"You deserve compensation for your suffering," according to some lawyers' ads on television these days. "If you hit your hand on a doorpost; if you cut your finger on your MasterCard when you're using it; if you run over your toe with a grocery cart; if you put hot coffee between your thighs, drive off and spill some on you, it's not your fault. We ought to sue somebody. Somebody ought to pay for it. So come to us. We will take care of your problem."
Then they say, "We'll get you a little additional compensation for your pain and your suffering," as if somehow or other pain and suffering were not a normal part of life.
The Bible makes it clear that if we're serious about our faith, we'll suffer.
Who says we ought to get paid for our sufferings? You can make a strong case that this is an antibiblical concept. When Paul meets Christ on the road to Damascus, he is struck blind. Jesus says, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" He blinds Paul and sends him off to Damascus. Then Jesus goes immediately to Ananias in Damascus.
Here's what Jesus does not say to Ananias. "I want you to show him what a great success he's going to have as a missionary. I want you to tell him how many folks he's going to move towards God. I want you to show him what a great name he's going to make for himself and what heights of fame he'll reach."
No. What Jesus says is, "I will show him how much he must suffer for my name's sake."
Remember what Jesus said to Timothy? "All who would live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer." In Philippians 3 Paul says, "I want to know C and the power of his resurrection." And a lot of us would say, "Yeah, I want to know the power of his resurrection too. I want to live a strong Christian life. I want God to pour on the power." And we forget that the next thing Paul says is this: "... and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings." You realize there is a powerful spiritual principle. Nobody ever gets resurrection until they first have a death.
Paul mentions 23 different ways he suffered. Some of us say, "Thank God I didn't have to go through all those things." Others are saying, "I wonder why I don't suffer any more, if all who live a godly life in Christ Jesus suffer?" Maybe you're thrown off by the whips and the rods and the shipwrecks. We don't have much of that in our day. But remember the New Tribes missionaries Tim VanDyke and Steve Welsh who were kidnapped for sharing Christ last year in Colombia, and martyred last month. There are still some folks who are willing to expose their lives to intense sufferings for the cause of Christ.
Why did Paul expose his life to such sufferings when he could have had it easy?
Why did Paul expose his life to such sufferings? Why would he go through this? In verse 28 he begins to give us the answer.
"Besides everything else, I faced daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches." There it is. He's saying, "I love these people. I'm concerned about these people. And whatever it takes to take care of them, whatever it takes to get the Gospel to them, I'll do it, because these folks need Christ."
You realize Paul could have missed all these sufferings. He was a sail maker, a tent maker; he could have had a great life of comfort and ease. But somehow or other he said, "I'm going to choose, instead, to take all of these sufferings, because I love these people."
If we lived as if we really longed to rescue a soul from hell, then the buffeting would begin at once for us. The reason a lot of us say, "I don't have any suffering for Jesus," may reflect the level of depth and concern we have for the souls of others.
A few weeks ago, the television series, ER, had a series of stories based on what it costs a doctor to be involved in saving lives in the emergency room. Dr. Green, working 100 hours a week was losing his family, and Dr. Ross was struggling with his emotions. And he got into an assault charge.
But Dr. Benton, an AAmerican doctor, was the focus of that evening's show. He was having a tough time. He works 100 hours a week, then he goes home to take care of his dying mother. He and his sister are fighting over who takes care of Mom the most. She's always mad at him saying "You're never here when we need you. All you do is work down at that hospital. You don't keep up your end of the load."
Mom's birthday party is coming up and his sister makes him promise he'll be at the party.
The next day it's quitting time, but another case gets rolled into the emergency room. It's a white man, a skinhead. He's been stabbed in the heart during a gang fight. They move him to the operating table in that emergency room. There stands Dr. Benton, the AAmerican doctor, and an AAmerican nurse getting ready to put the IV in.
(They used the word that evening on television that really sinks home. I'm going to use this word, though I don't approve of it.) They roll him over. Tattooed on this skinhead's arm, with other words: "Die, Nigger, Die."
Everybody in the emergency room reads the words together. What's he going to do? He looks at the others and says, "Folks, we've got a job to do. Let's do it." Then he cuts the skinhead's chest open and saves his life.
Dr. Benton goes home. The party's been over for an hour, and his sister lets him have it. She doesn't want an explanation. She storms out of the room. And Dr. Benton says, "Can you beat this? I missed my mother's birthday party to save the life of a guy with those words tattooed on his arm."
I guess that's how it is if you're a doctor and you're going to dedicate yourself to saving lives. There will be some emotional, some mental, some physical costs that you've never once imagined you'd face.
That's what you and I as Christians may say when we get serious about the value of people's lives. Like Paul, we're going to experience some buffetings we never really signed on for in the beginning. What does this passage say to us?
