Description: Why isn't Christianity easy? While it seems wonderfully simple to begin - yet unexpectedly our commitment is soon challenged. We are out of our depth.
The Necessity of Suffering
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
More people go to church in American than any other country in the world. Have you ever wondered
why so many go to church and yet there are relatively so few who really are Christians? Because I
think that would be true, wouldn’t it? There are much greater numbers that go to church than really
live like Jesus through the week. Now why is that? Why would so many of us, in our home churches,
have noted many people who seem to admire the Christian way and who really seem to be all for it but
didn’t live it during the week? Or why is that thousands and thousands of people respond to God in
an evangelistic campaign, or in a tremendous reaction like the Jesus movement, but a year later they
are purely nominal Christians? Now why is it that that takes place?
I think, loved ones, the answer is there in Romans 8:17, and especially the last half of it, “And if
children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ,“ and then the second half,
“provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” I think that’s the
reason why so many people respond initially to the proclamation of reality in Jesus and then a
little later you find they have no interest in it at all. I think it’s because of this business of
suffering that is built into Jesus’ call to us. I mean it is a fact of fallen human nature, isn’t
it, that we always respond to the brightest and best and want it with all our hearts until we find
we have to pay for it.
We really do, we want to go after a thing, we like what’s good and we want it for ourselves until we
find there is a cost to be paid in order to have it. So I think all of us who have ever played
tennis would love to be like Jimmy Connors but just the thought of eight hours a day on those old
tennis courts discourages us. And we like the idea of being like Jimmy Connors with that two handed
back hand but boy, the hours that we’d have to spend on the courts to achieve that kind of skill, we
just will not consider.
I think we’d all like to have the consistency of old Jack Nicklaus but to give day after day to the
golf course like that, we just don’t have the drive to do it. Many of us who studied English at
school would like the idea of writing like old Solzhenitsyn [Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Russian
dissident writer before the fall of communism] but the daily self-discipline that’s required to
produce that kind of skill, we just won’t face at all. And isn’t it true that in many, many other
things, we like the thing and we want it but we’re not prepared to pay the price. In fact a lot of
you who are parents must have often said that to your sons and daughters, “Oh yeah you want it but
you’re not prepared to study for it or you’re not prepared to work for it.” And really as we’ve
said that to them we’ve been barely aware that we were preaching pretty well to ourselves, because
we’re the same.
And that’s the great watershed in Christendom too. That’s the great watershed in Christendom.
That’s the great divide that separates those who will live forever from those who will live the life
of mediocrity. It’s this whole business, loved ones, of being prepared to suffer, being prepared to
pay a price. And you know, I would have to be honest with you today, and say that probably there
are some of you who will never pay the price. I know we all like to sit here and think, “Oh no,
we’re such a nice group of people and we’re obviously all enthusiastic about Jesus, surely we’ll all
probably be kind of drafted into heaven en masse.” Well no, there are some of us here that will
never pay the price, that will keep on listening, listening, listening and, saying, “Oh that’s good,
oh I’m for that, oh I agree that’s the answer to the world’s problems.” But we ourselves will never
actually pay the price.
Now what I’d like to share for a few minutes this morning is what that verse actually means, or the
last half of it. It says, “We are heirs of God and we’re co-heirs with Christ, provided that we
suffer with him, we shall also be glorified with him.” Now I’d like to try to define clearly what
we mean by suffering there because there is a lot of suffering that doesn’t fall into this category.
You know how during the past few weeks, we’ve been sharing how we men and women have misunderstood
the reason why the world was created. We’ve misunderstood why we’re here, and we’ve misunderstood
the attitude that we ought to have to the Creator of the world and to the world itself.
You could illustrate it by the attitude of the little boy whose father loved him just more than
words could express and it was coming up to Christmas time, and the father wanted to have the
greatest Christmas he ever had had with his little son. And so he went out specially and looked for
the thing that would give the fellow the most joy and that they could both enjoy giving and
receiving together most of all at Christmas, so that they could be together throughout the Christmas
Day. And at last he found the bicycle. And he bought the bicycle and Christmas morning came, and
he gave the little fellow the bicycle and the little guy’s eyes just lit up and he leapt on the
bicycle and went out the driveway and the father didn’t see him the rest of that Christmas Day.
