From Hardest Afflictions to Highest Achievements
Study Guide, October 14, 2018
Pastor Clay Olsen
It feels as though our planet is at war with the people who live on the Earth, doesn’t it? For many weeks we have gone from Fires to Hurricanes to Earthquakes to Tsunamis and back to Hurricanes again. C. S. Lewis hit it right on the head when he said, “We are born onto a battlefield.” That’s really what life is, a battlefield. We do have to dress for battle each day. I remember what Joe Gibbs said to a reporter when he was coaching the Washington Redskins after he was asked about how he prepared for coaching each day. He said, “Well, I put my armor on each day.” Good answer!
But we are not only battling the world, the flesh, and the devil each day on this battlefield of Earth, we are also achieving great things for God and others and even for ourselves, and for all eternity. How so? Well, a couple weeks ago Pastor Tyson had some great teaching on how crisis times call God’s people to greater commitment. And that is so important for us all to know. It’s one of the great reminders that as redeemed people of God that by God’s power we can produce redemptive works and rewards out of every hard thing that this world throws at us; from destruction to disease to afflictions to sufferings. By the power of God’s Spirit, Christians are the greatest ‘counter-punchers’ on the planet. The Apostle Paul gave a profound picture of this when he said: “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” 2 Cor 4:8-10 NLT
It’s like a boxing match against afflictions going on here, with Christians throwing counter punches to whatever the world throws at us, and winning! Paul had said in an earlier letter to the Corinthians that living the Christian life was like a boxer who trained and fought with purpose and precision. And interestingly enough, he said that he even boxed against himself, in order to keep his old nature in line.
What a remarkable set of proclamations of victories over the most difficult situations of human experience. And yes, we know that the flesh and the physical aspects of our lives are vulnerable to struggles and even to harm, but know for sure that the most important part of you that is now in the hands of God is beyond the reach or the threat of anything in this world. John 10:27-29- “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” NASU
Our soul belongs to God. And therefore, nothing can touch the soul of a Christian. It’s recorded that often early church martyrs used to infuriate their persecutors by proclaiming and reminding them that there was nothing they could do to their soul which belonged to God. Their soul was beyond the reach of their persecutors, and there was nothing they could do about it. They also reminded their persecutors that there was nothing they could do to affect their final destination of Heaven. Plus, they would even remind their persecutors that the only thing they were actually accomplishing with each act of persecution against them was that they were making their rewards in Heaven even greater for them personally. Their persecutors were gaining nothing and and these Christians were gaining everything. And that infuriated their persecutors even more, but it was also absolutely true. And it reminded them further that their every act of persecution against a soul that belonged to God was just further judgment against them and further compensation for God’s people!
And that brings us to another amazing reality: Our great Redeemer turns even the hardest afflictions of this world into the highest achievements and rewards for God’s children. The harder life is for you in this life the greater the rewards and compensation for you in the after life, or in the new life in the new world. And the key to it all is found in this. Actually, the key is found in one of the most profound verses found in the Bible concerning the experience of our Lord Jesus while on Earth. Heb 5:8- “Even though Jesus was God’s Son, He learned obedience from the things He suffered.” NLT Absolutely stunning revelation! “He learned obedience from the things He suffered.”
Now then, Jesus certainly did not have to learn about obedience, as though that was ever in question. Jesus was not only perfectly sinless, He was also perfectly righteous and perfectly obedient in all things. But there was something about the sufferings of life that affected His obedience in a unique way. And when we learn this principle about the sufferings and struggles of life we will not only gain more of that victorious attitude of those early church martyrs toward the worst things that can happen in life, but we will also walk on the highest plane that we can walk in this life.
Remember, even the Psalmist spoke about walking these high places with the Lord. Ps 18:30-34- “As for God, His way is blameless; The word of the Lord is tried; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him. For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God, The God who girds me with strength And makes my way blameless? He makes my feet like hinds’ feet, And sets me upon my high places. He trains my hands for battle, So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.” NASU Does that sound like a ‘victim’ here or a ‘victor’? Even the Psalmist knew that although we walk the same Earth as everyone else, when you walk it with the Messiah, you walk on higher ground, you walk a higher plane, you walk on a higher level of experience…even in the midst of sufferings.
