Dr. Richard L. Strauss
March 29, 1992
Purpose: To show us the rewards for suffering and encourage us to patiently endure.
A few months ago Reader's Digest carried an article on China's daring underground church (August 1991, p. 33). One of the people featured in that article was Lin Xiangao. He's a pastor who refuses to bow to the pressure of the Communist hardliners who have dominated Chinese politics since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. He was first arrested in 1955, and spent 20 years in communist slave labor camps and prisons. There were times when he was forced to stand for hours in a half crouched position with his arms extended. When his arms sagged from the pain, he was beaten mercilessly.
Since his release he has resumed holding services in his tiny apartment, and has experienced constant harassment from the government officials. They have confiscated his Bibles, his hand-stenciled tracts, along with hymnals, tapes and recorders, an organ and a mimeograph machine. The police drag him in frequently for interrogations. To all their demands, Pastor Lin replies quietly, "I have spent 20 years in your prisons. I fear nothing anymore."
Is there anything special ahead for Pastor Lin and others like him who have suffered for their faith? Is there anything special ahead for those of you who have been mistreated, misunderstood, or misjudged because of your Christian testimony? There most certainly is! The Bible promises special glory, honor and praise in heaven for people who patiently endure suffering on earth.
I found an enormous amount of Scripture linking rewards to suffering, and I would like to explore some of it today. Let's begin by establishing this principle.
1. The Principle of Rewards for Suffering
There are two basic matters we need to understand. First, the kind of suffering that earns rewards. And second, the attitude in suffering that earns rewards.
a. The Kind of Suffering that Earns Rewards
Let's begin with Christ's Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:11-12. "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
Insults are being heaped on these people. They are being cruelly harassed and oppressed, and false accusations are being leveled against them--outright lies. And for nothing they deserved, but simply because they have identified themselves with Jesus Christ. He says, "for My sake." Now unfortunately, Christians sometimes invite persecution by being self-righteous and judgmental toward unbelievers. But there is no hint of that here. The kind of suffering that earns a reward in heaven is the kind of suffering that is endured simply for the sake of knowing and loving the Lord Jesus.
Like our friend Bob Vernon, assistant to the chief of police in the Los Angeles Police Department. One of the LA city council members has charged that Bob is unfit to hold his position simply because he is a Christian and believes the Bible. Or the high school valedictorian in Louisiana who was refused the right to address her graduating class because she wanted to make a reference to the Lord. Or the teacher in Illinois who was fired because he quoted the Bible in one of his classes. Or the reporter in Montana who was demoted by the Associated Press because he granted an interview to a Christian newspaper. Or the couple in California who were denied the right to adopt a baby because the judge said they were "too religious" (AFA Journal, 11/89).
That's the kind of thing Jesus is talking about here in Matthew 5. People who suffer that kind of injustice have the opportunity to earn rewards that the rest of us cannot earn. And for that they can rejoice!
This passage of Scripture was a great encouragement to Charles Haddon Spurgeon, one of the most gifted preachers in the history of the Christian church. By his early thirties he was preaching to 6,000 people in London every Sunday, and his printed sermons were being distributed all over the world. But he had his critics, and he was human, so there were periods when they would get him down. On one occasion when he was struggling with a bout of depression, his wife printed these two verses (Matthew 5:11-12) on large sheets of paper and tacked them on the ceiling over their bed. That's a helpful wife! Every morning and evening as Spurgeon lay on that bed looking up he read them. And God used the expectation of future reward to give him new courage and determination to go on.
But I don't think the promise of reward is reserved only for those who suffer for their Christian testimony. Turn to James 1, and look first at the subject of the chapter. The subject is introduced to us in James 1:2. "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various kinds of trials." Various kinds of trials. Not just trials because of your Christian faith, but various kinds of trials. The subject is broader, you see.
Now read James 1:12. "Blessed is the man who endures temptation"--my translation says "temptation," but this is the very same word I just read to you in verse 2 (peirasmos) translated "trials." And I'm convinced it should be translated the same way here, as do the NASB and NIV. "Blessed is the man who endures trials; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him."
The context here does not limit the trials to suffering for our faith in Christ. It could be any kind of problem or pain that has invaded our lives, that we have not brought on ourselves by our own wrong attitude or actions. It could be physical illness, or financial loss, or abusive treatment by a family member, or heartache caused by a wayward child, or unfair actions by a boss, or harassment by a neighbor.
