The passage we studied in church this Sunday (1 Timothy 1:12-17) speaks of the “Grand Demonstration,” as Jay Adams calls it in his great book by that name (one of my favorites listed in my profile on this blog). Paul says that even though he was a blasphemer, persecutor, and violent aggressor, he received the mercy of apostleship because he “acted ignorantly in unbelief,” which highlights God’s providence in allowing him to go far away from God, but only so far. See Galatians 1:15 where he says he was set apart from his mother’s womb to be an apostle…obviously God knew he would do those awful things and let him do them until the time was right for him to be saved and called into service. And 1 Timothy 1:16 says God did all this to “demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.”
This is the Grand Demonstration Paul speaks of (using the same Greek word endeiknumi) in Romans 9, verses 17 and 22, and in Ephesians 2:7. And in the following verse in 1 Timothy 1:17, it leads Paul to eulogize God in the famous “immortal, invisible” verse that ends with “honor and glory forever and ever” to the only God. So as the verses in Romans and Ephesians also clearly state, God allows evil and causes salvation, all as a part of His divine plan, so that He will receive glory! And (thankfully!) one of the ways He brings glory to Himself, in addition to demonstrating His wrath and power in judging and destroying those who oppose Him, is through causing it all to work for good in the lives of His people, as Romans 8:28 says.
Along those lines, I read this section from my book Decisions, Decisions:
“Realizing that God is in control of your life is one of the biggest answers to the emotional problems that plague so many Christians. After the apostle Paul delivered the Bible's most frank and thorough explanation of God's sovereignty in Romans 9-11, he did not crawl into a corner and sink into deep depression, complaining that this doctrine makes us all into ‘puppets,’ makes our efforts pointless, and causes division between Christians. No, as Paul reflected on his revelation of the sovereignty of God, he broke into a paeon of joyful praise:
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
“Why did the truth of God's sovereign control bring so much joy to Paul? I think it was because he had learned to practice what I call ‘the spectator principle.’ Once we understand that God has a plan for this world and for our individual lives, we can begin to see some of what He is doing in the world and in our lives. You cannot know God's sovereign will before you make a decision, and even afterwards you won't be able to understand all of what He has planned and why, but sometimes (many times even, if you look hard) you will be able to see what He is doing and some of the reasons He is doing it. And nothing can bring more holy delight than watching the Master Artist weave the tapestry of history, observing the Conductor of the universe orchestrate all things together for our good, and discovering the perfect storyline that has been plotted by the Divine Director for His own glory.”
Finally, I shared a real-life example of the “spectator principle” that blessed many of those who heard it, so I want to reproduce it here. I’ve been counseling a dear sister whose husband left her and their three children to pursue an adulterous relationship. I addition to memorizing Romans 8:28 and reading Jerry Bridges book Trusting God (also on my list of favorite books), I gave her an assignment to write out a list of all the ways she can think of that God might bring good out of this trial in her life. Here is her list, with some comments from me in brackets:
…Learning to trust God more
…Learning to keep Him first in my life [when the other “gods” we worship are stripped away from us]
…Learning to rely on Him for all my needs [when the other things we rely on are gone]
…Learning to be a better wife, mother, person
…Realizing all I have to be thankful for [when you lose a lot, the things remaining are sweeter]
…Refocusing our family and drawing us close to God and each other
…Gaining assurance that I am a chosen child of God (Hebrews 12:3-11, Romans 8:17 and the rest of the chapter)
…Looking forward to heaven [we should do this, and trials tend to wean us from this world]
…Seeking God’s will and kingdom purposes, rather than mine
…Developing true friendships
…Learning to love my enemies, and pray for those who mistreat me (Matt. 5:43)
…Producing steadfastness, endurance (James 1:2-4, Romans 5:5)
…Giving others the opportunity to minister to me
…Giving me the opportunity to witness to others [we always end up talking about our trials to others, even non-Christians…we can talk with them about our faith!]
…Giving me the ability to help others in similar circumstances (2 Corinthians 1:3‑7)
…Giving me joy as a “spectator” watching God at work in my life
…Learning to live one day at a time
…Becoming more financial responsible, and a better steward of God’s money
…The children learning to rely on God as their Father [because their earthly father has been unreliable…maybe this is exactly what God will use to bring them to true salvation and service for Him]
…Allowing me to warn others not to grow “comfortable” in their relationship with God, spouse, even friends. Don’t take these relationships for granted—always work on them—love and appreciate others!
She has already seen God work in many of the ways she listed, and when she begins to feel depressed, anxious, fearful, angry or frustrated because of her situation, I told her to pull out the list, read over it, and thank God for what He is doing through the situation, and what He will do in the future. This is one great way of fulfilling the principle of 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” I hope you will consider doing that same “assignment” when you are going through hard times… I know it will make a difference for you!