Tag Archives: trials

Trusting in the Lord During Trials (Psalm 3)

The following sermon was delivered at Lakeview Baptist Church, in Benton, KY on the 8th day of October 2017:¹

“A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.

LORD, how many are my foes!
    Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
    “There is no salvation for him in God.” Selah

But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
    my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the LORD,
    and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah

I lay down and slept;
    I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
    who have set themselves against me all around.

Arise, O LORD!
    Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
    you break the teeth of the wicked.

Salvation belongs to the LORD;
    your blessing be on your people! Selah
” (Psalm 3).

Introduction: Sorry, But Rodney Atkins Was Wrong

There is a popular country song on the radio today that’s been around for a while, and I’ve got a bit of a bone to pick with its meaning. I know I’m overly critical of things in general, I know my wife can attest to that. I like country music myself, we listen to it all the time, so don’t get me wrong. However, the song If You’re Going Through Hell, by Rodney Atkins should have never been written. While it has some good themes and a good tune, it is the worst possible explanation for what is going on in the trials of life. I know its not meant to be a sermon on the trials of life, but what astonishes me is that many people have a theology of trials almost synonymous with the message of this song! I believe Rodney is seriously mistaken when he describes what’s going on in the trials of life and what to do about them. Here’s the chorus we all know:

If you’re going through Hell

Keep on going, don’t slow down

If you’re scared, don’t show it

You might get out

Before the devil even knows you’re there!

First of all, trials are not hell – not even close. Trials do not compare with the eternal wrath of God poured out on the nonelect. Though I know Rodney is using the term loosely, the fact is, some people actually believe that trials in life are hell on earth. Secondly, self-pride and self-strength are not the way to get through them. A lot of people think this way. Thirdly, if you are scared, it’s okay to show it. Don’t hide your fear of the unknown as many people do. Fourthly, most of the time you don’t get out of them. I’ll give Rodney credit here – he says you might get out. But for believers and nonbelievers alike, we will never been done with trials on this earth as long as we’re here. And finally, the devil isn’t always watching to see if you are in a trial. Though the devil is a crafty enemy, I think people give him way too much credit these days. He is rarely the direct cause of trials in life, and he is certainly not always watching you, though he does strike at moments of weakness which may happen during trials of life.

Rodney Atkins’ song is not what is happening in the trials of life, and that’s not the way to react to them either. But you know, just as worse sometimes is the way that we do react to trials. Sometimes we do have an outlook on trials like the one portrayed in the song, and sometimes our outlook is even worse! It has been my experience in speaking with people as a pastor, and in dealing with my own trials, that we as believers do not usually react to trials in the right way. We usually react with a desire to escape, or having great despair, suffering from anxiety, being depressed, or perhaps even being angry with God. If we always reacted rightly during trials, there certainly wouldn’t be a plethora of biblical commands concerning this very matter (John 16:33; Romans 12:12; James 1:2-4).

Whatever way that we tend to react to trials of life, it is certainly the teaching of Scripture that we should react to trials by trusting in the Lord. We could spend our entire time together proving that fact, but I’ll just note a few examples. Consider Joseph – he certainly trusted in the Lord during his troublesome times when he was sold into slavery by his own brothers. He had confidence in the Lord during the turmoil he faced along the way. He confessed at the end of that account in Genesis that he believed the Lord was doing what was good and right the entire time. Remember that he said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen. 50:20). The book of Psalms themselves are each an expression in some way of trusting in the Lord during times of lament, sorrow, persecution, trials, and even joy. In fact, there isn’t one psalm that doesn’t have an underlying confidence in the Lord. It may not always be explicitly written, but it is always the thread which binds the verses together. James tells us in his letter that we should count our trials as joy because of knowing and trusting that the Lord, through the trial, is developing us into stronger believers (James 1:2-4).

And assuredly, David trusted in the Lord during the trial he faced as he was being pursued by Absalom his son. This entire psalm is an expression of trusting in the Lord during the time when David was fleeing his own son. That situation is what fostered the writing and praying of this psalm we have read, and we see clearly in this psalm that David trusted in the Lord in many ways. To give you some understanding as to his situation, look at the superscript above verse 1. It’s the smaller print above most of the psalms which will give you insight as to what spurned the writing of the psalm, or instructions regarding how to use the psalm. The whole narrative is in 2 Samuel 15-17, and we see there that David’s son, Absalom, conspired a revolt against David and his kingdom. Absalom wanted to be king, so David fled from Jerusalem in search of safety. Absalom would eventually pursue David to try to kill him.

The way David reacted is what we have recorded in Psalm 3, and it is easily recognizable that the way he reacted was by trusting in the Lord. He trusted in the Lord because he went immediately to the place of prayer. He trusted in the Lord because he knew who He was. He trusted in the Lord because he slept peacefully. And because he petitioned God for what he needed and believed in His promises, he trusted Him. The whole psalm is a beautiful call for all suffering believers to trust in the Lord during the trials they face in life. And because the psalms themselves model for us how we should pray, what we should believe, and how we should respond as the authors did to their various situations, we will see from this psalm that, like David we can and should trust in the Lord during our trials. We will learn from David’s prayer here exactly how we can trust in the Lord during our trials. We will look at each verse this morning and learn that we can trust God during trials if we will:

I. Lament in the Presence of God (3:1-2)
II. Reflect on the Person of God (3:3-4)
III. Gain Relief from the Peace of God (3:5-6)
IV. Express Petitions to God (3:7a)
V. Believe the Promises of God (3:7b-8)

Do you want to trust in the Lord during your trials? That’s something we should all want to attain, so let us look now at Psalm 3 to find out how we may do so.

I. Lament in the Presence of God (3:1-2)

The first thing we need to do in our trials is lament in the presence of God. We need to go immediately to the place of prayer. When the winds of trials are violently gusting upon our lives, we need to take cover in the place of prayer, and talk to the Lord about what is going on. We are by nature people who think we can handle problems by ourselves—we’ve been that way ever since Adam and Eve tried to cover up their sin and deal with it by themselves and without God (Genesis 3:7). But prayer reverses that tendency. Instead of handling trials and troubles with our own hands, going to the place of prayer puts trials and troubles in the hands of God. By prayer, we acknowledge our dependence upon the Lord for everything we need. And sometimes, the trial our trouble we’re going through is so extremely intense, we often need to pour out our hearts to God immediately—before we ask Him for anything or resolve to do anything about our trials.

And this is precisely what David did. David went immediately to the presence of God in prayer, and lamented about his situation to God. In vv. 1-2, David laments in the presence of God, expressing his situation to God. David lets the Lord know about the enemies he is facing because of Absalom’s rebellion. David laments to God regarding his enemies, noting that they are many in number and they taunt him, claiming that God is unable to deliver him. And it’s not because God doesn’t already know what’s going on—but it so that David can gain some relief from his distress—so that he can get some of these burdens off his shoulders. So what David does in the first part of this psalm is what we are to do when faced with extreme trials—we should lament in the presence of God. We should go immediately to the place of prayer, and talk with the Lord. Notice how David does this:

“O LORD, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
2 many are saying of my soul,
“There is no salvation for him in God.”

