Truth about Pain for Pastors and Sheep

This series: Truth about Pain for Pastors and Sheep is intended to provide biblical principles for hope and help to people in the midst of God’s hard providences. Our culture seems so advanced. Technology has enabled all types of studies with resultant propositions and conclusions. The medical field – doctor and patient – is not immune to the technological advancement. What is offered is diagnosis and treatment for almost any complaint. Then what? Where does God and one’s relationship with Jesus Christ via the Holy Spirit fit into this picture? Where do we go to find truth about pain for pastors and the sheep? The Bible is not a medical textbook but it is God’s Word and believer’s to live a godly life. The Bible presents truth which sets believers free all types of bondage.

The First Truth about Pain: Definitions Matter

The first truth about pain for pastors and sheep is a matter of definition. Definitions matter. One major problem in addressing the subject of pain is one’s definition of pain. Most people use the term pain to characterize the way they feel. Both words describe feelings, usually bad ones. Pain is subjective and the complaint of pain must be voiced to know that a person is experiencing any degree of unpleasantness. Even in the above few sentences I have characterized pain as an experience, a symptom, a complaint, a feeling, and unpleasantness. Pain is bodily, physical discomfort. The material, physical body has a nervous system that carries nerve impulses from the periphery of the body to the spinal cord to the brain where it is interpreted and acted upon.

In contrast, some people speak of pain in their heart. This may be expressed as my heart is breaking. Generally, the person is not speaking of his heart as a physical organ. Biblically-speaking the heart is the inner man, the control center of the person. It is immaterial and has no nerve impulses (Proverbs 4:23). It is very important for the pastor to help the person clarify the person’s use of the term pain. That said it is important the link and union between the outer (body including the brain) and inner man (heart)

A very important point at the outset is this: you do not need to be a doctor to help people who complain of pain. But you do need to be a growing theologian. The Bible is not a medical textbook but does address everything that a believer needs for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3-4; 2 Timothy 3:15-17). Often times, the fact of having a body not functioning as the person would like and that may or may be failing seems so overwhelming. The person describes by the use of the subjective and his or her feelings. Consequently, a downward spiral can pick up tempo. Biblical truth is jettisoned and the tunnel seems so long, the mountain looks too high to climb, and the hole too deep to climb out. Often the complaint of pain intensifies.

Where do you start? Begin at the beginning. Assuming the person is a believer, reassure him that God has answers but they may not be the ones he wants to hear. Hope and help are gifts from God to His people and only to His people. Keep it simple and remember that biblical truth addresses any and all life-issues. Therefore, it makes sense that every life problem is a theological one and has a theological solution.

One such truth is the nonnegotiable truth that this is God’s world and He makes no mistakes. However, when one’s body is failing or seems like it is, these facts are often met with doubt or disdain. Yet, God brings all things to pass for His glory and the good of His children (Romans 8:28-29; Genesis 50:19-21). These passages are heavyweights and must be gently ministered. They are simple but profound. We must use them well not as some club by which we force biblical truth on the person.

Please notice that life does not have a life of its own. Rather we are speaking of God’s providence – his control, his governing and sustaining all his creatures for his glory and the good of each and every one of his children.

The Second Truth About Pain

A second truth about pain for pastors and sheep is a response to God’s providence is a response to Him. This seems counterintuitive. In truth the Bible’s wisdom is counterintuitive: die to live and the humble will be exalted (John 12:25-26; Matthew 23:12). Help the person to understand that a basic reason for all disease, illness, or symptoms is the fall of man and God’s judgment. Pain did not enter the world until Adam’s sinned. Adam’s sin brought God’s judgment and curse on the human race. Sin, misery, pain, and death are results of God’s righteous judgment (Romans 5:12-14; 6:23). Man was born dying and was born to die (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Pain is the plight of fallen man. Pain is not a gift but can be used as one. It is to be used as a change-tool (Please see below for further explanation of this truth). Again this is serious theology! The cross is the ultimate expression of this truth. God brought about the greatest change in existence through the cross but only by a perfect Godman: enemies became forgiven children!

A Third Truth about Pain

A third truth about pain for pastors and sheep is to remember the cross. At least one lesson of the cross is learning to use what is unpleasant for growth – using and redeeming the bad for good (1 Corinthians 1:18-23; John 16:20-22). This, too, is counterintuitive. How can anything that hurts so badly be good? The mother who gets pregnant again or the athlete who trains and strains to win the prize is testimony to the fact of gain through pain. But the supreme, majestic picture of gain through pain is the humiliation and exaltation of Christ through His cross work.

Help the sheep, hurting or not, focus on Christ’s mediatorial work and the Spirit’s application of that work. Once saved, the process of growing in Christlikeness takes center stage. Yet believers, too often, expect God to treat them better than He did His own Son. For some, salvation and glorification are just fine but getting there (sanctification) is another issue. The person will ask: how can I go on with the body I have? The issue is not pain or no pain but how will the person respond to and use God’s providence. For true victory, the vertical (one’s relationship with God in Christ) must take center stage.

The Fourth Truth

A fourth truth about pain for pastors and sheep focuses on God’s expectations. God expects His children to be godly stewards of their whole person (thoughts, desires, and actions) including the body (the brain is part of the body). Going or not going to the doctor is a theological issue. Help the person go as a good steward, not for a cure or even relief, but to please God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 2 Corinthians 5:9). He is to trust God for the results. Help the person who may want to go to the doctor all the time for a cure come to grips with the stewardship issue and God’s control including God’s no. Help the person who does not want to go to the doctor at all!

