Scripture Reading: Hebrews 11:1-6
Sermon Title: The Revelation of God’s Mystery (part 7) … Suffering for Glory
Sermon Text: Ephesians 3:1-2, 13
Last week’s questions: How is Paul a prisoner of Christ Jesus? How is Paul a prisoner for the sake of the Gentiles? This week: Why does Paul suffer tribulations on behalf of the Gentiles? How are Paul’s tribulations the Ephesians glory?
NOTE: “Scripture quotations are from the NASB." I provide this manuscript as a courtesy. I do not follow the document word for word during the message. I also do not write the document with the intent of publication; there may be grammatical errors throughout. Thanks for understanding.
Introduction: Gospel and Suffering
How should we handle difficulty? Our bodies suffer aches, pains, and diseases. Food spoils. Automobiles break down. People hate one another and nations are continually at war. Great storms hit, like Hurricane Matthew, and leave a path of destruction. Corruption abounds. Everywhere we look there is suffering and sorrow. Everywhere in the world there is suffering.
There is also suffering because of our faith in Christ. The Bible calls it persecution and tribulation. The world openly mocks holiness. Schools forbid the Bible, the most important book ever written. The name of Christ is cursed. Christianity is a mockery in our culture. This suffering is from persecution.
We all would like to handle difficulty well. We all desire to be the strong, persevering person who stands up under life’s trials and face them with dignity and courage. Today’s message is to encourage us to be that person. God desires for us to glorify Him as we stand strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Our goal is to be able to tell others, “don’t lose heart over my tribulations for they are your glory.” How do we get there?
Paul is communicating to the Ephesians that his trials are for the glory of God. By the strength of God’s grace, Paul is standing firm and not allowing his suffering, and difficult circumstances steal his joy. Paul doesn’t want his suffering and circumstances to steal the joy of the Ephesian church. He is writing to them and telling them not to lose heart because of his imprisonment. Look at it from God’s perspective. The nations are coming to Christ.
The juxtaposition of Paul’s tribulations and imprisonment with the paragraph of God saving the Nations through faith in Christ is astounding. Look at how Paul begins and ends the paragraph by speaking to the Ephesian church about his suffering. He begins by saying:
For this reason, I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—
His thought process about communicating his imprisonment begins. But, he interrupts his thoughts to talk about the salvation of the Gentiles. He shares how the purpose of God is to join the Gentiles with the Israelites and that they are fellow heirs with Christ through faith. He also shares how God is displaying His manifold wisdom through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.
Paul then finishes his thought about his imprisonment:
Therefore, I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory.
To paraphrase what Paul is telling the Ephesians would be to say something like this:
“My dear Ephesians. You have heard of what I am going through and how I suffer for preaching Christ. I am in prison because this is God’s plan. Preaching the Gospel comes at a price. The price is my suffering. But, through my suffering, God is accomplishing His purpose of bringing glory to Jesus Christ. Through my suffering, the Nations hear the Gospel of Christ, His unfathomable riches, and they put their faith in Christ for salvation. My imprisonment should not cause you to lose heart, but you should trust God. His plan is working wonderfully. Everything is under control.”
There are very important theological implications in this paragraph which directly relate to our lives. The implications will help us endure suffering as God desires and in a way which is pleasing to Him. Our goal this morning is to walk ourselves through these theological implications. I ask for you, as listeners, to carefully listen as we unpack the Scriptures. We will need the help of God’s Holy Spirit. The Counselor is our Teacher. He will help our spiritual eyes to see and understand.
Let’s pray and ask for God’s help. (PRAY)
Last week we looked at two questions.
The first question we talked about is, “How is Paul a prisoner of Christ Jesus?” God revealed to Paul that he would face opposition as he brought the gospel to the Gentiles. Paul became imprisoned by the Roman government, but Paul knew God orchestrated his imprisonment. Being a prisoner enabled Paul to have an audience to many Roman officials to preach Christ. Paul is a prisoner of Christ.
We also looked at the question, “How is Paul a prisoner for the sake of the Gentiles?” It is because of Paul’s ministry to them that he is in prison. Paul preached to the Gentiles for their sake, not his own. It is because of his ministry to them that he suffered. He preached Christ to the Gentiles for their salvation, and it cost him a great deal of pain.
