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Christians’ troubles come by the providence of God

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Why do bad things happen to God’s people?
In the providence of God, trials and tribulations come into the lives of Christians for the sake of the gospel, Tom Nettles preached Aug. 28 in his first chapel message as a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The nation of Israel’s confession that Joseph’s slavery in Egypt was by “the word of the Lord” and the Apostle Paul’s confession that his imprisonment was for the “furtherance of the gospel” provide models for contemporary believers as they consider the providence of God.
Preaching from Philippians 1:12-26, Nettles said Paul personalized God’s providence in his imprisonment. The apostle understood the bondage he was suffering at the time he wrote to the Philippians was part of God’s plan to extend the gospel, Nettles said.
A widely published author in Baptist history, Nettles joined the faculty of the Louisville, Ky., seminary this fall as professor of historical theology after teaching seven years at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School near Chicago. In addition to teaching church history, Nettles also chaired the department at Trinity.
Although some believers may have feared Paul’s arrest and subsequent imprisonment was a blow to the young church, Nettles said, “Paul wanted them to know that the things that had happened to him had served to further advance the gospel.”
Throughout the ages, Nettles noted, Christians have incorporated a basic understanding of God’s providence into their synthesizing of doctrine, illustrating the point by quoting statements from Southern’s Abstract of Principles, the Second London Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism.
Christians experience the power of God’s providence when they can echo Paul’s confession, “the things which happened to ME have served to advance the gospel,” Nettles asserted. When the “testing, proving things” happen, believers should share the confidence of Israel in the case of Joseph “that it was the word of the Lord that tried him,” Nettles said.
“Or if we cannot see the providence of God, if we do not know how these things work out for the advancement of the gospel,” Nettles added, “we can affirm it and believe it even though it is veiled in mystery for the time being.”
The systematic theology of believers is really only put to the test when Christians personalize the idea of providence and “we find out if we really do believe it,” Nettles said.
Nettles warned believers should not accept the notion that temporary trials will necessarily result in a comfortable future.
“Sometimes we think about the providence of God and the things working out to our own good until eventually we’re going to be more comfortable,” Nettles said. “Eventually we are going to rise to the top. Eventually we are going to have more prestige. Eventually God’s providence is going to put me on ‘Easy Street.'”
That, however, is not the purpose of God’s providence, Nettles admonished. “All of that is temporal. All of that is corruptible. All of that will fade away.”
Regarding his own bonds, Paul could find joy in his situation since it meant the gospel was being proclaimed. “The gospel was much more important” than the apostle’s own comfort, Nettles said.
Directing his comments to seminarians in the chapel audience, Nettles declared, “Preaching the gospel is more important than getting the First Baptist Church of Big Town. If you have to compromise the gospel on your way to the top, then you are better off at the bottom. The gospel is more honored by your low estate than your high estate.”
During the chapel service, law enforcement officials of Louisville and Jefferson County, Ky., were recognized and a prayer was offered on their behalf by Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. Reminding the audience Romans 13:1-7 teaches police officers are “God’s servants,” Mohler noted the dangerous work of law enforcement and urged the seminary community to pray for the individuals who serve in such capacities.

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  • Richard F. Mansfield Jr.