The psalm begins with a lament, which is an expression of great sorrow. And this lament is divided up into two parts—David tells God about his enemies, and then about what they are doing to him. So first, David tells God about his many enemies: “O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me” (v. 1). David is pouring his heart out to God concerning his many enemies. David wants to be delivered from his many enemies, that is abundantly clear. His enemies are great in number, for notice the language, “O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul.” It is not just Absalom who is pursuing David, but many other enemies which Absalom convinced to join him! The author of the account in 2 Samuel tells us this when it documents Absalom’s conspiracy against David. It wasn’t just Absalom and a few soldiers who were coming up against David, it was a great number of people. The author of that narrative describes it this way, that “Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel” (v. 6, 13). So, there was a great number of enemies who were pursuing David—that fact is only confirmed by David’s second lament: “Many are rising against me,” conveying a similar meaning that David is being surrounded by enemies all around.

That brings us to the second part of the lament, where David’s enemies taunted him by mocking his relationship to God. In verse 2, it gets interesting because we see that David’s enemies are concerned with much more than his physical life. They taunt David with an insult towards God. The second part of David’s lament is this: “Many are saying of my soul, “There is no salvation for him in God.” The taunt and insult that David’s enemies hurl at him is directed at his soul, not just his physical body. Their taunt is in regards to David’s relationship with God—they claim that God is unable to save David. They say, “God will not deliver you,” indicating that David’s enemies do not believe in the power of God to save. David’s enemies attack him in the area which is dearest to him—his relationship with God. They are saying, “There is no deliverance for him in God!” or “God can’t save him!” They taunt, “No deliverance shall be his as we pursue him, for his God cannot save him at all!”

David is expressing all of this to God in prayer through his lament. We see David lamenting in the presence of God through prayer here, and this is the first principle in learning how to trust the Lord during trials. It should be our default setting to run to the place of prayer as soon as we are afflicted with difficulties and trials. We should be in the constant mode of prayer anyway, regardless of facing trials and troubles (1 Thess. 5:17). But we should especially go to the place of prayer when facing extreme troubles. Now, we must be careful that we are not just talking at God—moping and soliciting, as it were, in His presence. That is, spending time there and not accomplishing anything. And we must not stay there in lament-mode, but move on in prayer to reflecting on the person of God, trusting in Him, bringing our petitions to Him, and believing His promises. But the point is, it is okay to begin your prayers as such—the point is that David responded to trials with prayer, and so should we. We need to tell the Lord about what is going on in our lives.

Now, why should we lament about a situation God already knows? Why tell Him what’s going on if He is all-knowing? Jesus does say in the Sermon on the Mount to consider this truth when praying: “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). Why am I speaking to God about a situation He already knows? Well, because we do not pray to inform God, but to conform ourselves to His will. We pray to get burdens off our shoulders. Prayer is a means God has provided for us to be changed and gain relief from our communion with Him. 1 Peter 5:7, though written first to all elders in the church, instructs all believers, “[cast] all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

We also pray in order to recognize that our trials aren’t as big a problem as we think. Sometimes we just need to vent, and as soon as we start describing the situation, we most of the time will realize that we may have exaggerated it and made it into something bigger than it is. But we can’t exaggerate to God—He knows the situation or trial we’re going through. Once we talk to Him honestly about it, it seems to shrink in size.

We pray also because it is simply obedient to do so. Scripture tells us to do so, and this verse implies that we should. It is what David first did, and it is what we must first do. During trials, we need to first lament in the presence of God. But we also need to reflect on the person of God.

II. Reflect on the Person of God (3:3-4)

As I noted earlier, let he who has ears to hear understand that it is a grave mistake and contradictory to the very nature of prayer to remain at the place of lament when praying about your trials. After we cry out to God in lament, we must reflect on who He is. In prayer, it is not enough to say, “Alright Lord, here’s what’s going on,” we must instead say, “Alright Lord, here’s what’s going on—but I trust in You because You’re a great and sovereign God.” We must reflect on the character and person of God during our trials—we must know who He is, and based off of knowing who He is, we should then trust Him.

That’s the second thing David does in this prayer. David expresses trust in the person of God, because he is reflecting on the person of God. In vv. 3-4, David refutes the taunt of his enemies by describing God’s character, and pointing to his relationship with God. Underlying what David says about God, and what David says about his relationship with God is a confident trust in Him that God will see him through. And we will see from these verses that, like David, we too must trust in the person and character of God during our trials. Listen to what David says in response to his enemies:

But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
    my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the LORD,
    and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah”

First of all, observe here that David reflected on and was confident in God’s character. David refutes the taunt of his enemies, that God is unable to save. David’s enemies say, “There is no salvation for him in God,” and David replies by pointing to who God is, that He is indeed, a God who grants salvation to His people. David defends the fact that God saves in this part of the psalm—he destroys their staggeringly foolish taunt with proof that there is “salvation for [David] in God.” And it’s because of who He is. “God can’t save you,” says David’s enemies—and David replies, “But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.” David describes God’s character in three ways:

God is a Shield. God is a king who protects—that’s what shields do, they protect. God is a shield of protection all around David, even when he sleeps. God has promised to protect His own and this is the first thing David points to in order to refute the claim of his enemies: “You, O LORD are a shield about me.” This is a repeated theme in the Psalms, the fact that God protects His people from physical and spiritual danger. God is described very often in the Psalms in terms of a protector. He is a refuge, protector, deliverer, a warrior, a keeper, the preserver, the rock, a fortress, a stronghold, a rescuer, a shepherd, and a king. You can learn all of that just from reading up to Psalm 23.

God is David’s Glory. God is also David’s glory, meaning here David’s “power.” God is the Glorious One who provides strength to His people, and especially to His kings. God is so glorious that He can marshal the angelic host to aid His children (Psalm 34:7; 91:11).

God Lifts David’s Head. This phrase means that God has raised David up. God raises the humble, and those with their heads down. While David may be down and afflicted, God is ultimately the one who raises him up again.

Now in v. 4, David gets more personal in reflecting on God’s character. Secondly, notice that David reflects on the person of God in terms of his relationship with him. David turns from reflecting on God’s character to reflecting on God’s relationship with him. And what’s interesting is that David uses answered prayer as the greatest display of his relationship with God: “I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill” (v. 4).

David explains that he prayed to the Lord, and God answered him. He cried aloud to the Lord, meaning he prayed. And God answered him from His holy place—where He sits high and lifted up. And by the way, David was not in Jerusalem when he prayed this prayer. Even when David was removed from the presence of God in Jerusalem, he knew that the Lord would answer him when he called. David understood that he didn’t have to be in Jerusalem for God to hear his prayer—and neither do we. We don’t have to be in church or even in some quiet room with Bible verses everywhere (as in the movie War Room). Anywhere we are, we can pray and God will hear us.

