The Glory of Suffering (Meditation on Psalm 119:87-88)
They have almost made an end of me on earth, but I have not forsaken your precepts. In your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth. Psalm 119:87-88
Insolent. The word is used thirteen times in the Hebrew and twice in the Greek. In Hebrew, it means arrogant, haughty, or proud. In Greek it means an overbearing or violent person. Here in Psalm 119:87, the “They” that the Psalmist is referring to is these insolent men. We have already seen in verse 84 that these insolent men are persecuting the LORD’s servant. In verse 85 they are digging pitfalls and not living according to God’s law. In verse 86 we see that they are accusing the Psalmist with falsehood and then finally in verses 87-88 we see that this persecution has gone so far that it has almost destroyed the Psalmist. When he says, “They have almost made an end of me on earth,” he is literally saying they have almost destroyed me, caused me to perish, or wiped me out.
This is serious persecution; it is the kind that Jesus tells us to expect. The Bible tells us that suffering is a guarantee in this life. A life surrendered to Christ is not a life that is free from suffering, rather it is promised suffering, and sometimes a suffering so deep that it seems it is going to utterly destroy you. The promise and hope we have in Christ is not that we will be affliction-free, but rather that we will be able to endure any kind of suffering because of the hope, the riches, and the power we have in Christ (Ephesians 1:15-23).
Let’s look at a few passages and see both the promise of suffering, and the glory to be found in enduring suffering.
Suffering Reminds Us That Our Best Life Comes Later
Matthew 5:10-12 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Suffering Doesn’t Separate Us From God
Romans 8:35-39 “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Suffering Doesn’t Remove Our Contentment
2 Corinthians 12:9-11 “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Suffering Complements Godliness
2 Timothy 3:12 “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
Psalm 34:19 “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.”
Psalm 119:67 “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.”
Psalm 119:71 “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.”
We Reveal the Gospel to the Nations Through Suffering
Colossians 1:24-29 “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”
We Cling to a Greater and Abiding Possession in Suffering
Hebrews 10:32-36 “But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.”
We Are Sanctified Through Suffering
Hebrews 12:3-11 “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’ It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
Revelation 3:19 “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.”
Why the Believer Suffers Joyfully
The world rejects suffering because it’s focus is on building the greatest life possible now. That means that all affliction, persecution, and suffering is unwelcome, mainly because it prevents the continuing growth of their kingdom. However, the believer, as a sojourner on this earth, is to not “get entangled in civilian pursuits since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him,” therefore he will “share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:4, 3). Our suffering is producing something in us that it is not in the unbeliever. We are being sanctified and used as a vessel to reveal the warning of eternal suffering. But we also, through our joy in suffering, reveal the greater possession of Christ and the hope we have in eternity. Suffering doesn’t prevent God’s Kingdom from being built, but rather is used graciously by our Sovereign God in order to fulfill His purposes. And this is good. The believer never focuses on what he is losing in suffering, but rather what he cannot lose.
This is what the Psalmist knew in verses 87-88. If I were to paraphrase these two verses they would say:
“The temporary-minded wicked, have just about destroyed me. But I have not abandoned or rejected your directions. In your unfailing, covenantal love, spare me. Preserve me. Give me life in order that I may guard, obey, and cling to your promises.”
The Psalmist knew that though the insolent had almost wiped him off the face of the earth, they had no ability to ultimately destroy him. God is sovereign over the insolent. Only God can truly destroy (Matthew 10:28), and the Psalmist need not fear that kind of destruction because he has faith. Because of God’s grace, the Psalmist has not abandoned nor rejected God’s law. The Psalmist knows that according to God’s unfailing love his life will be spared. Even if the wicked do take the Psalmist’ mortal life, no one can separate him from the eternal life that has been sealed by the Holy Spirit, the guarantee of our inheritance (Ephesians 1:11-14). No one can snatch the Psalmist from the Hands of God (John 10:28-29). Therefore, to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).
Brother’s and sister’s, pray that God opens your eyes to the glory of suffering. And when it comes knocking on your door, respond as a new creation in Christ. Don’t be surprised (1 Peter 4:12-19), rather let suffering do the work that God has sovereignly assigned it to do. Be sanctified, be joyful, be thankful, cling to the better possession, boldly proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, endure to the end. Oh believer, in your suffering; abide in God, delight in God, and obey God. For your joy and God’s glory