each of us, and even though we wish He would just hit us on the head with a magic wand and instantly give us these things, that’s not the way He does it. He often produces these things in us by way of suffering.

7. Experiencing suffering gives us compassion for others, and equips us to help them

[God] comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
2 Corinthians 1:4

God doesn’t do anything, including putting you through suffering, for no good reason. It could be to glorify Him. It could be to do something in you. Or, it could be to help someone else (or all three). God never wastes an experience in your life. If you’ve been through something, God can use that “been there, done that” experience to equip you to minister to someone else who’s going through the same thing.

8. Suffering can cause the lost to cry out to God for salvation
Remember the parable of the prodigal son? Sadly it’s a common tale. Some people basically have to hit rock bottom in their lives before they finally give it up and surrender to Christ, just like the prodigal son.

And how about the story of Jesus healing the woman with the issue of blood? Sometimes life is great. You don’t need Jesus, you’re doing life just fine on your own…until something devastating happens that you can’t handle, and you get desperate. Mark 5:26-28 tells us she

had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.”

She was desperate. And God can use desperation and suffering to turn the heart of a lost person to Himself for salvation.

 

God is a good God, and His purposes in our suffering are always good. So the next time you’re suffering, think of those 8‘s in Romans 8:28, and remember these 8 good purposes God has for your pain, purposes that bring Him glory, work out His good plans, grow us in good ways, and enable us to do good to others.

Ezra Bible Study

Ezra: Lesson 9

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Previous Lessons: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Ezra 8

These are the heads of their fathers’ houses, and this is the genealogy of those who went up with me from Babylonia, in the reign of Artaxerxes the king: Of the sons of Phinehas, Gershom. Of the sons of Ithamar, Daniel. Of the sons of David, Hattush. Of the sons of Shecaniah, who was of the sons of Parosh, Zechariah, with whom were registered 150 men. Of the sons of Pahath-moab, Eliehoenai the son of Zerahiah, and with him 200 men. Of the sons of Zattu, Shecaniah the son of Jahaziel, and with him 300 men. Of the sons of Adin, Ebed the son of Jonathan, and with him 50 men. Of the sons of Elam, Jeshaiah the son of Athaliah, and with him 70 men. Of the sons of Shephatiah, Zebadiah the son of Michael, and with him 80 men. Of the sons of Joab, Obadiah the son of Jehiel, and with him 218 men. 10 Of the sons of Bani, Shelomith the son of Josiphiah, and with him 160 men. 11 Of the sons of Bebai, Zechariah, the son of Bebai, and with him 28 men. 12 Of the sons of Azgad, Johanan the son of Hakkatan, and with him 110 men. 13 Of the sons of Adonikam, those who came later, their names being Eliphelet, Jeuel, and Shemaiah, and with them 60 men. 14 Of the sons of Bigvai, Uthai and Zaccur, and with them 70 men.

15 I gathered them to the river that runs to Ahava, and there we camped three days. As I reviewed the people and the priests, I found there none of the sons of Levi. 16 Then I sent for Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah, and Meshullam, leading men, and for Joiarib and Elnathan, who were men of insight, 17 and sent them to Iddo, the leading man at the place Casiphia, telling them what to say to Iddo and his brothers and the temple servants at the place Casiphia, namely, to send us ministers for the house of our God. 18 And by the good hand of our God on us, they brought us a man of discretion, of the sons of Mahli the son of Levi, son of Israel, namely Sherebiah with his sons and kinsmen, 18; 19 also Hashabiah, and with him Jeshaiah of the sons of Merari, with his kinsmen and their sons, 20; 20 besides 220 of the temple servants, whom David and his officials had set apart to attend the Levites. These were all mentioned by name.

21 Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God,to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. 22 For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” 23 So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.

24 Then I set apart twelve of the leading priests: Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and ten of their kinsmen with them. 25 And I weighed out to them the silver and the gold and the vessels, the offering for the house of our God that the king and his counselors and his lords and all Israel there present had offered. 26 I weighed out into their hand 650 talents of silver, and silver vessels worth 200 talents, and 100 talents of gold, 27 20 bowls of gold worth 1,000 darics, and two vessels of fine bright bronze as precious as gold. 28 And I said to them, “You are holy to the Lord, and the vessels are holy, and the silver and the gold are a freewill offering to the Lord, the God of your fathers. 29 Guard them and keep them until you weigh them before the chief priests and the Levites and the heads of fathers’ houses in Israel at Jerusalem, within the chambers of the house of the Lord.” 30 So the priests and the Levites took over the weight of the silver and the gold and the vessels, to bring them to Jerusalem, to the house of our God.

31 Then we departed from the river Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go to Jerusalem. The hand of our God was on us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambushes by the way. 32 We came to Jerusalem, and there we remained three days. 33 On the fourth day, within the house of our God, the silver and the gold and the vessels were weighed into the hands of Meremoth the priest, son of Uriah, and with him was Eleazar the son of Phinehas, and with them were the Levites, Jozabad the son of Jeshua and Noadiah the son of Binnui. 34 The whole was counted and weighed, and the weight of everything was recorded.

35 At that time those who had come from captivity, the returned exiles, offered burnt offerings to the God of Israel, twelve bulls for all Israel, ninety-six rams, seventy-seven lambs, and as a sin offering twelve male goats. All this was a burnt offering to the Lord. 36 They also delivered the king’s commissions to the king’s satraps and to the governors of the province Beyond the River, and they aided the people and the house of God.


The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.


Questions to Consider:

1. Ezra was about to return from Babylon to Jerusalem bringing the second wave of exiles with him. What are some practical reasons it might have been important for Ezra to make this list of returnees and their genealogy? (1-14) What are some other reasons God includes census lists and genealogies in the Bible? How does this list demonstrate that God is a God of order and detail? Can you think of other examples of God’s orderliness and attention to detail?

2. Stop and consider for a moment that each name listed in verses 1-14 represents a real, flesh and blood person that God loved and cared for individually. Now consider how He loves and cares for you in a personal, individual way and spend some time thanking and praising Him for that.

3. Who were the sons of Levi (15) and why was it important that they be found and brought along (17b)? Why couldn’t just any willing person do what the Levites had always done? Compare the Old Testament requirements for Levites with the New Testament requirements for pastors, elders, and deacons. How do these passages demonstrate to us that God wants the church to be structured and run, and for His people to conduct themselves, in a decent and orderly way?

4. What did Ezra lead the people to do before starting on their journey back to Jerusalem and why? (21-23) What does this passage teach us about the necessity of humility, prayer, and dependence on God? How did Ezra’s actions show concern for protecting God’s reputation and demonstrating His power in the sight of pagans? How did God answer their prayer? (31) Can you think of a comparable situation in your own life when you have depended on God and lost people were able to see God’s faithfulness, power, or protection as a result? How might this have been an opportunity to share the gospel with those lost people?

5. Summarize verses 24-34 in your own words. How is this another example of God’s people acting in an orderly way? Consider Ezra’s emphasis on holiness in verse 28. In what ways should we emphasize holiness in the church, in our pastors and other church leaders, and in our own lives today? Do we take our churches and our ministry responsibilities as seriously and reverently as the priests in this passage?

6. How did the people respond to God giving them a safe journey to Jerusalem? (35-36) Notice that this is a corporate (all the people gathered together) time of worship, thanksgiving, celebration, and repentance. Does your church have similar times of corporate worship and thanksgiving? How did/does this build fellowship and biblical unity among God’s people? How did it serve to remind Israel (and us today) that God alone gets the glory in all our circumstances?