Here’s something else extremely important to notice about this part of the psalm. Consider the order of the verses here—David first reflects on God’s character, then he prays. David points to who God is as a protector and shield, and then he prays. David’s prayer comes after he has reflected for a time on who God is. The prayer of verse 4, comes after the reflection of v. 3. David first looks up to God and then he cries out for help. From this we see a great truth, which is worthy of imitation: David’s understanding of God is what lead him to pray and ask God for help. David’s reminiscing of the power and protection of God leads him to cry aloud to the Lord. And you want to know why we so rarely pray and trust the Lord during trials? Verily, it is often because we do not understand who He is. Often times, the reason why we do not immediately respond to trials by trusting in the Lord is because we don’t understand the character and person of God. David truly did, and it was only a few truths about God at that. David acknowledged a few key truths about God, and that is what lead him to the place of prayer. I mean, just consider this for a moment. Would you be more inclined to pray if you knew God “who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6)? Would you be more inclined to pray if you knew, “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jer. 32:27).

Maybe the reason why we don’t pray during afflictions is because we haven’t reflected on God’s character. Maybe if we knew more of God’s character, we might be more inclined to pray. If we stopped and remembered that God is “[working all things] together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28), we may be more inclined to pray. This is the biblical order of prayer—reflecting on God’s character—who He is, and then expressing our needs in prayer (Matthew 6:9-13; Philippians 4:5b-7). That’s precisely what David did here. Now, the importance of doing this comes in the next section—why reflect on and trust in the person of God? Because of the benefits of doing so, and that we take up in the next two verses. We will see in the next section (vv. 5-6) why it is so important for us to reflect on and trust in God’s person and character during trials.

We need to reflect on the person of God during our trials. We must know who He is through His word, and in those times of trials, remember who He is. The only way to do that is to be saturated with the word of God—to be so much in the word so that life’s most difficult trials can’t get the word out of you.

III. Gain Relief From the Peace of God (3:5-6)

Trusting the Lord during trials requires for us to lament in His presence, and reflect on His person. And when we do, we will gain relief from the peace of God. Now, there is no command here in this section, neither is their stated anything we should do during trials. Rather, this is something which will happen if we respond to our trials the way David did. This is what God does in response to our lamenting to Him and reflecting on who He is, and thereby trusting in Him. You can observe here that David explains what God did in response to his prayer. Because David reflected on the person of God and therefore trusted in Him, he can sleep peacefully and have no fear of his enemies, even if there were more of them.

And this is what God will do if we will trust in Him. He will sustain us, and we can rest our weary head on the pillow of His sovereignty. God will give us “peace which surpasses all understanding,” says Paul the apostle, but we must first “let our requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6-7). That is, God will grant us peace in our trials but we must trust in Him and pray. We must rest in who He is as a sovereign God, and He will sustain us during our trials. C. H. Spurgeon preached once on this very thing, stressing the need and importance for us to trust in the Lord to sustain us during our trials. He said, “The sovereignty of God is the pillow upon which the child of God rests his head at night, giving perfect peace.” If we will understand the truth about God from Scripture, namely the sovereignty of God, we will trust in Him as David, and gain relief from the peace God will give us.

And to that point, David expresses two ways in which he gained relief from trusting in God. He can sleep because God sustains him, and he can have great courage in the face of his enemies. Listen to what he says,

I lay down and slept;
    I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
    who have set themselves against me all around.”

David explains that he is able to sleep peacefully because God sustains Him: “I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.” After lamenting, after trusting in the Lord by reflecting on His character/person, he says that he went to sleep. Now, remember—David is in great danger at this time—his life is being sought after. Nothing has changed about his situation and his trial. But something has changed about his perspective. After reflecting on who God was and praying, he is so confident in God’s ability to deliver him that he prepares to go to sleep. Now that is what you call confidence. A king is either insane or truly protected to respond to war by going to sleep! But not only does he lay down to sleep—he does sleep (indicated by “slept”), and he wakes up again the next day! And David expresses trust once again in the person of God by telling us why he can sleep in the midst of trouble: “for [or because] the LORD sustained me.” So we get a picture of David no longer having fear of his enemies, so much so that he can lay down on his bed, go to sleep, and wake up the next day—all because God has sustained him. But notice too, not only does David have a great peace to come upon him because of how he has responded to his trial, but also he no longer has fear.

David expresses that he no longer has fear of his enemies: “I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around” (v. 6). Notice again—David’s problem hasn’t changed at all. In fact, he expresses that he will have no fear even if it does—even if it gets much worse! Even if there were more enemies surrounding him, he would still have no fear. Compare v. 1 to v. 6—a lot has changed since v. 1! A lot has changed since David has lamented in God’s presence, reflected on the person of God. David’s problem hasn’t changed at all, but his perspective certainly has. Now there is a new perspective on the same problem. What a great change from simply reflecting on God’s character and praying!

Everything changed when David reflected on who God is. This experience of peaceful sleep and courage in the face of more enemies comes only after David brings his prayer to God and reflects on the person of God. That’s the central thrust of this psalm—David wants everyone who reads this psalm to understand that they too can have peaceful sleep and courage in the face of trials if only they will pray and understand who God is! We too can experience sustenance, peace, and courage in our trials if we will do what David did. Our problems may not change, and they may even get worse (and most of the time they do), but we can change our perspective! We can get through the trials we have in life when we pray and recognize who God is. Once we understand who God is, our perspective and attitude will change—we will trust the Lord.

And another thing too, note how brief David’s reflection of God’s character is—David only needs to understand a few key truths about God in order for him to gain confidence again. All he acknowledged about God was that God protects him, God answers his prayer, and God sustains him. This just goes to show you that the length of our prayers do not matter as much as their content! David’s brief description of God’s character, and his corresponding confidence shows us that you are closer on the road to peace and faith when you know who God is, than you are if you pray for 10 hours. And you know, something I have found to be astonishing in comparing our faith to the faith of characters in the Old Testament like David is this: Many characters of the Old Testament had a better understanding of God and a greater faith in God with less Bible than we do with the whole Bible! David had peace, joy, and courage again after reflecting on only three truths about Godbut it was because he knew them. He had read them, known them, and been taught them. Let me tell you something—you’ll never have a faith like David’s and you will never have the peace, joy, and courage like he had until you understand truths about God which come from His word. And it is those truths which we must reflect on during our times of trouble.

This is especially important during trials in life, because there are all kinds of emotions we are dealing with—and emotions can be deceptive. You may feel distant from God, you may feel like God has abandoned you, you may even feel like God is “punishing you,” but you need to have your faith rooted in the objective, unchanging word of God because it doesn’t matter how you feel during your trials. What truly matters is what you know and what you do with it. Once we know who God is through His word, we can truly trust in the Lord during our trials.

For a while now, my parents have had a little Jack Russel Terrier named Charlie, and one thing that has been surprising to us about him is that he likes to take care rides. He’s the first dog we’ve ever had in the family that actually likes to take rides in the car. Our dog hasn’t always been so audacious—he used to be really timid and scared. But as long as he rides up in the front with you, he’s pretty calm. He usually puts half his body out of the driver side window, while burying his nails into your knee. But you know, I’ve noticed something about him. When he is hanging out the window while we’re going 45, or while we are driving on a curve, he will start to lose his footing. He gets freaked out and comes back inside the car for fear that he may drop out. So usually I hold on to his side or his back leg so he won’t go out the window when we turn on curves or are going too fast down the road. He is pretty fearless when you’re holding on to him—he has faith in me because he knows who I am. He knows I’m not going to drop him. He knows that if the ride gets rocky, too fast, or swings him around, he’s going to be just fine because I’m not letting him go. Charlie has no fear because he knows who I am.

