STUDY THIRTEEN: HOW SHOULD WE LIVE?

© Rosemary Bardsley 2020

Suffering of various kinds is the normal context in which we live. In different cultures and different places the kinds of suffering also differ, but wherever we live we suffer. Life is a constant struggle in one way or another, whether physical, financial, relational or psychological.

It is in this context of perennial suffering that God commands us to believe in him, and, believing, to also live for him. All of his commands are given in the context of suffering. All of his commands are given in the context where trust and obedience are not easy. And it is in this context of suffering that the integrity of our faith is either disproved or demonstrated.

A. PERSISTENCE IN FAITH

A.1 Job
The book of Job is a testimony to the persistence of true faith. It is not about perfect faith. It is not about faith that does not fluctuate. It is not about easy faith. It is about true, God-given faith.

From Job we learn:

That God affirmed Job as his servant and a man of true faith (chapters 1 & 2).

That Satan accused Job of fake faith that would not endure suffering (chapters 1 & 2).

That God at the end still affirmed Job as his servant, and as one who said what was right about God, despite the ups and downs of his faith and his many anguished questions (42:7, 8).

That Job’s faith, despite the difficulties and fluctuations, persisted.

Read these verses from Job. How does he express his faith?
1:21

2:10

9:4 – 10

10:8 – 12

13:15

17:3

19:25 – 27

23:3 – 7

 

23:10

26:7 – 14

All of this is in a personal life context where there was no visible evidence of God’s goodness and love. God, in fact, seemed to have gone totally silent. Only Job’s wife and his friends, all of whom had joined the devil in his destructive accusations, had anything to say. [For further on Job go to these studies. ]

 

A.2 Psalms
But Job is not the only example of the endurance of true faith in spite of negative life circumstances.

If we read the Psalms, we see that many of them are expressions of faith spoken in the context of fear and danger. Many refer to some kind of suffering, threat or distress, alongside of confident statements of trust in God.

Look, for example, at these Psalms. What is the life context in which faith in God is expressed?
Psalm 3

Psalm 4

Psalm 6

Psalm 27

 

A.3 Old Testament heroes of faith
Hebrews, with the purpose of encouraging persistence in faith, devotes a whole chapter to reminding us of some of the biblical heroes of faith. All of these persisted in faith despite the suffering they experienced and despite the fact that they did not receive, in this life, what God had promised them.

Read Hebrews 11. What does it say about the endurance of faith in contexts that challenged faith?

 

 

 

 

 

A.4 Jesus and the apostles
Both Jesus and the apostles repeatedly refer to the persistence of true faith. In their teaching we see clearly that the kind of ‘faith’ that is temporary, that gives up when the going gets tough, is not, and never was, true faith. Very straight warnings are given against the kind of superficial ‘faith’ that gives in and gives up under pressure.

A.4.1 What Jesus said
What insight or warnings did Jesus give about the endurance of genuine faith? And what is it that brings to light faith’s integrity or lack of integrity?
Matthew 10:17 – 22

Matthew 13:20 – 22

Matthew 24:9 – 13

 

John 6:60 – 71

 

A.4.2 What the apostles said
The apostles encourage us to stand firm, to not lose heart, to not give in to the pressure of the hardships and suffering we encounter. As they understand ‘faith’, true faith keeps holding on to Jesus.

How did the apostles encourage us to hold on to faith in Christ? What did they conclude about faith that gives up?
2Corinthians 4:1, 7 – 18

 

 

Ephesians 6:10 – 17 (we will look further at these verses in section E below)

 

Philippians 1:27

 

Philippians 4:1

1Thessalonians 3:7, 8

2Thessalonians 2:15

1John 2:13,14

1John 2:18 – 25

 

1John 5:4,5

 

From the above texts we see that the apostles understood the importance of holding fast to God’s truth, holding fast to the truth about God revealed in Jesus Christ and his gospel. To turn aside from that truth reveals that a person had never really understood and really believed that truth. True faith is not concerned about itself, nor does it gain its significance from itself. True faith is all about him in whom we believe.

