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Suffering=Maturity

 

Have you ever noticed how the Bible just tells it like it is? I'm so glad God does that in His Word. He doesn't try to hide the facts or gloss-over whom or what people really are. Take Rahab for example; she was a woman of the night and yet God used her to help hide the spies and facilitate their escape from Jericho. Did you know that she is even mentioned in the lineage of Jesus?

 

People rightly give Jonah a hard time for running from God, but think about how much more disappointing King David was. Though he was a man after God's own heart at times, he arranged the murder of Uriah, committed adultery with Bathsheba, and took a census against God's will. What a blemish he was on the landscape of history. And yet he, too, is listed in the lineage of Jesus.

 

God is not in the habit of evading the hard truths of life just to make it sound better. And, quite frankly, neither was Paul. In Philippians 3:10-11, Paul wrote: "I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." I love that verse; that which Paul expresses is profound! Let's break it down.

 

The way Paul approaches this is in a progression of Christian growth. First, he begins with the most basic: "I want to know Christ." This knowing Christ is accomplished through salvation and in the early phase of Christian growth. This is the broad brush stroke that includes everyone in the faith. We know Jesus, we have experienced His forgiveness and salvation, and we have begun to grow. But Paul doesn't want just a surface relationship with Jesus; he wants to grow more deeply. So he mentions phase two in Christian growth which is represented by "the power of His resurrection."

 

I know very few Christians who don't want to experience the power that is ours as believers. As we grow more deeply in Christ Jesus, we begin to understand that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is the very power that is both in us to seal our salvation and at our disposal to live victoriously in our daily lives.

 

When we begin to understand and utilize this power to the glory of God, we have moved to the next level spiritually. When we're in this phase of spiritual growth, we regularly practice truths like James 4:7: "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." We first submit ourselves to God; that's where we get the power to do the later part of the verse: to resist the devil. If we try to resist the devil on our own, before submitting to God, it's hopeless; we're powerless to do so. We can do that only after we first submit to God. Submitting to God is as important as it sounds: confessing our sins, coming clean before God, and claiming and walking in the victory that is ours in Jesus.

 

There are far fewer believers in this phase of Christian growth than there were in the first phase. This phase requires more dedication and commitment to discipleship and since fewer people are willing to get serious about God, fewer people experience the power.

 

But notice Paul's desire to move to yet another level of spiritual growth. This is the deeper, more exciting, most fulfilling phase; but, in all honesty, you may be able to count on one hand the people you know who dwell here.

 

To have progressed to this level means you, like Paul, are willing to suffer for Christ in order to experience the deepness and the richness of a relationship with Jesus that can't be experienced any other way. To know Him through the "fellowship of His sufferings" is to so fully identify with Jesus, to be so completely filled with His Spirit, that there's no room for me in my heart; no room for the things I want, only that which Jesus wants. Jesus described this phase like this: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Lk. 9:23). The cross represented suffering for Christ and for those who witnessed the crucifixions of the day. Suffering is essential to depth. As one writer put it, the roots grow deep when the winds blow strong.

 

Paul picks up on that idea here acknowledging that the willingness to fellowship with Christ through suffering brings about the deepest level of Christian growth possible. And if anyone knew both about suffering and walking deeply with our Lord Jesus, it was Paul. Suffering is that which we try so laboriously to avoid, and yet it is the fire through which we are refined and made to look most like Jesus.

 

Martin Luther's masterful piece, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," has been called the "Battle Hymn of the Reformation." James Moffatt described it as the "greatest hymn of the greatest man of the greatest period of German history." This triumphant song, taken from Psalm 46, has inspired legions of Christians for nearly five centuries. A significant twist to this victorious hymn is that Luther wrote it during a season of great depression.

 

In 1527, Martin Luther experienced nearly a year of sickness and intense depression. It was a year of suffering, and one from which he wished he could have escaped. But in the depths of that pain and sadness, God brought forth a majestic hymn that has fortified the faith of millions. Martin Luther, like all of us, hoped for escape from his discouraging experiences of suffering, but God used that difficult time to shape a mighty message of hope. Although none of us would run to discouragement and suffering, we might do well to spend less time running from it and more time searching for the truths God wants to show us when suffering comes our way.1

 

As you pray today, please understand that the process reflected here represents the normal Christian life, not some fanatical commitment that is weird and unnatural. Pray that God will purify us so that He can use us in ever greater ways to build-up His Kingdom. Ask God if you are resisting His attempts to refine you by refusing the suffering that brings intimate fellowship with Him. Seek the Lord about what He's up to in your life and pray for the grace to surrender to His attempts to deepen life's most intimate and fulfilling relationship.

 

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1Companion to Baptist Hymnal, William Reynolds, 1976, p. 24.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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Copyright 2012. Faith Matters by Dr. Ken Lovelace. All rights reserved.

 


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