Calvary Road Baptist Church

“HE DOTH NOT AFFLICT WILLINGLY”

Lamentations 3.33

 

Times are very tough these days. The economy is tanking, the culture is waning, dangers to the peace of the world are increasing, and foreign powers are flexing their muscles and becoming increasingly hostile to the interests of this country we live in. On a more personal level, either we or those we know have been hard hit by the recession and the economic factors tied to it in a number of ways. People have lost their jobs. Other people find themselves upside down on their mortgages or overwhelmed by indebtedness. Some have lost their homes and are losing their businesses. Some are experiencing all of these tragedies at once, not counting their health afflictions.

Tough times call for tough measures. As California faces bankruptcy, the governor and legislature’s response to the crisis seems to be to increase the voter’s tax burden, in a state that already has the heaviest personal tax burden of any state in the union, as well an increase in the sales tax, and greatly increasing the state tax on gasoline. Those are state proposals. No one knows what will happen at the federal level, since no one in Congress has actually read the legislation they are voting on. I am persuaded that the responses proposed by both the federal government and the state of California are almost certain to be completely wrong. It does not make any sense to me that a problem caused by heavy debt and spending more money than you have will be solved by increasing that debt and spending even more money that you do not have. However, what do I know? I am certainly no economist.

I am reminded of the fellow (true story) who found himself facing an avalanche of debt that he had no idea how to pay off, so he borrowed money from a savings and loan company, and used the money to take his family on a vacation. That is not how the problem is going to be solved. Accompanying these difficult financial burdens and physical problems, of course, is a great deal of discouragement by a great many people. Some are angry at what is happening to them. Others have become very sad. Still others are profoundly discouraged, you might even say depressed. Of course, folks think they have good reasons for feeling the way they do, since some of them have lost their retirement, or have lost their home, or have lost their job, or have lost their health, or have lost a loved one. God’s people, however, ought to know full well that times such as these are no reason for being disconsolate, and this is certainly no time for a Christian to be discouraged. Why should we not be discouraged even though we are suffering the same afflictions everyone else is saddled with? There are a number of reasons, though I will give only two of them this morning.

Turn to Job 36.5, where we see a man named Elihu very accurately stating the truth about God’s use of affliction in people’s lives:

 

5      Behold, God is mighty, and despiseth not any: he is mighty in strength and wisdom.

6      He preserveth not the life of the wicked: but giveth right to the poor.

7      He withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous: but with kings are they on the throne; yea, he doth establish them for ever, and they are exalted.

8      And if they be bound in fetters, and be holden in cords of affliction;

9      Then he sheweth them their work, and their transgressions that they have exceeded.

10     He openeth also their ear to discipline, and commandeth that they return from iniquity.

 

God is mighty in strength and wisdom, and He despises no one, verse 5. However, do you see the mention made of affliction in verse 8? Notice, in verses 9 and 10, how God uses those cords of affliction in people’s lives. According to verse 9, the strong and wise God uses afflictions to show people what they have done, their work, the transgressions they have committed. Verse 10 shows us that our mighty God uses afflictions to open men’s ears to discipline (which is instruction)[1], and uses those experiences to turn people away from their sins. I ask you, is that a bad thing, or is that a good thing? It is a very good thing, is it not? Therefore, Christians know that God has always used afflictions for people’s good. Sometimes this truth slips from our thinking and we do get panicky. However, knowing God’s use of afflictions is part of that body of truth that Christians cling to. There is another reason why we should not be discouraged in the midst of affliction. It is this second reason that I want to deal with in my sermon this morning.

On your way to the book of Lamentations, located between the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, allow me to establish some context. For centuries following the reign of King David, the Jewish people had been backsliding away from God and His ordinances into terrible wickedness. As Jeremiah writes Lamentations, the city of Jerusalem is surrounded by the Babylonian army of Nebuchadnezzar. Second Kings chapter 25 informs us they laid siege to the city for fifteen months, that famine prevailed, there was no bread for the people, the city was broken up, and their own soldiers eventually fled the city by night.

Thus, as we read Lamentations, people are starving, and mothers are actually eating their children. The prophet Jeremiah predicted Jerusalem’s fall, and was much maligned for urging the people to surrender to the Babylonians rather than continuing their resistance. The outlook was bleak. Yet, in the middle of Lamentations, Jeremiah is inspired by the Holy Spirit of God to write these words. Look to Lamentations 3.23: “Great is thy faithfulness.” In his darkest hour, the weeping prophet took comfort in the nature of the God he served. Drop your eyes down a bit farther, to verse 31, where we begin reading:

 

31     For the Lord will not cast off for ever:

32     But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies.

33     For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.

 

Notice the three comforts found in these three verses: First, in verse 31, Jeremiah saw that the affliction they were experiencing would end; the Lord does not cast off His people forever. My friend, the child of God can know that it always ends. Next, in verse 32, though God does cause the sorrow we experience from the afflictions He sends our way, He will show compassion according to the multitude of His mercies. Finally, God does not send affliction willingly, as if He derived any pleasure or satisfaction from our suffering. He knows affliction is necessary for sinners like us to improve our spiritual prosperity.

