Grace the power of God
by Jean-Louis Coraboeuf
The trials in our lives are often used beneficially by God in order to form our character and enable us to achieve His eternal destiny for us. But when we are in the middle of these tests it is often difficult to recognize God’s goal and even more difficult to have the attitude necessary to receive His grace. Even if the key is within our reach, we are often unaware of either where to find it or how to use it.
So we see, these trials have a very precise goal which is important to know if we don’t want to miss the plan of God. We must, therefore, be able to distinguish in what form these trials appear, what God wants us to understand through them and what our attitude should be in order to enter into God’s plan for us.
To find confidence (boldness) in God
“For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain. But even after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we were bold [parrehsiazomai] in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict. For our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit” (1 Thessalonians 2:1-3 NKJV).
The Greek word parrehsiazomai, translated by 'bold' (or bold confidence) comes from the root word 'parrhesia', which means free and fearless confidence, cheerful courage, boldness, but also freedom in speaking, unreservedness in speech, without concealment or ambiguity.
Often we think that having confidence in God is shown by the audacity we display in sharing the Gospel or by our courage in handling our trials. But if we examine the context of this passage more closely, we see that the apostle Paul is actually speaking of preaching without error, impurity or deceit. God certainly wants us to share the Gospel, but not in the language used in the world. In writing “we were bold in our God”, Paul explains that he had used the language of God without any ambiguity or concealment, which gave him this boldness. This was probably not the case in Philippi, where God had to use suffering and insults (trials) to purify and test the preachers so that all the glory would go to Him, and only Him.
Paul thus explains that the trials which he underwent in Philippi had an immediate effect on him and the results were seen afterwards in Thessalonica. Preaching the Gospel is a battle, but if we want to see results, the language we use must not be borrowed from the world: falsehood, trickery and lies. The goal of trials is therefore to remove the language of the world from us while we are working in the kingdom of God.
To have the approval of God
The Greek word dokimazo is translated here as approved (in French: deemed worthy) and means to recognize as genuine after examination, deem worthy, approve; to test, examine, prove, scrutinize (to see whether a thing is genuine or not), as metals. In the metallurgical industry, when we want to test a metal, we make it undergo all kinds of tests (torsion, compression, shearing, stretching…) in order to verify its quality and to certify its characteristics. God will likewise use the difficult moments in our lives to test what type of metal we are made of.
It is when we have eliminated the world from our life (the spirit of the world, to be exact) that we will be approved by God, like after having passed in front of an inspector. The approval of God is in opposition to that of men, because when we want to please the world, we use it methods: “flattering words and covetous motivation, burdensome authority…” (1 Thessalonians 2:5-6)
The object of testing is also to change our motivations and methods. God tests our hearts in order to be able to put on his stamp, “APPROVED”. This is how we bring Him pleasure, in using His methods and in agreeing to be tested.
To put an end to sin
“Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with [pauo] sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:1-2 NIV).
The Greek verb pauo, translated is done with, means to make to cease or desist, to have gotten release from sin, no longer stirred by its incitements and seductions. Testing is sometimes suffering for the purpose of delivering us from the grip of sin in a particular area. This verse in the French Interlinear version says “Christ, therefore, having suffered in the flesh, you also, arm yourself with this same thought: he who suffered in the flesh put an end to sin.” Thus, Christ died on the cross to destroy the power of sin in the flesh. But, although we could be delivered from sin without suffering, God can also use the suffering of our flesh (body and soul) to cause a release from sin.
“For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do – living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you” (1 Peter 4:3-4 NIV).
When we were in the world, we walked in its way of thinking and functioning. But now we have changed kingdoms and lords; we no longer obey the will of our former ruler (Satan). This is the reason that we often collide with misunderstanding, rejection, and sometimes the backbiting of those around us. The suffering that causes us will permit us to rid ourselves of old sins.
Thus the objective of God is that we would be done with our flesh in order to be free to do His will for all the days we have left to live. Also He will use this trial (backbiting or slander is a trial) to help us to completely rid ourselves of sin.
To become a son of God
“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 [sumpascho], that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:16-19 NKJV).
In the expression “we suffer with Him”, the Greek verb is sumpascho, which means to suffer with, to share the pain of, to empathize. The Holy Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are children of God, but this is not the final goal. God’s intention is that we would also become co-heirs with Christ, but a child will not receive his inheritance until he reaches the age determined by his father (Galatians 4:1-2). Creation is waiting for the children as they become sons and is, for the moment, suffering as it watches its inheritance sitting as a fallow field. But the transition from childhood to sonship is painful because we have to abandon our childish nature (for example, immature behaviour, dependency on people, lack of wisdom…) in order to enter into our promised inheritance. During this difficult transformation we share Christ’s feelings and we understand why He suffered so much, He who is the Son of God.
By this process, therefore, we will be closer to Jesus, more able to grasp all that he accomplished as the Son on the Earth and more apt to understand His point of view, having been impacted by His thoughts.
To share in the Glory of God
“Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 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. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people's matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. For the time has come for judgement to begin at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:12-17 NKJV).
What advantage is it to us to share in Christ’s sufferings? It allows us to rejoice in all that will be revealed through the Glory of Christ. A diamond if formed by an enormous pressure which produces the crystalline structure that we are familiar with. A pearl is formed by the suffering of the oyster. As for us, we can’t add anything to that which Christ suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross. Our part, therefore, is found in the rejection and insults that we endure as those who bear His name, Christian. In the word Christian is found the root, Christ, which means Anointed. When we have the anointing of Christ, we are His disciples, and the disciple is like his Master: Christ suffered; therefore we are also called to suffer because of those who cannot tolerate His Presence in us. The Word says: we rejoice when we are insulted because of the name of Jesus, because the Spirit of Glory, the Spirit of God rests on us.