A.4.3 The warnings in Hebrews
The original readers of the letter to the Hebrews were being persecuted by both the Romans and the Jews. The pressure to return to the traditions and safety of Judaism was great. In the context of this strong pressure the writer reminds them of the utter superiority of Jesus Christ and his salvation, and warns them repeatedly not to give in to that pressure and give up on their faith in Jesus Christ.

What did the writer say to warn and encourage these believers?
Because Jesus is the eternal God
2:1 – 3

Because Jesus is our perfect human representative and substitute
3:1

3:6

3:7, 8

3:12 – 14

4:1, 2

4:11

Because Jesus is the ultimate and constant high priest/mediator
4:14

6:1 – 4

6:4 – 6

6:9 – 12

Because the blood of Jesus, our great priest, is permanently and completely effective
10:19 – 23

 

Because those who truly believe keep on believing
10:24 – 39

 

The writer points out that what is threatening these Hebrew Christians is the sin of unbelief. If they turn back to Judaism, putting their trust in its rituals, this will nullify their claim to believe in Jesus Christ. He is confident that they do have genuine faith, and therefore also confident that they will not give in and give up their faith. [For discussion of these strong warnings go here.]

A.5 Revelation – those who ‘overcome’
When we turn to the book of Revelation we find repeated references to those who ‘overcome’. This concept of overcoming refers to those whose faith overcomes all the obstacles to faith – faith that is still there despite the doubts and the fears, despite the deceptions of the evil one, despite the physical persecution, despite the extended delay of Christ’s promised return. While the evil one does his worst to deceive, tempt, accuse, destroy, true faith, though often struggling, ultimately overcomes everything that is thrown in its path, everything that says that faith is foolish, everything that says that God is not there or that God does not care, everything that shouts that it would be far, far easier to give in and go with the flow, to join the majority that is hurtling on to judgment in its deliberate ignorance of God.

Read Revelation 2 and 3. What is promised to those who ‘overcome’?
2:7

2:11

2:17

2:26 – 28

3:5

3:12

3:21

And also, 21:6, 7

 

These promises parallel promises made elsewhere in Scripture as part of salvation. They are not additional promises for some super-spiritual believers, but promises given to all who are believers. The ‘overcomers’ are the ‘believers’, because true faith endures. True faith overcomes all the obstacles to faith. True faith overcomes the evil one by the blood of the Lamb and by the testimony of Jesus (12:10, 11). True faith, irrespective of how weak or small it is, is still there at the end. Its strength is not in itself, but in him in whom it believes.

Karl Barth made some instructive comments about the nature of faith:

‘And faith is concerned with a decision once for all. Faith is not an opinion replaceable by another opinion. A temporary believer does not know what faith is. Faith means a final relationship. Faith is concerned with God, with what He has done for us once for all. That does not exclude the fact that there are fluctuations in faith. But seen with regard to its object, faith is a final thing. A man who believes once believes once for all. … One may, of course, be confused and one may doubt; but whoever once believes has something like a character indelibilis. He may take comfort of the fact that he is being upheld. Everyone who has to contend with unbelief should be advised that he ought not to take his own unbelief too seriously. Only faith is to be taken seriously; and if we have faith as a grain of mustard seed, that suffices for the devil to have lost his game.’ Pp 20, 21, Dogmatics in Outline, SCM Press 1969.

[For further about ‘those who overcome’ see section C.5 of this study.
For assurance that Jesus will never let go of those he has redeemed revisit  Study 10 Section C.]

 

B. NON-RETALIATION

A repeated theme in the New Testament teaching about suffering caused by other people is the attitude of non-retaliation that God expects of us. This is taught both negatively – for example, don’t return evil for evil – and positively – for example, love your enemies. In both the negative and positive commands the example of Jesus’ attitude is put before us.

From these verses answer these questions:

[1] What are we commanded to do or not to do?
[2] What reason or example is given for this attitude of non-retaliation?
[3] What makes it easy or difficult for you to obey each command?

Matthew 5:38 – 42

 

 

Matthew 5:43 – 48; Luke 6:27 -36

 

 

Matthew 6:14, 15

 

Matthew 18:15

 

Romans 12:12 – 21

 

 

Ephesians 4:31 – 5:2

 

 

Colossians 3:12 – 14

 

 

1Thessalonians 5:15

2Timothy 2:23 – 26

 

1Peter 2:12

1Peter 2:18 – 23

 

 

1Peter 3:9

1Peter 3:13 – 18

 

 

C. NOT CAUSING SUFFERING

Because a lot of our suffering is caused by our fellow humans, even by our fellow-believers, there are scattered commands against being the cause of suffering. We ought not, by our attitudes, words and actions, add to the suffering.

