Archive for October, 2012

Because of joy 5

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Let us take stock of the parables so far and their focus.

Parables told by the lake to a large crowd (Matthew 13:1-2)

  • Parable of the sower 
    The gospel is accepted in many different ways by the receiver, notice that this is the only parable that doesn’t begin with “the kingdom of heaven is like”
  • Parable of the weeds 
    The righteous and the wicked grow together and God’s intention is that separation (and judgement) only occurs when the harvest is ready
  • Parable of the mustard seed 
    The kingdom of heaven starts small but grows to world dominion and the nations will find rest in it
  • Parable of the yeast 
    The kingdom of heaven starts small but works from the inside and permeates the whole world

Parables told to the disciples in the house (Matthew 13:36)

  • Parable of the hidden pearl 
    Dual meaning: The kingdom of heaven is precious and worth losing everything to have; Christ is redeeming his treasured people, Israel
  • Parable of the treasure 
    Christ is redeeming all the peoples of the world
  • Parable of the net 
    The righteous and wicked will be judged in the end and there will be a separation that determines their final destiny

Matthew 13:11 makes it clear that Jesus was intentional in his teaching through parables so that the disciples would understand while others would not. He then points to Isaiah and claims the fulfilment of his prophesy (Matthew 13:13-15; Isaiah 6:9-10). Isaiah’s prophesy highlights that while the people see and hear, it does not lead to perceiving or understanding. The reason for this is that “this people’s heart has become calloused”. If they would connect their seeing and hearing to their hearts to perceive and understand, they would “turn, and I would heal them.”

The parables told have two themes – the all-encompassing nature of the kingdom (from a seemingly small start to it’s global dominion) and the future destiny of the people of God’s kingdom and the people outside His kingdom. What happens in between the start of His kingdom and the end is what is in focus in this passage – with the first parable, the last question and conclusion.

This last passage is perhaps the most perplexing part of these parables, but we see in this little section the idea that ties all this together.

“Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked. “Yes,” they replied.
He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”
Matthew 13:51-52

What has all the parables and explanations got to do with Jesus’ question to the disciples? Everything.

The revelation of who the sowers are
This question is what links this concluding passage to the first parable, stringing through all the other parables. The disciples would be the ones to sow the seed from its small start to world dominion and all the way till the world is judged (or with a view that the world will be judged). It was crucial that the disciples (of all people) connected what they were seeing and hearing to their hearts because only then would they be able to produce “a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:23) They needed to understand the message of the gospel because they are to be the sowers.

That is why the “kingdom of heaven” bit was left out from the first parable, it was different from the rest of the parables. In this parable, Christ wasn’t the sower, He is the seed. All the following parables after the Parable of the Sower is about himself:

  1. It is Christ who sows good seed with the prospect of a good harvest and does the harvesting in the end like the sower – “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.” (Matthew 13:24)
  2. It is Christ who starts small like the mustard seed – “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed” (Matthew 13:31)
  3. It is Christ who works effectively in the world like the yeast – “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast ” (Matthew 13:33)
  4. It is Christ who is more precious than life itself like the treasure – “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure” (Matthew 13:44)
  5. It is Christ who purchases the world with himself like the merchant – “the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant” (Matthew 13:25)
  6. It is Christ who gathers everyone to himself for the final judgement like the net – “the kingdom of heaven is like a net” (Matthew 13:47)

When Christ leaves the message of the kingdom of heaven to his disciples and instructs them to make disciples, he intends that the kingdom grows – like the good crop, like the mustard seed, like the yeast, because in the end, there will be a harvest and a judgement. The means of this growth is through the evangelism and apostolic ministry of the disciples. This is the balance between God’s right to predestine and man’s responsibility to evangelise.