The judgement of God begins in the House of God, where are we? God wants His Church to be glorious, without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:27). The insults (tests or trials) work like a furnace to burn off all the chaff of the world that has invaded the Church, in general, and us, in particular. But these trials will produce joy and gladness by the manifestation of the Glory of God in our life and in the Church, which will be clothed in His Glory.
HOW DO WE APPROACH TRIALS?
“Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter” (1 Peter 4:16 NKJV).
Is it easy to glorify God when we are suffering or going through a trial?
What attitude should we have during a time of testing?
“then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the Day of Judgement” (2 Peter 2:9 NKJV).
Wisdom and Moderation
“But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful [nepho] in your prayers. And above all things have fervent love for one another, for 'love will cover a multitude of sins'" (1 Peter 4:7-8 NKJV).
The Greek word nepho is translated by watchful, or self-controlled in other versions, and means also to be moderate, temperate; temperance is the virtue that moderates desires and passions (any excesses). This verse is found after the verse 1 Peter 4:1 which we looked at earlier and in which the suffering of the flesh is introduced. The literal translation of this verse would be “therefore, act wisely and be moderate for the reason of prayer; having before all things an intense love [agape] for each other, because love covers a multitude of sins”. This follows the insults that we receive after we make changes in our lives.
In the face of a trial, we often become angry or depressed because, emotionally, we have a hard time tolerating these insults. But if we ask God for wisdom and self-control (temperance) we can pray more easily for those who make us suffer. Extreme emotions, whether they are positive or negative, keep us from praying according to the will of God and push us to expose the sins of those who treat us badly, by intensifying the effect of their actions rather than covering their faults with love. When confronted by trials, therefore, we need to ask for wisdom and self-control in order to stay in the plan of God for us!
The Help of the Holy Spirit
“Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses [astheneia]. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:26-28 NKJV).
The Greek word translated by “weakness” is astheneia, which means weakness, but also poverty, illness, infirmity, lack of strength. It gives us the word asthenia, which, as well as the weakness of the body, can also means weakness of the soul (nervousness or nervous origin) or of the spirit (despondency). We are sometimes in such a state of weakness that our only recourse is to be completely dependant on God, particularly on the Holy Spirit. But this is a part of our transformation from being a child to becoming a son of God.
Since the will of God is to make us His sons and His daughters, inheritors of the Kingdom, He will therefore do everything needed to bring us into the marvellous designs He has for us as our Father. And, in response to this, all we have to do is cooperate with the Holy Spirit, particularly in letting Him help us in our weakness and in abandoning ourselves to Him. But mankind has a hard time abandoning himself in this way and no longer relying on his own strength!
“Humble yourselves [tapeinoo], therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6 NIV).
The Greek word tapeinoo means to make humble, to level, to assign a lower rank to, to abase oneself. It’s obvious that when we humble ourselves before God we place ourselves at the lowest level before Him, but how is this possible in actuality?
Here are three passages using the verb tapeinoo:
The disciples were invited by Jesus to be like the little child whom He placed before them. The words translated as “little child” is the Greek word paidion which indicates a young pupil submitted to a teacher or tutor. We find this concept of education again in Hebrews (12:9), “we had human fathers for educators” (The Interlinear Bible). What Jesus was suggesting to His disciples was to adopt the same attitude as the young child who is always ready to be taught, corrected, and trained. Thus, humility is found in the attitude of our heart when faced with teaching and correction.
The tax collector in this verse was so convicted of his own sin that he wouldn’t even dare to lift his eyes toward God. He called out for divine clemency, for forgiveness. This is why Jesus said that anyone having this attitude of humility in recognizing their own weakness before God would not only be forgiven, but also would be raised up in the eyes of the Father. Humility is found, therefore, in recognizing our weakness.
Jesus Christ showed his humility in obeying his Heavenly Father all the way to death on the crow. Humility is found also in obedience, and particularly in obedience to the Word of God.
How does one humble himself under the mighty hand of God? By unburdening all of our worries onto Him, literally “by throwing on Him” all our worries just as people threw their clothes on the little colt (Luke 19:35), in order that he might take care of us. Our principle difficulty is in recognizing our own weaknesses, our lack, our errors and our problems, and then afterwards in being incapable to quit fighting against our trials. We believe that somehow, if we could just overcome our trial by our own force, we would come out of it more mature… Herein lays the problem!
God doesn’t want us to mature through our own strength, because he knows very well that what we produce will sooner or later bring us into pride. What God desires, is that we surrender and that we give up the battle, so that we would entrust our combat to Him and allow Him to take care of us:
- “In God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh do to me?” (Psalm 56:4 NKJV).
- “In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 56:11 NKJV).
- “Be gracious unto me, O God, be gracious unto me; for my soul taketh refuge in thee: yea, in the shadow of thy wings do I take refuge, until the calamities be overpast” (Psalm 57:1 Darby).
God wants to extend His grace to us, but there is a condition: we must agree to put our confidence in Him, to find our refuge under the shadow of His wings… just until the trial is over. Often God can’t show us His grace and come to our rescue, delivering us from the trial, because we refuse to humble ourselves under His mighty hand by relinquishing our combat to Him.
The Grace of God
“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10 NIV).
The God of Grace, Who called us to His eternal glory in Jesus Christ, wants “to restore us, to strengthen us, to fortify us and give us a firm foundation” (1 Pet 5:10, The Interlinear Bible)… after we have suffered for a little while. The duration of this time depends more on us than on God. We can’t avoid the suffering, but we can decrease the duration of it. God writes in His Word: “after you have suffered a little while”, obviously, His desire is that we don’t suffer a long time!
“To him be the power for ever and ever! Amen” (1 Peter 5:11 NIV).