You realize that in our day the value of a human soul is up for grabs. How much is a soul worth? We're fighting this in our society, but somehow we're losing. In the United States, we abort babies. What does that say about their value? But after a child is born, we'll go to heroic efforts to save him or her. We'll put $500,000 new heart and lung transplant for a little child, if that's what it takes. What's the value here?
I heard Dr. Dean Odell encouraging women, "Get your mammograms. It can save your life." He went on to say that statistics show, last year, it cost $1.2 million in mammograms for every life we save. Then he asked, "Is it worth it?" Then he said, "I don't know, but, ladies, get your mammogram."
What is the value of a soul?
What is the value of a soul?
Paul put that perspective in 1 Corinthians 9:22. Paul writes: "To the Jews I become like a Jew, to win some Jews. To those under the law, I'll become like one under the law, although I'm not under the law. If that's what it takes to win some of those under the law. For the weak, I'll become weak to win some of the weak. Why, in fact, I'll become all things to all people if that's what it takes to somehow win some." Paul said, "Whatever it takes to save a soul, it's worth it."
Have you ever prayed, "Dear God, would you please give me a sense of what it would be like for folks who end up in hell?" If God were to grant that to some of us, we would realize that folks we rub shoulders with, the people in our families, who know not Christ would go on to an eternity in hell.
The truth is, some of us are more concerned about the condition of our cars than we are with the condition of our neighbors' souls.
Ralph Neighbour tells the story of Jack, a businessman in his community, who got cancer, lost his job, and all of his life savings.
Neighbour and one of his deacons went to visit Jack. Finally the deacon said, "Jack, you've talked a lot about how little time you have left here on the earth. I wonder if you've prepared your soul for life after death?"
When the deacon said that, Jack lost it. "You Christians. That's all you want to talk aboutlife after death. Why don't you and your God become concerned about me while I'm in the here and now?! Not to mention my physical problems, I'm about to leave a wife penniless. I'm leaving a daughter with no funds for college." With that, he kicked them out.
A couple of weeks later, the deacon called Neighbour and said, "Let's go back and visit him again." When the door opened, the deacon apologized profusely. "I obviously struck some tender nerves, and I didn't mean to do that. Forgive me. But I want you to know we've been working on your problem since then. Your first problem is where your family is going to live after you die. We want you to know we've contacted a realtor in our church who has agreed to sell your house and donate the commission back to your family.
"We've arranged for a number of the men in our church to make all the monthly house payments until your house sells. We've contacted the owner of an apartment house in your neighborhood. He's agreed to give your wife and your daughter a apartment and an $850 a month salary for collecting rent and coordinating some of the repairs. The income from the sale of your house will be much more than enough to take care of your daughter's college education. We just want you to know your family will be cared for after you're gone."
Jack broke down and cried like a baby. He died shortly thereafter. He never did give his life to Christ, but his widow and his daughter were so impressed by the love and compassion and concern of some Christians who cared, that it wasn't too long until they gave their lives to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
How much is a soul worth to you? Paul learned the value of a human soul.
Romans 1:16 says, "I'm not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ. It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes it." In other words, I believe with all my heart that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a powerful gospel and that everybody needs it. It's a transforming gospel. It will take folks from the depths of society to the heights of heaven.
There was a man who was struggling desperately with alcohol. His family was just being decimated. Some friends picked him up, began to share the Gospel with him. He gave his life to Christ and his life was transformed. After a while he went back to some of his drinking buddies. He said, "Hey, let me tell you what Jesus Christ has done for me." And he began to share a bit about the transforming power of the Gospel.
One of his friends began to laugh and say, "Hey, don't you tell us we shouldn't drink. Nothing's wrong with drinking. Jesus turned water into wine." And the man replied. "I really don't know about that. But I do know my wife and children are impressed because in our house Jesus Christ has turned beer into furniture." That's the transforming power of the Gospel.
One day Paul is on his way to kill Christians, but meets Jesus on the Damascus road. Inside, he's turned 180 degrees, now he's on the way to save folks. His message is, "Let me tell you what happened to me. My life's been transformed."
We often don't understand the power of the gospel because we aren't transformed.
I think the reason a lot of us don't know how much folks need the Gospel, to experience its transforming power, is because we have never been transformed. We're just like we've always been. Nothing's changed. Why do I need the Gospel? It hasn't made any difference in my life. You don't need this stuff.
If your life's really been transformedand the essence of the Gospel is, when you meet Christ you're never the same againif you've really been transformed by the Gospel of Christ, you realize folks need this stuff. They need the Gospel. It's the only thing that can transform and give us the power to live here and the life to live over there.
I've noticed among many Christians the insidious thought that's been creeping in: A loving God would never send anybody to hell. Let them believe whatever they want to, and when they die God's going to sort it out and everything's going to be fine.
Hold it. Where does that come from? That's not what the Bible teaches. Paul said, "It's not going to be fine. They must get the Gospel. And if I have to suffer to get it to them then, so be it, because souls are invaluable."