New and old treasures

With this understanding, the conclusion of the message (note the use of “therefore”) is much less puzzling. The teacher of the law (also in Matthew 2:4) who becomes a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is a pretty impressive description. Teachers of the law were known to be leaders of the Jewish community with a deep understanding of the Old Testament scriptures. Such a teacher of the law who becomes “a disciple in the kingdom of heaven” comes to the saving knowledge of Christ Jesus as the Messiah. Such a person understands the gravity of growing the kingdom and brings the message of Christ to both the Jews (the hidden treasure) and the Gentiles (the pearl), saving them in his/her shelter and bringing them out in the day of Christ, ready for the final judgement.

Lets have a different view of the parables (again) with this in mind:

  1. Christ sows the good seed (gospel) with the intention that the righteous and wicked live together till the harvest is ready (the end time)
  2. This small seed planted in an individual is capable of multiplying it’s saving effect on the nations
  3. The small seed starts working within a person (or in the nations) changing the composition of the person (nations), causing the kingdom to grow from within
  4. The salvation of Israel (Romans 1:16, “first for the Jew, then for the
  5. The salvation of all of the world (Romans 11:25-26) 
  6. The gathering unto the Christ and the final judgement

The teacher of the law plays an important role in this picture of the kingdom. He is another sower (from the first parable), bringing the seed of the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles. Some theologians believe that Matthew was referring to himself in his role of conveying Christ to his audience. Others say this was written to encourage the Jewish readers (the intended audience for the Book of Matthew) to evangalise. No one knows for sure, but what we do know is our responsibility to sow the gospel to the nations.

So bring on the seed, its time to sow.

Because of joy 4

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was cast into the sea that caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, they pulled it ashore, sat down, and put the good fish into containers and threw the bad away. It will be this way at the end of the age. Angels will come and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 13:48-50

The final parable in this set of three teaches us a similar lesson to the parable of the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43), and seen in the context of the 3 parables put together, we see God’s final act after the redemption of Israel (depicted as hidden treasure) and the Gentiles (depicted as pearls). This act is the separation of the evil from the righteous. The symbolism here is obvious, the net represents the gospel, the sea as the world and the fish as the souls of men.

Once again, a few things are noted here:

All kinds of fish were caught

This develops the evidence that the gospel goes out not just to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles (Matthew 15:22,28:19). It could also be a picture of the various forms of “salvation” as depicted by the farmer who sows the seed (Matthew 13:1-23). In the light of Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the weeds, where the variety is seen as “people of the kingdom” (Matthew 13:38) and “people of the evil one” (Matthew 13:39), it would be a closer fit to view this passage as talking about the variety of believers and non-believers who hear the message. For hearing is not necessarily understanding and understanding the gospel is crucial (Matthew 13:14-17; 19-23).

The nets are brought in only when they are full – at the end of the age

Similar to Matthew 13:28-30, the judgement of all things belong to Christ when He comes again. We do not separate the evil from the good now, instead we live together on this earth. We are not to judge others as unelect or unsaved, but to leave that judgement to Christ. We do not remove ourselves from the world or try to remove ourselves from the presence of so called “wicked” people. In fact, the inverse is needed; we should be amongst them to reconcile them to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:22-23).

The nets were pulled ashore and the fishermen sat down

Where in previous parables there was only one sole protagonist, it seems that there are many here. The common interpretation of fishermen in the New Testament are believers or “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19), but this parable offers a distinctly different view that the fishermen are symbolic of angels. Sitting down is a picture of rest and judgement – kings sat down when they judged over matters in their kingdom. Christ and his fishermen will complete the fishing in entirety, with the nets pulled ashore, and sit down to judge the quality of the fish (Romans 14:10-12; 2 Corinthians 5:10).

The fiery furnace of weeping and gnashing of teeth

The words here mirror Matthew 13:42 exactly. While the Parable of the weeds was delivered to the public, the Parable of the Nets is delivered only to the disciples. The disciples were very familiar with the symbolism since at least four of them were fishermen (Matthew 4:18-22). They easily understood the gravity of the parable (Matthew 13:43, “He who has ears, let him hear”). If they didn’t get any of the other parables, at least get this: that the end will not be sweet for the wicked.

