God gave Pastor John an especially helpful word on Sunday: He Cannot Deny Himself. I highly recommend it.
And it also encouraged me to reflect on how books have advantages over individual sermons. Mainly, you can pack more information into a book.
What I mean is this: it is possible to hear this sermon and put it entirely in the category of suffering based on the choice to follow Jesus. Further, we can be tempted to make that a superior category of suffering than suffering which isn’t chosen, such as a child with significant disabilities being born into a family.
But I think this sermon can be applied to all kinds of suffering and the five foundation stones can provide comfort in circumstances beyond suffering for the sake of the gospel, moving the emphasis away from the reason for the suffering toward our faithfully clinging to Jesus in the midst of suffering.
R.C. Sproul helped me work this out some time ago when he addressed the question: can suffering in general rather than suffering for our Christian faith be counted as sharing the sufferings of Christ?
I think it can. If the suffering is done in faith – that is, throughout the suffering we place our trust in God – then I think we are participating in the sense that we are willing to suffer and to trust God in the midst of suffering, even as Jesus trusted the Father. . .
In regard to the man born blind (John 9), the question was asked of Jesus, “Who’s sin was it, this man’s or his parents’, that he was afflicted with blindness?” Jesus said it was neither. In other words, the question was a false dilemma. And those who asked it were trying to reduce to two options something that had more than two. There was another option. Jesus said, “It wasn’t because of his sin or his parents’ sin. This person was born blind so that the power of God and the grace of God may be made manifest.” That person was suffering not from persecution. His suffering was used by God to bring honor and glory to Christ.
I mention this instance because it is a clear biblical case in which suffering has theological value – not merit, but value – insofar that it is useful to the purposes of God. Christ himself tells us that we are going to have afflictions and suffering in this world. He certainly indicates that we are going to suffer persecution, and he gives a particular blessing to that in the Sermon on the Mount, saying that the reward will be great. He also indicates that there will be other kinds of suffering that come our way and that we are suffering in him and with him.
R.C. Sproul, Now, That’s a Good Question, pp. 473-475
I’ve gone back and forth with myself several times about posting this – even I think an argument could be made that I’m applying this particular sermon too broadly. But I’ve decided to post it to see what you think.
In the end, I hope at least this is clear: God is entirely trustworthy and sovereign. We can live and work and rest with confidence in him, no matter our current circumstance.