Let me tell you something—we should have no fear of what might happen to us when we’re driving through life because we know that God isn’t letting us go. You may be suffering so much that you feel like you are being thrown out of the window. You may be in such a tumultuous situation that you feel like your life has crashed—but all you need to do is look over to the driver seat, my friend. God is there, and He is the one driving. He is holding on to you, and He won’t drop you—all you need to do is trust Him. Don’t trust your hold on Him, but trust His hold on you.

Once we lament in the presence of God, and reflect on the person of God by knowing and believing His word, we will gain relief from the peace of God—He will allow us to sleep peacefully and have courage.

IV. Express Petitions to God (3:7a)

Trusting in the Lord during trials begins by lamenting in the presence of God. We then must reflect on the person of God, and when we do, we will gain relief from His peace. Fourthly in this psalm, we see that we must express our petitions and requests to God. After all of these things in the psalm, David prays for what he needs. David petitions God for salvation and deliverance saying, “Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God!” (v. 7a). David made mention in v. 4 of a prayer he prayed that God answered, and the first part of v. 7 contains that prayer. David wants for God to rise up and deliver him. Though many have arisen against him, David wants for God to rise against his enemies. He wants God to get up from His throne, and to come down and save him from his enemies. We won’t spend much time here in this point because there’s not much said in this part of the verse—but one thing we can glean from this for sure is that David petitioned God. And this too is an essential element to learning how to trust the Lord during our trials. Whatever it is that we need, we need to ask the Lord for it. We need to petition God as David did here. What is it that you need during your trial or difficulty? Ask the Lord for it. This is certainly included in Scripture’s teaching on responding to trials and anxieties (Phil. 4:7; Matthew 7:7-12; James 4:2).

V. Believe the Promises of God (3:7b-8)

Lament in God’s presence, reflect on God’s person, gain relief from God’s peace, express petitions to God, and finally we need to believe God’s promises. Finally, David expresses belief in the promises of God. Why does David have such a request as the one in v. 7a? Why does David believe that God will answer that petition/prayer? Because he believes in the promises of God. Listen to the way David explains this: “[Petition] Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God! For [or because] you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked. Salvation belongs to the LORD; your blessing be on your people!” (vv. 7-8). David prayed because he rested in God’s promises—and these two statements in this section are two promises of God. One is a promise from God to His enemies, the other a promise from God to His people.

The first is a promise to God’s enemies (v. 7b). Now, this phrase may seem harsh to our ears, but it’s what this phrase conveys that is really important. David is resting in God’s promise that He will protect His covenant people by destroying their enemies. This was a promise from God to do this. God will strike the enemies of the king, and wipe them out.

The second is a promise to God’s people (v. 8). This was also a promise that David rested in. David knew that God had promised to deliver His people, and it was the only source of David’s confidence that God would answer his prayer for deliverance. God has promised to eradicate the wicked, and has said previously that salvation belongs to Him. And these promises are what gave David the confidence to pray such a thing as he did. These are promises David recalled which are specifically applicable to his situation. They speak directly to what he was going through. And because David rested and believed in these promises, he was able to pray confidently. He prays, “Arise and save me, for here is what You promise to the wicked, and here is what You promise to Your people.” These specific promises of God from His word are what gave David his confidence that God would hear His prayer and answer it. And let me just ask this morning, considering that these are promises specifically applicable to his situation—how many promises of God do you know which are specifically applicable to your situation? If we do not know the promises of God, we will have no rest nor confidence that God will answer our prayer or see us through. The promises of God are the blood flowing through our arms when we lift up our burdens to the throne of God. If we know what God says in His word about our troubles and trials, then we can rest in those promises. If we don’t know the promises, we will have no rest. How many promises of God do you know?

We need to believe the promises of God in order to trust the Lord during trials.

Conclusion: A Hymn With the Wrong Name

One of my favorite hymns is What a Friend We Have in Jesus because it conveys to us the importance of prayer in our pain. It explains to us what God will do when we pray. Really, I think this hymn has the wrong name. It only speaks of Jesus as a friend remotely—it’s main emphasis is how God works through prayer. I love this part of the song:

“What a Friend we have in Jesus,

All our sins and griefs to bear!

What a privilege to carry

Everything to God in prayer!

O what peace we often forfeit,

O what needless pain we bear,

All because we do not carry

Everything to God in prayer!”

We forfeit peace and bear needless pain when we do not carry our pain and burdens to the Lord in prayer. It’s what David did, and it is what we must do if we will learn to trust the Lord during our trials. We do not have to go through our trials without peace and bearing needless pain—if we will trust in the Lord, He will take care of the rest. We don’t have to act like we’re not scared during trials—but we should trust the Lord to calm our fears. Like our dog Charlie, we should not fear what will become of us because our Father holds us near Him.

As God enables us, may we trust in Him during our many trials by going to Him in prayer, reflecting on who He is, gaining relief from His peace, expressing our petitions to Him, and believing His promises.


  1. This sermon was also delivered at LaCenter First Baptist Church in LaCenter, KY; Ohio Valley Baptist Church in Barlow, KY; New Concord Baptist Church in Melber, KY; and Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, KY.

The following sermon audio was recorded at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, KY:

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Charles Spurgeon on the Winter Season

I’m not a big fan of winter. I really enjoy the Christmas season, but I could do without the frosty weather. The snow for example, it’s beautiful and breathtaking, but I’d rather have fall, spring, or summer over winter any day. I know I’m not alone in that conviction. It’s probably safe to say that the majority of people easily prefer other seasons to winter. With that being said, I read an interesting perspective on winter from Charles H. Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening today as winter is beginning to usher in with its sharp winds, frost, freezing rain, and snow. I would like to share with you some of Spurgeon’s thoughts on the winter season:

Scripture: “Thou hast made summer and winter.” (Psalm 74:17)

Spurgeon: “My soul begins this wintry month with thy God. The cold snows and the piercing winds all remind thee that He keeps His covenant with day and night, and tend to assure thee that He will also keep that glorious covenant which He has made with thee in the person of Christ Jesus. He who is true to His Word in the revolutions of the seasons of this poor sin-polluted world, will not prove unfaithful in His dealings with His own well-beloved Son.

Winter in the soul is by no means a comfortable season, and if it be upon thee just now it will be very painful to thee: but there is this comfort, namely, that the Lord makes it. He sends the sharp blasts of adversity to nip the buds of expectation: He scattereth the hoarfrost like ashes over the once verdant meadows of our joy: He casteth forth his ice like morsels freezing the streams of our delight. He does it all, He is the great Winter King, and rules in the realms of frost, and therefore thou canst not murmur. Losses, crosses, heaviness, sickness, poverty, and a thousand other ills, are of the Lord’s sending, and come to us with wise design. Frost kills noxious insects, and put a bound to raging diseases; they break up the clods, and sweeten the soil. O that such good results would always follow our winters of affliction!

