While no one likes suffering, it is an important ingredient in a Christian’s transformation process. In last weekend’s sermon, Pastor Kong Hee encouraged the church to learn to rejoice in both good times and bad.
“Suffering is the place of manifesting the life of Jesus,” preached Kong Hee, senior pastor of City Harvest Church on the weekend of 26 and 27 August.
He began by explaining the concept of salvation. The Bible emphasises that sin breaks the divine relationship between God and Man, resulting in mankind’s bodily death. Beyond that, mankind also suffers two other types of death, one is being morally unable. Paul captures this death in his famous words: “What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Rom 7:15). The other type of death is a darkening of the mind. The Bible writes that in sin, a person’s mind is governed by the flesh, making it hostile towards God.
“The good news of the gospel is that God saves us from all of these,” Pastor Kong said before reading the anchoring scriptures in Romans 8.
When a believer has new life in Christ, he is set free from the power of sin and death (Rom 8:1). He is now morally empowered: the Holy Spirit gives him the ability to conquer the flesh and produce the fruit of the Spirit.
He is also mentally empowered: the Holy Spirit renews the believer’s mind (Rom 8:3). Lastly, his body is strengthened and energised (Rom 8:11). Reading 2 Corinthians 5:4, the pastor noted that God gave His believers the Holy Spirit as a guarantee that He would one day give them new life in the resurrection.
“This salvation is completely holistic in Christ and by the Spirit,” declared Pastor Kong. “We are mentally enlightened, morally empowered, physically energised, and one day we will experience bodily resurrection.”
At the same time, the believer grows closer to God and theosis happens. His relationship with God is restored and he is transformed completely.
SUFFERING IS THE PLACE WHERE THE LIFE OF JESUS IS MANIFESTED
“Central to this transformation process is a very necessary ingredient,” Pastor Kong asserted. “The transformation process only works if you’re willing to suffer with Christ.”
Jesus said that those who want to be His disciples must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him (Lk 14:27). Pastor Kong explained that in the first century, “carrying the cross” has the notion of experiencing pain. Jesus was telling His disciples to be ready to face sacrifice and hardship.
Likening this willingness to suffer to a marriage, Pastor Kong said that the early stage of marriage is easy but the love is not yet deep. The initial love must grow into something that stands the test of time. Similarly, while God does not cause the suffering that believers go through, He allows it because it teaches them to exercise faith and draws them closer to Him. It causes them to reprioritise their lives and appreciate their loved ones.
Furthermore, God promises to join His people in their suffering and give them the grace to go through it. “He will use the pain and the frustrations of this fallen world to transform you to be like Jesus, and to bring you deeper into His loving embrace,” he said.
He shared the story of Pastor Samuel Sianto and his wife, leaders in Bethany Yestoya in Malang, Indonesia. The couple lost three of their children—two at infancy and one in the womb. Even though God eventually gave them three other children who grew up to serve the Lord together with them, their journey was still a painful one.
“But when you pray, God will come in and give you a supernatural strength that you can’t explain, a special grace and a divine peace that will outlast your problems,” the pastor taught.
Sometimes, miracles happen quickly when believers pray, but other times, God wants them to trust that He has something better in store for them. Reading 2 Corinthians 4:8-10, Pastor Kong highlighted that as Paul went through the pressures and sufferings of ministry, he learned that suffering is the place where the life of Jesus is manifested.
“When you share in the suffering of Jesus, you are hard-pressed on every side, and His life will be squeezed out of you—it will be revealed in you. The life of Christ, the life of love, beauty and glory will overflow out of you,” he said.
Pastor Kong gave the example of his wife, Sun. She was able to preach her best sermons during the years her husband was away, a time when she had to shoulder the responsibility of looking after the church and her family. When she had fibromyalgia during this period and every part of her body was painful, she experienced the greatest miracle of healing.
REJOICE IN SUFFERING
Paul understood that suffering was necessary for transformation and he wrote about it in Corinthians, Colossians, Philippians, and in his letters to Timothy. Philippians 3:1, which reads, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” is believed to have been Paul’s life goal. Not only did he want to know Jesus, he wanted to share with Him in His suffering.
The pastor read Rom 8:16-17 and highlighted that believers were co-heirs with Christ. If they are willing to share in His suffering, they will also share in His glory. “That’s why Jesus encourages us to rejoice when life is hard because our inheritance will be directly proportionate to how much we have suffered in obeying His will,” he said, alluding to verse 18.
At this point, Pastor Kong acknowledged that it is normal to not like suffering and to believe that Jesus came to take away the diseases, the curse and poverty, to give His believers abundant life. Yet this does not mean that life would be easy. He listed three types of suffering a believer goes through.
Firstly, he will encounter spiritual attacks and be tempted by Satan (2 Tim 3:12). Secondly, he will suffer the pain of obeying God’s will.
The godly life requires one to deny oneself and sacrifice their personal desire to obey God’s will. The pastor gave the example of Abraham, who had to be separated from his nephew Lot to inherit God’s promises.
Beyond that, there are also internal struggles when the Holy Spirit deals with the weaknesses and imperfections in them. Even Jesus, the Son of God had to learn to submit Himself to the will of God (Heb 5:8). At times, God would tell His believers to trust Him and let go of certain things in their lives. It hurts but that process teaches them that they can trust that God has something better in store for them.
Thirdly, they will suffer the pain of discipline. God is the Potter who wants to purge all imperfections from the believer’s life. The process might be painful but one learns to trust that God is building something better in them that will last an eternity.
Reading Hebrews 12:5,10, the pastor reminded the church that God disciplines those He loves so that they can share in His holiness.
In closing, Pastor Kong encouraged the church not to be afraid of suffering. He assured them that God’s grace will be sufficient for them and they will emerge victorious in Him. The service ended with a powerful time of ministry.