This week we want to ask two more questions. The first is, “Why? Why does Paul suffer tribulations on behalf of the Gentiles? Why was Paul willing to suffer on their behalf? Suffering for others is not normal. People don’t normally suffer for others unless there is a good reason. Why was Paul willing?
The second question we will seek to understand is, “How are Paul’s tribulations the Ephesians glory What is the connection between Paul’s suffering and their glory?”
Therefore, I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory.
To answer these questions, we are going to look at three major topics of Scripture: Faith, suffering, and glory. In understanding these three topics, we will understand both why Paul suffered and how his suffering brings the Ephesians glory.
It is impossible to be a Christian and not know what is faith. Faith saves us. Jesus is the object of our faith. We have faith alone in Christ alone.
Hebrews 10:32-12:3 is a very important passage in the Bible. Every Christian should study this passage in depth. All three topics, faith, suffering, and glory, are present. If you are not familiar with this passage, please take the time to study its depth. Sit down with a friend and study it together. We don’t have time to go through the passage in its entirety this morning, but we will hit the main points.
Faith in the expected
The first verse we will look at is 11:1 –
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)
Another way to say faith is the assurance of things hoped for is, that the substance of faith, the ingredient of faith is things hoped for, things expected to take place. There is only one ingredient and the ingredient is hoping for something; expecting something.
The greater the expectation and hope, the greater the faith. Biblical faith is not wishful thinking; it is fully expected thinking. When we have faith in Christ’s return, we fully expect it to happen. We don’t know when, but we will bet our life on his return. We have yet to see it happen, but we expect it will. As the verse says, the conviction of things not seen.
Faith in the unseen
There are many aspects of our faith in Christ we don’t see with our eyes, but we expect them to be true. For example, we don’t see our being declared innocent of sin. We don’t see our inheritance in Christ. We don’t see the holy, righteousness of Christ applied to our spiritual being. We don’t see ourselves being made alive, being born again, in Christ. When we see a believer die, we don’t see them entering into eternal life. These are all promises of Scripture which we don’t see. However, because of faith, we fully expect them to take place. We have assurance because we have faith in things we expect to take place.
For by it (by faith) the men of old gained approval. (Hebrews 11:2)
The men of old, Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, and so forth, gained approval from God, not because of what they did, but because of faith. They believed God. Our faith gains the same approval from God.
The writer of Hebrews provides an example of faith in what is not seen.
By faith, we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. (Hebrews 11:3)
The universe is created Ex Nihilo; it is made out of nothing. It is not made out of things which are visible and existing, but it is made by the word of God. Not one of us was present at the time of creation. But, we have faith in the Genesis account of creation. (Incidentally, anything that happened 200 years ago we believe by faith. We didn’t see it take place. We put our faith in what others said.)
Faith in the “Rewarder”
One more point about faith to shape our thinking. Verse 6 –
And without faith, it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)
Do we want to please God? If we do, we must have faith. Without faith, we do not gain God’s approval, and it is impossible to please Him. What must we believe to please God? This verse provides two criteria.
First, we must believe that God is; we must believe God exists. We don’t see God, but we must have assurance in His existence. We must fully expect Him to exist. But, just believing in God’s existence is not enough. We will not gain His approval by only believing He exists. The demons believe in God, and they don’t have God’s approval nor do they please God.
Second, we must believe God is a rewarder of those who seek Him. We must believe God provides for us a reward for seeking Him. What is the reward given to us by the Rewarder? God is the reward. If we seek gold, we expect our reward to be gold, not dirt. If we seek God, we will not settle for any lesser reward than God. Desiring God above all things is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We use all of these to get what we love.
To seek God is not to seek the gifts of God, but to seek the Giver. Our conviction must be that if God is not in heaven, we don’t want to go there because we seek God and God alone. God must be our heart’s desire. We must seek to possess Him as our very own.
Review: Faith is having complete and full expectation in a future event. We don’t see the event, but we expect that event will happen. It is our conviction. Without faith, we do not gain approval by God. It is impossible to please God without faith. We must believe when we seek God; He rewards us by granting what we seek. God rewards us with giving us God.
Let us now connect faith with suffering.
Suffering and God’s enemies
God has enemies. When God created the universe, it was very good. There was no suffering. Enter Satan in the Garden, and suffering begins.