This is a sobering message to believers and non-believers alike. For believers, bring the gospel to those family and friends who are not yet saved with urgency for we know their final destiny. For non-believers, I plead with you to be found in Christ, to be placed in the container marked “safe” (Genesis 7:1-10; 2 Peter 3:2-7).

Useful vs Precious

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
John 6:26-27

Three weeks ago, Dennis and I watched a John Piper sermon which he preached to death row prisoners. At first, I deeply respected the tone which he approached the gravity of their situation and sought to humbly encourage them. By the time he had finished preaching, I knew it was for me.

Two weeks ago, two lives hung in the balance- a new one, which ended, and an old one, who praise God, lives on.

In that precious and difficult time, I rejoiced that God gave both the opportunity and also the victory all in one fell swoop, for the sole purpose of glorifying himself.

God is a supremely and unshakeably happy God, says Piper. Having been so happy, he made man, so he could share what he loved so much with us- relationship. God didn’t make us to be useful to him. I know this, because he was fully content in himself before he made anything. So we weren’t needed to make life easier, or as pawns. We were made to be valued.

God also made us in His image, that we should be able to value him too (Gen 1:27)- in having His image, he wanted us to be like him and to love him and the others around us with a Christ-likeness. This is what gives him glory- that we value him for who he is and what he is, and also seek to emulate it.

God made it clear in John 6 that he didn’t come to be useful. We know this ourselves. We don’t like people who like us for what we can do for them or for our money or status. We don’t like being taken for-granted. We seek to find deep relationships where our value is unconditional.

The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
Matthew 13:44-46

I know that we are not out to take Jesus for-granted, and we are not in a relationship with him in order to milk the benefits. However, there are times in my life where something happens and I realise that part of me does value Jesus for what he does for me. When I turn my face from him when I’m angry, or when I question why I suffer, or when I am afraid to surrender all that belongs to me because I don’t know what God will do with it, it hits me. I’m not trying to abuse God, but somewhere along the line- is He precious enough to me that I would give it all up? Everything? And be completely okay with it? Oh, that’s something I want so much.

In this day and age there is a lot of prosperity being preached in the church. Yet, we will never have had the chance to hang on to Jesus like Job did if we do not look at our rough patches with joy enough to say, “here’s my chance!” I’m not asking you to wallow in suffering and self pity and burden, nor does this mean we shouldn’t fight very hard for victory in Christ. However, let’s not deny that God still lets curveballs happen to us in life.

Here’s the secret- if I let Jesus be precious, treasured, and valuable above all else, I will in my joy find the sacrifice of valuing him quite a lot more pleasant than my flesh thinks it will be.

I’d like to encourage you- the times that you have pulled through tough patches, and the times where you hung on tight and called God good anyway: these times make him so supremely happy because you were able to value what is above all things valuable. And this gave God the glory he so desired. In going through that rough patch, you made Him happy, and also fulfilled a fundamental purpose in life- to give him glory.

He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”
Job 1:21

Because of joy 3

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
Matthew 13:44-46

When we consider the context of parable in Matthew 13:37-39, we see a different picture. Christ is depicted as the merchant seeking fine pearls and sells everything to purchase the pearls. We now see this parable in a way that is congruent with the rest of the bible.

Christ is the seeker, not us

As it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.
Romans 3:10-11

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
Luke 19:10

Romans 3:10-11 is crystal clear that we are not the seeker. There is nothing in the nature of the unrighteous that makes such a person seek God. Adam, in his sinful state did not actively seek God and instead he hid from God (Genesis 3:8-10). Instead, God in his nature is seeking union with us; even while Adam was in sin, He called out to Adam and asked “where are you?” Christ came to seek and save (Luke 19:10), not man. The nature of God is consistent in this parable.

