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)
The first thing to notice from this passage is that God does discipline us. He doesn’t let us go our own way. God does not follow a program of benign neglect with us as his children. Instead, He acts in our lives to train and correct us, whether we consent or not. He does not ask permission before entering our lives [we gave Him that when we turned our lives over to Christ]. We find this objectionable; for we prefer to have God at our beck and call, to have Him available when we want Him, and otherwise to leave us alone. We want a God we can control, like a Genie in a bottle.
[Illustration: We thought we were giving God a guest key, but He refused to remain in the spare bedroom; then we found out that he owns the deed to the property.]
The second thing to notice is that God disciplines us in love. Your earthly father may have disciplined you in anger or rage, or to vent his frustrations. Some of you may have grown up with an abusive father, and you carry the wounds of that relationship with you even today. You may have experienced so-called "discipline" that was simply abuse. Because of that, it may be difficult for you to relate to the idea of God as a loving Father. It may be difficult to accept the idea that discipline can be motivated by love. But God does not act toward us in anger; His anger toward us was completely exhausted in the death of Christ. Christ appeased God’s wrath toward sin, completely and eternally. For those who have placed their trust in Christ, God has not a shred of anger or wrath. His attitude toward us is completely love.