Like the non-retaliation commanded, this avoidance of causing suffering is also demonstrated by Jesus Christ.

The prophet Isaiah spoke of his gentleness in the presence of weakness and seeming uselessness: ‘A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out’ (42:3).

John reports Jesus’ refusal to add to the suffering of the woman caught in adultery: ‘… neither do I condemn you …’ (John 8:1 – 12).

Luke reports how he championed the unexpected guest at a Pharisee’s dinner party, when everyone else criticized and rejected (Luke 7:36 – 50).

 

Check these verses. How do they warn us against being the cause of suffering?
Matthew 18:6, 7

Romans 14:1 – 3, 19 – 31

 

Romans 15:1 – 3

1Corinthians 6:1 – 8

1Corinthians 10:32, 33

Colossians 3:12 – 15

1Thessalonians 4:3 – 6

James 1:1 – 7

James 3:5 – 12

James 3:13 – 18

James 4:1, 2

James 5:1 – 6

James 5:7 – 9


An important aspect of not causing suffering to others is the suffering we cause others by our wrong religious perceptions and our wrong religious expectations. This abusive aspect of spiritual error is the focus of Study 9. Unbiblical and unrealistic perceptions and expectations have a very debilitating impact on both ourselves and others. This study looks at this in greater detail.

 

D. EXPRESSING COMPASSION AND MERCY

During the three years of his ministry, Jesus, filled with compassion, intervened in human lives, reversing their suffering.

He made the blind see.
He made the deaf hear.
He made the dumb hear.
He made the crippled whole.
He made the leper clean.
He made the dead live.
He fed the hungry.
He saved those threatened by the raging sea.
He taught the ignorant.

Every one of those he healed and helped would suffer again; and they would all die. But that did not stop Jesus from relieving the suffering when it confronted him. Always, he was motivated by compassion. Time and again we read that Jesus was ‘moved with compassion’ towards people who were suffering.

Read these verses. What moved Jesus to compassion/mercy?
Matthew 9:36

Matthew 14:14

Matthew 15:32

Matthew 24:30

Luke 7:13

 

As his followers, we are to act towards those who are suffering with similar compassion, relieving suffering where we can, empathizing with them in their suffering.

How do these verses instruct us to act towards those who are suffering?
Micah 6:8

Matthew 18:32, 33

Luke 10:25 – 37

Ephesians 4:32 – 5:2

1John 3:16 – 18

 

E. SURVIVING SUFFERING

E.1 The word of God
Whatever the cause of our suffering, all suffering is a potential tool in the hands of the evil one in his attempt to undermine and destroy our faith in God. As the members of God’s kingdom, we are the targets of Satan’s attacks. He is, Peter says, like a roaring lion, prowling around, looking for someone to devour (1Peter 5:8).

In this context in which every believer lives, the Bible is our survival guide.

It protects us against the deceptions of the evil one, telling us what to believe and what not to believe.

It protects us against the accusations of the evil one, affirming that Jesus Christ is our righteousness.

It protects us against the confusion generated by the evil one, reminding us that Jesus Christ is the one way to the one God, that there is one God, and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.

It strengthens us against the attacks of the evil one, assuring us that nothing in the whole universe, whether seen or unseen, whether physical or spiritual, can sever us from God and the love that he has lavished upon us in Christ.

It delivers us from the temptations of the evil one, instructing us how we should live and how we should not live.

In Ephesians 6:10 – 17 Paul gives a clear statement about the power of God’s truth to protect and defend us against the onslaughts of the evil one. Here Paul speaks of being ‘strong in the Lord and in his mighty power’, of putting on the ‘full armour of God’. It is this full armour of God that enables us to take our stand against the devil’s schemes. It is this full armour of God that when the day of evil comes enables us to stand our ground.

What is this full armour of God? It is nothing of or about ourselves; it is all about God.

