读经：诗119:65-72 提前5:1-6:2 耶43:1-45:5
Smith Wigglesworth was born on 8 June 1859 to an impoverished family in Yorkshire. As a small child, he worked in the fields pulling turnips alongside his mother. He was illiterate until, at the age of twenty-three, he married Polly, who taught him to read. He often said that the Bible was the only book he ever read.
He was a plumber by trade. But had to abandon it after he became too busy with an amazing ministry of preaching and healing. There are even accounts of people being raised from the dead through his ministry. Yet he said on one occasion that he would rather see one person saved through his preaching than 10,000 healed.
Life was not always easy for Smith Wigglesworth. He went through some very hard times. He wrote, ‘Great faith is a product of great fights. Great testimonies are the outcome of great tests. Great triumphs can only come out of great trials.’
The Bible is very realistic. We live in a fallen world. Everyone goes through hard times and some people find themselves in circumstances that make life hard all of the time.
1. See hard times as God’s training school
Psalm 119:65-72Suffering is never good in itself, but God is able to use it for good (Romans 8:28). Sometimes God uses our suffering to train us. Just as a gardener prunes the vine (John 15:2), parents discipline their children (Hebrews 12:10) and a metal worker refines silver and gold in the fire (1 Peter 1:6–7).
The psalmist writes, ‘Train me in good common sense… Before I learned to answer you, I wandered all over the place, but now I’m in step with your Word… train me in your goodness’ (Psalm 119:66–68, MSG). The fact that he was going through hard times did not make him doubt God’s goodness. Instead, he saw it as God’s training school.
Unfair criticism is hard to receive. The psalmist writes, ‘The godless spread lies about me, but I focus my attention on what you are saying’ (v.69, MSG). Attack may come from those whose ‘hearts are callous and unfeeling’. Yet, in the midst of this, you, too, can find ‘delight’ in God’s words (v.70).
He is able to see that God has actually used his troubles, affliction and suffering: ‘My troublesturned out all for the best – they forced me to learn from your textbook. Truth from your mouth means more to me than striking it rich in a gold mine’ (vv.71–72, MSG).
Lord, thank you that as I look back on my life I can often see the ways in which you have used the hard times. Thank you that the words of your mouth are more precious than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.
2. Take care of those going through hard times
1 Timothy 5:1-6:2The Bible is a very practical book. Paul gives Timothy sensible and practical instructions on how to look after those in the congregation who are going through hard times.
- Take care of the old and young
Paul says that we are treat those who are older than us with the respect we would show to our parents, and to treat those younger than us as our brothers and sisters (vv.1–2). Someone once observed that lots of men could have this verse as their screensaver: ‘Treat younger women as sisters, with absolute purity’ (v.2).
- Take care of the needy
For example, the church is to provide for widows who don’t have any family to support them: ‘Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need’ (v.3). Those who do have family should be supported by them if at all possible (v.4).
- Take care of your extended family
Paul makes a point that still has great relevance today. Not only do we have a duty to provide for our own spouse and children, but we must also provide for our ‘extended family’, our parents and grandparents: (vv.7–8).
- Take care of leaders
Church is also to provide for the leaders ‘who direct the affairs of the church’ (v.17). ‘A worker deserves his pay’ (v.18, MSG). Their position of responsibility means that we should not easily entertain an accusation against them: ‘Don’t listen to a complaint against a leader that isn’t backed up by two or three responsible witnesses’ (v.19, MSG). But, at the same time, the consequences of sin are greater for those in a position of leadership (v.20). Paul warns ‘keep a close check on yourself’ (v.21, MSG).
- Take care of yourself
Timothy himself clearly had stomach problems and ‘frequent illnesses’ (v.23). Paul does not reproach him for his sickness. Rather, he gives him some practical advice (which may sound strange to our modern ears): ‘Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses’ (v.23).
- Take care in the workplace
This letter was written at a time when Christians were in no position to lead the fight against slavery. They were a tiny minority in an empire where a high proportion of the population were slaves. Paul is not endorsing slavery. Rather, he is giving practical advice on how to live when we find ourselves in circumstances that are far from ideal. Whatever circumstances you find yourself in, however hard life is, your concern should be for ‘God’s name’ (6:1).
Lord, help us as a church to look after those who are going through hard times. May we be a community that looks after the needy, the sick and the oppressed. Help me to fight against suffering whenever I come across it – following in the footsteps of Jesus.
3. Stay faithful to God in hard times
Jeremiah 43:1-45:5Mother Teresa said, ‘I do not pray for success. I ask for faithfulness.’
At this point in his ministry, Jeremiah was probably in his mid-sixties. He had been a prophet for forty-seven years. During this time he had seen Jerusalem reduced to ruins. He had faithfully spoken the word of God, but his message had been consistently ignored and rejected by those to whom he was sent. He had also suffered a great deal due to their opposition and disobedience. All this must have been very disappointing and discouraging for Jeremiah.
In today’s passage we see that even after all that happened, and though his earlier prophecies had been fulfilled, the people still refused to listen to him. Jeremiah was telling them ‘everything the Lord had sent him to tell them’ (43:1). He was telling the truth. But he had to put up with what must have been the very hurtful slander of being told ‘you are lying’ (v.2).
In spite of Jeremiah’s warning, they ‘disobeyed the Lord’s command’ (v.4). They ‘entered Egypt in disobedience to the Lord’ (v.7). Although the Lord warned them ‘again and again’ (44:4), ‘they did not listen or pay attention’ (v.5). They said to Jeremiah, ‘We will not listen to the message you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord!’ (v.16). Jeremiah’s message was flatly contradicted by those who heard it.
Jeremiah’s ministry must have appeared to be a failure; once again full of discouragement and disappointment. Even so, he remained true to the task that God had given him, and faithfully delivered God’s words to the people.
In chapter 45 we encounter another person’s discouragement and disappointment – Jeremiah’s associate Baruch. This takes us back in time to 605 BC and it is connected with the events in chapter 36. Baruch, in spite of being of high birth, had to play second fiddle to Jeremiah. His role was to record Jeremiah’s prophecies. He despaired of the fruitlessness of his efforts. He said ‘Woe to me! The Lord has added sorrow to my pain; I am worn out with groaning and find no rest’ (45:3).
But the Lord says, ‘Should you then seek great things for yourself? Seek them not’ (v.5).
It is always a temptation to be self-centred and to seek great things for ourselves – whether through money, success, position, fame, reputation or respectability – but we must never seek any of these things for ourselves. At the end of the day, it does not matter if our life appears to have been a failure and ends in disappointment. What matters is faithfulness to the Lord. God will reward each person according to their faithfulness, not according to their apparent success (see Matthew 25:14–30).
When you are faithful to God, you allow him to work and to achieve his plans through your life. Jeremiah and Baruch must have felt like failures, and yet few people in history have had a greater impact than they. The prophecies they recorded are a key part of God’s revelation to the world, and contain some of the most important prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament – and how many authors can claim a readership of billions over 2,500 years after their death?
Lord, help me to be faithful in following you regardless of hard times: afflictions, smears and difficulties. May I never seek great things for myself, but rather seek to see your name glorified.
1 Timothy 5:1–2
‘Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat… older women as mothers.’
I do wish there was more respect for the elderly in our society. Life must seem perplexing with technology changing and, when movement is slow and painful, even doing the simple things in life is a struggle. The Christian community is so important, and we need to do much more.