At the end of the age, after Satan is cast into the pit forever, suffering ends. No more pain, no tears, no death.
The enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy. But, Jesus gives us abundant life (John 10:10). Jesus said, “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
The enemies of God do not want to see people seeking God with all their heart. The enemies of God would rather that we not seek God. So, what do they do? They thwart the proclamation of the riches of Christ. They oppose the preaching that Christ is a treasure worth having and that Christ is desirable. The enemies of God are against anything which makes God attractive by undermining the message.
Suffering comes from the enemies of God. Satan is an accuser who stands before God’s throne and claims, “Your people do not treasure You. If You take away their stuff or their health, they will curse You.”
We learn in Ephesians that the manifold wisdom of God is being made known through the church. When the church demonstrates a steadfast commitment to seek God, no matter the cost, the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places see the wisdom of God. Our perseverance reveals God’s wisdom.
Our battle isn’t against people or circumstances; our battle is against the enemies of God.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:10-12)
The wisdom of God, the unfathomable riches of Christ, is being made known through the church and the enemy attacks the church. The enemy of God attacks the faith of the church. The connection between faith and suffering is extremely important for us to understand.
The enemy does everything to put up an alternative treasure to the treasure of Christ. The enemy of God dangles the lust of the flesh and the desires of life as being a greater treasure. The enemy’s goal is to cast doubt upon the goodness of God. God is holy, and the enemy will present holiness as not being satisfying. The enemy of God will say God’s word is not true. “God is not the creator. Christ did not raise up from the dead. God’s ways are not best. You deserve more from life, so take it.” We can list the countless ways the enemy of God seeks to distract people and turn them away from God so they will not seek His face and they will doubt the goodness of God.
However, those who have faith, still seek God, despite the onslaught of the enemy. They will suffer for their faith; the main teaching of Hebrews 11.
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. (Hebrews 11:24-26)
Moses chose the suffering of ill-treatment rather than enjoy the temptations of Satan and the passing pleasures of sin. Moses had faith. Moses looked not at the temporary, fleeting pleasures of life, but Moses looked to the reward of God.
Chapter 11 of Hebrews finishes with telling of how people with faith suffered greatly:
…and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. (Hebrews 11:36-38)
They suffered, because they sought God. They suffered because of faith.
Faith brings suffering. Now, let’s understand the connection of faith and suffering with glory.
God’s glory is at stake. Numerous times in the course of this past year we have talked about the glory of God. God’s glory is why the enemies of God hate Him. Satan seeks to glorify himself. God is displaying His glory on earth.
Jesus work on the cross is for God’s glory. Our proclamation of Christ is for God’s glory.
We are joint heirs with Christ, so, the glory of Jesus, which is the glory of God becomes our glory. We have faith in the unfathomable riches of Christ. We have no glory, but His glory is an infinitely rich treasure. Jesus gives us His glory.
Through salvation in Christ, we attain our glorification. In the letter to the Romans, we learn all who are predestined in Christ, those who He called; and those whom He justified; God also glorified (Roman 8:30). Jesus is bringing many sons to glory. The writer of Hebrews says it is fitting for Him to bring us to glory through sufferings (Hebrews 2:10).
As we behold the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Paul prays for the church that the eyes of our heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, and what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints (Ephesians 1:18).
Jesus glory is so immensely rich that creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Romans 8:21).
The unfathomable riches of Christ fill up all that we are lacking. When we sin, we fall short of the glory of God.
Answers to our questions
“Why? Why does Paul suffer tribulations on behalf of the Gentiles? It is because Paul has faith in God.
“How are Paul’s tribulations the Ephesians glory? Paul’s preaching of the unfathomable riches of Christ enabled them to behold the glory of the Lord. Paul found joy in knowing they are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory.
Here are five ways we may prepare ourselves to persevere through persecution.
Know God is the Supreme Treasure. We must seek God in our lives. He must be our desire. We must have faith when we seek Him we will receive Him. Seeking God involves not seeking worldly pursuits.
Those who are weak of faith are typically not weak in the influences of the world. There is a direct correlation. Worldly friends, worldly entertainment, and worldly pastimes lead to worldly thinking. Worldly thinking results in having worldly treasures.
