Summary: An examination of how the Christian can experience joy, even in the midst of suffering, by suffering with the right focus.
Title: Experiencing Joy in the Midst of Suffering:
Series: The Joy of the Christian Life (Sermon # 4)
Text: Phil 1:14-26
Date Preached: Aug 10, 2008
COPYRIGHT © Joe La Rue, 2008 (All Rights Reserved)
A. If there’s one thing that rings true about suffering, it is that it is no respector of persons. Suffering affects everybody—rich and poor, black and white, men and women, the godly and ungodly. It affects all of us.
1. Donna was a faithful Christian, an adoring wife and a loving mom. She was a member of the first church I served full-time. She was a relatively young woman, in her mid forties, when the cancer struck. Donna began having pain and weakness in her limbs. Tests revealed bone cancer. Inoperable. The cancer moved quickly. Over a period of about a year, it spread through the bones of her body. Donna was reduced to lying in a hospital bed in her living room. Her life was filled with pain.
2. Several years later, I knew a minister named Russ. I had the privilege of meeting with him for lunch once a month and having him mentor me. For 45 years, Russ had been the senior minister at what became one of the largest churches in Indiana. The church grew from 85 to almost 4,000 members. When Russ retired, he was still a very effective minister, and he didn’t really want to retire. He retired, though, because his wife’s Alzheimer’s was getting worse, and Russ knew he could not adequately care for Marian and shepherd the church at the same time. By the time he was mentoring me, Marian did not know who Russ was anymore. It broke his heart to see her like that. She was the one suffering with Alzheimer’s, but Russ suffered, too. Everyday when drove home from the nursing home to an empty house, he suffered. His life was filled with loneliness, and sorrow.
3. Burl was my grandma. She was a wonderful Christian woman who loved God and loved life. Burl loved to be outside. She was constantly on the go—that is, until she suffered a series of strokes that robbed her of her health. She spent the final twenty years of her life confined to her bed or wheel chair. The final ten years she suffered short-term memory loss. Burl was confined to a nursing home that she hated. She wanted to die. She told us all that on many occasions. More than once, she asked me, “Why doesn’t God just take me home?” Yet her body continued to hold on.
B. Perhaps some of you are experiencing suffering. Perhaps you are going through a health crisis, or a relationship crisis, or a financial crisis. Perhaps your life is filled with pain right now. Perhaps you could identify with Russ’s loneliness, or Burl’s frustration, or Donna’s pain. Perhaps you wonder sometimes why you are going through whatever you are going through. Or, perhaps like Russ, you are watching someone you love go through a crisis. Perhaps you wish you could take it away from them, and make things better for them, just like Russ wished that healing would come to his Marian. Yet, it doesn’t get better. Whether it is you who is suffering, or someone you love, the suffering isn’t going away right now. I wonder if there’s anybody here who feels that way.
C. If you can relate to any of that, the Apostle Paul could certainly understand. He knew about suffering. We have talked already the past couple of weeks about the suffering he endured for the cause of Christ. His suffering was in the form of persecution, not cancer, or watching a loved one suffer with Alzeheimer’s, or being confined to bed because of a series of strokes. He was arrested and falsely accused of trying to incite a rebellion, he had spent 4 years of his life in jail, and he faced a possible death sentence if convicted. And yet, in spite of his present suffering and uncertain future, he was filled with joy as he wrote his letter to the Philippian Christians. Even in the midst of suffering, Paul rejoiced. Now, how did he do that? What was his secret? Well, he focused on the right things. When we are suffering, the devil tries to get us to focus on our pain, because if we focus on our pain we aren’t focusing on God. Paul, though, did not give in to that temptation. Rather, he kept his focus on God. Specifically, he focused on God’s “big picture,” and God’s “big promise,” and by keeping his focus on those big things of God, he was able to experience big joy even in the midst of big suffering.
D. Trans: First, Paul kept his focus on God’s big picture. Write that on the blank on your outline, and look at Phil 1:14-18 with me. The Bible says,