Chapter 9

NINE – “It’s Not Fair!”

     “It’s not fair!”—these are words each one is familiar with.  We have heard those expressed hundreds of times; no doubt these words have fallen from our own lips on many occasions.  This phrase is usually spoken in the context of surprise, anger, frustration, or perhaps confusion.  “I played by the rules; I did everything the right way, yet trouble and calamity still dog me!”
 
     I recall listening to a hospital patient, who had recently been diagnosed with lung cancer, say, “I don’t understand, I have never smoked, I never worked or lived in a toxic environment, yet I have lung cancer.  It really doesn’t seem fair.”  Likewise, many born-again believers are often confused about this question of fairness:  “I don’t get it.  I try to live as an obedient child of God, yet bad things still happen to me.  Go figure!”
 

     Why do bad things happen to good people?  Somehow many Christians have been tricked to reason, If I obey the Lord, I will not have to face any hurt or hard times.  The Christian life is a romp in the field with the sun shining fully on my face.  We have already learned some important and valuable lessons about obedience to God.  Godly obedience is not motivated by what I receive in exchange.  For instance, obedience does not earn God’s love.  The Heavenly Father loves each of His own with an unconditional love, which manifests His grace toward us.  Another vital principle discussed is that godly obedience is not akin to a spiritual flu shot: take your medicine, be a good Christian, and everything will be all right in the morning. 


That is a misconception of obedience demonstrated by Figure Eight.
 
 

 

     Some believe and teach if a Christian lives in the spiritual environment of the bottom circle, he will be problem-free.  This view fuels the misinterpretation, which was addressed in the last two chapters—if something bad happens, God must be angry with me and is punishing me.  Understand this—obedience to God does not mean immunity to temptation and attacks of the enemy.  The bottom circle wall is not bullet proof; it is not “glue.”   On my grade school playground, we often enjoyed a simple game we called “It.”  One child was chosen as “it” and would proceed to chase others in order to tag someone else, making them the new “it.”  Before the game began, we designated a certain spot on the playground as “glue”—a safe haven where no one could be tagged.


     The bottom circle is not “glue” from our enemy; it cannot offer spiritual immunity against the enemy’s fiery darts (Figure Nine).  We do not live life on a playground; life is lived on a battleground (Ephesians 6:10 – 19).  I hasten to add however, the best defense against the devil’s fiery darts is learning to abide in the spiritual environment of God’s protection and provision.

 

 

     So why do bad things happen?  First, we have a vicious enemy whose priority is to destroy or, at least, deceive and dilute believers (John 10:10a—“steal, kill, and destroy”).  He will use anything to achieve his purpose—remember, he does not play by the rules because he has no scruples (1 Peter 5:8).  All temptation to sin is from the enemy, never from the Father, “Let no man say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God;’ for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone” (James 1:13).  Learn this lesson well; God does not traffic in temptation and evil.

 

     Second, some things happen to us simply because we live on the planet, which is cursed by sin and disobedience (Romans 8:20 – 22).  Jesus taught, “’. . . For [the Father] causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous’” (Matthew 5:45).  Hard times and trials are part and parcel of this world.

 

     Christians are not immune to financial reversals, job and career difficulties, illness, or strained relationships.  God, the Father, wants His children to live obediently, facing each trial and life hurdle in His power and wisdom.  We find some excellent advice and recommendation in the New Testament book of James.  Before we investigate this divine counsel, let us look at three biblical examples of obedience and how they handled the temptations and trials, which each faced.  These three include the Lord Jesus (Matthew 4 and Luke 4:1 – 13), Elijah (1 Kings 17), and the twelve disciples (Matthew 14:22 – 33).

 

               JESUS, THE MOST CONVINCING CASE

     We begin this series of illustrations with the Lord Jesus—the most convincing case of all.  This face-to-face encounter between him and the devil during our Master’s earthly life is recorded in Matthew 4 and also in Luke 4:1 – 13.  We have chosen the latter as our focus.  We referred to the Lord Jesus as the most convincing example, because there is absolutely no doubt regarding our Lord’s sinlessness and complete obedience (Philippians 2:8).  The writer of Hebrews, in reference to the Lord Jesus, explained, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (4:15).

 

     In Luke 4, we find the ancient physician’s account of direct temptation.  Not only do we have Paul’s testimony found in Philippians 2, regarding the Lord’s obedient spirit, but there are numerous other New Testament references.  John 17 communicates that, in prayer, Jesus told the Father He had successfully come to earth and had done the Father’s will.  In other words, He was obedient.  When only twelve years old, Jesus told Mary and Joseph, “’. . . I must be about My Father’s business . . .’” (Luke 2:49 KJV).  What was the nature of that work?  He explained in Luke 19:10, “’For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost . . .’”  Jesus never abandoned His mission—He was in complete obedience to the Father.

