Imagine yourself in a hospital bed pining for home, family, and fellowship. Now imagine God offering you the choice between an immediate recovery and return to the routines and pleasures interrupted by your ailment, or an extension of your illness with the result that someone in the hospital will come to Christ through your example and testimony. Or, consider a choice between losing your job and a co-worker coming to Christ through your godly response and witness, or keeping your job and forfeiting the eternal benefit to your colleague. Imagine any hypothetical scenario requiring a costly and painful choice between personal blessings and eternal benefits to others. Which would you choose?
Fortunately, our choices don’t always involve such obvious and costly tradeoffs—God is sovereign and can give us good health and success and bless others with the eternal benefits of salvation in Christ. He provides well-being and good things that we might minister to others. Many godly prayers in Scripture request health, favor, success, and a blessed life, both for others and the person making the request. Moreover, we lack God’s perfect knowledge of how our different trials will specifically affect those around us, nor do we have ultimate control over our circumstances.
Nonetheless, the hypothetical choices above highlight a biblical principle that stands true in every situation, in every trial God brings our way; namely, will we accept that God brings trouble into our life for our good and for the eternal blessing of others, or will we view difficulties as unprofitable and unnecessary hindrances to our earthly desires? Will we complain in anger at God for our suffering, or trust His perfect wisdom that greater issues are at stake, that He will use our misery for greater things? Will we rest in God’s perfect character, knowing that we may not understand the fruit and wisdom of our struggles until we view them clearly in heaven?
We see this principle continually at work in God’s ordering the life of the Apostle Paul. For instance, in comparing the greater blessing of dying and going to heaven with staying on the sinful and painful earth, Paul concludes:
If I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. And convinced of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith” (Phil. 1:22-25).
The Holy Spirit moved Paul to write those words from prison, where a few verses earlier he spoke of the eternal benefits of his captivity:
Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear” (Phil. 1:12-14).
In concluding the great epistle of joy, Paul offers greetings from “the saints” in “Caesar’s household,” recipients of eternal benefits shared by a captive audience of Praetorian guards chained to the preacher of the excellence of Christ. God gave Paul understanding of how He gives trials and suffering for the eternal benefit of others.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer” (2 Cor. 1:3-6).
By God’s grace, Paul rightly saw his sufferings as the means to display the glory of God and the Gospel to others, a compliment to the testimony of God’s spoken and written word to the same glory.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:7-11).
Thus, while God may not specifically and explicitly give us a choice between personal suffering and the eternal benefit of others in a given situation, the underlying principle applies to our every trial. Will we show a watching world the excellence of Christ and the Gospel, God’s perfect wisdom in our circumstances, and the surpassing value of knowing Christ as compared to the temporary blessings of our earthly life? Or, from self-centered disappointment at the loss of personal comfort, will we complain and impugn God in our words and attitude, squandering a divine appointment that could bring eternal blessings to observers? Will we disregard how all things not only work together for our good, but the good of others when we honor God in the midst of our troubles? No one should desire pointless and arbitrary suffering, but when God brings troubles our way for a greater purpose, may we choose His honor and the blessing of others over disappointment at our loss. May we consider others as we “consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18), and may we rest in the knowledge of God’s infinite love in Christ, to whom belongs the glory in every circumstance.
Unless noted otherwise, Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, © Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1988, 1995. Used by permission.
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