Non-Competitive Suffering Greg Boyd Sermon Transcript
** Speaker: Greg Boyd
** Title: Non-Competitive Suffering
For the past few weeks, we’ve been talking about sharing in Christ’s suffering. While suffering, it can be easy to judge ourselves or others based on how much they suffer. Being connected to God’s plan for your life is the best way to stay away from this type of judgment.
I Love it. You know… I went to Catholic School till Fourth Grade. We had to go to church every morning and we sing that song all the time. Now, I have shared some negative memories of that period of my life but that’s Kind of a warm memory. There’s something of a sign of love although I want reminded of a question I had even when I was a very young boy singing that song in mass, what does it mean when it says, “Gladly for A… we adore him.” I was always wondering “Gladly for A?” Was it written by a Canadian or something? “A!” It makes sense… doesn’t it, ‘A?’ sense…A? Does anyone know what it means? What? “Gladly for A we adore him.” Some said in the last service that it meant “forever.”
Well, God reigns “A!” Alright, here we go. So we’re hovering on these same passages of Scripture that these five verses we’ve had three or four weeks already. This might probably be the last week but I’m not making any promises. You know, I just think this is just the way to say the Word… When you get a text, and you start unpacking and start seeing the depth in it, why be in a hurry? I hope this isn’t boring you. Am I boring you? I hope I’m not boring you. It’s just like “Same five verses here… Come on!!!” But this isn’t about entertainment. This is about digging into the word, right? When you dig in it, you would like to chew on it and let it saturate. I mean, don’t read the Bible like you read a newspaper. This is supposed to be stuff that’s not just for the information. You want to let it saturate and pick up a part and chew on it.
So that’s what we’re doing here like Week No. 4 or No.5 on these same five verses. We’re entitling this message: Non-Competitive Suffering and the meaning of that will become clearer in hopefully, about 20 minutes. I’m going to try to keep some time at the end of this message for some questions and a Q&A thing. I love doing that… and so if you have a question as I am going through this message, text it in and I’ll go through two or three of those at the end of this message depending on how long-winded I get. “A!” Hopefully, the serpent won’t go for “A!”
Colossians Chapter 1:24-29. Now Paul says:
24 Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, We chewed on that several times. We do it… for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—
That’s a nice surfacy covering fluffy thing
26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches
We’ve been talking how glorious they are and how rich they are. of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Christ in you and you in Christ… it’s just glorious.
28 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.
Paul here is seeing that as a leader… as a teacher… and as an apostle, he wants to present everybody on judgment day – fully mature in Christ. He’s going to say “A!” like what we did. And I think that is in some sense, the job of every pastor, leader, and teacher. That’s why Hebrew says, “Now pray for your leaders because they have got to give an account. And so it’s not going to be about, “How many people did you get to attend?” It’s going to be “How mature were they? How many disciples did you make?” They said, “Go and make disciples.” They didn’t say, “Go and make church attenders.” For my sake, I’ll be mature, alright? Or else I’ll be in big trouble.
So Paul says,
29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.
Christ in me is the hope for glory. Christ in me is the all that makes Paul strenuously contend to make everyone mature in Christ… and I’m going to strenuously contend to do that right now. Admonishing and teaching everyone to make them mature in Christ. So pray with me here for a moment: (GREG PRAYS)
Abba-Father, will you use this message to mature us in Christ. And I pray for all who are in this auditorium that you’d use this message to mature them. And that everyone who hears your message through podcast or television, may you use this message to mature them. Grow us in the likeness of Jesus Christ. Use this message to build your kingdom in our hearts and our minds. I pray that you open our hearts… open our ears… that we pay attention. God, we’re going to be reflecting on suffering and that is not a very enjoyable topic. And God, we in our flesh hate suffering, and in this American culture run from it like a plague and yet it’s what you called us to… you called us to suffer as you called Paul to suffer. Fill up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. So will you use this message… Holy Spirit, infuse this message with your authority and use it to build courage in our hearts to suffer, and even a passion in our hearts to suffer. And even as Paul had, a joy in suffering. Help us to crucify our flesh otherwise, this is not going to happen. We surrender all to you this moment, in Jesus name, and all of God’s people say, AMEN!!!
Alright! So we’ve been seeing in the last couple of weeks that salvation is not a “Get out of Hell” FREE Card, a fire insurance policy, or something like that. Salvation is participating in the life of God. Salvation is about sharing in the life of the triune God. We’ve seen that the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit opened themselves up to embrace us. This was the mystery that was kept hidden for ages and generations. But it’s now revealed to us. God from the very start planned on becoming a human being, uniting himself with us in order to take us and unite us to himself. And from the very start, the plan was for us to be in Christ and Christ to be in us… and Christ is in the triune God. So the plan was from the very start for us to be caught in the flow of the love of the triune God. This is absolutely magnificent.
Several weeks ago, I used this analogy of Tim and Leesha, my daughter and son-in-law, and how they opened up the love of their family to embrace this child. They adopted Eden and to squish her into their family the way God squishes us into himself. I’m happy to tell you that as of three days ago, Tim and Leesha have adopted another child. This is Rollins right here. Isn’t he beautiful? Hello Rollins… he’s going to be a basketball player. You can tell that… yeah! He’s a beautiful young boy. That’s magnificent. And so Tim and Leesha and Sage and Eden, they’re welcoming Rollins into their family. They’re embracing him. They’re enveloping him in their love. And now Rollins can participate in the love they have for this family. The same very same love they have for one another, they’re going to have towards Rollins, right? They’re squishing him into their being.
God… Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will squish us into their being. If we will surrender to this, we have a bear hug around us. It’s God’s omnipotent bearhug that’s squishing us to his being so that we participate in the love that God is… the uncreated, unending, infinitely intense love that God is because God is love. And that love is directed toward each and every one of us… and not just towards us but envelopes us so that you are loved with the same love that the Father has for the Son, and the Spirit has for the Son, and the Son has for the Father. We’re caught up in the exact same love. Right now, you’re loved with that kind of a love. You’re swimming in that love. You’re breathing that love. It’s your environment 24/7 right here right now. The mystery that was kept hidden but now revealed. If you surrender your life to Christ, you’ll be enveloped by God’s love which is a perfect love. It couldn’t be more beautiful… it could not be more spectacular… it could not be more awe-inspiring. It’s incomprehensible. The story could not be more beautiful. It’s a story we live in.
God could not possibly give us something that he didn’t already give us… himself. God is just being himself towards us. That infinitely intense love is now turned towards us. And it’s true now not just in the future, it’s true right now. Every second of your life, you’re enveloped in that love. So I encourage us to think about this all the time, to live in this 24/7. Keep an awareness that you are right now, as you’re listening to me… podrishioners… as you are right now jogging, doing the dishes, or whatever you are doing… you are enveloped in the perfect love of God, right now. A love that never began and will never end and never has wavered for one second. You are enveloped in that, right now. Be aware of that. Just be aware of that as you’re listening to me. It changes things. It expands your consciousness. It alters everything as we are aware of this most important fact of our environment. Normally, we are just aware of the physical, right? And we lower our consciousness to just take in that data. And we blog God out so most of the time, we live just like atheists.
We’re just not aware of God. So we need to cultivate this awareness what’s called in the church tradition, “Practicing the Presence of God.” This is to be aware of God’s presence and to surrender to that presence, right now. There’s a bear hug around you. You’re being enveloped. You’re being squished by God… just say “Yes” and yield to that. And just be purposely yielding to the love of God that’s enveloping you. And it changes the way… it reframes everything. It’s just like putting a new frame on a picture that gives it a totally different texture. And so the way you view the people around you, the way you view yourself, the way you view God, the way you experience the world… if you stay aware of this love that’s swirling around you and enveloping you and you’re caught up in this eternal flow, it just changes things. What happens is that as well cultivate a yieldness, a love that is surrendering. We’re inviting God in. It’s already there but we’re inviting God in the way we experience ourselves in the world and that becomes part of our identity. It becomes part of who you are. It begins to define you. And the more of your identity… you let go of that identity you inherited from the world, all that junk… you let go of that and you let this be your identity. You are first and foremost, an adopted child who is being enveloped in the love of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. And as that becomes part of your identity, it changes who you are. You have Christ in you… the Hope of Glory!!!
You’ve got a life in you. You’re caught up in this flow and that pulls you in a certain direction. And as it becomes part of your identity, you have this motivation growing in you to want to love like God loves and to serve like Jesus serves, and to look like Jesus… and to talk like Jesus… and to think like Jesus… and sound like Jesus… and serve like Jesus… and sacrifice like Jesus. That motivation leads us then to sacrifice and serve, and then you discover the joy in that. The joy of just letting go and giving. And now you’re participating in love of God, and you’re participating in the sacrifice of God, and now you’re participating in the joy of God. To do all of that is to simply participate in the glory of God because the glory of God is nothing other than I said last week, the self-sacrificial love of God put on display. It’s the shininess of God’s radiant beauty and we then become mirrors of that as we are caught up in that flow and yield and surrender. Awww…. It’s just beautiful!!! That’s what it is to live for the glory of God. It sounds so religious so I offer the glory to God. But it also means is that you live in a way that is shining with God’s shininess. You’re putting on display that self-sacrificial love.
Alright, so I want you to now move on and talk about… I think this is the last thing we’re going to be talking about in this passage… I don’t know. But I want to talk about this idea about participating in God’s suffering. What does that mean? What does that look like to share in Christ’s suffering?
I want to read a passage that we read last week. Romans Chapter 8 and let’s start there. Paul says:
Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his suffering in order that we may also share in his glory.
So last week I showed how Paul, one of the ways he expresses our union with Christ is he says, “We’re made one spirit with Christ.” Right? We’re joined in spiritual ways with Christ and I used an analogy of these conjoined twins that I saw in an analogy in a documentary where they were joined in the head (their heads were sort of fused) in a way where they shared each other’s experience. When one was tickled, they both laughed. When one hurt, they both cried. They shared these experiences.
And that’s something like what was going on, an analogy of what is going on as we are one spirit in Christ. All that is his becomes ours, and all that are ours become his. There’s a sharing going on. And it’s very, very real. This isn’t poetry. This isn’t metaphor. This is oncological… this is real! So much so that Paul said the marks on his body reflects and participates on the marks on Jesus’ body. His beatings somehow shared in Christ’s beatings that in some wondrous mysterious beautiful way, what Christ went through on the cross, we go through. And as I showed last week, what we go through Christ goes through. There’s this sharing that goes on. We share in his sufferings and with real sharing, we participate with his suffering on the cross not to atone for people’s sin, (he doesn’t need help in doing that), but to carry out his work in the world. To carry out what he did on the cross throughout the world. And this is how we fill up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. We participate in his sufferings to complete what he was doing on the cross… not to atone for sins but to carry his work out into the world. We do that by sacrificing and by suffering.
