What is the Value of Suffering?
Pastor KC Liu / Romans 8:18-28 / June 5, 2016
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Good morning, beloved of God! It’s good to be back with you after Mexico Missions. I really enjoyed the team spent with our team. Please take out your Bibles. This morning we are diving into Romans 8:17-28. Today’s message is entitled “Suffering and Glory”. The reality is, life is hard. Life is full of hardship and heartaches. I don’t believe that anyone actually has a trouble-free life. Even when we live in one of the safest and abundant cities in the world, we still face many problems. Do some of these problems go away when we become Christians?
In one sense, some troubles do go away, as God helps us in our broken relationships and provides for us in our time of need. For the problems that don’t go away, God shapes our character so that we can respond in a godly manner. So in a sense, yes, God helps us a lot with our problems. And we praise God for that; that’s how we give testimony to what God has done in our lives.
However, in the book of Romans, Paul never said that we will live a live free of suffering. The reality is, when we decide to follow Jesus, we trade in our original set of problems for another set of problems. God may have provided for me in my time of need, God may have healed me of my illness, but because of my Christian faith, now my old friends have abandoned me. My Buddhist or Muslim family has kicked me out of their house. We are trading a set of problems for another set. But the difference is, now we walk with Christ, and he is our hope and strength. I wouldl make that trade any day.
Paul knows about this trade-off very well. He was a prominent religious leader. He had the best education, the best teachers, the best social status, and much authority. He didn’t lack anything, he wasn’t hungry, he wasn’t being persecuted by others. But he was willing to make the trade. He gave all of that away, in exchange for Christ himself. And with that came much suffering.
Let’s read Romans 8:17, Paul says “And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.” In other words, if you want the goods, you have to pay the price. What was the glory of Christ? Imagine Jesus sitting on the throne of the universe, ruling all of creation. That’s his glory. Paul shared in that. What was the suffering of Christ? Being hung on the cross to save mankind. Paul also shared in that. Then we would ask Paul, “How did you suffer Paul? What did you trade for?” Paul replies to us in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27:
“23 I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. 24 Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked.
Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. 26 I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. 27 I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.”
By the time Paul wrote this letter, he had traveled 20 years as a missionary preaching the Gospel. He was willing to trade his “good life” for this cup of suffering. The suffering was the direct result of preaching the gospel in hostile places. Was he crazy to do so? Was this a bad trade?
Paul says, “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.” In other words, Paul says, “I am not a fool, I know what I am doing. Even though it looks like I made a bad trade, I actually made a really good trade. The suffering that I am experiencing now on Earth is nothing compared to the amazing, beautiful, glorious, majestic, magnificent, wondrous, perfect radiant love in the man Jesus Christ whom one day I will stand face to face. I will give away anything and everything in life, in exchange to stand in His presence. It’s all worth it. I don’t regret making this decision to follow Him one bit.”
Paul continued to preach the Gospel, despite the persecution and suffering. Paul never said that when we give our lives to Christ, God will lead us out of suffering. Just the opposite, Paul is inviting us to drink the cup of suffering.
What does it really mean to “share in his suffering”? By that I don’t mean suffering hardships in general, such as being in financial debt, struggling to pay the bills, having a bad relationship with your spouse, or having a severe illness like diabetes and cancer. These hardships and sufferings are experienced by all peoples regardless of background and religion. Jesus has compassion for you when you are suffering like this, and he will help you. But these types of suffering are not caused by following Jesus.
The type of suffering that Jesus and Paul went through is the direct result of preaching the gospel in hostile places. Many people will listen and be forever changed by your Gospel message, but also there are many people who will reject the message. And a few will try to persecute you for talking about Jesus. There are many men and women of God who are willing to “share in his suffering”. They have chosen make that trade, to take the risk of being persecuted for the sake of sharing the Gospel.
LINDA'S STOLEN LAPTOP IN MEXICO
When we went to Mexico Missions last week, we got a little taste of what it means to “share in his suffering”. The reason we went down is to share the love of Jesus and the gospel message with certain needy communities there. And while we were having dinner on Sunday night, our van got broken into, and the thief stole Linda’s laptop computer. Of course we were all very bummed about it. It took hours for the men to file a police report and write up insurance reports. But the worse thing was that on the Laptop, Linda stored all her Childrens' Ministry files. All the pictures, contact information, event documents, even personal family photos, gone. All the information she stored for the past 4 years is now gone. Of course Linda was sad about it. It will take months just to gather some of thatinformation again.
She could have responded negatively. She could have said, “we came down here to help the people, but instead they stole my laptop. This is a very bad trade. Forget it, I am never coming down here again.” But no. That’s not how she responded. According to Peter, she said, “They can take my laptop, but they can’t take my heart.” And now she is even more determined to continue Mexico Mission for the sake of the Gospel! She is willing to suffer the loss, and keep going! Amen! Hallelujah!