All the influences of the world will attempt to erode our faith in God as being our supreme treasure. The world influences come in many shapes. Our day consists of being bombarded by the world’s music, entertainment, news, education, philosophy, and countless other sources. Be wary of the number of the hours of the day the world influences our thinking compared to the influence of Scripture. Be in the world, but not of the world.
The more we know God, the more we will love God. The more we love God, the more we will seek Him. As our conviction of God as the Supreme treasure grows, the more the things of the world grow dim. We need to cultivate our love of God by knowing God.
Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. We need to transform our mind and guard our mind against worldly influences. As believers, we will strengthen our faith by reading and hearing the word of God.
We emphasize the ministry of the Bible in our church. It is the only way we will be able to stand the onslaught of God’s enemy. We need the shield of faith and the sword of God’s word.
We need to cultivate spiritual conversations in our lives. We need to hunger and thirst for God’s word because it will help us to seek God’s face. The word of God is the means God uses to reveal Himself to us. Cherish the word of God.
Faith allows us to endure suffering. The time to prepare for suffering is not during the suffering, but before the suffering takes place. If we want to be the person who stands strong in the time of suffering, we must prepare now.
Jesus obeyed God and demonstrated an allegiance to God’s glory through obedience. Jesus defeated the enemy through obedience on the cross. He is our example. When we are like Christ, we are obedient. The cross is Jesus’ demonstration of God’s glory. Jesus demonstrated God’s love, mercy, compassion and justice on the cross.
Jesus suffered for our sins on the cross.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
God desires for us to look to His example of obedience. Lay aside the sin which entangles us. God does not want us to lose heart, but to be like Jesus, having faith to endure suffering which comes against us by hostile sinners. The cross was not easy for Jesus. But, by obedience, He endured the cross for the joy set before Him.
We need to set the joy before us; the joy of being in the arms of God and forever enjoying His presence.
When the church displays obedience to God’s commands, the wisdom of God is demonstrated through the church. The church demonstrates through obedience that God’s glory is worth enduring much suffering.
We are to be like Job, who endured much suffering, but would not deny the goodness of God. Job said, the Lord gives, the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.
Pick up our cross and follow the example of Christ.
God takes the attacks of the enemy and turns it into good. The suffering of Jesus on the cross is precious. The spilling of His blood brings us to glory.
All tribulations on behalf of the preaching of the gospel are for our glory. Suffering is valuable because it serves a purpose of fulfilling God’s will. God uses all things for good. All the martyrs of history did not suffer in vain, but they suffered for the glory of God and the exaltation of Jesus Christ.
The blood spilled by the Apostles, John Hus, William Tyndale, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, and countless others is precious. Because of their spilled blood, God is glorified. They obtain Him whom they seek.
Paul asked the Ephesians not to lose heart at his tribulations on their behalf because his tribulations are for their glory. The writer of Hebrews said for us to consider Jesus who endured hostility by sinners against Himself so that we will not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:3). Don’t allow the suffering of God’s people to dampen our spirits and have us be dismayed.
Suffering is necessary. We are not to pursue suffering, but we are not to allow suffering to be discouraging. Keep the faith.
We may not do this on our own. Pray for God’s help. We need to tell Him how much we desire Him and plead for Him to give us the strength to persevere. Pray for eyes to see.
Persecution stands on the doorstep. Are you ready to open the door? Are you prepared? The time to prepare is now.
Know God is the Supreme Treasure. Study His word so we may know Him and deepen our faith. Resist the temptations and the sin which entangles us. Obey God’s commands. When persecution comes, value the suffering knowing it makes us like Christ. Pray for God’s strength and mercy.
Raise the Banner
Let me close with this quote, author unknown. It speaks of a Christian that desires to please God, giving it all. It is titled, “My Commitment as a Christian.”
I’m part of the fellowship of the unashamed. I have stepped over the line. The decision is made. I’m a disciple of Jesus Christ. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still.
My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, my future is secure.
I’m finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, easy talking, cheap loving, and dwarfed goals.
I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, or popularity.
I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded.
I now live by faith, lean on God’s presence, walk by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by power. My face is set, my pace is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way rough, my companions few, my Guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of the adversary, negotiate at the table of the enemy, or wander in mediocrity. I won’t give up, or shut up, regarding the cause of Christ.
I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go till He comes, give till I drop, preach till all know, and work till He stops me. And when He comes for His own, He will have no problem recognizing me – my banner will be clear.