How we prize the fire just now! How pleasant is its cheerful glow! Let us in the same manner prize our Lord, who is the constant source of warmth and comfort in every time of trouble. Let us draw night to Him, and in Him find joy and peace in believing. Let us wrap ourselves in the warm garments of His promises, and go forth to labours which befit the season, for it were ill to be as the sluggard who will not plough by reason of the cold; for he shall beg in summer and have nothing.” ¹


1. Charles H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening(Scotland, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 1994), 702.

Having Coffee with Your Trials (James 1:2-4)

The following message was delivered at Harmony Baptist Church in West Paducah, KY on June 22, 2014:

Introduction

As an Associate Pastor, I’ve had the privilege to counsel with many teens and church members alike. About a year ago, I counseled a middle school girl whose baby sister passed away unexpectedly. I did the best I could to share with her the comfort and compassion of God from the Scriptures. Just recently, for hours I counseled a young man whose uncle passed away from a heroin overdose that no one ever knew about. I’ve counseled many hours with a woman who has a wayward daughter with a severe drug addiction.

We all face trials in our lives. Charles Spurgeon says, “Sometimes God sends His mercies in a black envelope.” As a concerned pastor, I always try to share with our members the best advice from the Scriptures during their time of need. In our New Testaments we have a letter from a very concerned pastor. This letter is often called the “Proverbs of the New Testament” because of its wisdom. It is the letter of James.

The reason I have titled this message Having Coffee with Your Trials is because I would like you to picture yourself having a meeting with your trials. That’s the way our text presents trials to us: as a meeting. What are they? Financial, family, physical trials? Whatever they are, I want you to look them at them right in the face—look at them through the biblical perspective (as James presents) so that we can reap the full biblical benefit. As we delve into this pastoral advice from James’ pen, imagine yourself conversing with your trials about the truth from God’s Word.

The Text: James 1:2-4

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Trials are a very important thing to James as he is writing to this letter. If you’ve read your New Testaments for very long, you have probably seen that most authors of New Testament books or letters, introduce themselves and then express their thanksgiving for the believers (to whom they are writing) and offer up a prayer. But not so with James—he gets right down to what he think is most important—and that is telling his readers about the biblical perspective and the biblical response, and the biblical result of trials experienced by the Christian.

There are at least five observations to be seen here in this verse:

1. Trials Are to be Counted as Joy by Believers (v. 2a)

First, James dives right into exhorting his readers to do something: to count their trials as joy. However, before we can discover what James is saying by this, I think it is beneficial to discover what he is not saying: James does not say that joy is the only response to trials. He is not suggesting that Christians facing trials will never have any other response to them but joy. Christians have many different responses to trials—perhaps anger at God, shaking their fists at Him, begging to know: “Why did You let this happen?” Sadness is often a response to the trials Christians face. Exhaustion perhaps because of so many trials faced at one time. The response I have had so often to trials is just desiring to escape—I just wanted to get out. But James says that the response we are to have towards our trials is joy—we are to count them as joy. Further, James is not ordering all-encompassing joyful emotion during severe trials; nor is he demanding that his readers must enjoy their trials, or that trials are joy. Joy isn’t the only response, but it is the biblical response and you had better face regard your trials as joy if you are to reap the full benefits.

What he is saying is that trials should be an occasion for genuine rejoicing because we know that they produce perseverance in us. The Greek word for “count” here is a verb in the Greek; it is hegesasthe, and it is implying that an action be done. The word means to “consider, think, regard” your trials as joy. Now, joy is different than happiness. Joy depends on your relationship with God—while happiness depends on your circumstances. Happiness comes and goes, but joy remains. We are to have this “joy outlook,” on our trials.

Have you ever looked through a pair of 3D glasses? It’s alters your perspective. When you watch a movie, you see what seems to be real objects and real things happening to you in a theater. We need to put our biblical glasses on and view our trials through the lens of joy.

2. Trials Happen to Believers (v. 2b)

Not only does James say that we are to count our trials as joy, but he implies that trials happen to believers. Look at v. 2. To whom does he command to count it all joy? “My brothers.” This is James’ favorite address of his readers—he uses the word “brothers” 14 times in this letter. He was a concerned pastor of the Jerusalem church and loved his people. And he told them that trials happen to believers.

Many people believe that being a Christian means that you are immune to trials and difficulty. “Christians must really have it easy” they say, “Surely, as the children of God, nothing bad can ever happen to them. If God is truly their Father and He is filled with love and compassion, it must be true that all Christians live on easy street.” But that is the opposite of what James says here.

3. Trials Are Sure to Happen (v. 2c)

Trials are endured by both Christians and non-Christians. Jesus says, “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). But even further to his point that Christians endure trials, James says that trials are sure to happen. Notice what a major difference one word makes in this text. Put the word “if” in place of “when.” “If you meet trials of various kinds. . .” But James doesn’t say that. He says “when you meet trials.”

God promises that trials will come. Not only here in James, but Christ Himself does: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Let me ask you a question: Do you believe that your salvation is secure in the hands of God? Do you believe Christ when He says of you, “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” (John 10:29)? If salvation were in your hands—you’d lose it—but the holes in His hands are the proof that He’ll never drop you. You believe that promise with all your heart? Then you had better believe “In the world you will have tribulation” with the same assurance. It came from the same mouth.

Further, Paul writes, “But as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger” (2 Cor. 6:4-5).

4. Trials Occur Unexpectedly But Should be Expected (v. 2c)

James writes that trials happen when you least expect them. James says, “when you meet trials.” If trials are met, then they were not expected—but . . . we should expect them. The Greek word for “meet” here is peripipto, a verb that means “to fall into the hands of.” Now read it that way: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you fall into the hands of trials.” Isn’t that how it happens folks? You fall into the hands of an unexpected bill . . . you fall into the hands of a cancer, disease, or sickness . . . you fall into the hands of death or maybe family problems and the like. We don’t know these things are coming so wouldn’t it be wise to place our faith and trust in the One who knows they are coming? The One who knows all things? God knows when our next trial is coming—we ought to be trusting Him to give us the strength to face it when it comes.

How many of you have hit a deer with your vehicle before? Probably most of you. I’m sure you didn’t say, “Well, honey let’s go out tonight looking for a deer we can run over—oh and then we will take out a loan to get our car fixed because we totaled it.” No, every deer you’ve ever run over—it was unexpected. But since then, you are on the lookout for them every night. Driving slow in wooded areas because you know one of them might come out. Let’s have the same attitude about our trials—let’s expect them to come even when they are unexpected.

5. Trials Are Various: (v. 2c)

James also says that trials are of various kinds. The trials his readers were facing was most likely poverty and religious persecution. I say poverty because he makes clear that the majority of his readers are poor. One example: “Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?” (James 2:5). I say religious persecution because rich people at that time were persecuting the Christians by withholding from them their wages and pay: “Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts” (James 5:4). But it’s interesting that James doesn’t explicitly say, “Count it all joy when you face trials of poverty and religious persecution,” because he could have. He was writing to a specific people with a specific purpose. But he was also writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. James casts the net widely including all of the many trials that Christians face simply by saying, “trials of various kinds.”
We face trials of all kinds: death of a family or friend, financial struggles (providing for your family, etc), dealing with disease or sickness, problems in the marriage, possibly your career is going down the drain. And to all of those, James says, “Count them all joy.”