What we need to see is that sharing in Christ’s suffering. The call to suffer is not just for Paul, not just for the apostles, not just for the early Christians. The call to suffer is not just for the superheroes of Christianity, it’s not just for the missionaries, or the brothers. It’s not just for the folks who are living in countries that are hostile to Christianity. No! The call to suffer (we see it here) is for everybody if you are a child of God. Paul says you are a child of God, “…. if indeed we share in his suffering in order that we may also share in his glory.” Notice the “if… then” clause. “If” we share in the suffering… “that” we may share in the glory. This is for everybody who is a child of God. There is no other way around. If you’re united with Christ, then all that’s Christ’s is yours and yours is his… and that includes his suffering on the cross as part of the deal… as part of the package as you will.
“If… then….” Now the “if…then” clause is not a sort of merit thing like: We have to prove our love for God by suffering in order to merit the glory. We’re not trying to achieve the glory. We’re not trying to purchase the glory. We’re not trying to achieve it in any way. It’s not that kind of an “If” clause. It’s more of a natural cause-and-effect thing. God’s glory is nothing other than his self sacrificial love put on display. So by definition, we put on display that glory… we participate in that glory by suffering. If you suffer, you share in that glory. See how that goes by definition. That’s what God’s glory looks like. And while that full glory won’t be revealed and put on display until the end when the Kingdom comes in fullness… when God wraps up this epic in history. The glory will only unambiguously be put on display then.. so that’s what we’re looking for. But even now we would be participating in the glory by participating in the suffering and you can’t do the one without the other. See how that works. So we are all called to share in Christ’s sufferings and therefore to share in his glory.
So I want to ask the question, “What does that look like for us? What concretely does that look like for us to share in Christ’s suffering?” Now, I’m not going to answer that specific question for about another 10 minutes because I want to set a little of a background here. It isn’t difficult to figure out how to share in Christ’s sufferings when you’re Paul or when you’re just an early Christian in the early church. Because in the early Church, to confess Jesus Christ is Lord is (everybody understood) meant you’re saying that Caesar is not Lord… because you’re supposed to confess as part of the pledge of allegiance that Caesar is lord and Caesar is king. And Jesus comes along and they say that Jesus is Lord and Christ is King… and you can’t have two of them. In the 1st Century, that got a lot of people killed. That’s a dangerous thing to be believing and to be saying. So Paul tells us in his letters, he conveys the truth that in the early church, you had to suffer and even die to follow Jesus. It was all part of the deal.
So Paul tells us how he was imprisoned many times and he was beaten many times. We find out from the early church records, that he was eventually martyred. To follow Jesus means you suffered. It’s not hard to know what it means to suffer with Christ in those kind of situations. Some early Christians were fed to lions in the coliseum. Some were made the sport to the gladiators who found clever ways of executing them. Some were beheaded. Some were burned alive. Nero, he would have his dinner parties. His friends would come and he would take the Christians and put tar on them, and then he’d impale them on posts, and light them on fire and they were called “Roman candlesticks.” It was a big joke. He was burning Christians. My…… it was unthinkable and I don’t know. I think you’d lose your appetite. He was holding dinner parties when all these people were burning. Yuck! But that was the early Christians and they had to suffer like that. We had this one guy who was boiled in oil and his skin was flayed off of him. To pledge allegiance to Christ in the early church meant that you suffered. So it wasn’t hard to figure out what you mean that no one was sitting and wondering about that in the first century. In fact throughout church history, the true children of God have often been subject to terrible-terrible torture, suffering, and persecution often at the hands of other professing Christians.
So for example, I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, one of my favorite groups are the Anabaptists who were the forerunners of the Mennonites. And it’s the church tradition that I almost closely identify with because it’s the only church tradition that doesn’t have any blood on their hands, because they understand that non-violence is at the center of the gospel and I just love this group. But the Anabaptists were persecuted by everybody. They had a few distinctive beliefs that tick everybody off. To the Anabaptists, they believed… they wouldn’t pledge allegiance to their country because they said, “Our allegiance is to the Kingdom of God and we can’t have two.” And they wouldn’t participate in wars and they wouldn’t even defend themselves with the use of force because Jesus told them to turn the other cheek… to love your enemies… to serve your enemies… and to never retaliate. They were the one group that took that seriously and it ticked everybody off. They also believed in adult baptism by immersion. (They were the only group that believed that and that made everyone mad.)
So, the Lutherans, the Calvinists, and the Church of England, and the Catholics… they were always fighting each other out anyway but they all agreed to try and exterminate this group. So they all persecuted the Anabaptists in terrible-terrible ways. I mean we have records of them beaten , imprisoned, beheaded, and burned alive. These were the ways they were put to death by these other Christians now. They would drown them. It’s so funny that they were baptized by immersion, so let’s “immerse” them. So they had these public executions where they drown them to send a warning to everybody, “Don’t ever think of being baptized that way.”
