By Jason Tackett
Hebrews 11 is one of the greatest chapters in the Bible concerning the activity of faith. This chapter deals with how faith acts in the lives of those who have it. The faith of Christ is an active element in the life of the believer. By faith Enoch offered, by faith Abraham went out and obeyed, by faith Sarah received strength, by faith Abraham offered, Jacob worshipped, and by faith the parents of Moses hid the baby because they feared not the king. What is your faith doing? Faith without works is not real faith. Faith without works is dead; it is not faith at all. In the reciting of these great men of faith we come to the person of Moses. Moses was born a Hebrew and born at a time when Hebrew baby boys were being exterminated. He was born to godly parents who kept him alive despite the command to kill him. But, when he could no longer be hid they committed him to the Nile river where he was discovered by the Pharaoh’s daughter. She took him unto herself and raised him as her own child. He grew up in Egypt and was learned with all of the wisdom of Egypt. He could have had all the treasures of Egypt and enjoyed all of its pleasures. Some even believe that he could have been the next king of Egypt if he had so desired and our text leaves that possibility open. But our text says this: “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter….” He refused Egypt. This was a decision that was done by faith. That means that He heard the word of God and believed it and acted on it. It was not presumption that caused Moses to refuse all the possibilities of Egypt. He refused Egypt because he believed God about the promises of Israel and he embraced those promises. He did not make this decision rashly either but did so when he had come of age. At the time when he was ready to rule in Egypt he refused it and chose something else. It is not the point of this message to rehearse the story of Moses. All of us here know the story. The points I want to dwell on are concerning his reasons. Moses is a man that “chose to suffer” instead of having those things in Egypt. I want to dwell on this question: why would any person choose a life of suffering when he could have the riches of the world. Our text explains why Moses did these things. And this text stands as a challenge to us to also choose to suffer. “Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come” (Heb. 13:12-14). The grand problem with Christianity today is that we are more interested in escaping the cross then embracing the cross and carrying the cross. We refuse suffering and therefore there are no great acts of faith that can be attributed to us. Christ has told us that we have a cross to bear and that we can only gain our life by losing it. The history of Christianity is a glorious story of suffering and it is that suffering that turned the world upside down. The apostles gladly suffered and therefore thousands were saved. The martyrs gladly embraced the lions and the stake. And through their martyrdom the world has seen the beauty of the faith of Christ. Our very chapter we are in tonight deals with what the martyrs endured or suffered for the sake of God. “And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Heb. 11:36-38). Why is suffering something that we should choose when it is something we could escape?
I. What is the nature of suffering?
Let us begin with examining the nature of suffering. Suffering is different than pain. Both pain and suffering entered the world through sin. We often intertwine the two and believe them to be the same. Pain is something that happens to someone; an injury of various natures. There is physical pain, psychological and emotional pain, there is spiritual pain. But, pain is an event that happens or continues to happen to a person or to a group of people. Suffering is not an event that happens to a person it is something that that person chooses to do. To suffer means to bear what is painful or to endure; to sink under a weight. It is synonymous with the words patience and endurance. It is no doubt puzzling to some here to hear suffering described as a choice. Let me offer you an example. Someone may choose suffering by refusing to take pain medication and to feel the pain instead. In fact every great story has an element of suffering in it; we often call it the conflict of the story. The hero of the story at some point decided to suffer through something or to endure something for the sake of gaining something else or to conquer something. The warrior chooses suffering over cowardice. The body builder chooses suffering or enduring the pain of exercise in order to gain physical fitness. Many times we hear about the cancer patient choosing to suffer pain in order to maintain their consciousness and wits. They would do this because they desire not to be comatose when their loved ones are by their side. Suffering is what a person a group of people decide to do with their pain. Suffering is the result of freedom. We often hear the atheist object to the existence of God because of the existence of suffering. They do this not realizing that suffering is a free choice. Suffering proves freedom and liberty which in turn prove the existence of a God (for freedom cannot exist unless there is a personal God to author it. There is no freedom in evolutionary materialism). Suffering proves human dignity; it does not disparage it. The one that suffers is free to do so. Suffering teaches us that mankind has dignity and worth. Pain is a great thing because it tells us when something is wrong. Suffering is a great thing is well because it creates opportunities. Because we live in a world of suffering we live in a world were accomplishments can be made. Without suffering words like love, forgiveness, and honor would have no real meaning; there would no examples of great lovers and great heroes for us to look to. It is worth it to endure suffering for the right things. That is why James told us that we count them happy that endure (James 5:11). Suffering entered this world by a free choice of one man n the garden. And our text tells us that suffering is something that is yet a choice.