To reiterate, afflictions in this life are never permanent, but pass with time. I am reminded of the grizzled southern deacon who was asked what his favorite verse in the Bible was. He replied, “It came to pass.” When asked to explain, the old man said, no matter what bad things happen in life, “It came to pass,” and the Bible teaches that things will eventually get better. This is true for the Christian. Next, God does cause you and me grief. Yet there is no conflict with the grief God brings upon us through affliction and the compassion that springs from the multitude of His mercies. Though affliction and God’s mercies are seeming paradoxes, it is our limited grasp of reality that makes it difficult to understand God’s mercies in the midst of trials. There is no shortcoming or inconsistency with “the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”[2] Finally, and this is something I want to expand on, God does not afflict willingly. This word “willingly” translates a Hebrew word that literally means “from the heart.”[3] The idea conveyed is that when God grieves men by afflicting us, He does not do so because He derives pleasure or delight from our suffering. He does what He does because, as we have seen, it is good for us (frequently in ways we do not understand).

To reinforce what Jeremiah has written in our text, Isaiah 28.21, addressing God’s judgment of men, which would certainly include the afflictions we experience, is described as both “his strange work” and “his strange act.” Why are such things referred to as strange? Strange because the place where God’s glory rested for so long was termed “the mercy seat.” What God enjoys and delights in is showing mercy.

In light of the fact that God does not afflict willingly, but does so because the sinfulness of His creatures requires it of Him to advance us spiritually, and then it is His “strange work,” consider these attributes of God as you weigh your reaction to the afflictions you are suffering. How do you respond to affliction? How you see God will greatly affect your attitude when you are afflicted.

 

First, REMIND YOURSELF THAT GOD IS HOLY

 

My friends, God’s holiness is the preeminent of His moral attributes. His holiness is what is most frequently discounted by His enemies, but His holiness is what is most prominently featured about Him in scripture. By holiness, I refer to that singular moral characteristic of God that is so clean and pure that “the heavens are not clean in his sight,” Job 15.15, and even His holy angels must cover their eyes in His presence, Isaiah 6.2. As well, it is God’s holiness that results in Him being accurately described in Deuteronomy 4.24, 9.3, and Hebrews 12.29, as “a consuming fire.” It would stand to reason, then, that the very existence of the lake of fire, as well as the unending wrath that God will pour out upon the angels that sinned and those who die without Christ, is the result of the outworking of God’s holy nature.

God’s holiness, it must be understood, is different than holiness with respect to any other being or any other thing. Holiness typically has to do with separateness, with devotedness, with the exclusivity of an instrument or servant. Thus, a saint is a holy one insofar as he is devoted to serving God, not necessarily because he is in any way morally superior to anyone else. God’s holiness, however, is moral superiority. It is cleanness and purity beyond our capacity to understand. As well, God’s holiness should be understood to be active and not passive. That is, because God is holy He is, therefore, prompted by His holy nature to act in a manner that is consistent with His moral purity and excellence. This is why God created the lake of fire as the place for the eternal torment of the damned. This is also why God, though He does not afflict willingly, His very nature requires that He afflict His creatures in an effort to put to flight our sins, to reduce our sins, and in the case of the lost to prompt them to repent of their sins and come to Christ.

 

Next, REMIND YOURSELF THAT GOD IS GOOD

 

What can be said about God’s goodness, but that His motives are therefore always guaranteed to be pure? Many passages in scripture acknowledge that God is good, that He therefore does good, and that His motives are therefore always right. What does someone do, then, who questions the benefit of afflictions, who lays an accusation against God for wrongdoing as a result of some means that causes suffering, or who rails against the injustice of his situation in life? Is that not questioning God’s goodness? Of course, it is.

The Bible clearly states that God is mighty, and that He does not despise any. Thus, it is asserted that God is not only controlling all events by means of His providence, but that He does so benevolently. That is, He is a powerful God who is also a good God. What might our good God intend to accomplish by means of our afflictions? It could be any number of things, but whatever they are must be good things, since He is a good God.