It is really hard for us to get into how they would be so mad about that but they were. So they would take the Anabaptists (whole families of them) out into the lake with the lake surrounded by a bunch of people since this is a public thing. And if the guy was a pastor, they would first execute… they’d tie thehands and feet then throw the children overboard, and then they throw the spouse overboard (so he had to watch first), then throw him overboard… all for the glory of God! (GREG NOW PAUSES FOR A MOMENT.) Well, the Anabaptists never sit down wondering, “What does it mean to suffer for Christ?” They knew… it was obvious in those situations. And the truth is that today, there are roughly… the estimates are around 30 million Christians who have to suffer like that for their faith in countries that are hostile to Christianity. North Korea, for example that heads the top of the list. But Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, and many other places. Christians today often have to suffer. At the very least to be a follower of Jesus, it means you are ostracized by your family or by your community… but also it means you can be imprisoned and you could be publicly tortured or even executed to send out a warning to everybody else, “Don’t ever think of becoming a Christian.” Some folks are locked in prison cells… tiny, cold, and dark prison cells. Go to the “Voicesofthemartys” and other websites, they’ll tell you some of the situations that people are in.
There are thousands and thousands of Christians right now who for the rest of their lives, are going to be in this tiny little cell. Nobody hardly knows about them. They are close to starvation in unthinkable conditions and will be like that for the rest of their lives because they will not renounce their allegiance to Christ. See… there’s no question about what it means to suffer for Christ when you are in a country that is hostile to Christianity. No problem there. No ambiguity there at all.
What does it look like for us? And here I’m talking about we-Christians in the west, specifically in America. So podrishioners, if you’re listening out there (we got like 40 different countries listening to us), this may want to apply to you so just evesdrop in on us and take out whatever you can and pray for us. Because look! We are in a country where we are not persecuted for our faith. So what does suffering look like for us. In fact, we’re in a country that in some ways are the opposite of what Christians have to suffer in other countries. Because in this country, whereas the persecuted Christians have to suffer because of their allegiance to Christ, we live in an environment where for many people, allegiance to Christ means you don’t suffer. Not only do we NOT suffer, but we don’t make suffering a virtue. The sign that you’re blessed is that you don’t suffer. The proof that God’s on your side is that you don’t suffer. The proof that God’s on your side is that you’re comfortable and have wealth. The proof that we’re a favored nation in the minds of many people is that we’re “King of the Hill” or “King of the World-Hill” and that’s the evidence that God’s on our side. It’s the opposite of suffering that for many Christians still to this day, being a Christian means that you don’t just suffer but that you fight for your rights. You try to get as much power as you can to impose your will on others. It’s the opposite of what they go through in hostile countries.
So what does it mean for us in this environment to suffer for Christ? I had several folks last week ask me that question come up. I read Romans 8 last week and they came up last week and said, “I’m worried because I don’t suffer. So does that mean I’m not a real child of God and I won’t share in the glory because I don’t suffer?” And it’s a good question. In fact, I’d be honest with you that in times of my life has haunted me. Did you ever read so many accounts of the “Book of Martyrs.” If you read that book… I remember reading that about 25 years ago and it just talks about Christian martyrs throughout history. You read about the unthinkable things they had to go through out of their allegiance to Christ. The way they had to suffer or be persecuted. When I read books like that, I feel like a loser. You know what I mean? Or does it ever happen to you when you read accounts of some folks who have given up everything for the cause of Christ, and folks who have left the comfort and security of America and given up their retirement and insurance accounts and an income to go serve in impoverished countries. Or even to put themselves in harm’s way by going to countries as missionaries to spread the gospel in an environment that is hostile to Christianity. And even have their families beaten and sometimes executed. And I read about the sacrifices that some have made about the cause of Christ in my life and I feel like a loser because I don’t suffer like that.
Does that mean that I’m not a child of God and I’m not going to share in the glory? That’s an important question because we’re all called to suffer for Christ. I don’t look like I suffer. Shelley and I are pretty generous with our money and our time in furthering the Kingdom and serving the poor. We could do better but we’re pretty generous… but it’s nothing compared to these folks. Are you kidding me? It doesn’t even compare at all. Our house, by world’s standards, is a castle. I eat meals that are by historic standards, the meals of kings. I drive a $2,000 car… for crying out loud. That may be cheap in America, but world’s standards that’s a chariot. There’s no chariot in history that can go as fast as my $2,000 Vibe. (THE CONGREGATION CHUCKLES). You know what I’m saying. And I wear nice clothes! Although most of it is given to me for free but I’m comfortable. I’ve got a secure income. I’ve got a little bit of retirement like I got some insurance. I don’t suffer!!!
So does that mean that I’m not a child of God… I’m not a true child of God? Let me tell you two things and this will answer the question, what does suffering answer for us? There are two things I want us to get here.
Number 1: I have to take seriously the possibility that I am a loser. Maybe I am a loser. Last night someone said, “Amen!” (THE CONGREGATION LAUGHED.) He was a friend of mine and he almost said it loud enough for everyone to hear. Seriously, I have to look at that possibility. I think we all do. It could very well be. Look! We are in an environment that conditions us to chase after and expect comfort and security. That’s the atmosphere we breathe. And it is possible in this pseudo-pagan-Christian culture which we live, it’s possible that we’ve been infected… just possible… maybe even likely we’ve been infected with that. We’ve got to assess our lives that are we in fact missing the call of God… in fact, not sacrificing the way God wants us to sacrifice.
There are so many questions we need to ask ourselves and I encourage you to think about it. I’m going through several questions here and these are the questions that we honestly pray about, think about, and if possible discuss with others because we all need people involved in our lives to help us live out the Kingdom… and the Kingdom is all about community. We need to ask ourselves in dialogue with others:
Are we manifesting God’s self-sacrificial love to the extent God is calling us to?