 

     Jesus was tempted, and He faced trying times despite His complete obedience.  According to Luke 4, on three distinct occasions, the enemy tempted Jesus to compromise His mission.  Satan took every advantage of the Savior’s humanness.  The Lord had been led about in the wilderness by the Holy Spirit (4:1); therefore, putting Jesus there by divine appointment.  He journeyed there for forty days—He was bone-weary and hungry.  Like a savage beast, Satan moved in for what he hoped would be the kill.

 

     Jesus sinlessly faced, and victoriously endured the temptation.  The temptation was not the fault of Jesus.  Even being the eternal Son of God, He was called to handle hard and challenging circumstances of life; He was not exempt.  Jesus is our supreme role model, because we are in Him (top circle), we too, by faith, can rely upon His indwelling power to overcome the adversary.

 

                   ELIJAH, JUST LIKE US

     The second example of the obedient servant is the Old Testament prophet Elijah, who lived during very difficult and evil days.  Wicked King Ahab was sitting on Israel’s throne and the people willingly followed his corrupt example and the godless deities of his wife, Jezebel.

 

    First Kings 17 relates how Elijah, God’s man, stepped out of the shadows of obscurity onto center stage to deliver God’s message to His willful people.  Through His servant Elijah, God said, “. . . Surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word” (17:1).  With that sober proclamation, God instructed Elijah to hide himself alongside a quiet brook called Cherith.  This man of God “. . . went and did according to the word of the Lord” (17:5).

 

     Hiding was a hard thing to do for a man like Elijah, because he was comfortable in the spotlight; he was a leader, a preacher who was ready to speak on God’s behalf to a willful and disobedient people.  Nevertheless, he submitted to God’s leadership.

 

     When we are obedient to God, He becomes liable for our welfare.  God’s direction always includes God’s provision.  God “commanded the ravens” to provide Elijah with a daily spiritual catering service.  Each morning and evening the ravens divinely brought food while the brook provided cool, clear water.  The Cherith experience was to primarily become God’s opportunity to do further work in this prophet’s heart and life.  God wanted this man’s individual attention, and the brook was the prime place.

 

     Eventually the brook began to dry up—after all, there was a severe drought throughout the land (17:7).  Elijah faithfully submitted and obeyed God; he lived in the place of God’s appointment, yet the brook began to shrink.  When we hit a rough spot in the road, that is, our brook begins to dry up; we are often tempted by the enemy to feel abandoned, frightened, discouraged, or even resentful.  It is exactly at these times you must remember God knows about the brook and He has not forsaken you.

But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, and the Lord has forgotten men.”  Can a woman forget her nursing child, and have no compassion on the son of her womb?  Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.  Behold, I have inscribed (or tattooed) you on the palms of My hands. . .” (Isaiah 49:12 – 14).

 

     This truth is absolutely blessed—what a wonderful assurance God gives to His children.  As discussed in Chapter Two, this reinforces the truth of eternal sonship represented in the top circle of the book’s illustration.  However, especially when we are obedient and face trying times, we must not buy into the adversary’s lie—we are never forsaken or forgotten. Circumstances and situations may scream, “This is crazy and illogical!   God has made a mistake!”  It is precisely at these times of pressure and potential despair when we must humbly search our motives and heart attitudes, fully submitting and trusting our God.

 

     In Jesus, the first example of obedience, we can handedly understand His ability to manage—after all, He is God.  But in His grace, God affords us many flesh and blood examples of men and women just like us, who were able to remain obedient in the face of trials and temptations.  James wrote, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months” (James 5:17).  Was Elijah specially equipped, and what about Paul, Abraham, Hannah, or Esther?  Was each some kind of super-saint?  No, not one of these secretly owned a pair of tights with a red cape and frequented telephone booths.  Rather, they were divinely enabled—an ennablement, which is available today to every born-again believer.  Paul testified, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).  I can do all things, not some things or even most things—but all things through God’s strength and ennablement.  In 2 Corinthians 12:10, the apostle wrote, “I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake, for when I am weak, then I am strong.”  Job 42:2 tells us, “I know that Thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of Thine can be thwarted.”  In the face of trials, we must learn to trust Him more and commit to complete obedience, resulting in His joy and strength.

 

     THE TWELVE DISCIPILES ARE OBEDIENT YET FACE A STORM

      For a third example, we turn to Matthew 14:22 – 33.  The preceding verses recount the miraculous feeding of five thousand men, plus women and children, with only a meager menu of five bread loaves and two fish.  Scripture says after all ate, each were fully satisfied (Matthew 14:20).

 

     Directly following this major miracle, Jesus instructed His twelve disciples to “. . . get into the boat, and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away” (14:22).  Afterwards, Jesus went alone to pray.  Meanwhile, the wind was contrary and battered the boat full of disciples.  We need to recognize this was a violent storm.  Matthew chose very picturesque words to describe the situation.  For instance, the boat was “battered” or tortured.  This is the only New Testament occurrence of this Greek word.  The winds were “contrary” or hostile.  Luke also used the same word in Acts 27:4 to describe the winds Paul and his shipmates faced as they traveled to Rome.  The twelve were “frightened”--so terrified they thought they were seeing a ghost (Matthew 14:26).  In the midst of this graphic description, we must not loose sight of the disciples’ obedience.  Despite their obedience, they encountered a humdinger of a storm—very trying times.  They were in a boat in the middle of a storm because Jesus had sent them there.