Salvation is a gift, not a purchase

For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God;
Ephesians 2:8

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23

To consider the gift of reconciliation with God and eternal life with Christ anything other than a gift is to be in direct opposition with what scriptures clearly say. Salvation cannot be purchased. 

Christ finds us of great value

I was filled with delight day after day,
rejoicing always in his presence,
rejoicing in his whole world
and delighting in mankind.
Proverbs 8:30-21 (related to 1 Corinthians 1:24)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16

God delights in us and when I say us, I mean all of mankind. Not just the saved, but the unsaved. And that is why Christ died for us, because He finds value in mankind. Mankind was worth the price of His son.

The world tells us that we are unique and valuable; that we should just be ourselves and love ourselves. There are heaps of songs like Katy Perry’s Firework (“You don’t have to feel like a waste of space; You’re original, cannot be replaced”), pumping out the message of self-value and self-worth into the hearts of people around the world. The problem is that while the world preaches this positive message, it will not validate our intrinsic value at any cost. The world wouldn’t sacrifice anything for us. The world’s value system is selfish, that’s a fact

The positive values are just a façade. The world functions like a hypocrite – all words without action. But Christ doesn’t put on any façade. He says that He values mankind and He backs His words by paying the costly price (1 Peter 1:18-19) for us to be reconciled to Him. The only place where we find ourselves truly valued is in Christ.

The fine pearls

When God sought for pearls, he didn’t just seek any pearl, but “fine” pearls. God already has other pearls, such as the angels and Old Testament saints (Hebrews 11:39-40). He wanted a certain quality of a certain kind. He wants different pearls with a distinctive and spectacular shine, shape and form. That quality comes from Christ Himself (John 17:22-24); He shares His own glory which us that we might reflect His qualities.

The congruency of this interpretation makes it clear that the “fine pearls” are God’s chosen saints – those whom He effectively died for, who share in His presence and glory. And this is our amazing God, who He seeks for us, sees value where there was none and yet pays the price to reconcile us to Him. That is undeserved grace.

It is so easy to forget this as a mature Christian. Preachers see no point in preaching to the already saved. But daily we need to be reminded of the beauty and majesty of the gospel. It is in this gospel that we see the grace and mercy of God. We need to constantly remind ourselves of the gospel by which we are saved.

Because of joy 2

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
Matthew 13:44-46

To develop a different understanding of this passage and more coherent view of the parables, we would first need to understand the context. This is how Jesus decoded the Parable of the Weeds just before He told these other parables:

Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
Matthew 13:37-39

If we applied this to the Parable of the Hidden Treasure, it flips the whole meaning of the parable on its head. Christ is the active finder – not us. The field is the world – not an undetermined environment or object. The joy belongs to Christ – not us. The price of attaining this treasure is made by Christ. Two verses come to mind that ties this together:

For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:2b

You were bought at a price;
1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23a

The price of purchase was Jesus Himself, “enduring the cross, scorning its shame”, but He did so for joy! The picture this parable paints of salvation stands Christ, not in ourselves or what we have to give (since we have nothing to give). The question still remains as to who is the treasure and why was it hidden when it was found. The bible gives us clues.

There are four ways treasure is viewed in the bible: as earthly riches such as gold and silver (Daniel 11:43; Matthew 2:11), as intangible things that are precious such as wisdom or the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:7; Colossians 2:3), as heavenly riches (Matthew 6:19-21; 19:20; 1 Timothy 6:19) or Israel (Exodus 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 7:6; Psalm 135:4). The only one that would have any meaning here is that God’s treasure is Israel. God’s hiding of Israel would literally have to be a hiding – something that covers Israel to ensure that it is not found. Something like Israel’s captivity!

Israel ceased to exist as a state under Babylonian rule, Hellenistic rule and Romans rule. In fact, their reputation as a nation was far from being a treasure. They were indeed hidden. Thus, the “un-hiding” or purchase of Israel wasn’t in a political move to establish the Jewish state again, but in a spiritual reclamation and reconciliation back to God through Christ (and not just for the Jews, but for the whole world).