And really the son was delighted with the gift but he had really missed the whole point of the
father’s giving him the gift. And the father gave him the gift so that they’d both enjoy Christmas
together more than they’ve ever done before and the little fellow of course, misunderstood the point
of the gift. And he tried to get from that gift, what really he could only ever get from his father
and that’s what I think we’ve been saying about ourselves. We’ve misunderstood the point of the
gift and repeatedly, we’ve looked to the bicycle that God has given us or the green trees, the cars,
the jobs, and even just the sea and the lakes and the river, we’ve looked to the whole world and to
the people in it to get what we really only can receive from the giver.
In other words, we’ve looked at the one gift he happens to have given us and we’ve thought of it as
the source of all our personality needs rather than him himself. And that’s the predicament that
most of us are in. We just automatically look to the world and look to each other to fill the
personality needs, we have. The psychologists have outlined those needs ad infinitum and we’ve
often talked about them ourselves: that we all have the need for approval and we all have a need for
recognition, we all have a need for happiness, we all have a need for security. And the problem
with us human beings is we have looked to the world to supply those things, we have looked to the
people to supply them. And yet every time we’ve done that it has been a mess.
Onassis [Aristotle Onassis, a very wealthy Greek shipping businessman – He married US president,
John F. Kennedy’s widow Jacqueline Kennedy] would be just a great example of a fellow that would
seem to have fulfilled the need for security very completely by using the world and the oil tankers.
And yet, I think you’d agree that he seemed at the end to be a man who was very insecure. In spite
of the fact that he had tried to buy the security by having all the possessions he could possibly
want and providing himself with millions of dollars of food and clothing and shelter. Yet it seemed
at the end of his life he was more insecure than many of us and more disappointed, especially in
regards to his son’s death. Even old Hughes [Howard Hughes, Jr., American business magnate,
investor, aviator, aerospace engineer] our own billionaire, he seems utterly to have failed to buy
security, doesn’t he? He seems to be a man who has used the world more than even any of us, to try
to ensure that he had security and yet at the end of the day, you find him locked up in hotel rooms,
fearful it seems of something that will do him harm but so much so that he is the picture of
And it’s the same if you go to the great esthetes of our world, if to go to somebody like Oscar
Wilde [1854–1900, an Irish writer and poet] who tried to find happiness from just the world itself.
Or you go to old Hugh Hefner [American magazine publisher, as well as the founder and chief creative
officer of Playboy Enterprises] who has searched continually for that tremendous exhilaration that
will come in that moment of emotional satisfaction or physical satisfaction. When you look at these
men you seem to find frustration written across their faces rather than real satisfaction. And so
the people who have been most successful among us, in looking to the world for security and in
looking to the world for happiness, seem to be the most frustrated of us.
Many of us have looked to the world for approval but you find the dictators of our history books are
perhaps the men who’ve done that more than anybody else. You know how we seek approval from each
other and the only way to do that finally, is to get control of as many people as possible so that
they can’t do anything else but approve of you. And yet when you look at the great dictators,
Napoleon or Hitler, they seem at the end of their life to be men who have no sense of approval, who
have a great sense of recrimination rather than approval in their own lives.
And loved ones, what we’ve said of course is that it’s not just a matter of looking at these men and
pointing the finger at them, because we ourselves, we human beings, have done the same thing. We’ve
tried to live without the approval of our Father who made us. We’ve tried to get away from having to
please him and get his approval on our lives. And instead, we’ve tried to substitute everybody
else’s approval that we could get our hands on. And so we find ourselves trying to use the world
and use society and use each other to get that approval. We find ourselves very frustrated by it.
We’ve tried in the same way to do without the happiness that comes from a close relationship with
the Creator who made us. We’ve tried to get away from having to be close to him day after day. I
mean you have to pray every day and we’ve tried to get away from that horrible thought that we need
the only happiness we can find finally that satisfies us will be his love and we’ve tried to live as
if we weren’t his children, and yet somehow get the happiness that only his children can have. And
so really we’ve tried to get love and affection from all kinds of other people to try to give us
that happiness. And we find that really we’re miserably frustrated about the whole attempt.
I think we’ve tried to live as if we were just his creatures. As if we didn’t owe him anything and
he didn’t owe us anything and we could do what we wanted with our lives. And we have tried our
lives as if, “No, if he doesn’t supply it, we will get it ourselves.” And we’ve dedicated our lives
to getting all the food, shelter and clothing that we need. And yet we seem very dissatisfied with
what we’ve got. And so that’s the problem that I think many of us have faced. That we’ve, like the
little guy on Christmas Day, we’ve looked to the bicycle to try to supply the security and the
approval and the happiness that really can come only from a close relationship with the Person who
made us and only from treating him as our dear Father.
