We live in a world filled with suffering—from natural disasters and accidents that take loved ones away from us to countless moral evils that cause unimaginable pain and sorrow. So how do we keep from being buried under the weight of suffering? It is not by thinking it is all an illusion, as the Buddhists believe. It is not by thinking that suffering is payment for sins in our past life, as the Hindus believe. It is not by thinking we need to keep a stiff upper lip, as the Stoics believe. And it is certainly not by thinking that suffering is merely a suspension to our story, something to be avoided at all costs, as the secularists believe.
Brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
The apostle Paul is telling us that we are strengthened in our suffering when we think appropriately. Appropriate thinking is rooted in what is above us rather than what is below us. We are to think God’s thoughts after Him. It is only when we look within the biblical framework that we will find the answers to the BIG questions in life, such as:
- Why am I here?
- What is the meaning of life?
- Where am I going?
- How am I going to get there?
Our Western secular society has no answers to these kinds of questions. Without God as the source of all life, we are simply a product of time plus matter plus chance. The secularists believe that we came from nothing and we are heading back to nothing, so grab all the happiness you can find right now because this is all there is! They would tell us that suffering merely suspends our story and shrouds our happiness.
But the apostle Paul is telling us to think about the BIG questions in life (questions of what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy), because it is only there that we meet with answers from the Almighty that are designed to strengthen us . . . whether the sun is brightly shining or the storm winds are howling.
Paul knew this from personal experience. His life after the Damascus Road experience was marked by continual suffering: beaten with rods; pelted with stones; three times shipwrecked; a night and a day spent floating in the ocean; knowing hunger, thirst and nakedness; imprisoned; and living under the pressure of his great concern for the church (2 Corinthians 12). Yet through it all, Paul said, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:12).
Contentment is something that must be learned, and we only learn it through right thinking. Fixing our focus on Jesus brings us a peace that passes all understanding of the natural mind, because Jesus brings us His peace and presence. And therein lies the key to being strengthened in our suffering: appropriate thinking put into consistent practice . . . and the God of peace will be with you!
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!