Every time a painful event occurs a decision is to be made by the one that sustains that injury. What am I going to do with my pain? Am I going to try to escape the pain or am I going to choose to patiently endure the pain? The painful event puts a fork into the road and makes us choose: Escape or Suffering. The choice to escape pain takes many forms: drugs, alcohol, sensual relationships, entertainment (which is a diversion), work, play, etc. This is the essence of the choice. We have the following set of three dialectics: people verses pleasures (v. 25), testimony verses treasures (v. 26), and the sight of God verses the strength of the king (v. 27). In each of the dialectics a choice is presented. Will one choose to suffer for the greater principle, to maintain their integrity for that great principle, or will they choose to escape from or to the lesser and baser principle. The pleasures of sin for a season are an escape. The treasures of Egypt are an escape. The fear of the king is an escape. The problem in this world is that they see no value to suffering and therefore they despise the cross. But, the church also now sees no value to suffering. Therefore there is no place for the cross in the church. We want Christianity without a cross and a gospel without sin and preaching without guilt or conviction. The average Christian sinks into their various forms of escape: sin, diversion, or compliance. We see no value in enduring the pain of standing up for people, living for Christ, or seeking God. We are convinced along with the world that suffering is a bad thing to be avoided at all cost and therefore we refuse to suffer because we see no present or eternal value in it. We do not like Job see that when we are tried we will come forth as gold; purer, truer, and better suited for service and glory. So when pain comes we choose to escape. Why should we be willing to choose the suffering? We should be willing to choose it because there is something more valuable than our personal ease or comfort and until we grasp this we will never carry the cross that Christ has asked us to carry. Moses saw the value of these things and therefore he chose rather to suffer.
II. Why should we choose to suffer?
First, Moses saw that people are greater than pleasures. Moses chose “rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season….” Jamieson et al stated, “He balanced the best of the world with the worst of religion, and decidedly chose the latter…. If the world has “pleasure” (Greek, “enjoyment”) to offer, it is but “for a season.” If religion bring with it “affliction,” it too is but for a season; whereas its “pleasures are for evermore.”” Here is the fork in the road: the one road is the road of escape and the other is the road of suffering. The way of suffering is connected with the decision to stand up with and for others. The way of escape is to live a life of sinful pleasure for you. The easiest thing in the world for any individual to do is to live a life of sin for the pleasures sin pull on our most selfish strings within us. Henry stated, “The pleasures of sin are and will be but short; they must end in speedy repentance or in speedy ruin…. Suffering is to be chosen rather than sin, there being more evil in the least sin than there can be in the greatest suffering.” Sin at its core is self centered and self absorbed. To escape into the pleasures of sin is to say that you do not care about anyone other than yourself. Sinful pleasure pushes everyone around underneath the pursuer of that pleasure. The drug addict will steal from those he/she loves to find his escape. The drunkard will not care about those that are close to him/her that they are hurting or putting at risk. The sexually immoral person will not care about the feelings they are hurting, the homes they are wrecking, or the futures they are ruining. Sin at its core is selfish. Sin despises suffering and chooses selfishness. That is precisely why sin will never lead to a life of fulfillment. Brother Wiley Cameron often preached that there has never been a satisfied sinner. The drunkard will always need one more drink. The sexual sinner will always need one more conquest. The drug addict will always need one more fix. Why? This is so because those who seek the pleasures of this life have put themselves and the way that they feel above all others. Self was never meant to be the center. We live in a selfish pleasure centered culture and we are also the most depressed culture. We all seem to suffer from some form of depression and anxiety (which give us an excuse to seek other means of escape). The pleasures of sin are only for a season, a small amount of time, and the end of that mirth is heaviness. Many have lived for pleasure only to weep at last that they had wasted all on riotous living. No man has ever devoted their life to the pleasure of their own senses and stated in the end that it was worth it. Jacob Marley rightly screamed at Scrooge, “Mankind should have been our business.”
Suffering is often escaped because we have come to believe that the greatest value and esteem belongs to us and not to others. We need a cause greater than self if we are ever to be fulfilled. “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Phil. 2:3-5). We need to again see the worthiness of others before we are ever able to take up the cross. General Booth who first organized the Salvation Army upon his death bed sent out this one word message to all of his Salvation Army chapters, “Others.” Christ is the great example here. It was His mind to esteem others greater than self when He emptied Himself. He could have chosen the way of escape but He chose to endure the cross for the joy that was set before Him. That joy was others. He did not escape but embraced suffering when He cried “not as I will but as thou wilt.” He saw others as being worthy enough to give Himself. “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (I John 3:16). This choice of suffering for the sake of others ultimately brought joy to Christ and it will ultimately bring joy to us if we embrace it as He did.