This parable is turned on its head and we see not just how precious God is to us, but how precious we are to God! This is our God, who joyfully pays the price for redemption and reconciliation. Even for a nation as unfaithful as Israel, He paid the full price by sending His own Son to death on the cross. There truly is no limit to God’s mercy and grace!

How then do we view the Parable of the Pearl and the Parable of the Net? Stay tuned, there’s more to come!

Because of joy

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
Matthew 13:44-46

These two parables is the fifth and sixth of the seven parables recorded in Matthew about the Kingdom of Heaven. Parables one to four were told to a public audience by the lake where a large crowd of people gathered to hear Jesus teach (Matthew 13:1-2). Parables five to seven were told in private to his disciples in the house (Matthew 13:36), and they were told in close succession, connected with the words “again” (v45) and “once again” (v47). There is a close connection between the last three parables.

These two parables impress on us the preciousness of the Kingdom of Heaven, so precious that it is worth losing everything to attain (Matthew 19:20). The Kingdom of Heaven is depicted first as a hidden treasure (similar to 2 Corinthians 4:7) and second as a fine pearl. The protagonist in both parables upon finding the treasure/pearl and considering its value to be much more than that of everything that he has, sells everything to attain the treasure/pearl. In fact, it writes that he is happy to do so. He does so in joy!

When we consider these parables in the context of Jesus explaining the parables of the weeds and the net, it gives us the idea that those who will be saved are those who find so much joy in the kingdom that they willingly lose everything to attain the kingdom. As if to say that these are the ones who will be like the “righteous” who will “shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43) and like the good fish who escape “the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:42, 49-50)

There are a few incongruent details in this interpretation with the first parable.

  • How is it that the “treasure is hidden in a field”? Romans 1:19-21 makes it clear that the kingdom is not hidden.  
  • Why would the man hide the treasure again? Did he perhaps hide it again in the same spot? Was it figurative for hiding it in his heart? There is no such idea given here. Nowhere is this congruent with the “salt of the earth” and “light of the world” kingdom expanding in the New Testament (Matthew 5:13-16).  
  • Was he being dishonest, since the field wasn’t legally his? Why would he be digging in someone else’s property and then having to purchase the field to legally own the treasure? Isn’t it deceptive for him to hide the treasure from the current legal owner to get a cheaper price on the land?  
  • Does this parable mean that we need to purchase our salvation? (More on this in a short while)

And more in the second parable.

  • The parable starts with a “merchant looking for fine pearls”. But we all know that men, in their unregenerate state do not seek God (Romans 3:11). Salvation is God initiated, not man initiated (Romans 8:30).
  • What has the merchant got to sell? Before Christ, we have absolutely no value! There is nothing we have that we can trade for our salvation (Isaiah 64:6). We have nothing good that we can use to trade (Romans 3:12).
  • Salvation is a gift (Ephesians 2:8; Romans 6:23), not a purchase!

One a whole the incongruency of these interpretations is even greater.

  • Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl seem to be a deviation from the explanation of the Parable of the Weeds and the Parable of the Net.
  • The parables end with Jesus saying “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” (Matthew 13:52) The treasure here is an obvious reference to the treasures in the previous parables. What then are the old treasures? Is it the Old Testament law? That can’t then be right!

We could say that this is reading too much into the details of the parable, when the moral of the story is simply that the kingdom of heaven is precious. However, the details of the story is what builds the moral of the story. Imagine if the father didn’t run to the son in the Parable of the Prodigal’s Son; or if the son didn’t fall to the point of eating pods for the pigs. You get the point.

There is another way to understand this parable with more congruence in the context. More to come, stay tuned.

