Love isn’t love until it’s tested.
For example a parent’s love isn’t tested until a child disobeys or rejects their love. A child’s love of a parent isn’t tested until their mum or dad fails in a promise and lets them down. A husband’s or wife’s love isn’t tested until one breaks the trust of the other or acts in ways that are selfish or hurtful.
Love isn’t love until it’s tested.
But sometimes we test love the wrong way.
For example, a boy will often say to a girl, ‘If you really love me, you’ll let me take you to bed.’ Or children will often say to their parents, ‘If you really love me, you’ll give me what I want.’
Therefore the argument continues that if we don’t get what we want, then the other person doesn’t really love us. In this way we use love as a bargaining chip, or as an emotion to hold for ransom. In reality we don’t play this game of ‘love blackmail’ out of love, but out of selfishness, greed and lust. I suppose we could answer back, ‘If you really loved me, you wouldn’t test me and my love in this way.’
Now of course, true love sometimes withholds things. For instance, a good parent won’t let their children have chips and chocolate for every meal because they love them and know what’s good for them. It doesn’t mean love isn’t there, but love is sometimes expressed by not giving in to every whim and desire you have. Even though you might at first be upset about it, sometimes love and respect can be increased when a family member or friend doesn’t let you get your own way.
There is perhaps another one you test.
Have you ever said to God, ‘If you really love me, then you’ll give me what I want. Now what I want is happiness, good health, riches, no problems or difficulties, good friends, all my enemies to get their just punishment, and everything to go my way.’
You may then think that if everything is going your way, then God is for you and he loves you. But if you become unhappy, if your relationships break down, if you suffer in your health, if you’re poor, if you have problems or difficulties, if you have enemies who seem to get away with their treatment of you, and if things don’t go your way, then you may be tempted to think God doesn’t love you.
This is why some people say, ‘If God really loves us, he wouldn’t allow terrorists to fly planes into office buildings. If God really loves us, he would have stopped the earthquakes and cyclones from killing so many people. If God really loves us, he wouldn’t take young children away from their parents or let them get so sick, he would stop the spread of cancer, he wouldn’t allow people to suffer unjustly, or he would always protect the innocent.’
Some people then blame God for all their troubles and think God’s against them. They might think God is punishing them. So when people try to blackmail God into doing what they want for the sake of his love, people’s hearts aren’t softened, but hardened against God through their fear and rebellion.
Although God may sometimes allow the results of people’s wickedness to visit them, God doesn’t desire to punish his people. God doesn’t want to punish you, but he wants to strengthen your faith in him.
Although bad things may happen for no apparent reason, God will want to use your times of trouble and suffering to lead you closer to him. He may use your times of darkness and despair in order to test and strengthen your confidence in him.
In this way, God may use your troubles, your afflictions, and your tribulations in order to bring about perseverance and endurance. He might use your suffering to build up your steadfastness of faith. He may use your pain to put your character to the test.
You see, your character isn’t tested in good times when everything’s going your way. It’s only when things go wrong and you feel under pressure, under the weather, or under oppression, that’s when your character is truly tried and tested. So, will you crack? Will you take the easy way out? Will you bow to peer or public pressure? Or will you stay the path? Will you remain true and faithful? Will you trust God even when things don’t go your way? In other words, are you a fair-weather Christian, or are you in with God all the way and through all the storms of life?
Your endurance, your character and your hope are gifts given to you through faith in God, but you never put them to the test while things are going well. These gifts are tested and strengthened through your pains, your afflictions, and even through your tears. These gifts of endurance and character aren’t given to you on a silver platter, but given to you and built up through toil and heartache.
Also, your hope and your confidence aren’t based on your feelings (because frankly, you don’t feel very good when you’re suffering!), but they’re based on facts and truth. Feelings are not faith. Feelings are fickle and rise and fall in a moment. Instead, your feelings in suffering often identify your deeper spiritual needs.
So yes, the fact is that you may be going through troubles right now, or you might face them in the future. This doesn’t make you feel very good about yourself, about others, or even about God. But your feelings don’t negate the truth that through faith in Jesus Christ, you’re given peace with God. The troubles you experience aren’t sent as punishment, but God will want to use them in such a way to deepen your faith and deepen your confidence in Christ alone. After all, if everything went your way, why would you even need God or his Son’s death and resurrection?
Your troubles can help you realise your weakness and God’s strength. In fact, it’s often when you’re at your weakest that you realise again your need to rely on and trust God and his promises. After all, it was while you were weak, sick or helpless that Jesus died on your behalf. Christ bought you peace with God through his death for you when you were weak and sick with sin.
Therefore your sufferings aren’t punishment sent from God, or signs of God being cruel to you, but they may actually be blessings in disguise. Your sufferings can be good for you and your faith in God. Your sufferings may lead you to a deeper level of love, trust, and commitment. Your sufferings then, may be something you can actually boast in.
Now this doesn’t mean you should compare your sufferings with each other and boast to each other as if ‘my sufferings are bigger than your sufferings’, but instead you should pride yourself that through your sufferings, you’re being led closer to God and are growing in your confidence in him.
You can boast in your sufferings because they drag you to the foot of the cross, sometimes kicking and screaming all the way. They can force you to admit your weakness and helplessness. They’ll compel you to find confidence in the death of Jesus Christ. He died for you while you are still a sinner. He died for you while you are still helpless. He died on your behalf.
The cross is painful. Your own crosses of suffering are painful. But as you kneel at the foot of the cross you see your sins hanging on Jesus. All God’s anger against your sins are taken out on Jesus, so therefore your suffering can’t be punishment, otherwise Jesus died in vain.
As you look to that cross in your suffering; your pride, your selfishness and your vain glory are also being put to death. Sometimes every vain and transient thing you’ve unconsciously or consciously put your faith in is being stripped away so all you have left is Jesus on the cross. As you look to the cross, your only confidence grows from the fact that Jesus died for you in order to bring you peace with God the Father. Through the death of Jesus on that cruel cross, God demonstrated his love for you.
Christ is at work, not just in your happiness and your victories, although those things too are a gift, but Christ is most at work in your suffering. That’s where your faith and love and confidence and hope is truly tested and put to work. That’s also where God dwells – in suffering. That’s where you see him the most clearly, and that’s where you realise he is near.
It’s when you suffer, that your experience of God grows. For some people, this brings fear of God and is expressed through their anger and rebellion, but for you, your suffering should bring you closer to God. Therefore your sufferings are a blessing to you.
Thankfully, as you kneel at the foot of the cross, you’re also led to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. As you endure your troubles, you may sometimes think your own resurrection from your suffering seems such a long way off that you may think it’ll never come. But just as surely that Jesus rose from death, he still lives for you and will bring you to be with him in glory. If you have been reconciled and vindicated by his death, how much more will you be saved by his life.
As strange as it sounds, brag and boast in your sufferings. Not because they’re any worse or better than anyone else’s sufferings, but because through them you’re being brought closer to the cross of Christ. Rejoice because your hope and confidence in Jesus Christ through his glorious death on the cross will help you realise and experience God’s love for you and bring you closer to him. Rejoice that Jesus died on your behalf to bring you peace, love and hope.
They say that love isn’t love until it is tested.
God’s love for us was put to the test through his precious Son’s death on that painful cross.
When our hope and confidence in God is put to the test, may be brought closer to him, so that…
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, even in the midst of our sufferings. Amen.