And why is that? It’s because our awesome God is able to take the hardest afflictions in this life and transform them into the highest achievements for His children…when…when, like Jesus, you turn these deepest trials into your highest offerings of obedience to the Father. When you turn every oppression of suffering in this world into an offering of obedience to God you conquer all!
And how just like our Heavenly Father to take the lowest things that can happen to us in this world, the sufferings of this world, and transform them into the highest accomplishment and achievements that any human can experience in this world. And make no mistake about it: Obedience to God is the highest achievement of human experience. The award ceremonies of Heaven before the Bema Seat, the Judgment Seat of Christ, are all about obedience, the grand achievements of obedience to the Word of God and the Will of God. And yes, even our ability to obey is by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, but it’s the same act of the will whereby Jesus said to the Father: “Not My will, by Thy will be done.” That is the greatest victory statement a person can make! In every choice, in every decision, in every situation, even in sufferings and afflictions; “Lord, not my will, but Thy will be done!” That is victory!
When you take what the world means for evil; storms, disease, heart-aches, and loss, and you use it to take another step up in your offerings of obedience to the Father, you enter into a deeper experience and fellowship with Jesus, who, although He was God, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death of a cross. (Phil.2:6-9)
Although Jesus was God, He learned obedience through the things that He suffered. Again, Jesus knew everything there was to know about obedience, but what He did was that He took the hardest experiences of this life, the sufferings of this life, and He made them His stepping stones of His obedience to the Father. He walked upon His sufferings like stepping stones on a path that He laid out of obedience to God.
Now of course, we cannot choose the hardships or the sufferings that come into our path, but we can choose what we do with them. We cannot keep all the stones of suffering from coming into our lives. But when you make the stones of suffering become stepping stones of obedience, well then you find yourself walking a little higher than you walked before. You are walking on the stones of suffering, rather than letting them pile up on you. By the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit we can turn each stone of suffering into a stepping stone that we then walk on as we offer ourselves more and more in obedience to God.
And when you walk on these stepping stones of suffering you find that you are no longer under the stone, but you are on top of it. It’s still a stone of suffering, but now it’s under you instead of on top of you. The stone of suffering is no longer between you and Jesus; it’s under you and Jesus, and you are walking on these stones together with your Savior and God.
C. S. Lewis said: “Obedience is the key that opens every door.” Obedience is the key to happiness even in the midst of sadness. It is the key to joy even in the midst of sorrow. It is the key to gain even in the midst of loss. It is the key to understanding even in the midst of confusion. It is the key to strength even in the midst of weakness. It is the key to self-control even in the midst of temptation. It is the key to truth even in the midst of falsehoods. It is the key to eternal victories even in the midst of temporal defeats. It is the key to present peace even in the midst of persistent war. Oh…to be sure; “Obedience is the key the opens every door.”
And the present experience and the eternal rewards that accompany obedience to Christ is why Paul said: Phil 3:10- “…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death…” 12-14- “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” NASU
To press on each day is to be obedient to God each day. Paul knew something that most of the world is completely fogged about. The world has always viewed obedience as simply one of the hardest disciplines of life. To be sure, obedience to God is a discipline. Remember it was Paul that also said: Gal 5:17- “The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.” NLT
Have you noticed this tug of war going on inside of you…this wrestling match going on inside of you between your old sin nature and your new spirit nature? Don’t think that just because you choose the life of obedience that it won’t be a daily challenge. Obedience to our Triune God is always contested by the unholy trinity of the world, our own flesh, and the devil. Our obedience to God brings these three enemies to the front lines of the battlefield like nothing else. Why? Because obedience to God is not only one of the hardest disciplines of life, it is also, and more-so, one of the highest virtues of life. Again, it’s one of the highest achievements in life. Each act of obedience to God is one of the greatest accomplishments in life. Obedience to God is the proof of true worship and genuine devotion to God.
You want to bring glory and honor to Jesus each day? Then just trust and obey Him each day. You want to follow Jesus more and more each day? Then just follow through with obeying Jesus’ words each day. You want to be a faithful friend to Jesus each day? Then just obey what Jesus commanded us to obey. And as you make obedience to God your highest goal each day, by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit working in you, you will transform even your hardest afflictions into your highest achievements.
Remember, God can take the lowest things of this world, like sufferings and afflictions, and transform them into the highest achievements for His children, along with great rewards for them. Obedience is the key that opens every door for all of this.
[Each act of obedience to God is the highest achievement a man or woman can do.]