Of course, many of you this morning might say, “Well, I’ve tried that. I would gladly treat him as
my father if I could. I want real security and I want real happiness and I want a real sense of
approval in my life instead of this sense of guilt or having failed that I so often have. I want
that and I’ve tried to produce that kind of attitude, I’ve tried to treat God as my father, I’ve
tried to do it.” I think many of us would say that, you know. We’ve tried to treat God as our
father. We’ve tried to love him as our father and trust him as our father but we cannot. And loved
ones of course you cannot.
God has only one only begotten Son, who enjoys the approval of God and enjoys the happiness of God’s
love and enjoys the security that God gives him in providing all that he needs. God has only one
only begotten Son. And you can’t imitate that Son’s attitude, because you’re not the only begotten
Son of your Creator. You’re just a creature. And you can’t behave like a son if you’re just a
creature. You can’t go up to somebody else’s dad and say, “I’m going to pretend you’re my father, I
know you’re not, but I am going to pretend that you are my father. And I’m going to have the same
attitude of love and trust in you as your own son has.” You can’t do it, loved ones.
You can’t psych up inside yourself an attitude of trust towards the Creator of the world as your
loving father who will supply you with everything you need, unless you are in fact his son. And
that’s, you remember, what we shared before. That the miracle is, that God is able to send into
you, the attitude of trust that his Son has towards him. He’s able to send that into you by a
miracle. Now it’s in Galatians, loved ones, if you look at it, the verse where that promise is made
to us by our Creator. It’s Galatians 4:6, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his
Son. So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir.” And the
miracle is, that God has sent into many of our lives here, the spirit of his own son and that spirit
inside you is able to enable you to treat God as your father. And that’s really the miracle. And
so it is possible to come into such a loving, trusting relationship to the Creator of the world as
your father that you can get from him all the security and the happiness and the approval that you
And here’s where we come to the suffering bit. You can’t please the Pharisees and please your
Father at the same time. You can’t get the approval of the Roman soldiers and get the approval of
your Father at the same time. You can’t get happiness from God and happiness from the world and
other people at the same time. It’s either or. God’s plan is that we should not get all the
happiness, security and approval from the bicycle. His plan is we should not get all the security
and the happiness and approval that we need from the world and from other people. His plan is that
we should get it from him, from a loving relationship of sons and daughters to our Father. Now
loved ones, the truth is that you can’t have “both and”. You can’t be dependent on God and
dependent on the world. You can’t be independent of the world and independent of God. It’s either
one or the other. You either get your security from God or you get it from society. You get your
happiness from God or you get it from society. But you can’t have “both and”.
And that’s where the suffering comes in, you see. You either get those things from your dear Father
in heaven, or you get them from the rest of us. And so every time you lose a girlfriend, every time
you lose a father, every time you lose a dear husband or wife, every time you lose somebody whose
affection has been dear to you — through faith, God is able to lead you out of that heart rending
experience of suffering into a place where you look to him for the affection for which their
affection was only a shadow. So do you see the situation? We all have been for years, looking to
each other for these things. God cannot wean you from that without suffering, he cannot.
You know it loved ones, you know, you can make all the promises you want, “Lord I am going to look
to you for affection, I am not going to look to my wife, I am going to look to you. I am going to
look to you Lord, not my girlfriend, I am going to look to you.” And loved ones, they are words,
aren’t they, they are words. Because we take a little bit of affection from him and a little bit of
affection from them and we like to say we are really dependent on him but when it comes to the
crunch, and we lose them, we see whom we were really depending on.
Do you see that missing a vacation, missing a show, missing the joy of a certain job is used by God
through the midst of the suffering to bring you into a place where you will no longer depend on
those things for your emotional satisfaction? Though really, dear ones, we are honestly like people
with about 25 crutches under each arm, we really are. And there we are walking along and if one
breaks we use the other and if another breaks, and we have aluminum ones, we have steel ones, we
have wooden ones and, if we lose all the crutches, then we have a rope on the roof and we can hang
on to it. We have everything to keep us from having to depend on the father who made us for all
that we need. And God’s task is to gradually allow Satan — because God does not send the things
himself — but to allow Satan through the suffering that he brings, it is God’s task to use that
suffering to wean us gradually away from those things. So it goes right through everything, you
know. Lack of approval of our peers, of our professors, of our parents, of our friends is used by
God through suffering to wean us away from their approval, and seek the approval of the only one
significant other in the world who really counts.