What kind of response to you have towards your trials? Do you count them as a joy? Are you viewing your trials through the lens of joy?

You may say, “Alright, I want to regard my trials as joy, but why would I do that?” Why would you view your trials through the lens of joy? What reason is there to count your difficult trials as joy? James answers in v. 3: “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”

Other New Testament writers express this very same thing: Paul writes in Romans 5, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). Similarly Peter says, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,  so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:6-7).

James gives his readers the reason for his seemingly irrational call to count their trials as joy. Here’s how it is possible to “count [your] trials as joy”: for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness/perseverance.

So there are two important observations to be made about v. 3 of our text:

1. Believers Ought to Know That Trials Are a Testing of Their Faith (v. 3a).

First of all, James assumes that his readers “know that the testing of [their] faith produces steadfastness.” It is on the basis of this knowing that they are able to count their trials as joy. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (vv. 2-3). They are able to count their trials as joy because of what God Almighty is doing in the midst of those.

You’re not alone in your trials! We serve a Christ who has been where we are: He suffered the same ways in which you have and the same ways in which you will suffer—in fact, He suffered much worse. God is faithful to those who are faithless, God is with us, God is in us, and God is for us. We have all we need in God alone and He is even working in our trials and difficulties: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). God is working in your trials and He is refining your faith—and James says that you need to come to the place where you know that this is God’s purpose in trials.

The Greek word for “know” here is ginosko: To illustrate the importance of the word “know” here, it is helpful to see how it is used by other biblical writers:

Peter writes, “Knowing (GK: ginosko) this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20). Peter is talking about the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in Scripture, saying that nobody just came up with the Bible—it was penned by men of God under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit. When Peter says, “knowing,” it’s the same Greek term as used here in James. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the writing of Scripture is a conviction that is held by evangelicals, in fact, if you deny that the Word of God was inspired by the Holy Spirit, then you deny the fact that it is the Word of God. And Peter writes here that we should ginosko this first of all—that we should know this; understand this deeply. And in the same way, James writes, I believe that we need to come to a place of spiritual conviction that we know that our trials are a testing of our faith.

Normally when you test something, you are testing the genuineness of it. For example, computer companies put their laptops, tablets, through a series of tests to see if they are going to hold up under years of use—lots of space/memory used, etc. They see how much a computer can take and they work on it to make improvements. Most tests we think of are for reliability—“Is this product useful? Is it reliable?” But if a company really cares about the customers, they will work to improve their product. That is the idea that James has here. He is not saying that trials are a test to see whether or not you are a Christian. He cannot be saying that, for even non-Christians experience trials. Even more, the test of genuine faith in Christ is a life of holiness expressed in good works: “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:14-26).

James is saying that God uses trials to perfect our faith and to make us stronger Christians—to produce in us steadfastness.
Why should you know that? So you can count it all joy. But the full joy doesn’t come without also knowing the rest of it: James continues. . .

2. Trials, Which Are a Testing of Faith, Produce Perseverance (“steadfastness”) (v. 3b)

James states here that trials produce steadfastness. James is not simply identifying with Kelly Clarkson by saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” okay? James is saying that trials in life are intended by God to refine our faith: to get us so heated in the crucible of suffering so that impurities are refined away and so that we become pure and valuable before the Lord—trials are intended to purify the faith that we already have. Kent Hughes writes, “Here is how this works: we develop toughness or fortitude by repeatedly being tested and prevailing. The more tests we pass, the tougher we become. As a boxer engages in bout after bout, he toughens and becomes wiser and stronger. After a time he develops such fortitude, perseverance and staying power that he can take on the best. There is no way a fighter, or any of us, can develop toughness without testing!” (1

What kind of perseverance is this? The perseverance mentioned here is like “spiritual toughness,” it doesn’t mean that you are going to become prideful and full of yourself, but that you will gain true strength for trials—you will learn to remain faithful to God when the going gets tough. He tells his readers to count all their trials as joy because it is a testing of their faith that produces. Proverbs offers us similar wisdom: “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and a man is tested by his praise” (Prov. 27:21).

Do you know that trials are a test of your faith or do you think that they are just “that old devil,” as some say? Do you count your trials as joy because you know they produce perseverance?

We have seen that trials happen to believers and are to be regarded as pure joy because we know that they are tests of our faith—and those tests produce perseverance. But James has yet more to say about this virtue of perseverance: “And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (v. 4)

As with the other verses we have looked at carefully, there are two observations to be made about what James writes in this verse:

1. Believers Ought to Allow Perseverance To Do Its Intended Work (v. 4a)

James writes to his readers: “Let perseverance do what it was intended to do! Let it have its full effect.” This is your response—let perseverance do it’s work in your test of faith. Matthew Henry writes, “Let us allow it to work, and it will do wonders in a time of trouble.” (2)

You need to regard your trials as joy because you know that they are a testing of your faith. That will produce spiritual toughness in you—but your response to all of it is this: Let perseverance have its full effect. Don’t hold back. Let God work in you. Why? What is the purpose of allowing perseverance to work in you?

2. Why Believers Ought to Let Perseverance Do Its Intended Work: Spiritual Maturity (v. 4b)

Testing, according to James, is intended to produce your Christian character—when you respond to your trials with confidence in God and determination to endure. Trials do not make you “perfect and complete,” it is allowing perseverance to do its intended work that makes you (eventually) perfect and complete.

Do you know how real pearls are made? When an irritating object, like a bit of sand, gets under the “mantle” of an oyster’s shell, he simply covers it with the most precious part of his being and makes of it a pearl. The irritation that it was causing is stopped by encrusting it with the pearly formation.

What seems like the worst thing you’ve been through in your life is actually an opportunity to grow in your dependence on God and allow Him to develop perseverance in you so that you will be like a pearl in your Christian walk—perfect and complete. That’s God’s ultimate goal for you—to make you perfect and complete like Jesus Christ. God is working in you every day to make you more and more like Jesus. Are you allowing Him to?

Are you allowing spiritual toughness to develop in you? Are you allowing perseverance to make you perfect and complete in your Christian walk?

Conclusion

We have seen today that trials are to be regarded as pure joy—and why? Because in them, God works perseverance in us to bring us to spiritual completion. We have also seen that trials are a testing of our faith that produces steadfastness. And in v. 4 we saw that we are to allow perseverance to have its full effect in us.

Are you viewing your trials through the lens of joy?
Do you really know that trials are a testing of your faith?
Are you allowing perseverance to be fully developed in you?

One of these days we will be free from this world of trials and sin—while we’re here, lets allow God to do what He wants with us during our trials. To quote C. H. Spurgeon, “It is true that we endure trials, but it is just as true that we are delivered out of them.”


1. Kent Hughes, James: Faith That Works (PTWC) (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991), 19-20.
2. Matthew Henry, The New Matthew Henry Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 2211.