Along came Joy

Saturday, October 13th, 2012

Fate used me meanly; but I looked at her and laughed,
That none might know how bitter was the cup I quaffed.
Along came Joy, and paused beside me where I sat,
Saying, ‘I came to see what you were laughing at.’
Reward- Ella wheeler Wilcox

To bear arms

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

When it came time to bear arms
Against mine enemy
The truth of my mortality
I resisted.

Bear resilience! Take up arms!
The fight already
In my mind begun
But then I saw.

Within the ugly crevice of mine foe
A truth
It’s maker, His face divine
And a dawning realization.

The face of its maker, also mine.
Then all resistance yielded
That in my humanity
The Glory of His deity- eternal.

There is no need for more.

Our treasure

Monday, October 8th, 2012

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.  For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.  So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.”Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself.  All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:7-18 (NIV)

For those battling their flesh – the sick, weary, frail and suffering, this chapter needs no introduction nor in-depth study. Read it and let it birth within you the treasure of Christ. Savour and enjoy Him.

Today, I read this over, and over, and over. To God be the glory.

More than conquerors

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

The common brand of Christianity looks like this: “Christ suffered so we don’t have to. Suffering and bad circumstances is of the devil. Claim the promises of Christ regarding salvation, health, wealth and success and overcome all the bad stuff.” Naturally, the one who claims more of God’s promises and/or has more faith will be healthier, wealthier and more successful. Health, wealth and success inevitably become the evidence of Christ in a person. Suffering is not of God and even if it is, it’s never for the long term and only for a season. God enables us to conquer life and live abundantly (John 10:10)!

But let me propose a different view.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we encounter death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we have complete victory (NIV: “more than conquerors”) through him who loved us!
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:35-39

Let me bring up 4 truths about living as “more than conquerors”:

  • The centrality of Christ
    Our relationship begins and holds together because of Christ, not our love for God. Romans 8:30 says “And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified.” The whole of our salvation reality (some say experience) is the work of Christ- from our predestination, calling, justification and till glorification. It is all God. If any of it were up to us, we’d be in trouble.
  • Christ has conquered so we don’t have to
    When we read “complete victory” and “more than conquerors”, we get a sense of how complete our victory is in Christ. John 16:33 shows us how Jesus sees His reality in our Christian life, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage – I have conquered the world.” God isn’t airy fairy pretending that all is well; He says that we will have “trouble and suffering”. At the same time He says that in Him (not outside of Him) we may have peace and in Him we can have courage (because He has conquered).
  • Our victory is not dependent on health or wealth
    Verse 37 doesn’t say over, after or beyond “all these things”, but in. While we are in trouble, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger or sword, our relationship with God remains unchanged. Our health and wealth or suffering and pain is not a reflection of our relationship with God – if it were, we could write off the whole book of Job. Instead, Christ is our measure of victory and our “abundant life” (John 10:10). If health and wealth were our measure of victory, Christ becomes just a vehicle to attain our version of “abundant life”.
  • God’s love penetrates through circumstance in life
    How else can we convey the good news to those incarcerated for life? How else can we give hope to someone on death row? How else do we bring Christ to the terminally ill? The hope that the gospel offers is not limited to or mainly health and wealth, but it is eternal salvation and union with God. This is true hope, that a person living out a life sentence, on death row or terminally ill can have an abundant life! That abundant life IS Christ.

When Christ becomes useful to us to living the abundant life (health, wealth and success), we have lost the plot. We become less than conquerors, rather than attaining to God’s abundant life in Him, we strive for our abundant life through Him. Don’t be fooled into thinking that there is no difference, because there is. If our measuring stick for life is health, wealth and success, we’ve just made that the gold standard – the summit of life (abundant life/life in full). Instead, His call is to focus on Him and His promise is that He will take care of our needs on earth (Matthew 6:33). We need to raise Jesus up to more than just a vehicle for health, wealth and success. We need to dethrone health, wealth and success and enthrone the treasure of Christ (Matthew 13:44-48; Mark 8:36)!