We also need to seriously ask ourselves:
Have we been (perhaps) co-opted by our self-indulgent, materialistic (pseudo-pagan Christian) culture?
It is also possible that we have been.
Does our life reflect the values of the kingdom or the values of the empire we find ourselves in?
We need to sit down, think about, pray about, and discuss with others these questions in a very honest way.
Are we really seeking first the Kingdom of God (honestly), or are we seeking first our
own comfort and security?
Because that’s what we’re conditioned to seek.
We are conditioned in the Christian-American culture to seek first our kingdom of comfort and convenience and call that the Kingdom of God because of course, God is just all about blessing us. We need to assess all these questions.
Are we really finding all of our identities and all of our worth and security from God’s love, demonstrated on Calvary, or are we to some extent getting our worth and security from our job, our possessions, our bank account, or our achievements? (… and from our retirement accounts and our insurance)
Really, is our security and worth found in Calvary… and Holy Spirit, help us answer this question and help us talk with others:
Are we swimming against the current of this pagan culture, or are we comfortably flowing along with the pagan culture?
We need to ask, not to condemn ourselves or anything but just to be honest and assess the reality of our situation. We have to always ask in community with others:
How are our lives different because we follow Jesus?
Another way of asking that is:
What do we not have that we otherwise would if we weren’t followers of Jesus?
What do we do that we would otherwise not do if we weren’t followers of Jesus?
All of that is a simple way of saying, “How are we sacrificing and suffering for the Kingdom of God? How are we putting the glory of God on display?” because the glory of God is the shininess and the radiance of his self-sacrificial love. These are questions we got to seriously live in because remember, we are all called to this. If you’re a follower of Jesus, this is what you’re called to: To share in his sufferings so you could share in his glory. I don’t think we can ask these questions too seriously and I don’t think we can ask these questions too often… not to condemn ourselves but to honestly assess what’s going on. And if we assess as a matter of fact that we’re not really hearing the call of God. We haven’t really yielded to the self-sacrificial love of God. Our lives aren’t significantly different because we follow the call of Jesus. If we discern that, then pray about and discuss with others what are you going to do about that? How can you immediately begin to change your life so that you are in fact sacrificing more in serving others, and carrying out the work of God. What can you do now individually and with others to put on display the self-sacrificial love of God? What can you do now and what plans can you put in place so that a year from now, your life is going to look different from what it is now? A year from now, you’ll be sacrificing more. And five years from now, you’ll be sacrificing a lot more. Your life will look a lot more Kingdom. So what plans and strategies can you put in place? For some of us, you got to grow into it. It has to take time.
These are the kind of questions that as American Christians, we got to take very very seriously and pray that God help us be honest about assessing our lives. That’s point No. 1. Point No. 2 is this that may surprise some folks, but hear me out:
Number 2: I think it’s wonderful to read, study, learn from, admire, and be inspired by “The Book of Martyrs” or by studying the plight of Christians in Third World countries or in hostile countries… and to look into the sacrifices some people make… and read the heroes of the Christian tradition as wonderful and necessary. But! You also have to be careful of something… I can tell you from experience that the devil can jump over that and drive you into a ground of self-loading that you’re not going to be able to get out. You have to be careful here.
While we need to honestly assess and evaluate our lives as to whether or not we are hearing from God and obeying God… and sacrificing in the way he wants us to sacrifice… while we need to do that all the time, there is nothing to be gained by comparing ourselves with others. There’s nothing to be gained by looking at how people sacrifice and suffer in Third World countries and environments that are hostile to the Christian faith. There is nothing to be gained by comparing yourself with them. Learn from them and be inspired by them. But you see when we compare ourselves, we’re always involved with judgment. “Judgment” is of the devil, and “judgment” is the original sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Whenever we compare ourselves with others, you either end up judging yourself because they’re sacrificing more than you, or you judge them because they’re sacrificing less than you. Any other way, it is unproductive because “Judgment” is the original sin.
Now we Christians tend to be experts at it. We usually talk about judging other people and some are judging themselves. Both have no place in the Kingdom because the reality is this: This is NOT a competition. This isn’t some kind of a sport like Who-gets-to-suffer-the-most Award OR Who-gave-up-the-most Award. Suffering in the Kingdom is not in competitive suffering. We’re not trying to outrun somebody or evaluate ourselves next to somebody. Comparing and assessing can be tools in which the devil locks us in either:
PRIDE – because we sacrificed more than those loser-Christians
CONDEMNATION – because those Christians sacrificed more than me.
Listen to what Paul says in Corinthians 4, it’s beautiful. Paul says,
I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself… It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing (meaning judge no one) before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring light to what is hidden in darkness and expose the motives of people’s hearts. (Reality will be as clear as it is when the Lord comes back.) At that time each will receive their praise from God. (OR whatever they’re going to get from God)
“I don’t even judge myself,” he says because the only one who is in a position to judge is the one who is omniscient… who knows all the variables… and that’s the Lord. So we’re to clasp this judgment-competitive-comparing kind of a thing… there’s no room for it in the Kingdom. Kingdom is not a competitive sport. Suffering the in the Kingdom is non-competitive suffering. The only thing that we should be concerned with is this: Are we sacrificing the way God called us to sacrifice? Are we living where God wants us to live? Are we sharing what God wants us to share? Are we doing what God wants us to do? And are we sacrificing and suffering in the way that God wants us to sacrifice and suffer? That’s all we need to think about.