It is the belt of truth. Paul is not talking here about our telling the truth, the opposite of our telling lies. He is talking, rather, of God’s truth. That same truth about which Jesus said ‘I am … the truth’ (John 14:6). It is the totality of truth contained and revealed in Jesus Christ our Lord (Colossians 2:3). This is the truth that protects us from the devil’s deceptions.

It is the breastplate of righteousness. Again, Paul is not speaking of our personal righteousness. He had long since ceased to see his perceived personal righteousness as having any power or significance. He had long since counted it dung (Philippians 3:7 – 9). Paul is here speaking of that perfect righteousness, the righteousness of Christ credited to all who believe, a righteousness from God, apart from law, that is by faith from first to last (Romans 1:16,17; 3:19 – 24). This is the righteousness, the justification, the ‘not-guilty’ declaration, that protects us against the devil’s accusations.

It is our feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. This is not our personal willingness to be engaged in proclaiming the gospel. Rather it is the peace with God established by the gospel. Knowing this peace, knowing that we are now and forever reconciled to God by the death of his Son, nothing the devil says or does to us can undo, reverse or destroy this relationship with God which is ours in and through Jesus Christ our Lord. [The Roman soldiers’ footwear had spiked soles, giving stability even when under attack, even when the ground beneath their feet was rough.] As Paul says in Romans 5:1 ‘… we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ This absolute peace with God gives us stability, keeps us standing, even when under attack by the evil one.

It is the shield of faith. Again, this is not our act of believing. The Greek text read ‘the shield of the faith’. The term ‘the faith’ is a reference to the entire Christian belief system contained in the Bible. It is the truth content on which Christian faith is grounded and which Christian faith believes; it is this that is our shield against the evil one, when he attacks us with his lies and accusations – his ‘flaming arrows’.

It is the helmet of salvation. The complete salvation that is ours in Christ Jesus. All that Jesus has done for us through his life, death, resurrection and ascension protects us against the evil one. Yes. He still attacks. But his attacks are powerless to undo the multi-faceted salvation we have in Christ – access to the Father, adoption as children, atonement, eternal life, forgiveness, justification, peace with God, reconciliation, redemption, regeneration, sanctification, the indwelling Spirit. Such is the completeness and permanence of the work of Christ, that those who are his are his forever. No one can snatch us out of the hand of him who saved us and saving us made us his own precious treasure. Knowing this, understanding this, we know also that this salvation protects us forever against all attempts of our former master to reclaim us for himself.

It is the sword of the Spirit, the word of God. Our only defense, our dagger with which to defend ourselves when pushed into a corner by the evil one, is the word of God. We don’t go looking for a fight with the evil one; this ‘sword’ is not a broad sword, built for attack. But when the evil one puts pressure on us, when he pushes us to give in and give up, our only defensive weapon is God’s word, by which we deflect his attack, as Jesus did (Matthew 4; Luke 4).

In 1Peter 5:9 Peter, similarly, instructs us ‘Resist him, standing firm in the faith…’ Note ‘the faith’. We resist the evil one by standing firm on the belief content, the truth about who God is and what he has done.

[See this study  for extended teaching on the armour of God.]

 

E.2 Prayer
Alongside the word of God, the second important key to surviving the attacks of the evil one is prayer.

From these texts, identify the role of prayer in surviving in the context of suffering.
Matthew 4:1 – 11 (note that ‘fasting’ is an expression of prayer)

Matthew 6:9 – 13

 

Matthew 26:36 – 46

Luke 21:34 – 36

Luke 22:31, 32

John 17:8 – 12

Acts 4:23 – 31

Romans 8:22 – 27

Romans 12:12

2Corinthians 1:5 – 11

 

Ephesians 6:18

Philippians 4:4 – 7

Colossians 4:2 – 4

1Thessalonians 5:16 – 18

2Thessalonians 3:1, 2

James 5:7 – 16

Jude 17 – 21

 

F. REDEEMING THE TIME

In Ephesians 5:15 & 16 Paul instructs us ‘Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil …’

Similarly, in Colossians 4:5: ‘Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity…’

In both the word translated ‘making the most’ was translated ‘redeeming’ in the King James translation. It means to buy back, to ransom from loss. Paul used it in Galatians 3:13 – ‘Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law …’

The days, Paul says, are evil. Suffering is the context in which we live, and in which we believe in God.

