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Gospel-Centered Suffering

Greg Breazeale    /    Jun 01, 2014

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Greg Breazeale speaks on Ephesians 3:1-13

Series: The Book of Ephesians

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Sermon Transcript

At some point all of us will suffer. We’ll go through pain, trials, and hardships. Everyone knows this. All cultures, races, and religions have some paradigm to view suffering with. Christians are not exempt. God’s sons and daughters, adopted, chosen, cleansed, and redeemed, will still go through suffering. It often knocks us off balance, causing us to lose heart and become discouraged.

Last month someone hacked into our savings account and spent almost two thousand dollars at a CVS in Los Angeles. We had to go through all of this paperwork, fax things in, sign this and that, change cards, and cancel accounts. It was miserable. But I continued to think how God was sovereign over everything, including all CVS stores, cyberspace, and bank accounts. If I’m His chosen and adopted son, why did He let this happen?

Have you ever asked this question? If God is sovereign, why are things like this still happening to us?

This is an example of just everyday suffering. However, there is also something called Gospel Suffering.

Gospel Suffering

Because you are living, advancing, and obeying the gospel, suffering will come into your life. The gospel attracts suffering. You seek to share Christ with your neighbors or co-workers and you get excluded, mocked, persecuted and even killed in some circles and places. Even the strongest tend to lose heart.

John the Baptist came on the scene, yelling stuff, wearing strange clothes and had a very weird diet. Everything he said dripped with conviction, passion, and assurance that Jesus was the Christ. He said things like, “I am not the Christ. Don’t look at me. That’s the Christ; behold Him. I can’t even tie His shoes. I have no place with Him. He must increase, I must decrease.” This man knew who Jesus was. But then he got arrested.

John then sent word to Jesus and asked Him, “Hey, are you the Christ or is there somebody else? Because I didn’t sign up for this. This whole You must increase and I must decrease…I didn’t know that meant jail for me.”

John the Baptist, the strongest saint who had all assurance and paved the way for Jesus, even begun to lose heart in the face of suffering.

No One Is Exempt From Suffering

All of us will go through some kind of suffering.

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles…Ephesians 3:1 (ESV)

The gospel landed Paul in prison. In light of all Paul has just said in Ephesians 1 and 2, this sounds absolutely crazy. God has loved us, called us, chosen us, adopted us, and blessed us. He’s broken all these dividing walls between us, raising us up with Christ, pouring grace on us, and given us every spiritual blessing in Christ. Yet we still suffer? It doesn’t seem to make sense.

In truth, the gospel advances through suffering.

Suffering cannot undo the gospel; in fact, it magnifies the gospel in this life.

So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. Ephesians 3:13 (ESV)

Don’t get discouraged and let your heart sink over Paul’s suffering. He was in prison suffering and proclaiming the gospel. He was in prison because of and for Jesus’ sake. But he says not to let your hearts be troubled and discouraged? How do you do that? How do you watch your friends endure endless seasons of hurt and pain, whether it’s cancer, financial hardship, or death of a loved one?

How do you endure long painful seasons when the suffering won’t go away?

Some of you may have already lost heart. You barely got here this morning, because you are so deflated and demoralized because of what you’re going through. Maybe you’re very close. The season won’t seem to end. You are hanging on to the gospel by a thread. Paul’s word to you is not to lose heart.

There are three reasons from our text that show why we should not lose heart during suffering.

  1. We are in God’s plan.
  2. We are now God’s new people.
  3. We have access to God’s presence.

We are in God’s plan

You’re in. Every tribe, tongue, and nation who has believed in Christ is now in with God’s plan.

Paul called his ministry the stewardship of God’s grace.

…assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you…Ephesians 3:2 (ESV)

God gave this to Paul for those who would hear his message.

…how the mystery was made known to me by revelation…Ephesians 3:3a (ESV)

God revealed this to Paul. He didn’t make this stuff up.

When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations…Ephesians 3:4-5a (ESV)

The phrase, “sons of men” means God’s people.

…as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. Ephesians 3:5b (ESV)

God gave Paul this ministry and revealed it to him to preach on this mystery.

This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Ephesians 3:6 (ESV)

Gentiles were the non-ethnic Jews. This language here, members and fellow heirs, is Old Testament, Israel language. God saved one nation in the Old Testament. He chose Israel to proclaim His glory to all other nations. They were His adopted and chosen nation. But now, Paul is saying God is saving all the nations.

God no longer wants only one tribe, tongue and nation. He wants all tribes, tongues, and nations.

This is the mystery of the gospel.

Paul is saying not to lose heart, because you have now been brought into God’s plan for the world.

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. Ephesians 3:7 (ESV)

If you read the Book of Acts, Paul was the most skeptical critic of Christianity. He absolutely despised the church and Christianity. He even went so far as to approve of the murder of a Christian named Stephen. He tried to lock Christians up in jail. So if you have doubts about Jesus, you likely can’t touch Paul’s doubts. He absolutely was opposed to this whole gospel and church idea. But then he saw Jesus and all those doubts began to dissolve. He saw the glory of the risen Christ and he began laboring to make this message known.

We are in God’s plan, which means no amount of suffering, sorrow, grief, loss or failure can undo these plans for you in Christ Jesus. Take heart, there is nothing that can undo this.

To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ…Ephesians 3:8 (ESV)

You can never exhaust the riches of Jesus.