It’s not a competition whether someone does more or less than you is not your concern. The only thing that matters is are you doing what God calls you to do? It may be more than others or it may be less than others. But the only variable that matters is what is God calling you to do? So long as you’re living what God wants you to live and sacrificing the way God wants you to sacrifice then be content with that. Be inspired by others but don’t be comparing yourselves with anybody.
So it’s like this. Here’s the trick. I know several folks here at Woodland Hills Church who… when they were shopping, they bought a house that was significantly smaller and less expensive than they could afford. They could have gotten a bigger house but they decided to go smaller and not have all the convenience they wanted because they wanted to take that $30,000 or $40,000 that they saved and use it for the Kingdom and serve the poor. It’s wonderful. It’s great! Now compared to the suffering the early Christians went through (that the Anabaptists went through), you can hardly call that a sacrifice. It’s peanuts! That’s nothing. But these people aren’t really First Century Christians or Anabaptists. They’re 21st Century Americans and sorry… you don’t live in a culture wherein you get boiled in oil because you’re a follower of Jesus but that’s not your fault. You’re here and if God calls you to be here, that kind of sacrifice counts. That’s one way of putting on display the self-sacrificial love of God in this culture. You see… that ‘s valid and legitimate and you shouldn’t be comparing yourself to the Anabaptists. I know some folks at Woodland Hills Church who feel called to just buy one car when they could use two, but they wanted to free up resources for the Kingdom. I know some folks who shop at thrift stores when they could easily go to more expensive stores, but they wanted to free up money for the Kingdom and serve the poor. I also know folks who cashed in part of their retirement to give to people in need.
It’s wonderful, beautiful stuff… that’s Kingdom. But it hardly compares to what Christians in North Korea or in other places are going through. Compared to the sacrifices of Christians in persecuted countries, those things are pincey… they’re little. But you shouldn’t be comparing yourself to Christians in North Korea or some other persecuting country. Unless you’re called to go there, then don’t compare yourself with the people who are there. If you’re called to be here, then sacrifice and live out the call of the gospel in this place, context, and time. Doing these sort of things. Doing these sort of sacrifices count. It’s valid. It’s legitimate. You’re suffering for the cause of Christ. You’re putting on display the self-sacrificial love of God. I know of some folks who have been called to not eat meat… not a few of them. I know some people who are called to get their meat from free-range farms because they feel that it’s inconsistent for the Kingdom to support industries that mistreat animals. There are some folks in our congregation who have been called to give up one of their kidneys. They’ve got two kidneys… there are some folks who don’t have any that work well so they give one of their kidneys to perfect strangers. That’s beautiful! It’s called our Organ Ministry or Church Organ or something like that. It’s true… I’m serious and that’s what it’s called. Think about it man! It’s a beautiful Kingdom thing. I know some folks… a lot of folks who just last Christmas cut back seriously on their Christmas giving to have money freed up to serve the poor. That was our “Making Space” campaign and it was beautiful.
This is beautiful stuff but compared to the sacrifices of those who felt the call to go to Third World countries like Haiti and other places… and they give up all their possessions and all their security and all their retirement… compared to those sacrifices, these things are really pretty small. In fact, they don’t even compare. But we’re not supposed to be comparing because you’re not called to a Third World country. Unless you are, then get over there. But if you’re called here and you’re not there, then this isn’t a competition. This isn’t a contest. This isn’t a who-does-the most-suffering kind of thing. No! You’re here in this context and in this time, these sacrifices put on display the beauty and the glory of God. And so if you’re doing what God calls you to do, living where God calls you to live, making the sacrifices that God calls you to sacrifice, and sharing what God calls you to share, then be content with that. If it doesn’t match up with somebody else’s, then it’s no concern of yours. You may be sacrificing more than others, but don’t turn around and say, “Look at those others….” You may have given all and sold your possessions and now living among the poor. It’s beautiful and wonderful if God called you to do that. But don’t turn around and say, “Look at those Christians. They live in their million-dollar houses. I gave up mine.” Gladly you gave up yours but you’re not God so don’t judge them.
By the same means, if others have been called to make sacrifices that are way way way more painful than the ones we make, don’t go on judging yourself. It doesn’t mean you’re a loser. We have to be always open to God calling us to make sacrifices, but there’s no place for judgment. If a person hasn’t invited you into their lives, as they often say about you, you have one opinion about them. End of story. And that one opinion is that they were with Jesus dying and that’s all you know about them. It’s unsurpassable work. So whatever you see… AMEN! Whatever you see, you just bless them, you just love them, and you ascribe unsurpassable worth on them. The fact that they have a lot of good houses or they’re driving a Lamborgini or something I don’t know, a Rolex watch whatever… you see it and maybe if you find yourself gossiping about them in your brain… you catch that. And you remind yourself of what you’re one calling to do and that person is worth Jesus dying for, and just bless them. There’s no place for judgment in the Kingdom of God.
Oh! I got time for just one question. You know, when I post this on the website, they put in the questions from the previous services and I’m sorry. I didn’t go… I didn’t preach for A… but it was a little longer than I intended. Let’s go for one question:
QUESTION: How would you teach the concept of suffering to children when, as parents, you want the best for them?
Wonderful! It’s a wonderful question. You do it in age-appropriate ways. But if you want the best for them, you got to teach them about suffering. And in fact, this class that we’re offering here in “Love and Logic” that was talked about earlier, it was all about this. If you’re a parent, I encourage you to take that class because it’s about letting consequences do the teaching… letting your kids suffer when they need to suffer. It’s a bad decision and now there’s suffering involved in it. And you have to do it in age appropriate ways with wisdom whatever, but learning the consequences is so important and learning to sacrifice is so important.
