Help For Your Family: Hardships

Real hardship:  surviving the Dust Bowl years in America.

Real hardship: surviving the Dust Bowl years in America.

Hardship is defined this way:

1.  a state of  misfortune or affliction;

2.  something hard to endure

3.  something that causes or entails suffering

That’s how WordBook XL defines “hardship.”  How do you define it?  Sam Cooke wrote a song about it:

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Nobody knows but Jesus
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Glory, Hallelujah
Sometimes I’m up, sometimes
I’m down, ohh, yes Lord
Sometimes I’m almost
To the ground, oh yes, Lord

Hardships are a part of life no matter who you are or where you live.  They come in many different forms and they always come at inconvenient times.  The Bible is not only a book of comfort during times of hardship, but it gives some very basic, common sense, practical advice on dealing with a variety of hardships.

1.  In sickness and in health

(a)  By his stripes, Isaiah 53:5

But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.

This is a magnificent chapter that deals with the vicarious suffering of Jesus for our salvation.  Both this chapter and Psalm 22 give us a more vivid picture of the Crucifixion than is found anywhere else in the Bible, including the Gospels.  Looking at Isaiah 53:5 phrase-by-phrase shows us how broad and deep the Atonement is:

“He was wounded for our transgressions.”  This speaks of vicarious expiation.  The Hebrew meholal, “wounded,” really means “nailed to” or “transfixed.”  He, Jesus, was nailed to, or attached to, the Cross on account of our pasha, our purposeful rebellion against God.

“He was bruised for our iniquities.”  This covers our “inward crookedness,” our awonoth.  In other words, Jesus was crushed—shattered—to take care of our sinful, perverse natures.

“The chastisement for our peace was upon him.”  His punishment led to our peace.  His punishment was rightfully our punishment.  The word really means “disciplinary suffering.”  Imagine that!  Jesus suffered terrible discipline so we could experience peace.  That word, “peace,” means more than just the “absence of strife,” but it means “wholeness” or “completeness.”

“By his stripes we are healed.”  The main idea here is that by means of His stripes (all of His suffering), there is complete healing for all of us.  Jesus’ sufferings are not only vicarious, but also redemptive and curative.  Yes, healing is included in the Atonement.  Though not to the same extent as salvation, healing is part of Christ’s work for us.  It’s unfortunate that so many denominations neglect or downplay divine healing as it is clearly taught in both Testaments.

(b)  In His name, James 5:14, 15

Is anyone sick? He should call for the elders of the church and they should pray over him and pour a little oil upon him, calling on the Lord to heal him.  And their prayer, if offered in faith, will heal him, for the Lord will make him well; and if his sickness was caused by some sin, the Lord will forgive him.

Are these verses teaching that it is God’s will for every single believer to be healed of every single sickness?  Some Christians teach this and many believe it.  However, if it were true, then Christians would never die.  Sickness and disease are things that come along with living in a sinful and sin-cursed world.

So what is James saying here?  Actually, he isn’t really asking a question, he is declaring a statement of fact:  there is someone sick among you.  That being the case, what are we supposed to do about him?  The answer is simple:  the sick person, or someone acting on his behalf, needs to call the elders of his church, and those elders need to visit him, anoint him with oil, and pray over him in the Name of Jesus.

There is an important word used here.  In the Greek language, there are two words translated “anoint.”  One of them is a word used of “religious anointing,” chrio, from which we get the word “Christ,” the Anointed One.  When one is anointed in the religious sense, special oil is used.  That word is used only 5 times in the New Testament and always of Christ being anointed by the Father with the Holy Spirit.

The other word is aleipho, and it has nothing to do religious ceremonies whatsoever.  It simply means “to rub with oil.”  It is often used of medicine.  When Hezekiah was sick, they rubbed his head with oil in a medicinal sense.  This is the word James is using here. He is not suggesting we anoint a sick person with oil in the religious sense, but in a medicinal sense.  So James’ advice is immensely practical, which is what we would expect from James.  When you are sick, call for the elders of your church to come and pray for you, but take your medicine, too.  James was a man of prayer and a man who saw no conflict between medicine and faith.  Pray for healing in Jesus’ Name; He is the One who does the healing.

(c)  The link between confession and prayer, James 5:16

Admit your faults to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous man has great power and wonderful results.

Christians are to confess their faults to one another, but our sins we confess to God.  Confessing our sins to each other is not what James is teaching here.  Why would we do that?  We cannot forgive each other!  But if I have hurt you in some way, then I am bound to confess that to you.  This is important; nothing should hinder our prayers—not ill will or bad feelings.  When our consciences are clear, our prayers will be focused and earnest.  These are the kind of prayers God notices.

2.  Earning a living

(a)  A 2-fold request, Proverbs 30:7—9

O God, I beg two favors from you before I die: First, help me never to tell a lie. Second, give me neither poverty nor riches! Give me just enough to satisfy my needs!  For if I grow rich, I may become content without God. And if I am too poor, I may steal and thus insult God’s holy name.