Now I'm not talking about financial problems brought on by careless spending, or physical problems brought on by abusing drugs or alcohol, or because you've been an overeater through your life. Not family problems brought on by neglect or our own sinful actions. But any kind of painful trial that is beyond our control. Trials on earth can be the gateway to treasure in heaven.
But it isn't automatic. Don't say, "I've got this painful disease, so I must be going to get a wonderful reward in heaven." That's not necessarily so. This verse introduces us to something else: the attitude.
b. The Attitude in Suffering that Earns Reward
The NIV and NASB both translate it, "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial." Even more accurate would be, "Blessed is the man who patiently endures trials." The word literally means to "abide under," but the idea here is enduring it patiently. That's the attitude that brings us reward--patient endurance (hupomone).
Turn in your Bible to 1 Peter 2:20. This was written to slaves, but there is a principle here that I want you to see. "For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God."
That pretty well sums it up. The suffering is for doing good--not necessarily for our Christian testimony, but for living as God wants us to live, obeying His Word, standing true to Him. And if we endure it patiently (hupomone)--that is, without grumbling and complaining, without self-pity and irritability, and keep trusting the Lord through it all, and keep living for Him--it is commendable before Him. And we shall be commended for it when we stand before Him.
You see, it isn't the size of the trial that determines our reward, but our attitude in the trial--an attitude of steadfast trust in God that enables us to remain constant and stable through it all. In spite of the trial and the suffering.
The Jewish Christians to whom the book of Hebrews was written had the right attitude. Turn to Hebrews 10:32-34. "But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated"--that is, they were saved--"you endured a great struggle with sufferings: partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven."
Can you imagine? These people were not only subjected to public ridicule, but they had their belongings confiscated on some unjust pretext, and they actually accepted it joyfully. Wow, what strange people, huh? Why did they do that? They knew that they had something better awaiting them in heaven.
That's the kind of attitude that earns reward, you see. And the writer to the Hebrews encourages them to maintain that attitude. Read Hebrews 10:35. "Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward."
Their confidence (parresia), is their conviction about the truth of the Christian faith, as well as their boldness in speaking out for Christ. There's a reward in heaven for maintaining that confidence on earth through times of trial and suffering.
Read Hebrews 10:36. "For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise."
There's that patient endurance again (hupomone), the willingness to remain steadfast and faithful, with a gracious spirit, without compromise, whatever comes. That's what assures us of receiving the promised reward. While there's no reward for quitters, folks. But there is great reward for those who patiently endure.
Moses believed that. Read Hebrews 11:24-26. "By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward." How could he give up those pleasures? How could he give up riches beyond description? Don't miss the last clause in verse 26: "He looked to the reward." The reward was the motivation Moses had to patiently endure trials. He believed he would be rewarded. Do you believe that?
Maybe you've heard the anonymous poem entitles, "Don't Quit Now."
"When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest if you must, but don't quit.
"Life is strange with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a person turns about,
When he might have won had he stuck it out,
Don't give up though the pace seems slow,
You may succeed with another blow.
"Success is failure turned inside out--
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt.
And you never can tell how close you are.
It may be near when it seems afar.
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit.
It's when things seem worst that you mustn't quit."
Patiently endure. The principle is well established in Scripture. There will be rewards in heaven for those who suffered on earth with patient endurance. But what will they receive? So let's talk about that question.
2. The Description of Rewards for Suffering
We've studied the various awards that we can earn, so we've looked at these before and this is review. But I do want to show you the ones that are specifically linked to suffering. The first is one of those crowns we've talked about.
Go back to James 1:12. "Blessed is the man who patiently endures trials, for when he has been tested and proven genuine he shall receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him."
The crown of life. It is probably called the crown of life because it involves life to the fullest and greatest. And it is promised to those who truly love the Lord, because love for Him is the one thing above all else that will motivate us to stay true to Him through suffering. Do you truly love the Lord Jesus? If you do, you won't turn your back on Him when the suffering comes. And for that, the Word of God promises the crown of life--one of those glorious crowns that will be used to magnify the Lord Jesus.
The crown of life is mentioned again, this time in Christ's letter to the suffering church in Smyrna.