And so you might just start of simple with my granddaughter’s age. It could be about won’t Jesus want you to share one of those Gummy Bears. You have a whole bunch and somebody wants one, then you share a Gummy Bear. That feels like suffering to a 2 or 3-year old. And so you teach them about sharing and it’s all against our fallen inclination to hoard and to be greedy and to have all of that. If you don’t believe in original sin, then raise some kids. At the age of 2, they’ll say, “Mine! My precious Gummy Bears… I don’t want to share!” So you teach them in age appropriate ways. I’ve got time for one more:
QUESTION: You talked a lot about sacrifice in terms of money and possessions. In what ways can I suffer and sacrifice for God without putting my family on the street?
Excellent! There was a whole section in my message here that I ended taking out yesterday morning because I realized I wouldn’t have time to get to it. And essentially it was this: If you look at love in 1st Corinthians 13, living in love always involves “sacrifice” and I did focus on money-possessions because that’s the one we feel most indicted by when we compare ourselves to Christians in Third World countries or in persecuted countries. But in fact living in love always involves sacrifice. Love is patient… well that means you have to sacrifice your earth to have it now. Love is kind… well, that means you have to sacrifice your impulse to be cruel sometimes, or your impulse system to neglect people you know to put them off your radar screen. Love always… Genuine love (Agape Love)… the kind of love that we are called to live in and the kind of love that is already in our hearts if we surrendered to Christ that keeps us moving in a certain direction, it’s always gruesome-form love. It always means cross-looking love. It always involves some level of sacrifice, at the very least involves crucifying your flesh… crucifying that fallen impulse we have… to hoard… to seek first NOT the Kingdom but MY KINGDOM… to seek first MY COMFORT… to seek first MY SECURITY… MY!!!
Love is always about having others on your radar screen. Loving others as you love yourself. This means NOT to neglect yourself but you treat others as you love yourself. That’s what love is all about. So there’s no “mine…” there’s simply “ours.” In this “ours,” there is seeking God’s will about what does God want me to enjoy and live off of, but also what does God want me to invest in others. And so I want to repeat and end with this assignment. Ask others on this question, and if possible, invite others in on this question (those you share group or those you share your life with): Are you doing that?
That’s all it is. Are you doing that? Are you in fact hearing God and obeying God… and giving what he has called you to give… and sharing what he has called you to share? It’s OK and it’s not your fault if you have more than what other people have and you suffer less than what other people suffer. There’s nothing wrong with that so long as that is where God calls you. That’s where you’re supposed to be. We always have to be open to saying, “God, what now?” Just because he allowed me to have it last year doesn’t mean I’m supposed to have it now. I grow… I change… and the world changes. God may say… Christ, the head of the body may say, “Ok! Right now Greg, I want to use you this way so give that up. I want you to sell that.” Now this is happening, “That money right in your wallet… I want you to give that to that person,” and be open to that. When we obey on that… Man! That’s when the joy kicks in. There’s no joy in my presence we think there is but that’s a lie of hell. Joy comes as we learn to share our “Gummy Bears.” And there really is. That’s the joy in the Kingdom. Amen! And having that joy allows us to participate in the joy of Christ fulfilled in us.
QUESTION: My mother-in-law helps me share in Christ’s suffering. Is this something that I have to suffer with until the end of my (or her) life? When do I say, “Enough is enough!”?
Lord, I want to pray for this person here. We intercede on their behalf. All I can say is this… I mean it’s comical but there’s a point here: Sometimes love calls us to suffer and actually, if you are crucifying your flesh that wants to strike out against her, or saying nasty stuff about her, or retaliating in some ways, or crucifying… that’s suffering that counts as suffering for Christ. I mean, there’s a lot of suffering in this world that’s just suffering in this world. It’s just part of this fallen warzone world that we live in, and we take hits. That’s just suffering. But when we suffer out of love, that’s always patience that requires suffering and when you read 1st Corinthians 13 (the “Love Chapter”), all the things that characterizes love requires some suffering on our part, and that counts. As to how long you have to do that, here’s what I have to say: Yes! You have to do that until the end of your life unless… there are times that love has to confront. Sometimes love does say… to deliver love means that you have to ascribe unsurpassable worth to them and to yourself, and to your kids, and to anyone who is affected by the situation. And so sometimes, you’re not ascribing unsurpassable worth to a person by allowing their dysfunctional meanness to go on because you’re saying, “That’s appropriate.” You’re letting them think it’s appropriate. Sometimes in love, you got to say, “That’s got to stop… that’s got to stop!”
Jesus’ teachings about what to do in a group situation in a church where there’s an offense whatever, it takes a lot of wisdom here. Jesus says, “When a brother or sister offends you, you go to them individually. First go one-on-one and confront them. If that doesn’t work, you b ring others and confront them. If that doesn’t work, you bring it before the whole church.” That can to some degree be applied to families. You go as gently as possible… as lovingly as possible… as confidentially as possible to avoid any kind of shame and you say, “Mother-in-law, listen… you got to stop doing this. I’m not going to let my kids be subjected to what you’re doing or whatever the issue may be. You’re causing me to suffer in ways that aren’t healthy… so it has got to stop.” If that doesn’t work, then take a brother or sister, and then the whole family to confront this.