Proverbs is a great book of the Bible for shaping godly character.  These three verses address character issues.  The writer, Agur, wanted to  avoid liars and lying.  As the saying goes, “The company you keep makes the difference,” and this person wanted to maintain good character.  Elsewhere in the Bible we read:

Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits.”   (1 Corinthians 15:33  NKJV)

The other thing the writer wanted was balance.  He didn’t want to be so rich that he might forsake God, but then he didn’t want to be so poor that he might resent God.  What he wanted enough.  Agur was a  man of character who knew himself well!

(b)  A 3-fold admonition, Titus 2:9, 10

Urge slaves to obey their masters and to try their best to satisfy them. They must not talk back, nor steal, but must show themselves to be entirely trustworthy. In this way they will make people want to believe in our Savior and God.

Slavery was part of Paul’s culture, and so he was addressing those who were slaves.  Broadly speaking, the slaves of Paul’s day could be considered the employees of today; people who exchange their time for someone else’s money.  Paul raises three points about employee-employer relations:

Deportment.  A slave, or employee, must willingly comply with his master’s, his employer’s, wishes.  He must submit to what his boss wants him to do.

Disposition.  That same employee must not whine and complain.  He must conduct himself in a professional and courteous manner.  It’s one thing to do as you’re told, but Christians should do more than just “do the job.”  It’s an attitudinal thing.  Our attitudes are important.

Dependability.  Christian slaves or employees should be completely dependable in every way.  He should do his job well whether his boss around or not.  He should be honest.

The reason for this exemplary behavior is stated:  God will look good when we perform well.  People will want to know the God we know if we live and work well.

Masters, employers, are not without obligations toward their slaves or employees.  Here’s how they should behave:

You slave owners must be just and fair to all your slaves. Always remember that you, too, have a Master in heaven who is closely watching you.  (Colossians 4:1  TLB)

3.  Suffering loss

(a)  Comfort, 2 Corinthians 1:3—7

Who suffered more that Paul?  Reading through the book of Acts we are struck the trials and tribulations (not to mention shipwrecks) he endured for the sake of the Gospel!  Through it all, though, he was able to write this:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort…  (verse 3  NKJV)

To “bless” God is to “praise” Him.  David knew how important it was to praise God no matter what:

I will praise the Lord no matter what happens. I will constantly speak of his glories and grace.  (Psalm 34:1  TLB)

God’s comfort is multifaceted.  It has nothing to do with sentimentality or sympathy.  The Greek word for “comfort” is parakaleo, which means “to call alongside of.”  The Holy Spirit is referred to as “the Paraclete,” because He is always right there beside us, no matter what.  This is why God is the “God of all comfort.”   Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, He is always “alongside” us.  He is the One who helps us, strengthens us, gives us wisdom, and He is our Advocate.  As the “God of all comfort,” He is there for us during times of trouble.  He makes it possible for to get through the hardship.

God comforts us for two reasons:  for our good and so that we may comfort others.

(b) Deliverance, 2 Corinthians 1:9

We felt we were doomed to die and saw how powerless we were to help ourselves; but that was good, for then we put everything into the hands of God, who alone could save us, for he can even raise the dead.

Paul was a man of faith, but on some occasions the hardships were almost more than he could bear.  He was only human, after all.  One time, for example, he felt as though he had been sentenced to death.  However, in spite of his feelings, Paul learned that his “powerless” state served to prove the greatness of God.  Paul’s reasoning is actually profound.  If God could “even raise the dead,” then He could easily deliver Paul from whatever hardship was short of death.

Here’s a real lesson for we who find ourselves in such dilemmas:  never give in to our feelings!  We may feel there is not hope, but there is an objective reality we must acknowledge:  God is always in control; He is never unaware of our situations.  That objective truth is what we must act on.  We must  never yield to our emotions.

(c)  Be strong in the Lord, Philippians 4:11—13

Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to get along happily whether I have much or little. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of contentment in every situation, whether it be a full stomach or hunger, plenty or want; for I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power.

When Paul wrote these verses, he was not sunning himself on a Mediterranean beach!  He was in prison.  Yet, he was able to tell his friends that in each turn of his life, he was never in need. Even in prison, he had no needs.  How could he write this?  Did he actually believe it?  Of course!  In Christ, Paul found everything he needed.  He found that in Christ, he was able to serve God in good times and bad.  Key in understanding Paul’s attitude here is that it relates to serving God.  God enabled Paul to do anything as it related to serving God.  A good commentary on these verses might be Galatians 2:20—

I have been crucified with Christ: and I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the real life I now have within this body is a result of my trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

It’s a tough lesson to learn for independent people!  Trusting in the Lord is what enables us to do great things for Him.  Serving Him in our own strength will result in a hit-and-miss situation.  But when learn to yield ourselves to Him—to trust Him fully—we will find our service simply excels. 

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