Consider the levels at which Christ gave Himself. He gave Himself for the individual (for you), He gave Himself for the church (the group), He gave Himself for the world (all). No matter what level of relationship we as Christians are considering the choice to suffer for those was given by our great example. Love suffers all things and endures all things. The reason why many relationships fail is because people do not have a giving spirit. We are takers and not givers, as S.M. Davis would say. We see the value of our desires and not the needs of others. We live to fulfill our own lusts. Moses saw the value of other people more than the value of his own lusts. A marriage will fail if the lusts of one become greater than the needs of the other. Love causes us, as it caused our Savior, to give of ourselves for the other. Faithful are the wounds of a friend. In the church we are to bear one another’s burden. To the world we are to become all things to all men that we be all means might win some. Every human relationship that we engage in asks us to deny ourselves and give of ourselves to others. But the greatest value and fulfillment is in others and not self. The cross will never be taken up until we see that truth. When we do we may well choose rather to suffer for the help of others.
Secondly, Moses chose to suffer because he esteemed testimony as being greater than treasures. Our text stated that Moses was “Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.” This gets us to the next level our decision. When the painful event occurs and the fork is in the road will we decide to honor Christ (which is the decision to suffer) or will we choose the way of escape. Moses could have chosen to maintain the status quo, to keep the world and its riches. He was the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. The treasures here represent to us the ease and comforts of the world. We must remember that the value that Moses saw in Israel was the value of the promises to Abraham of a Savior and a Redeemer which was to come. Gill stated, “he counted reproach itself riches; that is, he esteemed that riches for which he was reproached, as Christ, his word, and ordinances, and communion with the saints in them; all which are comparable to gold, silver, and precious stones; yea, are more valuable and desirable than thousands of gold and silver, or than the treasures in Egypt, which were very large….” Do you value the person of Christ or do we value our own ease and our own comfort. It is said of the seed which fell on the stony ground that they embraced the gospel as long as it was easy but when affliction and persecution arose for the sake of the gospel they were offended. They chose to escape because they saw Christ to have no value over their own ease. But the disciples saw the value of Christ and therefore decided to honor Him through suffering. “And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5:41). So does every Christian that sees heaven as greater than the earth and Christ as greater value than themselves. To stand up for Christ in this world will require us to endure hardness for Him; to leave our comfort for Him. To take up the cross of a testimony for Christ we need to again see Him as the greatest treasure; altogether lovely. Get a vision of Christ living and enduring the contradiction of sinners against Himself for you. Get a vision of Him bleeding and dying for your sin that you may have heaven. He chose to suffer and shall we choose escape. Demas forsook the work because he loved the present world. Many stopped following Christ when His words became too hard. And Christ is asking you “will you go to.” There is recompense. There is a crown to be won. There is something far greater than our own present ease. To take up the cross we must see the value of Christ.
Lastly, Moses chose suffering because he saw the sight of the God as being greater than the strength of the king. “By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.” Moses suffered and endured because He saw something greater than the temporal earthly rule. He was not afraid of Pharaoh and his armies. He was not afraid of men. When the painful event comes we are left with a decision. Will we choose the fear of men which is the way of escape or will you look to God which is not seen and choose suffering. God is the greater value. The world and its authority are intimidating. The earthly kings have always told the Christian not to preach the gospel. The apostles of old told us that we ought to obey God rather than man. This is the way of suffering and it is only possible by walking by faith and not by sight. I have never seen God with my naked eye but I know He is there and He is greater than all. He is the true authority and I must obey Him. Henry stated, “Observe, [1.] The God with whom we have to do is an invisible God: he is so to our senses, to the eye of the body; and this shows the folly of those who pretend to make images of God, whom no man hath seen, nor can see. [2.] By faith we may see this invisible God. We may be fully assured of his existence, of his providence, and of his gracious and powerful presence with us. [3.] Such a sight of God will enable believers to endure to the end whatever they may meet with in the way.” We choose escape because we see nothing greater than the authority of men. We escape by our compliance to worldly authority because it is too hard to swim against the tide. But when we see God the way He is we can take up any cross.
III. What will we do?
It is inevitable that painful events occur and the enemy will always be offering a way of escape. That way may come in many forms. Job one day was offered a way of escape by his wife: “curse God and die.” But Job maintained his integrity. Job chose to suffer and in the end received the glory that is the same for all of us. What will you do with your pain? This is a question of value. Do you value yourself and your own needs or do you value the needs or others, the testimony of Christ, and the reality and authority of God more. If you value yourself only you will always seek to escape the cross but if you value the higher principles others more than you will also choose rather to suffer. We have been called to suffer and to endure hardness. Will we answer the call and take up our cross; choosing rather to suffer.
Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follower of the Lamb,
And shall I fear to own His cause,
Or blush to speak His Name?
Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?
Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
To help me on to God?
Sure I must fight if I would reign;
Increase my courage, Lord.
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy Word.