Sometimes… sometimes, things can be so nasty that out of love, you got to spell out consequences. For example: If this is not going to change, then I’m not going to bring my kids over here because I have to raise them and what you’re doing isn’t healthy… whatever. And there is a time that you even cut off the relationship. There are a million qualifications there because you also have a husband or wife … and it’s really complicated and messy and may God give you wisdom… wisdom from on high. You’re going to need it!
I’m now going to end in prayer and as I do that, I want the prayer teams to come out and to come forward here. And if you are here this morning with any need in your life… maybe it’s a mother-in-law… maybe it’s a father-in-law… maybe it’s for your husband, maybe it’s for your kids… maybe it’s a health issue… come up and pray with these folks. They’ll pray for you. They’d love to see Christ pouring into your life that way.
Abba Father, as we leave here, we ask God that you give us honesty with our lives…
Pause with me for a second here, I want to give you an assignment. Think of those questions… I’m interrupting my own prayer… How rude of me! But I want to give you an assignment as I did in my other services. And the assignment is to take those questions that I put up there and we have them on the website, and to seriously pray about them and discuss them with others. And to do that sooner or later and in dialogue with others. OK! Now back to the prayer…
Father, in assessing our lives, give us the courage to face honestly. And put in our hearts the energy that we learned from Paul … Christ in us. God, help us to be yielding to Christ in us for glory, which is about self-sacrificial love… to be swimming upstream in this culture and to be aware of the infectious air that we breath here, God. We want to put on display the kind of cultural kingdom Jesus on calvary. But God, at the same time we leave here, protect us from the evil one who tries to take all things good and try to make something evil out of it. Protect us from judging others… protect us from judging ourselves. Help us to have the mindset of Paul who says, “I don’t even judge myself.” God, just help us to do what you’re calling us to do. To obey and be content with it. We leave all else to you as we leave this place to put on display your radiant love to serve others.
In Jesus name, and all of God’s servants said, AMEN!
God bless you guys! Go and love in the world!!!
Focus Scripture – Colossians 1:24-29
24 Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 25 I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
28 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. 29 To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.
As we saw last week, when we surrender to Christ, we become one spirit with him, and somehow through that connection, we suffer as Jesus suffered. And according to Paul, this type of suffering was so real that he saw the scars on his body as reflecting and participating in Christ’s sufferings. This wasn’t just a reality for Paul and Jesus. It is a reality for all of God’s children.
Our suffering is not a pre-condition for sharing in Christ’s glory. That is to say, we do not have to somehow earn Jesus’ glory by suffering. Rather, our suffering is a natural effect of following Jesus. When we choose to reject this world and follow Jesus, we begin to suffer as Jesus did. Yet, we share in his glory, which is the beautiful radiance of his self-sacrificial love. The suffering is not the end of the story. In fact, we join the story of so many people before us when we choose to follow Jesus.
Throughout history, Christians have suffered. The earliest Christians proclaimed that Jesus was Lord, and Caesar was not. This often got them killed or beaten/imprisoned. In the 16th century, the Anabaptists were a group of people who followed Jesus and refused to pledge loyalty to any government. They also refused to use violence to defend themselves, and they were under physical attack from governments and even other Christians. Many were killed by drowning because their killers felt it was fitting for those that believe in baptism by immersion. Even today, there are 30 million Christians living in 40 different countries that are openly hostile to Christianity. When we look at the story of these Christians, we can easily ask ourselves the question of “how do I suffer?” We feel like losers when we compare ourselves to these Christians.
In America, we often have the opposite experience of many Christians throughout the world. Many American Christians believe that wealth and power are the signs that God is with us. We fight for our rights. In a land where suffering isn’t the norm for Christians, we can easily get lost when it comes to suffering like Christ. We can easily feel like a loser when we compare ourselves to other Christians. And while that is a distinct possibility that we are losers on the scale of suffering, we must be extremely careful with this thinking because the enemy can jump on that and drive us into the ground of self-loathing.
There is no point in comparing lives, because that is a form of judgment, and judgment is always from the Devil. Whenever we assess our lives in relation to others, we are either judging them or judging ourselves. In the Kingdom, there is no place for judgment. Instead, we need to discern, by ourselves and in community, the ways in which God has called us to suffer in our specific context. The only relevant question is “what sacrifice does God want me/us to make?” Perhaps we buy a cheaper house than we can afford or shop at thrift stores instead of brand name stores. Maybe we give a kidney to a stranger who needs one. We may choose to spend more time serving others instead of watching TV shows or going on vacation. These sacrifices are not to be compared with others’ around the world. Instead, we need to live the life that God is calling us to. Are we bleeding the way God calls us to bleed? Are we sharing in Christ’s sufferings in our context?
As we sacrifice and let God work on our character, we will discover that our sacrifice turns to joy. This is the sharing in the glorious richness that Paul was describing. We don’t share, however, if we are constantly judging others or ourselves based upon the sacrifice. Jesus gave his life. A rich man gave all his money, and an old woman gave only a few pennies, but every sacrifice was honorable to God. When we are attuned to what God wants in our lives, we can begin to share in the sacrifices and glory of Jesus’ life.
- What additional questions and comments did you have about the sermon and supporting texts?
- When it comes to your own life, how do you see yourself sacrificing for God?
- Without judgment, how do you think you could sacrifice more in your life?
- Take just one of those ideas and try it this week. Who in your life can help you implement this idea in your life?