 

     Had these men done something wrong?  Was the storm God’s means of chastening?  A firm no accurately answers these questions!  Rather, it was God’s catalyst for more spiritual growth and trust in Him.  An obedient spirit is no guarantee against trial.  However, Jesus has promised a peace in the midst of trial; He declared, “’Peace I leave you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you.  Let not your heart be troubled (or stirred up), nor let it be fearful’”  (John 14:27).  Jesus was a realist; He had first-hand experience with hard times, trials, and temptation.  He said, “’In this world you have tribulation . . .” (John 16:33).  Oh, the tribulation will come, but in the midst of trial, His obedient children can know His unexplainable peace and joy.

 

     The passage goes on to tell us that to these twelve men Jesus came walking on the water.  To rescue His dear followers, He used the very thing, which was frightening them.

 

     Meanwhile, back to our question—why do bad things happen to good people?  With our limited human understanding and vantage point, many of the things, which come into our life, are considered “bad.”  From a divine viewpoint, they are actually tools in the hands of our loving and wise Heavenly Father to craft more Christlikeness into our life.  To work His perfect will God has the authority and ability to use any situation or circumstance to achieve His perfect goals.

 

     Paul told his readers, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).  That is an interesting statement—Paul said, “We know.”  We do not hope things work out well; rather we are convinced of God’s wisdom and leadership.  The apostle continued by including “all things”—not some things or a few things, not even most thins, but our great God is able to use all things to achieve His goal.  Paul also taught in this verse God’s will is perfect and good—we may trust God.

     Therefore, the things, which appear to be bad, and sometimes even scary, are simply the perfect tools of a loving and wise Father used in the life of His children.  What is there to dread or fear?  Knowing this truth, nothing has the power to frighten us.  Remember Joseph’s testimony given to his treacherous brothers in Genesis 45.  “What you meant to bring harm to me, God used to bring me good.”  God can use difficult times to benefit us.

     Since these times are sure to come in our lives, then what should we do to prepare for them?  How should we face these times of difficulty?  In his short New Testament book, James offered some solid advice to Jewish (1:1) Christians who had been scattered throughout the region due to severe persecution.  James told these brethren to:  “Consider it all joy. . . when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2 – 4).

 

     When we are faced with hard times, difficult people, or trying circumstances, the choice of how we respond is ours.  Will we grumble, complain, become bitter perhaps even divisive; or will we delight in what God is doing?  James said our response should be Christ-honoring when the hard times come—not if they come, but when they occur.  Why should this be our response?  Because Scripture assures us the testing of our faith will produce endurance (1:3).  When trials are handled in a godly, spiritual manner, it will result in Christlikeness and further maturity.  This is an important principle.

 

     James continued, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial, for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).  A believer who lives in the strength and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, responding to difficult times in an obedient fashion will know God’s joy.  When James used the word “perfect,” he referred to completion, in other words, reaching toward a higher level of spiritual maturity.  Growing in Christ, must be the goal of every born-again believer.  We must remember something else about our adversary:  he never gives up.  We have learned that living in the bottom circle environment, which Christ provides for His own, does not mean our enemy will surrender.  He never thinks, I should leave this Christian alone, he is so spiritual—I do not have a chance with him.  Rather, he will redouble his attacks and temptations.  By faith, as we claim Christ’s victory for ourselves, there will be a struggle.  Satan will oppose and he will attack; but the greater the battle ensures a greater victory.  Because our Lord Jesus is the Victor, and because we are positioned in Christ, by faith, we fight the enemy from a position of victory already won.

 

     Faith is an interesting truth found throughout the Word of God.  Faith is especially well modeled for us by the individuals who are named in Hebrews 11.  “Without faith it is impossible to please [God]” wrote the author of Hebrews 11:6.  Hebrews 3 and 4 teach the importance of our faith in Christ and resting in His promises and providence.  We find a future rest which will someday belong to every born-again child of God when we reach our eternal home in Heaven (Hebrews 4:9).  There is also a past rest each Christian already knows and has received—a rest from doing something to earn our salvation (4:10).  But there is another important rest for the believer; one he may know and experience now—a present rest (4:11).  The author urged his born-again readers to diligently enter that present rest.  This is accomplished by learning to trust God in all circumstances and obey Him completely.  As this vital spiritual lesson is learned, we may claim the promise of Hebrews 4:16—“Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in times of need.”  Those who are learning to trust and obey will find, in Christ, fantastic confidence along with His marvelous mercy and grace.  All of this leads to joy.  Godly joy gives us God’s strength, and His strength insures His victory for us.

 

 

Copyright © 2010 by J. Michael Fox

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