MISSIONARIES IN A HOSTILE NATION
Another example of what it means to “share in his suffering” is our very own missionary couple, Shan and Katy. They spent 2 years in a nation that is 99% Muslim, so that they might have the chance to tell our Muslim friends about Christ. They could have been persecuted by some radicals. But they were willing and took that chance. Now they are getting ready to move again and go live in a communist country in East Asia as missionaries. They take many risks there. They can experience persecution there too. But they are willing to take that chance. They are willing to trade a very comfortable life in Orange County, to live in a place where they constantly have to look over their shoulders for danger. They are heroes in my eyes.
That’s why I support them financially on a monthly basis. I don’t say that to boast. I say that to let you know that supporting them financially is the least that we can do. We should all give whatever we can to support their mission, as they risk their security for the gospel. Another brave heart who is willing to share in suffering is Judith Huang from the 1.5G congregation. She could live a very comfortable life as a successful young business woman. She has flown on corporate jets to make multi-million dollar deals for her family business. In the eyes of the world, her potential is limitless. The sky is the limit for Judith.
But Judith is willing to give that up to be a long term missionary in Germany to serve the Syrian Refugees. Do you think the refugees have anything to give to Judith? Can she gain anything from them? Absolutely not. In fact, the refugee camps are now infiltrated with ISIS sympathizers. She could get hurt if she talks to the wrong people.
Can you imagine the family opposition she had to face when she made that decision? Of not only to give up her wealth and comfort, but also to put herself in harm's way? What would your parents say if you made this decision? Do you think Judith made a bad trade? No she is a smart woman, she made a good trade.
Due to our time constraint, let’s jump to verse 23.
"Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. "
Paul is saying that as believers, we have the precious Holy Spirit within us. We get a sneak preview of what Heaven is like because God’s spirit is within us, inside our bodies. Heaven is pure love and joy, we get a taste of that now! But this body, this body is old, rugged, beat up and broken. How many of you have aches and pains in your body? How many of you have taken medicine or been to the doctors this past year? You see, that’s what Paul is talking about. Paul probably had more aches and pain in his body than all of us combined. Remember that he got beaten, stoned, whipped, and shipwrecked for the Gospel. Paul is now towards the end of his life, and he is so looking forward to make the next trade.
What is he trading? His old body, filled with sin and suffering, heading towards death and decay, in exchange for his new heavenly body. God says, “as my adopted children, you will get new heavenly bodies in exchange for your old one. This I promise you, it’s a thousand times better than what you have right now. You will not be bound by sin nor suffering in your new bodies.” Wow! Isn’t that amazing?
Let’s use our imagination for a second. Earth is about 93 million miles away from the Sun. What do you think will happen if we take your body right now and put it about 100 feet away from the Sun. What would happen? You would burn up and vaporize. How long do you think that would take? Less than 1 second. Our bodies are too weak to stand close to that much power. We would simply be destroyed!
Now, imagine getting a new body that can withstand the power of the sun. You can stand so close that you can hear the flames roar as it burns. In fact, the flames roar so loud that it’s deafening to the human ear. That new body would be like a superman body, indestructible, without weakness, no kryptonite. How many of you would like a new body like that? That’s how glorious our new heavenly bodies will be. We will be able to stand in the holy presence of the Creator, without being vaporized in 1 second. We will be able to worship Him, and be with him for all eternity.
Paul now writes in Verse 28. “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”
What is God’s purpose for you? It’s very simple. Don’t complicate it. To know Him, and to make Him known. That’s it. To know him, and to make him known. Are you a student? Then your purpose is to know him, and make him known in school.
Are you a working professional? Then your purpose is to know him, and make him known at your work. Are you a parent? Then your purpose is to know him, and make him known to your children. No matter what life stage you are at, God’s purpose for you is to know him, and make him known.
If you do this, it will bring you great joy and satisfaction in life. And at the same time, you will experience suffering too because of the gospel. Some people will hate you and reject you, because they hate and reject God. Paul knew that would happen. So he is saying, even though you will suffer for the gospel, God will make it right for you at the end. Even though you’re being rejected and hated, God will cause everything to work together for your good in the end. Because in the end, you will receive your full right as a child of God, you will receive your new bodies, and inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, and be co-heirs with Christ and rule the earth. Now, that’s a good deal.
In conclusion, I want to speak a word of comfort, and a word of challenge. First, a word of comfort. For some of us, we have lost loved ones. The truth is, if you have loved ones who passed away who followed Christ, they are in their new bodies right now, in the presence of God, completely immersed in the ocean of God’s perfect love right now. Be happy for them. Don’t be sad. I know you miss them, and you might be suffering because you miss them so much. But know that they are suffering no more, they have traded their suffering for God’s glory. And we wait for the day, with great anticipation and great hope, when we will be with them with our new glorified bodies.
Now for the word of challenge. Paul does not hide the fact that there will be suffering if we choose to follow Jesus. Paul does not preach Candy Cane Christianity. If we choose to live a Gospel-centered life, we will suffer in different ways. We may suffer financial loss, or relational loss. Paul says, share the gospel anyways. Some of us are afraid to live for Jesus because we are afraid of suffering. I want to challenge us, even when we feel afraid, let’s live for Jesus anyway. This morning, make a decision. Be willing to suffering loss for the Gospel, in exchange for the future glory.