Read Revelation 2:8-9. "'And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, 'These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: "I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan."'"
These people had suffered. And they aren't finished suffering yet.
Look at Revelation 2:10. "Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life."
Now I don't know exactly what Jesus meant by some of this. I don't know whether this is a literal ten days, or just a figurative way of referring to a short period of time. The point is that their faithful and patient endurance, possibly even to the point of martyrdom, will earn for them the crown of life. That is God's promise.
So what are you suffering these days? Is your employer threatening you with some kind of reprisal if you don't agree to participate in his unethical or unbiblical activities? Don't give in. Don't compromise. Remain true to your Biblical convictions. Make sure your convictions are Biblical, not just personal. But if they are Biblical, there's a special reward in heaven for those who faithfully endure through suffering. That reward is a crown of life.
Maybe you have an unsaved spouse making life miserable for you because you won't give in to his immoral demands. Remain true to your Biblical convictions. There's a special reward in heaven for those who faithfully endure through suffering--a crown of life. There's also a second reward.
b. Greater Glory, Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17
Read Romans 8:16-18. "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together."
There isn't any way we can live in this world and escape all suffering. But some will have more than others, and according to verse 17, suffering will enhance our inheritance and increase our glory. If we could put our sufferings on one side of a balance scale, and the glory they earn us on the other side, there would be no comparison. The glory would far outweigh the pain of suffering. C. S. Lewis--a very insightful writer--suggests that glory has two ideas: fame and luminosity, or good report with God, and a reflection of the beauty of God (Weight of Glory, Romans 8:13). Either way, it will be extraordinarily exciting and satisfying.
Paul taught this same truth about glory to the Corinthians.
Turn to 2 Corinthians 4:16-17. "Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction--that's how he describes our suffering--which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."
Suffering here on earth assures us of greater glory in heaven. During the great depression, a man lost his job, exhausted his savings and forfeited his home. His grief was multiplied by the sudden death of his precious wife. The only thing he had left was his faith--and it was weakening. One day he was combing the neighborhood looking for work, and stopped to watch some men who were doing the stonework on a church building. One of them was skillfully chiseling a triangular piece of rock. Not seeing a spot where it would fit, the man asked, "Where are you going to put that?" The stonemason pointed toward the top of the building and said, "See that little opening up near the spire? That's where it goes. I'm shaping it down here so it will fit in up there." Tears came to the man's eyes as he walked away. It was as though God was reassuring him--"Shaping it down here so it will fit in up there." God was chiseling away at his life down here to prepare him for a more glorious place in heaven.
Have you been experiencing some heavy trials and bending under the burden? Is your faith beginning to get stretched? Would you remember that God is working for you a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory? That's the truth of 2 Corinthians 4. But don't miss verse 18. Those sufferings are only going to fill our storehouse of glory while (watch it), "While we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal." You see, keeping our eyes focused on Christ's return and our heavenly home is the thing that will enable us to patiently endure, and that's what earns for us that greater weight of glory. Keep your mind fixed on Him. Keep your mind fixed on heaven.
So, the crown of life, and the greater glory. There is a third reward for suffering and that is the right to rule. Jesus made this very special promise to His disciples.
c. The Right to Rule, Luke 22:28-30; 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:26-27
Read Luke 22:28-30. Jesus is speaking to His disciples. "But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials. And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel."
Did you notice why He promised them that unique privilege of ruling? It was because they continued with Him in His trials. There is a clear connection in Scripture between suffering and reigning. This promise is for the disciples, but the same idea is promised for all believers.
For example, look at 2 Timothy 2:12. "If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us."
"If we endure (hupomone), we shall also reign with Him." We usually assume that every Christian will reign with Christ, but here a condition is attached to that privilege. While we will all serve in some capacity, our level of authority will depend on our patient endurance, our faithfulness to our Savior through suffering.
The same condition is repeated in Christ's letter to the church of Thyatira.
Go back to Revelation chapter 2. Revelation 2:26-27. "And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations--'He shall rule them with a rod of iron; They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter's vessels.'"
Do you want to enjoy this supreme privilege of ruling with Christ? Then remain true to Him and be obedient to His Word until the very end. That will earn you the right to rule.
