Now, I’m a treadmill guy and don’t do the weights thing (I don’t want to surprise you, but that’s not me in the picture), but I know I really should, because I know how it works. You stress your muscles to the breaking point and then give them time to rest…and they come back stronger, and bigger too (As in my adolescent dream of being like Arnold S.) But I’m sure this is nothing new to anyone who has ever heard the cliché: “No pain…no gain.”
This muscular principle of tearing down and rebuilding works in all the other areas too – physical, yes, but mental and emotional also. And of course, let’s not forget spiritual…
Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. Psalm 119:67 (ESV)
It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. Psalm 119:71 (ESV)
In other words, it’s amazing how much Bible study and subsequent repentance come out of cancer and divorce. Break-ups and bankruptcies have a way of showing us things we would have never seen anywhere else, and when we see things we haven’t seen before, we set off on new paths. You see, good things repeatedly come out of affliction. It’s certainly been true in my life, and yet that’s the irony of it all – when I stop and reflect on it, I would have to say that almost all of the greatest lessons of my life have come out of pain, yes, even self-inflicted pain. But while that is undoubtedly true, I still do just about everything I can to avoid pain. And I’m pretty sure that I’m not alone. So how should we think about pain?
Well, first note that pain not only causes growth in the individual’s life – it works the same in organizations…like the Church of the Living God. Chapter 8 of Acts is all about how the church came into great pain…which led to great growth:
…And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria…Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. Acts 8:1, 4, 5 (ESV)
Pain brings growth, and persecution brings preaching. This great persecution apparently began with the martyrdom of Stephen, and it led to the scattering of the former Jerusalem-bound disciples throughout Israel. And then, wonder of wonders, these scattered disciples, Philip among them, began to preach the word of God, and many believed…
So the early church father Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” It’s not what we expect, but it is what happens here in the early church and other places. The most famous example in recent history is the China missionary purge, where the government of China removed missionaries from the country, and western Christians surmised that all hope was lost. But not so – for apparently during the silent years, the church flourished and multiplied massively…under persecution. You see, pain causes growth…
And the direct result of growth? Joy! Joy actually shows up twice in this chapter as a result of the initial pain. Luke reports, “…there was much joy in that city,” (verse 8) and again, the Ethiopian eunuch “went on his way rejoicing” (verse 39).
Which brings us back to the personal level. The application for this truth is not to seek out pain (unless you’re bodybuilding). No, the answer, according to the writers of Scripture, is in how we greet pain as it comes into our lives. I would never counsel someone to try to find pain, but I do think it’s appropriate to counsel a brother or sister to work hard to remember that when pain comes, it will do a good work. And at the risk of being glib, since the good work of pain will likely result in joy, we do well to greet it in the same way, as James reminds us:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4 (ESV)
Tomorrow, Friday, February 18: Acts 9