…and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things…Ephesians 3:9 (ESV)

The mystery is that God is bringing us into His plan, but it’s happening through a person.

No other religion can claim this, except Christianity. Other religions only offer you teachings and a path. Some teacher comes along and shows you the way to walk, gives you truths to live out, tells you there is life and to go find it. But Jesus comes along and says He is the way, the truth, and the life. It’s not about some teaching, or idea, or philosophy. It’s a person!

The gospel offers you a living person, a real human being, God in the flesh.

That’s why you shouldn’t lose heart. You have Him. You have the unsearchable riches in Christ who is enough for you and all of your pain and suffering. He is inexhaustible when it comes to His power, grace, and riches for us. He is worth suffering for and is better than any comfort this world offers to us. Don’t lose heart. He is with you, He knows you, and you are part of His plan.

We Are Now God’s People

God has brought us through this person, making us into this new community. The gospel has bonded and united us together like nothing else this earth offers to us and now we get to suffer together.

…so that through the church…Ephesians 3:10a (ESV)

The church is the gathered people of God, who come together and are now the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, and are His here on this earth.

…the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. Ephesians 3:10b (ESV)

God’s justified and redeemed people are the ones who now display the glories and wisdom of God to all of creation. This is a glorious thought. God is using us to make known His glory, riches, and power.

When it comes to suffering, you no longer suffer alone. You have the body of Christ around you, to walk with you, to weep with you, to suffer with you. We are there to meet your needs and serve you.

This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord…Ephesians 3:11 (ESV)

The church was not Plan B for God. It wasn’t some after thought. From eternity, He has always had the church in mind. That’s why you can’t stop the church. History has proven you cannot stop the spread of Christianity, no matter the country, government, hardship, or persecution. Whether martyrdom, suffering, sickness, death, plague, or famine, you cannot stop the spread of the gospel.

Together we can endure anything. It does not matter what the suffering is, whether everyday or gospel suffering, we will endure together.

Two weeks ago I got into my first car wreck. I was unscathed, but all the witnesses who saw it came rushing up to me asking me if I was okay. The lady who hit me rushed up to me and apologized, asking me if I was okay. The sheriff showed up and asked me the same question. Then two fire trucks showed up with ten guys who asked me if I was okay. Finally my wife showed up. The ambulance pulled and the EMT guys asked me if I was okay. I continued to tell them all that I was fine.

At one point I thought it was awesome. I could do this all day. I felt like Jack Bauer with all this attention around me. But here’s the thing. These random strangers cared about me for about twenty-five minutes. But none of them checked up on me later. No one emailed me, or called, or offered me a ride, or offered me their vehicle for a few days since mine was ruined.

But people in this body did. They called me. They checked up on me. They offered me rides to work and other places. One deacon actually gave me his truck for three days since I didn’t have a car. The body of Christ just does this. This is normal for us.

We suffer together. We weep together. Like no other place on earth, the gospel cuts through all of our financial status, our race, our class, everything, and unites us together.

Don’t abandon the church. I know it’s messy. The church is filled with broken, messy people. The gospel will get you messy. If it’s by grace that means you’re going to have some busted up broken people coming in these doors. It’s going to happen.

Christ’s bride, the church, is imperfect.

Jesus married crazy. He married all of us. He poured out his life for all of us.

But one day it won’t be imperfect. He will perfect His bride. We will stand before Him spotless, purified, holy, and completely redeemed. Every single tribe, tongue, and nation will gather together and sing one song, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.”

You don’t have to lose heart when you suffer. You have us around you. Stay in this and suffer with us. Pour yourself out for each other. Let us shoulder your burdens and help you carry the load.

We Have Access To God’s Presence

You have access to the very throne room of God. You get God now, through Jesus Christ, who has brought you in and qualified you to be in His presence.

…in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. Ephesians 3:12 (ESV)

This is why you don’t lose heart. You have God now. The greatest gift God can give you is Himself.

When it comes to suffering you have two options. You can suffer towards God or away from Him. Either bring everything that’s in you that is hurting to Him and suffer toward Him or you can stiff arm God and lean into the pain and power through it yourself.

You have God. Jesus has qualified you so when it comes to suffering you have access to God’s presence.

God has united us together in a way that nothing else can top. He has access to us. He is jealous for us and He is for us.

Some of you think God is always working against you or playing games with you. But He is not. He is for you. You can come to Him with anything. You have access with boldness and confidence to run to your heavenly Father.

C.S. Lewis said, “The man who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only.”

With God you have everything. There is no lack in Him. You have all you need.

So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. Ephesians 3:13 (ESV)

Suffering cannot undo the gospel. Rather, suffering magnifies the gospel. It puts on display all the glorious truths Paul is unpacking here. It shows us how near and real God is. It reminds us that we’re His.

Suffering advances the gospel.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 (ESV)

We endure and do not lose heart.

Do Not Lose Heart And Suffer Well

Some of you are suffering deeply. I don’t know what your pain or trial is, but you are shaken because the season is not ending or the gospel is costing you something right now.

Do not lose heart. The gospel is enough for you. Jesus is enough for you.

Others of you are not suffering, but you ought to be. God is pushing you into very risky places and you’re resisting it because of the cost. You know suffering is coming. But don’t lose heart. The gospel is big enough to handle all of your suffering. It is worth sacrificing and giving up your life for.

May we suffer well, wherever we are, and not lose heart.