On March 11, 1830, a little British girl was doing her lessons with her tutor, and the lesson that day had to do with the royal family. As she studied the genealogical chart in the book, she became aware of the astounding fact that she was next in line for the throne! At first she wept, and then she looked at her tutor and said, "I will be good!" The fact that little Victoria would one day be queen motivated her to live on a higher level than she might otherwise have lived.
I tell you that little story because the prospect of one day ruling with Christ ought to motivate us to live on a higher level--spiritually speaking--than we might otherwise live. That's the whole point of rewards, you see. It's motivation to live the Christian life, to remain true and faithful to our Lord and obedient to His Word through every trial.
A crown of life, greater glory, the right to rule. There is one more.
d. Fullness of Joy, 1 Peter 4:12-13
Read 1 Peter 4:12. "Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you."
Don't be surprised when you experience trials in this world. They are to be expected, particularly if we live godly lives. This world is Satan's domain and his people can't stand the righteousness that exposes their sin.
Read on. 1 Peter 4:13. "But rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy."
We can rejoice even in suffering, Peter says. Why? For one thing, because it gives us an opportunity to share a little of what Christ experienced when He suffered for us. And for another thing, because when Christ returns He is going to see that we experience a joy the likes of which we have never known. The pain we patiently endure here will make heaven that much richer and more blessed.
If you know Jesus Christ as your Savior, I can assure you that you are going to face decisions that could involve suffering during the course of your Christian life. How will you decide? For example, are you going to say that Jesus is the only way to heaven as the Bible states, when others are disputing it, or are you going to keep quiet to avoid the ridicule? What are you going to do? Your decision may involve some suffering.
Are you going to say that abortion is murder, and that homosexuality is sin, as the Bible states, when more and more people are insisting that they are perfectly normal life styles, or are you going to keep quiet to avoid the mockery and sarcasm? I guess it depends on whether or not you believe God's Word. That's what it boils down to. It keeps coming back to that, doesn't it, in this series? It boils down to whether we believe what Jesus said and really expect Him to reward us for our willingness to suffer.
Do you believe Him when He said, " Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:11-12). It all depends on whether you believe that or not.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Now the message we preach in this church is not a popular one. People out there get angry when they hear us say that there's only one way to heaven, only one right way to God, a narrow way. They don't like that at all. They want to believe that all roads lead to God. And yet the Bible teaches it very clearly that neither "is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by Me" (John 14:6).
If you believe the Bible, there isn't any other way. As much as we want it to be different, it can't be different--because that's what God said. If you've come into our service this morning wanting to believe that all roads lead to God, I have to tell you the Bible says there is only one way: through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Through His death on Calvary's cross, where he bore on His own body the guilt and condemnation that our sin deserved. There is no other way. That's why we have the responsibility of spreading that news to the ends of the earth.
It's also why at the conclusion of every Sunday morning message, I invite those of you who may have come in not knowing that or not believing it, to put your faith in Jesus Christ alone for your eternal salvation. Because there is no other way. Will you take God at His word? That's what faith is all about. Will you take Him at His word, and put your faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior right now? Let's bow together prayerfully in His presence.
With our heads bowed, let me ask you if you've ever made this decision? If you're not sure, would you settle it right now? Just clearly and decisively settle it, right in your heart, right where you sit. I'm not going to ask you to come forward or anything else. Just talk to God in the quietness of your own heart.
"Lord, I'm a sinner." Tell Him this. "I believe you died in my place and paid for my sin. Lord Jesus, I'm putting my trust in You as my Savior right now. I'm turning from sin to You in faith. Come into my heart and save me from sin."
Don't put that decision off another minute. Do it now, will you? Settle it.
And if you know Christ as your Savior, and you've been struggling with some trials and your faith is getting weak, will you make that commitment to stand firm for Him today, and patiently endure? Lay hold of the grace we've been singing about and worshipping God for today? Grace which He promises is sufficient for every need. You'll earn yourself a reward in heaven.
Father, I pray that decisions will be made in these moments, that those without Christ will settle the issue of eternal salvation and put their trust in Him, and that those of us who have made that decision, will renew our commitment to live obediently and faithfully--whatever comes, trusting You to reward us in whatever way You see fit, for Your own name's honor and eternal glory. For we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Continue to RW-06: When Crowns Are in Style