I think of Jesus. He couldn't have made it any plainer. John 14:6: "I am the way. I am the truth. I am the life. No one comes to the Father but by me."
In fact, the Bible gives us an interesting picture of Christ. There will come a time when Jesus Christ will be casting folks into hell because they didn't receive him. On the other hand, he's here to save folks from hell with his arms outstretched, saying, "Listen, I am the only way to avoid this." Paul knew that. That's why Paul said, "I'll suffer whatever it takes to get these folks the Gospel."
Remember John 15:13, where Jesus says, "Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends"? How many times the Bible ties love and suffering together in the same picture, and it's always the picture of the cross. Whenever the Bible wants to talk about love, it always goes to one place.
You want to talk about love? Again and again it ties it right back to the cross of Christ. What better picture is there of love than Jesus Christ on the cross, taking all the sin of all the world? Because, you see, there's no greater love than when one person gives his life for somebody else. So, by taking all the sin of all the world, he suffers there in our place, he died for us. And when the Bible wants to talk about love, it always goes straight to that cross.
That's what Isaiah 53:46 is about: "He was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our sins. The punishment that brought us peace was on him. All we like sheep have gone astray. Everybody goes his own way. And the Lord has laid upon Jesus the sins of us all."
What does this last phrase mean: "The Lord has laid upon him the sins of us all"? I used to puzzle with that. How could God do that?
When I was a children's pastor, one of our bus captains had a horrific experience on Lake Dallas. A big storm came, the boat made a quick turn and he was thrown into the water. He hit the water, and all of a sudden his friend in the boat drove away and left him there. His friend did throw him a life preserver, but he was in the middle of this lake in a terrible storm.
They discovered later that the steering linkage broke. That's what caused the boat to turn and flip him out. That's why the boat kept going. But he didn't know that then.
He was in the water all night long. The next morning, he washed up unconscious on the shore. He was in the hospital when I saw him. Bob Morgan said to me, "Roger, you know those stories that say when you face death, your whole life flashes before your eyes? Well, it's true.
"I hit the water and my friend sailed away. I knew I was going to die. Roger, in ten seconds my whole life flashed before my eyesmy childhood, my adolescence, my teenage years, my college, my working years, my kids. It was all there, in ten seconds."
I heard that and thought, Wow. If God could have Bob Morgan's life flash before his eyes in ten seconds, it's not tough for God to take all the sin of all the world and hang it on Jesus' back in three hours. All the sins from Pearl Harbor to Nagasaki to Hiroshima to World War I to Bosnia to Uganda to the holocaust. Bangladesh. Laos. It's all there in three hours.
The Bible says if you want to talk about love, then you go to the cross.
John Payton was a student in England. He was finishing seminary and God said, "I want you to go to the mission field. I want you to go to the New Hebrides Islands."
John Payton said, "New Hebrides Islands? God, those are I inhabited by cannibals. You want me to go there? Are you sure?"
God said, "Yes."
So he gathered up his young bride and got on a sailing ship, and was let off on the New Hebrides Islands. The ship sailed away and he and his wife were alone. How do you start? You don't stick up a sign on the beach that says, "Sunday school next Sunday, right here." He didn't know their language; they didn't know his.
His wife gave birth to their first child, who contracted a tropical disease and died two weeks later. Two days later his wife died. Payton wrote in his biography: "I slept on their graves for three nights to keep the natives from digging them up and eating them." Then he wrote, "God, how far does love go? How far does obedience and commitment to Christ have to go?"
In God's providence, there was an outcast from one of the tribes who met Payton, and became friends. The native taught John Payton some of the language. John Payton stayed on New Hebrides Islands for years. After that, he wrote, "I do not know of a single native in these islands who has not made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ."
Maybe we say it with broken hearts, "God, why are there no blessings, no fruits in my life?" or, "God, why are there no sufferings for Christ?" You realize, of course, the principle: no one gets the blessings without some buffeting. But the buffetings are worth it.
Because, number one, we must learn the value of a human soul. Number two, we must understand the value of that Gospel. And number three, we must experience the value of love.
Remember George Orwell, who wrote 1984? He described an experience near the end of his life which illustrates human lostness. Orwell writes:
"A wasp was sucking jam on my plate when I cut him in half. He paid no attention, merely went on with his meal while a tiny stream of jam trickled out his severed esophagus. Only when he tried to fly away did he grasp the dreadful thing that had happened to him."
The wasp and people without Christ have much in common. Severed from their souls, but greedy and unaware, people continue to consume life's sweetness. Only when it's time to fly away will they grasp their dreadful condition.
That's why Paul said, "I'm willing to suffer at any price to get the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a needy world." May his suffering speak volumes to us.
Roger Barrier is pastor of Casas Adobes Baptist Church in Tucson, Arizona. He is a contributor to the Leadership Handbooks of Practical Theology.
(c) Roger Barrier
Preaching Today Tape #164
A resource of Christianity Today International