 

Third, REMIND YOURSELF THAT GOD IS OMNISCIENT

 

Omniscience has to do with God knowing everything. Since God is omniscient, His knowledge is total and complete to the nth degree. His knowledge, therefore, neither increases or decreases. What does this mean, for practical purposes? It means that God knows your testings and trials, that God knows when you are tempted and when you sin, and He understands what you are experiencing.

Let me read just a couple of the many passages which speak to God’s omniscience:

 

Psalm 33.13-15:

 

13     The LORD looketh from heaven; he beholdeth all the sons of men.

14     From the place of his habitation he looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth.

15     He fashioneth their hearts alike; he considereth all their works.

 

Psalm 139.2: “Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.”

 

Matthew 6.8: “Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”

 

Acts 15.8:      “And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost. . . .”

 

If God is omniscient, which is to say that He not only knows everything which has and which will happen, but that He also knows all things that are both real and possible, then He brings clear insight into His ordering of all things in our lives, even the need for and the benefit of affliction. Do you challenge the benefits of the afflictions you are suffering through? Then, not only are you in disagreement with God’s holy nature and goodness as factors that motivate God to act on our behalf, but you are refusing to admit to His perfect understanding of your situation.

 

Finally, REMEMBER THAT GOD IS WISE

 

Wisdom has to do with the right use of facts to make appropriate decisions. God is wise, and we are born foolish. We can prayerfully acquire wisdom, but that wisdom is properly sought after from God, the source of all wisdom.[4] As well, understand that no man who does not fear God can be considered wise or knowledgeable. Seriously, how wise can anyone be who has not the sense to stand in awe before the thrice holy God, the One who created the heavens and the earth, and who is described three different times in the Bible as “a consuming fire”?

So, you see, it is folly for such as we are to challenge or in any way question the wisdom of God, who is described three different times in the Bible as the only wise God.[5] Being wise, and being wise in a way that exceeds the wisdom of any of His creatures, God is capable of making decisions based upon the facts at hand with skill and discernment that we will never completely fathom. This means that there will be times when God makes decisions that are incomparably wise, the right decision at the time for the great benefit of His creatures, that we still may not understand or see the benefit of. That does not alter the wisdom of God’s decisions in any way, but only challenges us to trust our faithful God, Who is holy, Who is good, Who knows all things, and Who is wise, to do right by us.

 

God brings afflictions upon us, not because He enjoys seeing us squirm and writhe in agony, but because He knows it is best for us. But how can afflictions be best for us? Sometimes afflictions squeeze a lost person so hard that he gives up the pretense of being a Christian and walks away from church, walks away from the Bible and prayer, and walks away from his Christian duties and obligations.

Is that a good thing? Yes, because it is a good thing for a lost person to know he is lost, to give up his delusion that he is a Christian, and for others to know that he is not truly a Christian. Come back to church, my friend, and strive to enter in at the strait gate.

Sometimes affliction squeezes a lost man to the point that he is beside himself with grief and discomfort, sometimes causing him to consider his situation and ponder his sins in a way he had not previously done. God sends affliction to persuade the man to turn from his sins and flee to Christ for salvation, though sometimes the lost only go deeper into their sins when they are afflicted. The wrong reaction.

How about the child of God? Afflictions serve as the refiner’s fire, to purge the dross and impurities from our lives. Painful? Yes. Frustrating and exasperating? Oh, yes. Do Christians sometimes react wrongly to afflictions? Yes, we do. However, with a Bible in hand and being faithful in prayer to God for grace to deal with the things He sends our way, it can be during times of great affliction that our light shines brightest, and that our unsaved loved ones see God’s grace working in our lives. When God drives you to your knees, He has brought you to a very good place, indeed.

One final thought before concluding: Keep in mind that God sent His Son, Jesus, to Bethlehem when the Romans occupied the Promised Land and ruled over God’s chosen people harshly. In other words, they were afflicted. However, notice what God did. Jesus suffered and bled and died on the cross to save sinners from our sins. Yet this was all done when the people were themselves greatly afflicted, so that they were looking beyond themselves for relief from their afflictions. In other words, God sent the afflictions to prepare the people to trust His Son, Jesus.

Are you dealing with some type of affliction? If you are a Christian, it may be to purge you and remove impurities from your life as part of the refining process. It can sometimes be to separate you from a sin that is plaguing you. Or it may be because you are lost and need the salvation that only Jesus provides.

Would God afflict you in order to save you? He is holy. He is good. He does know everything. He is very wise. I urge you to come to Christ before you do anything else.



[1] John Joseph Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament, Volume 3, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1991), page 237.

[2] James 1.17

[3] Matthew Poole, A Commentary On The Whole Bible, Volume 2, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers), page 656.

[4] James 1.5

[5] Romans 16.27; 1 Timothy 1.17; Jude 25



Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org