Saturday, December 02, 2006

"Smooth Sailing" is Not A Biblical Virtue

Even the most die-hard reformed Christian, if he is honest(reverse oxymoron), would prefer that life were easy. No problems, strawberry fields, champagne dreams and caviar wishes.

But even a casual glance at the Bible will reveal that all the major Bible personalities experienced great hardship. Contrary to what the prosperity preachers will tell you, "smooth sailing" ain't a biblical virtue. Even those who had great wealth frequently found themselves in great suffering. Read the stories of David, Joseph, and Abraham. And who among us has suffered like Paul, and all the first century Christians. Our Savior, Jesus, suffered more than all and He is God! So we really have some growing to do where our understanding of suffering is concerned. And don't give me that ol', "Jesus suffered so that we wouldn't have to" malarkey. Phillipians 1:29 makes a liar out of you.

No, the Bible is not a book filled with details about lives lived in ease.
Struggles with sin, exile, family and faithfulness is pretty much par for the course. This is counter-intuitive for us today. We definitely want the smooth ride. Our question when encountering adversity is always, "how can I get out of this"? Our question when encountering adversity should be, "how is Christ being formed in me through this"?(Your blogger makes no claim of having arrived here either. So this is for me too!)

Adversity is a new opportunity to trust God and to witness Him fullfill His promises. Without fail, for the true Christian adversity is the means God uses to grow us in faith, holiness and trust in Him. Ease, on the other hand is an opportunity to stagnate, become self-centered, forget God and idolize the temporal.

Consider some examples of "smooth sailing" in Scripture: Solomon, the Pharisees, the rich man (Lazarus' opposite)and the man whose barns were filled. God gave Solomon rest from all of his enemies. And what did Solomon do? He married pagans, worshipped idols and mourned it all in his, "Ecclessiastes". The Pharisees had it all: power, wealth and influence. But Jesus said they were, whitewashed tombs full of deadmens' bones and a brood of vipers. All of Dives', the rich man, money couldn't buy him a drink of water in Hades. The other rich guy thought that he would just eat, drink and be merry. That was until God told him that his life was required of him that very night.Don't forget all the wicked kings whose lives of ease ended with either murder by someone close or a nasty bit of judgement from God. It seems "smooth sailing" disguises the waterfall.

A question that begs asking is this: "Why does it have to be this way? We're saved, children of THE KING! Shouldn't it be easier for us?" I submit to you these admittedly unoriginal answers.

1. We still live in a sin-sick world. Attempting to live holy in a world infested with sin invites adversity. The world hates us, satan hates us, even our own flesh hates the new us. Can you see how we rub a lot of folks the wrong way.

2. Adversity tests our professions for authenticity. We habitually say things like: "God is faithful", "God will never forsake me", "I trust God", "I believe God's Word" and the Peteresque "God, I will stand for You". Adversity is one big:"Oh yeah?!" The proverbial rubber meeting the road.

3. Adversity is the means by which God conforms us to the image of Christ. What happened to Jesus, happens to His Church period (not necessarily in all its gory detail, but you get the point!).

The truth is, we must be tested. Suffering verifies our authenticity, facilitates our growth in Christ, identifies areas needing improvement and certifies our witness. Even the world provides evidence of the great value of hardship. The great athlete who sacrifices so much to become the best. The great sacrifices of the civil rights struggle of black people in America. The kid who beats the odds of growing up impoverished to be a great surgeon (Dr. Ben Carson). We consider these to be great triumphs. How much greater a triumph is our victory over death and the grave. How much greater is our eternal reward?

Don't let the Jakeses, Dollars and Bynums of the world (literally) rob you of the victory of your suffering. The riches they offer will all burn up on that day when they are tested in God's refining fire. But your faith and holiness borne of adversity will come forth as pure gold.

"Sail on, hon-ay", The Commodores(feat. Lionel Ritchie)

B. L. B. B.!
(Be Like the Bereans, Baby!)


MHJONES said...

So maybe I can put this one up on my site? I promise to provide a link back to Submission!!


Ronnie said...

Well said Keith. Keep fighting the good fight!

Keith L. Tolbert said...

Do that Melvin! No problem

Anonymous said...

Keith, were you @ the Ligonier conference last week?

Keith L. Tolbert said...

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend this year. I have to get back.