 

Ephesians: The Mystery of the Gospel Revealed (3:1-13)

Introduction

Often times when we read an account like this, we tend to run over it, believing that it is not relevant for us today and we read on to the next passage. But the Bible says different: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). This means that every portion is relevant for our lives. I don’t have to make the Word of God relevant; it is already relevant.

The Text

“For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things,10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.”

Paul, the Prisoner for Christ

First Paul writes, “For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles. . .” (3:1)
For what reason? Well, look at Ephesians chapter 2. What is that chapter all about? The gospel that gives life and includes the Gentiles. This is the guiding purpose in all Paul does. So he writes, “For this reason [for the reason of this great gospel] I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles.” Paul was a prisoner at the time of writing this letter (You can read about that in Acts 28). Paul was a prisoner in Rome because he had been preaching the gospel. And Paul writes that he is a “prisoner for Christ Jesus” here in this passage. That is interesting to note, because he could have said “a prisoner, held captive by these filthy Romans.” It’s interesting because he doesn’t once place blame on anyone for his being held captive. Paul views his imprisonment positively. His imprisonment was definitely a hardship. His imprisonment was an embarrassment. But to our surprise, he gives little focus to his difficulty. He doesn’t blame the Romans, he doesn’t blame God, but you can almost hear a tone of honor in his voice as he says, “I am a prisoner for Christ Jesus.”

Paul’s theology of hardship never focuses on the hardship itself, but on the Christ, His gospel, and His people. We know this all too well from the pen of Paul to the Philippians: “12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (1:12-14). Yes, Paul is aware of something much larger than his own circumstances. He is aware of something of infinite worth. Something on which no value can be placed. Something worth giving up everything for. Something that is worth losing everything for—and that something is Someone, and He is Jesus. Was Paul’s imprisonment life-threatening? Of course. But Paul’s imprisonment did not define who he was. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ defined who he was.

The Gospel is What Defines

Let me clarify: Paul wasn’t talking about suffering as a result of sin and evil in this world. There are different types of suffering—death, sickness, and disease, but the kind of suffering he was talking about was suffering for Christ. And so we unearth a foundational truth of the Christian life: The gospel will cost you something. The gospel always costs you something. What matters is where your heart is when you lose things for the gospel. And when we will lose things for Christ’s gospel, Jesus asks us if our heart is in the right place when we suffer on His behalf. When we lose things for the gospel. And it’s in a very strange passage of Scripture: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). What Jesus is saying here is that following Him will cost you dearly. You know your dad won’t approve. He’ll roll his eyes and mumble something about you getting carried away with your religion. Your brother or sister won’t know what to make of your decision to lose everything for Jesus. Your friends may distance themselves from you. There’s a good chance your husband or wife will criticize you for losing everything for Jesus. And Jesus is saying, “Yep, that may be part of it. And if you’re not willing to choose me over your family (and over everything, knowing that you may lose it in this life), then you are not ready to follow, and maybe it’s time for you to go on home.”

If you lost everything for the gospel would it still be worth it?

Ephesians says yes. Because when you lose things for the gospel you are not really losing anything—but you are gaining that which is of infinite worth and that is God. Nothing on this earth can compare to God—not the greatest amount of wealth and possessions, not the most power, not popularity from anyone and everyone, not conquest, not great achievement—nothing ever will and ever can compare with the infinite worth of God. “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing” (Isaiah 40:25-26).

And nothing can ever take Him away from you. No force, no power, no nothing can every take you away from God if you belong to Him through faith in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39). So what if you lose something for the sake of Christ and the spread of His gospel? That’s the attitude that Paul had here. Paul rejoiced in his suffering and counted it as an honor to be called a “prisoner for Christ Jesus.” And so asked his readers: “So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory” (v. 13).

Value the Treasure

Paul didn’t allow his circumstances to define who he was. He let the gospel do that. He was a prisoner for Christ Jesus. And we need to remember that the gospel defines who we are. Folks, the gospel is all we have. It’s all we need—but it’s all we have. This gospel is the good news that even though we are born haters of God (Rom. 1:30), sinners by nature (Eph. 2:3), enemies of God (Rom. 5:10), not seeking Him(Rom. 3:11)—that God had a plan from eternity to save us (Eph. 1:4) and that salvation was accomplished through Jesus Christ on the cross (Rom. 5:8) and is available to all who would turn away from sin and have faith in Him as Lord and Savior of their lives.

If you are a believer, no sin defines who you are, no past shame defines who you are, no difficulty in life defines who you are, not even death defines who you are—but only the gospel of Jesus Christ defines who you are and that gospel says that you are God’s forever, to enjoy Him forever and make Him your infinite delight.

Paul’s Apostleship

“Assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly” (vv. 2-3). Paul stops his prayer here and doesn’t come back to it until 3:14. He stops here to explain the nature of his apostleship and his ministry. Paul’s readers would have heard of God’s entrusting of His grace to Paul if they had only read the above chapters. That’s all it would take. In fact he states in the next verse: “when you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ” (v. 4). He says that he was steward of God’s grace. And he tells his readers that the mystery of the gospel was made known to him by revelation and he was written about it briefly. Paul viewed himself as a manager of grace. Why? Well he had a specific task given to him. In Acts 22, Paul says that Jesus commanded him: ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles’” (Acts 22:21, emphasis mine). Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles was unique, and God used Paul to write Holy Spirit inspired letters—and while we can never duplicate Paul in exactly every way, Paul’s theology of grace here really teaches us something that I think we often forget.

Grace Enlists

Grace enlists. Grace commissions. Grace always brings responsibility. Christianity is not a religion of works, but it is a religion of action. If we think that God’s grace is limited to the gift of salvation, and it stops there—then we are deceiving ourselves. This text forces us to reflect on the fact that grace enlists. We are all managers of grace. If we have received the grace of God, we are told to extend it to others: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). In fact, you may disagree, but I would go as far as to say that if grace is not being worked out in your life, then you never had grace to begin with and are not saved. Grace always brings responsibility and forces us to take action folks. If we are not taking action in our Christian lives today, then did we have grace to begin with? Paul even says later in this passage, “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power” (v. 7).

But let me clarify two things:

1) Grace doesn’t just enlist clergy. Grace doesn’t just enlist pastors, Sunday school teachers, and crazy youth pastors. All believers are called to extend God’s grace to others and to live in a way that draws people’s attention to Him. We are all ministers folks. In fact if you want the Bible’s specific definition of how we are all ministers, here you go: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18).

2) Ministry is God’s gift to you. It’s not your gift to Him. Often times we think we are doing God a favor when we engage in some spiritual project. But what is really happening is this: God is inviting you through obedience to glorify Him. God delights in that, but really it is a gift to us because we are enjoying God as we are glorifying Him. That’s the cool thing about our relationship to God. Our full joy in Him does not compromise His being glorified and uplifted. Those two things go hand in hand. For example, in the Westminster Catechism the first question asks: “What is the chief aim of man?” The answer there is: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” It doesn’t say ends. We glorify God by enjoying Him. And we will enjoy Him as we extend His grace to others by doing things that will draw people’s attention to Him.