A corollary question: is it wrong to seek pain relief? See 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 and 2 Samuel 12:15-25. It depends on one’s motivation and his standard for success or failure. If relief is the major focus, the person should determine what comes next if it comes or doesn’t. The answers to both questions are relational. They express one’s view of the significance of one’s relationship with Christ by the Holy Spirit who indwells every believer. How will the sheep respond to God’s yes and to no? Help him respond as Christ did (Matthew 26:36-46; 27:46; Mark 14:32-42; 15:34). Our Savior looked beyond the cross to the gain and rejoiced (John 4:31-34; Hebrews 12:1-3). Granted the person is not Christ, but he is united to him and is to become like him. Grace and more grace is available through the Holy Spirit with biblical truth supplying the guiding principle no matter God’s answer (Isaiah 8:20).

The Fifth and Sixth Truth

A fifth truth about pain for pastors and sheep centers on ministry. God has not stopped the person’s ministry. He may simply be redirecting and changing it. There is much one-anothering work to be done in the Church (John 13:34-35; 2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Experience is not the issue. You do not need to have cancer to minister biblical truth and God’s wisdom to a person with cancer. We have a Savior who experienced the human condition in its fullness yet without sin (Hebrews 4:14-16). He gave His Spirit to Church and to individual believers. The believer truly has everything he needs for life and godliness. God has invested Himself in the individual and the Church – His people, His Church! Too often, the sheep and church leaders function as if that is a myth.

The last and sixth truth about pain for pastors and sheep focuses on victory. Victory can be misunderstood unless it is defined God’s way. God’s way for victory includes using the condition to become more like Christ. If pastors and congregations grasp it, there is victory in this life and eternally. Victory is not a term used frequently in the area of the unpleasantness of life but it should be (Romans 8:35-39). What is better than the culture’s answers to pain? Please remember culture has no place for God’s providence and His grace. It considers hurting people victims. It focuses on feelings and relief at almost any cost.

Rather, God’s answer for unpleasantness in this life is being satisfied when pain relief does not come. This satisfaction comes from and by growing and changing to be like Christ. The person uses the lack of cure and lack of pain relief as his change-tool. When one responds to God and His providence using biblical principles something far superior than pain relief is produced: Christlikeness (Romans 8:28-29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; 5:9, 14-15). Sadly but predictably, you will not get many to agree, at least initially. It is counterintuitive. Pain relief (notice, not simply pain) so often drives people more than does the desire to please God. It is easy to convince oneself that pain relief is a necessity. They will use or bargain with God to get it. Failing bodies bring the person and the pastor to a point of decision: where is God other than for relief, and is becoming more like Christ one of the major foci for the believer?

Victory is pleasing God rather than pleasing self by seeking relief. It is being controlled by biblical principles rather than your wants, desires, and demands. Daily, have the person focus on desiring God’s desires and thinking God’s thoughts. God-pleasing actions will follow. Help your sheep focus on the six P’s: God’s presence – He is in the problem; God’s power – He is up to something; God’s promises – He is up to something good now and eternally; God’s provisions – He has provided saving and enabling grace; and God’s plan – a faithful and trustworthy God is bringing all things to pass for His glory and the good of His people. The means to the end of being in God’s eternal presence is pleasing God by becoming like Christ (1 John 3:1-3; Hebrews 12:1-3). It is what believers do.

When there is a daily focus on God and the six P’s, the person is growing and the person will grow. Pain relief and a changed body will become much less important. He gets outside of himself and focuses more and more on who God is and what He has done and is doing. He ministers to others.

The above principles regarding the truth about pain for pastors and sheep apply to any unpleasantness that the sheep will encounter. Using what he does not like or wish he did not have is one lesson of the cross and points him to a greater love and appreciation for the Triune God who never leaves or forsakes His people.

The person will come to more and more appreciate and bask in the counterintuitive-ness of God’s wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:18-23). It seems foolish to use what is unpleasant for something good. Yet that is God’s way. Disease is not good. It is the result of sin and judgment. What is good is the sovereign God’s plan and purpose to use it as a tool to grow and change! Christ and the cross shout out these truths. Unpleasantness may include any number of situations. It may be something rather simple – a lost pencil or a lost set of keys. The unpleasantness may loom larger: a flat tire and late for work, an ornery boss, relational difficulties in the home, or any number of burdens. The biblical principles to be applied and to control one’s response are the same in principle to any of God’s providences. Man was designed to glorify God and enjoy fellowship with Him forever. This eternal truth and its effects begin on this earth. Help the sheep to enjoy pleasing God now which prepares them to be eternal God-pleasers.

After the fall, God redeemed man so that only the believer becomes like Christ. It is a blessing and a privilege (1 John 5:3). Yet, often bad feelings and demands for relief motivate the sheep more than biblical truth. Help the sheep agree that becoming more like Christ is the greatest thing this side of heaven. It simplifies life, satisfaction and contentment become evident, and often becoming more like Christ brings relief.

1. Review the six truths outlined and interact with them.
2. Do you agree or disagree and record your answers.
3. Define victory from your perspective and God’s perspective. How are you getting victory in the problem? See 1 Corinthians 10:13 (see my blog post) and Romans 8:28-29, 35-39.