ABC – Pain, Suffering, and the Gospel

November 7, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


"The Apostle Paul" by Rembrandt

As a pastor, I have been at the bedside of more than one person nearing the end of their life.  And it always breaks my heart to see how much pain they must often endure as their body slowly shuts down and the sickness they have been valiantly fighting slowly takes over.   This kind of suffering is truly sad.  But suffering is not only physical.  Just as heartbreaking for me to watch is the woman who is being emotionally abused by her spouse or the young boy who is made an outcast by his peers.  Emotional, psychological, and spiritual suffering can leave very real scars on a human heart, soul, and life just as physical suffering can.

In our text from this past weekend, we read how the apostle Paul was a man who, like Jesus, was “familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3).   As he preached the gospel, he encountered persecution after persecution and pain after pain.  In Philippians 1, we learn that Paul is encountering physical suffering.  He is imprisoned in Rome for preaching the gospel, awaiting a hearing before the Roman emperor Nero, who is not exactly a friend and fan of Christians.  And yet, even in the midst of this suffering, and his impending martyrdom at the hands of a ruthless emperor, Paul has hope and joy.  He writes to the Philippians: “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12).  Paul says his suffering advances the gospel.  And it does!  He goes on, “It has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ” (Philippians 1:13).  As I mentioned in ABC, the “whole palace guard” could have numbered between 13,000 and 14,000 men.  That’s a lot of men who have become aware of Paul’s suffering “in chains for Christ!”  Apparently, Paul is sharing the gospel with the very men who are presiding over his suffering in chains.  He is sharing the gospel with the guards.

Much like our suffering, Paul’s suffering is not merely physical.  Paul goes on to speak of those who add to his suffering: “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry…supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains” (Philippians 1:15, 17).  Paul has such vehement detractors of his ministry that they want to kick him while he’s down – they want to cause him trouble while he is in prison, as if being in prison isn’t trouble enough.  Thus, through their envy and rivalry, they add to Paul’s physical suffering emotional suffering as well by preaching Christ for all the wrong, selfish reasons.  And yet, even as Paul suffers, the gospel continues to spread.

The gospel has a funny – and even miraculous – way of spreading in and in spite of adversity and suffering.  In Paul’s case, the gospel continued to spread thanks to his witness to the palace guard.  Even today, adversity often serves as an unwilling and unwitting catalyst for the truth of the gospel to reach ears it might not otherwise tickle.  I think of the Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, which was so popular and controversial when it first hit store shelves in 2003.  Rife with ecclesiastical conspiracy theories, it became a flashpoint around which detractors of the Church and her message could rally.  But its shoddy history, theology, and ecclesiology was made quick work of by the brightest and best Christian scholars who knew the theories put forth in this book were utterly unsubstantiated.  It was only titillating conspiracy coupled with fantasy.  However, because of the big questions this book raised, many people began to study Christianity – its history, theology, and ecclesiology – and found its teachings and truths to be on much more solid ground than they might have previously expected.  Thus, the faith of many in Christ was strengthened and bolstered – and all this through a book antagonistic to Christianity.

What trials are you currently encountering?  What suffering are you currently bearing?  Is it physical, emotional, spiritual, or psychological?  Whatever form your trials and suffering may take, pray to God – that He might give you strength to endure and that He might strengthen your faith in and through your suffering.

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

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