The Mystery Revealed

“When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (vv. 4-5) Paul says that when his readers read this, they can perceive into his insight into the mystery of Christ. This is a conditional statement. They will not understand the mystery without reading his letter. And Paul says that this mystery was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets. And it wasn’t. This “mystery of Christ” was not known to human beings in earlier generations. However, he insists that the Law and the Prophets (who in past generations attested to the gospel): “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it” (Rom. 3:21). Moses and the prophets had written of Christ and his coming salvation, and God even promised Abraham that all the nations would be blessed through him (Gen. 12:3), but the full realization of who Christ was and the great extent of His salvation that would come to the Gentiles was not clear until the giving of the Spirit. That’s how Paul says that this mystery was revealed: “by the Spirit.” The Bible attests elsewhere: “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 2:21, emphasis mine).

What is the ‘Mystery of Christ?’

Paul has made mention of this mystery a few times already and now he explains what that mystery is: “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (v. 6). Here’s the mystery Paul says: These people who were separated from Israel and her God, (like we’ve seen before in Eph. 2) are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus. How are they made into these things? “Through the gospel” (v. 6 b). What Paul is demonstrating here is a theology of unity. Paul has fought so strenuously for establishing the doctrine of unity between Jew and Gentile. In fact, that has been an aspect of our study in Ephesians since we started. Paul has a real concern for the inclusion of the Gentiles into the body of Christ. Paul is expounding the mystery of Christ and says that the Gentiles belong, and they are on the same footing as Jewish Christians and receive the same benefits. Their unity is not grounded in the similarity of skin color, their unity is not grounded in following the law, their unity is not grounded in anything else but the Lord Jesus Christ.

If being in Christ unites Jews and Gentiles into one body (members of the same body), does it not do the same for us with all other believers who are in Christ? That’s the theme we draw from Paul’s usage of language of reconciliation between Jew and Gentile that we have observed so much.

Unity: Are We Living It?

We are unified in Christ. Regardless of our differences. Regardless of our past. Regardless of any barrier that may make us different from any other person. If we are in Christ, we are unified in one body—Christ’s body. The question is not, Are we unified? The question is, are we living unified? We are not asked to like other Christians, we are not asked to be like them, agree with them, but we are to recognize and to put into action that we are one with them in the Lord, and we share the same benefits. When we realize that we are all “fellow heirs,” “members of the same body,” and “partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus,” we will view our brothers and sisters in Christ in a biblical way. We will see each other on the same level. We will encourage one another because we know that we all struggle with one ultimate problem: sin. We will worship as a family. And all sorts of other benefits.

Here’s where disunity starts to get damnable: if we do not live in unity, then we proclaim a false message to the world. The message of the gospel is a message of unity and a message of peace. And if our church life is characterized by divisions, strivings, and arguments, then we are putting our light under a basket, when we should be “letting [our] light shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

Unity is a lifestyle that we need to put time and effort into folks. We live in a day when people come to church to see what they can get. Some people come to church to fit their preferences and if they don’t get what they want, often times they leave. Or someone will have a petty disagreement with somebody or a wrestling with someone and they leave the fellowship. There are right reasons to leave certain fellowships and there are wrong reasons to leave certain fellowships. And if you’re someone who breaks from a fellowship because you didn’t get your way—that is a wrong, unscriptural reason to leave the fellowship.

Folks, when we meet together as a body—a great protest takes place. That’s right, a protest. When we fellowship together as a family, worship as fellow heirs, see each other as members of the same body, our presence together is a bold protest against division. We meet together as a body to protest divisions and to hold up our picket signs against divisions—and those picket signs have painted on them, “We are one in Christ!”

I Am the Very Least

After Paul describes what this mystery is, he goes on to say, “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power” (v. 7). Again, Paul talks about the “grace-enlisting” that we discussed earlier. He tells his readers that he was made a minister of this great, triumphant gospel. How was he made a minister? “according to God’s gift of grace, which was given me by the working of his power.” Again, grace enlists. Grace enlists.

Verse 8 reads, “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. .” Paul maintains such humility here and says basically, “I of all people, was given this grace to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” But what else was he given this grace for? “. . . and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (vv. 9-10).

Paul has said that this plan of the mystery was not revealed to “the sons of men in other generations” (v. 5), and the plan of this mystery (as he says here) was hidden for ages in God who created all things. Paul attests to God creating all things to imply that God doesn’t need a creator. That is the only rational explanation for the existence of the universe. Something (we know Someone) outside our realm of existence would have to supernaturally create the universe as we know it. And this something would have to have never had a beginning. Something that doesn’t depend on something else for its existence. This something is Someone and that’s God.

And Paul says that this plan of the mystery was hidden in this eternal God. If God is eternal, then He didn’t need a creator and this plan of the mystery was hidden “for ages” in the limitless, eternal God. Which is why Paul says in the next verse, “This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 11). Paul also says that God gave him grace to bring to light for everyone this mystery for a special kind of testimony: “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (v. 10). Didn’t see that coming. Have you ever read that in the Bible? This means that our testimony provides evil angelic powers with a reminder that their authority has been decisively broken and that all things are subject to Christ.

Thus you have a triumphant testimony of the gospel’s power: No power of hell, no scheme of the devil, and no influence of a demon can hinder the advance of the gospel to Gentiles or their inclusion into the church. And that goes for everyone who would trust in Jesus Christ. The living, breathing Church of God testifies to even demonic powers that we have been unified by Christ and are in subject to Christ.

Boldness and Access With Confidence

Paul says of this Christ, “in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him” (v. 12). Paul says that through Christ we have these things.You know, it’s strange that Paul was not frequently discouraged with the failures of his churches. He did criticize the sexual immorality of the church in Corinth, he did exhort the believers in Galatia to stop getting away from the true gospel, but he was convinced that things would work out. So Paul was eager for his readers to share his confidence rather than be discouraged—and once again the gospel is what sustains that: Paul says that in Christ he has “boldness and access with confidence,” through his faith in him.

We have something that the rest of the world doesn’t: access to God. Not only that, we have access to God with confidence. However, “boldness and access with confidence” (v. 12) does not mean that:

1) We have freedom to do whatever we want boldly before God. He sees anyway so I will do sin all the more.

2) We should feel superior to others because we have access to God; Boldness and humility go hand in hand.

3) It also doesn’t mean that we should be passive. It doesn’t mean that confidence in God should result in not taking action.

We know that life is difficult, we have suffering, evil and death all around us. Often times we can make a mistake and deny that these suffering are really impacting us. Listen to me, denial of the struggles in your life is not the solution. Paul knew the difficulties and was still confident. He looked his struggles straight in the eye but said, “I have access with confidence to God.” When we are aware of the fact that we do not go through hardships alone, when we are aware of the fact that we have a Savior who was “in every respect . . tempted as we are” (Heb. 4:15), then we have a great comfort. We as believers even have confidence over death as part of belonging to God.

Conclusion

So Paul concludes by asking his readers, “not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you.” Why? “it is their glory.” Paul’s suffering was worth it because he knew that he wasn’t really losing anything—but gaining that which is of immeasurable worth: God.

May God develop within all of us an attitude like Paul’s here.