Summary: God often teaches us through suffering. Why? Because in good times, we have a tendency to forget God. But adversity helps focus us on what is most important.
You may be familiar with a story that’s been in the news recently [Bobby Knight allegedly choking one of his players]. My purpose this morning is not to take a position on whether or not he should be fired. What interests me is how some of the very people that this man supposedly abused are actually defending this man. Those whom you would expect to be his most vocal critics are in many cases his most ardent supporters. What explains this reaction? The answers is that, whatever harsh treatment they received from him, they feel it was worth it. As they see it, he didn’t just teach them basketball, he taught them life. He taught them to work together as a team; to persevere; to discipline themselves; to work for a goal. He made them winners.
I’m not defending Bobby Knight. Some of the things he is reported to have done are indefensible by any standard. But the fact that these players supported him got me to thinking. What am I willing to suffer as a disciple of Christ in order to be changed by Him? What am I willing to endure in order to learn from Christ? What am I willing to sacrifice to become like him?
You might object that there are significant differences between following Bobby Knight and following Christ. And that’s certainly true. After all, Bobby Knight isn’t God (although there are some in Indiana who might dispute that). He’s human. He makes mistakes. It appears that there have been times he crossed the line separating discipline from abuse, such as the time he put his hands around a player’s throat.
But God’s work in our lives is not always pleasant and enjoyable. God does teach us through suffering. In fact, some of the things that God allows his people to suffer make Bobby Knight’s acts seem almost trivial:
[A]s servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger . . . - 2 Corinthians 6:4-5 (NIV)
. . . Paul was whipped, stoned, shipwrecked, and had plots against his life.
In fact, as you read the Scriptures, it seems as if pain and suffering are God’s main instruments for producing change. Why? Because in good times, we have a tendency to forget God. But adversity helps refocus us on what is most important.
God’s primary goal is not our comfort and temporal happiness. His goal is our holiness. His goal is to make us like Christ. And to that end, He is willing to discipline us in ways that seem harsh. He is willing to allow us to suffer in order to change us.
"My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son . . . Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. - Hebrews 12:5-11 (NIV)