The evil one would fill our time – our moments, our days, our years – with deception and destruction. But, just as Jesus, during the years of his ministry, made his every moment an expression of his kingdom, so also he here commands us through the apostle Paul, to similarly redeem the time …

To fill each moment with God’s truth and light, redeeming that moment from the deception that holds it in error and darkness.
To fill each moment with the love of God, redeeming it from the hatred generated by the evil one.
To fill each moment with words that build up, redeeming it from the destructive intentions of the evil one.
To fill each moment with forgiveness, redeeming it from the accusations of the evil one.
To fill each moment with joy and peace, redeeming it from the hopelessness that comes from the evil one.

How are we to do this? How are we to step out and live in the midst of our own suffering, and in the suffering world, and set each of our days free, redeem our time, turning our suffering into something that, rather than fulfilling the purpose of the evil one, fulfills the good purpose of our loving Father, the Sovereign Lord?

Suffering comes. Suffering is. But what we do with it, how we live with it, either dishonours God or glorifies him. Either promotes the purpose of the evil one, or the purpose of God. At one level, the whole of the Bible is the answer to this question. It tells us how to live as the people of God in a world full of sin and suffering. It instructs us how to honour him and be faithful to him, when the evil one would pull us down, accuse us, deny our faith, and wrench us away from God.

Sections A to E above are all relevant here.

In addition, there are a number of texts that help us to understand something of God’s good purpose in allowing our suffering. As Paul tells us in Romans 8:28, ‘we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him …’

Consider or discuss these verses about what God can achieve through our suffering.

The book of Job: Job’s suffering both confirmed his faith, and resulted in Job’s knowledge of God, and therefore his faith in God, being greatly expanded and enriched. The faith that he has at the end of the book, although the same faith in the same God, is a much more robust and grounded faith than at the beginning. Before his suffering he didn’t need to think about his faith and his knowledge of God. Believing in God was easy when everything about his life was wonderful. But his great suffering forced him to consider deeply what he really believed, and to cry out to God. He thought he needed God to explain why he was suffering so greatly; but God knew that what he needed was to have his knowledge of God both confirmed and enlarged. Go to the Studies on Job for more about this.

 

Genesis 45:5 – 7; 50:19 – 2: Joseph suffered greatly because of the sinful actions and attitudes of others, but God worked his good purpose out in and through it all.

 

2Corinthians 1:3 – 7: our suffering enables us to be compassionate and sympathetic towards others who are suffering. (This parallels what Hebrews 2:18 says about Jesus’ experience of the normal human life.)

 

2Corinthians 4:7 – 12; 12:7 – 10: our suffering keeps us from getting conceited and forces us to depend on God, not on ourselves.

 

Hebrews 12:4 – 13: while Satan’s purpose in our suffering is to accuse and destroy us, God takes hold of the same suffering and uses it to grow us up as his children. Note that ‘discipline’ is not judgement or condemnation; it is the raising up (education and training) of children to bring them to maturity. The Greek verb is paideuo, related to pais (child). Whatever we are suffering, and whatever its source and its cause, God in his sovereignty, power and love uses it to grow and mature us.

 

Matthew 5:43 – 48: To love where there is hatred, to do good where evil has been done, demonstrates that we are indeed children of our Father in heaven.

 

Matthew 5:16; 1Peter 2:12: the way we shine the light of Christ into the darkness of human life, the way we live with suffering, results in people seeing that light, seeing that goodness, and giving glory to God. It demonstrates the existence and the power of God.

 

And this is the one question, amid all the questions, the one prayer among all the other prayers, that can direct us when we suffer: Lord, how can I best honour you in this situation?

In many instances, we cannot stop the suffering. We cannot change it. We cannot control it. But we can commit ourselves to our heavenly Father, and say ‘Lord, I want to glorify you by how I live in these circumstances.’

How we live in response to this prayer can redeem the time, can change the suffering so that it is no longer an instrument of Satan, pulling us down, clothed in darkness, but a tool in the hands of our loving Father through which he shines his light, his love and his life into our personal world and into the world in which we live.