So every time we miss or have to do without others’ approval, the Holy Spirit is working inside us
to enable us to accept that with the same patience and faith that Jesus accepted his suffering and
to come through free from that approval. And it’s so loved ones, throughout our whole lives. Every
time we have a failure in a job, or a failure in a certain career, or a failure to attain the goals
that we have set up for ourselves, the Holy Spirit is in there trying to point out to us that all
the approval that we would get if we ever succeeded in that job would never make up for the approval
that we are to seek from the Father alone. And so loved ones, every failure is used by God to bring
us to the place where we die to failure to get other people’s approval and we begin to seek his
alone. Every lack of a car, or of money, or of food, or of clothing, every lack that we experience
in material possessions is used by God in the midst of the suffering to get us to stop looking at
our job, or ourselves, or our insurance policies to provide all that we need and instead to begin to
trust the loving Father who has promised to give us our daily bread and to supply every need of ours
from his riches and glory in Christ Jesus.
So loved ones, do you see that the most precious gifts, and I know this will sound mad to you, but
the most precious gifts that God can give us are the trials and the deprivations and the desolations
and the defeats that we all experience in this life. Those are the most precious gifts. Because
God is using the suffering that we endure in those to wean us away from the bicycle, to wean us away
from seeking the world and other people for approval, and for happiness, and for security so that
we’ll begin at last to trust the dear Father. And loved ones, you can see the position of
invincibility that that puts you in. You can see why old Paul said, “I’ve learned in whatsoever
state I am therewith to be content. I’m willing to be full; I’m willing to be empty.” Loved ones,
that is an invincible position, and that is a position the Father wants to wean you under.
So in order to be his heir and his son and his daughter, you need to stop depending on everybody
else but your Father. So would you stop crying, would you stop crying? Would you stop beating your
feet on the floor and thumping with your hands like a little baby every time the job is lost, every
time you fail the exam, every time somebody else is talking about you behind your back? Would you
stop behaving like a little cry baby all upset because your father is trying to wean you away from
some of your crutches because he knows loved ones, that those things are not going to last. Do you
Do you see that finally your dear husband is going to die? Do you see finally that great boss that
you have and that miserable office is going to die? Do you see that the miserable fellow who set
that stupid exam is going to die? And that none of their approval is going to mean two bits to you
in 50 years time. And that what the Father who loves you is trying do is, through allowing these
things to be taken away from you, through the suffering that comes from it, to get you to begin to
look to him, and not to those others. So loved ones, that’s it; provided we suffer with him, we
shall be glorified with him. And provided you’re willing to let go of those things, the Father will
give you something better.
Just the one last image. You know what it is. The little baby, sucking at the rattle and the mum
has a bottle of real milk to give it, but it’s sucking at the rattle and she tries to get the rattle
out of its hands, but it won’t leave go, because this rattle is the greatest thing it has. And it’s
stupid — the rattle will not give it any nourishment at all but, it’s sucking away at this thing
and it wants it instead of the real milk. Well, you know, what about our rattles? Those are all
the little things that we’re holding onto and which are only substitutes for our Father. Have you
started to suffer? Okay, then God has started to work the attitude of his Son into you. Do you fly
away from suffering? Then you’ll never come into the trust of his son. That’s it, loved ones.
Now I know that it’s not easy so I really pray that God will make that real to you in your
situation, because I think the great temptation is to go out this morning and say, “Oh, he was
talking about incurable cancer.” No, I was talking about the fact that your lunch may not be ready
for you today when you go home, or I was talking about tomorrow when maybe you lose your job. I was
talking about the ordinary things that come to us. That is it. Let us pray.
Dear Father, it seems incomprehensible to us that we could find our whole satisfaction in you. But
Lord we do see that that’s what you’re trying to show us in Jesus. Father, for so many years we
have just assumed that we could only live if we got approval and recognition from other people. For
years we have assumed that we could only live if we got satisfaction for our emotional desires and
our physical desires from other people. But Father, we begin to see that in a loving close
relationship of trust with you we could receive all these things. So Father, many of us are not at
that point yet, but we would give you the right Lord, to allow us to come into whatever suffering
you think we can bear in order to wean us away from these poor substitutes and in order to work in
us, the heart of your own son Jesus. So Father we would commit ourselves to you now for that and
Holy Spirit will you remind us when were in the midst of a situation, would you remind us and give
us an awareness of the covenant we have made this day. Father we make this covenant with you,
whatever it costs, however much we must suffer, will you wean us away from dependence on the world,
your dear gifts to us, and to other people — and will you bring us into the place where like Paul,
we look to you for all the approval and the security and the happiness that we need. We pray this
in Jesus’ name. Amen.