Tuesday, July 8, 2014

How God uses difficult times to mature the Christian

Colossians 2:1-3 "For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."

The importance of understanding the place of difficult times in Christian spiritual maturity
When you begin to read the New Testament epistles or letters, you are struck more and more how Paul or the other writers will purposefully make known their trials and sufferings. Take for instance the opening verse of today's post: Paul did not try to hide his situation of being under house arrest in Rome nor did he try to appear "macho" and "separated from the pain" of his circumstance.  If anything, his suffering and circumstances ended up being at the heart of his life and ministry, per the Lord's calling (compare Acts 9:16).  This seems to cut across the grain of the 21st century conception of a blessed Christian life being equal to no pain, worry or hardship. How do we make sense of Paul's insistence on his readers knowing about his plight? Let's look at some cross references in both his other epistles and other New Testament letters to find the answer.

1. Galatians 4:19 "After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you."

This statement is from the earliest of Paul's letters. When he wrote these words, he had just completed his 1st missionary journey in Acts 13-14 and had declared, defined and defended the Gospel he was preaching at the Jerusalem council in Acts 15. Already Paul had to deal with constant verbal and physical attacks from opponents who were bent on silencing his attempts to proclaim the Gospel in the Galatian region. As Paul and his fellow laborers stated during the course of that missionary journey in Acts 14:22 - "strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

2. Philippians 1:27-30  "Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; 28 in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. 29 For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, 30 experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me."

Paul wrote Philippians very close to the time he would had composed Colossians. Interestingly enough two intriguing statements about the relationship of suffering to the Christian's maturity emerge. First we see that in either knowing about suffering or undergoing it, their tends to be a dependence upon Christ that is cultivated. The sensitivity to the destiny of those who persist in their rejection of Christ is heightened, causing the Christian to be burdened for them while greatly assured of their own faith in Christ.  Secondly, suffering is part of the Christian's calling. 2 Timothy 3:12 for instance records Paul writing: "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." The Apostle Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:21 "For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps." Thankfully we are told the purpose of God's Sovereign inclusion of suffering in the Christian life in 1 Peter 5:10 "After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you."

3. 1 Thessalonians 2:1-4 "For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain, 2 but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition. 3 For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts."

Here again we see Paul making known all that he underwent in suffering for the Gospel. Here in 1 Thessalonians, Paul uses his sufferings as proof of his commitment to the Gospel and for the advancement of his readers. Such information is not meant to garner sympathy nor to elicit praise from his readers. If anything, Paul is informing his readers that God uses such sufferings to put an exclamation point on the fact that it is worth living for Christ in this world. 

I find it interesting that when looking at Colossians 2:1, the word translated "struggle" is a greek word "agona" from whence we get our word "agony". To live for Christ is a joyful agony, we could say. Why? Because as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:16-17 "Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison."

Closing thoughts
So in closing out today's post, what did we observe regarding how God uses suffering to mature the Christian? I see three reasons from the above observations in the New Testament letters:

1. Strengthen the believer's confidence. Galatians 4:19

2. Sharpen the believer's calling. Philippians 1:27-30

3. Certify the believer's commitment. 1 Thessalonians 2:1-4

Certainly two other passages can be mentioned to demonstrate the reality of these observations: James 1:3-4 and 1 Peter 1:6-7. May God strengthen His saints in these up and coming days. 


  1. I understand the focus of this post is on suffering. But I am wondering if a mature Christian can fall into sin and be forgiven? If a mature Christian falls into sin are they outside of Grace at that moment?

    I am well acquainted with suffering of various types. Sometimes the suffering made me question my salvation. At the same time I could see that I was growing in Christ and maturing. Though to me, it was an up and down process with moments of real weakness that would seemingly rob me of all strength.

    Suffering and sin have always been close to me. Either my own or that of others close to me. The constant presence of both have made me question whether my faith was maturing. Or, sometimes, if I had any faith at all. It was/is a dichotomy. Maybe I was wrongly thinking that maturing faith would somehow "cure" both of these so that I would be free of them as a hinderance in my life.

    I hope what I was trying to say made sense.


  2. Pastor, I think this answered my questions. I am weak and impatient many times. Especially when I look "down" at my flesh instead of keeping my eyes on Jesus.


  3. To Abby:

    I'm glad to see you interacting with the scripture and thinking through these issues. We know that God in His Sovereignty has ordained all things to work together for the good to those who love Him, who are the called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28).

    What is included in "all things". First positive graces. There are of course the chief strengthening grace of His Word, which when heard and read alone can convert the sinner's soul and enlighten the eyes of the saint (Psalm 19:7-14; Ro 10:17).

    Second there are the ordinances of the Lord's Supper and Baptism. In the Lord's supper (some groups refer to it as Eucharist, Lord's table), when we partake, Christ by His Spirit meets with His people and brings to their remembrance all that He did for them, and that they are to ever feed off of Him. (John 6; 1 Cor 10; 11:23-28; Col 3:1-3; 1 Peter 2:9-11). They do it together in covenant with one another and with him as one holy loaf (also 1 Cor 10).

    The 2nd ordinance, believer's baptism, serves to portray the life, death burial and resurrection of Christ that the convert has already experienced and serves to remind God's people of how God met them, called them and sustains them by the chief grace of His Word. (Romans 6:4-11; Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:18). As a Baptist, I do not see water baptism as a converting ordinance, however I do see it as essential for obedience and it does have very positive spiritual benefits that come as a result of the Spirit's illuminating work in the heart of the saint. (Rom 8:16)

    Then of course we have the church, composed of all chosen (Col 3:10; 1 Pt 2:9-11) born again (John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:4-5) believers (Colossians 1:3-6) that Christ has ordained to be His bride (Eph 5:22-25). When we come together collectively to hear the scriptures and make a difference in the world, we are quite literally the extended hands and feet of Jesus.

    God in His Sovereignty has also included what we could term "negatives", such as suffering to purify the faith of His people (James 1:3-4;1 Pt 1:6-7), to develop more of a hungering for their heavenly home and to see the futility of the things of this world (2 Cor 4:16-18) and to develop endurance in the faith (Rom 5:1-5; James 1:3-4) We struggle in warfare as the church militant to know what victory is like as by faith we overcome the world. (Eph 6:11-18; 1 John 5:4-5)

    Scripture, as I see it, teaches that both types of ordained things, both positives and negatives, are orchestrated by God to work together both for the saint's advancement and His glory. Will we falter, yes. Thankfully the Lord is always there to forgive when we do so (1 John 1:9). Scripture is very clear that we will not only persevere, but also that God will persevere with us. (Jude 24-25)

    For example, Bible study apart from testing yields puffed up, prideful Christians. Conversely, suffering without the scripture can tear a person apart and breed disillusionment.

    Whenever you read the remainder of Romans 8:29-39, you see both the Sovereignty of God as the basis for the believer's security (foreknowledge, predestination and so on in Romans 8:29-31) and His graces at work in our lives to remind us of how He will preserve us to the end (Romans 8:32-39). As Paul closes out the section, He ever reminds us that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.

  4. Pastor, your answers and studies are simply amazing and thorough and very helpful. Thank you for taking the time.