MESSAGE FOR SEPTEMBER 13, 1998 FROM ROMANS 5:3-5

 

          During the past two weeks, we have been studying the first two verses of Romans chapter five.  We have been sunning ourselves in the grace of God given to us because he has justified us--he has given us his righteousness through Christ.  We have said that after Paul has explained the doctrine of justification in chapters three and four, in chapter five he spends some time celebrating it.  He does this by laying out (like a banquet!) several of the blessings which God has provided to those he has justified.  Two weeks ago, We looked at what it was to have peace with God.  Last week, we saw what it was to hope in the glory of God.   We saw that because we have been justified, we have a wonderful expectation that God will reveal his glory to us when we see Him.  We saw that this hope is not a wish or a sentimental desire, but it is a confidence that God will reveal himself to us.  We briefly looked at this glory of God as it will be revealed, first, when he completes the transformation of his saints and they will radiate the very glory of God.  We also talked about the glory of God when He will show Himself for who He is to the praise of His glory.  This hope of seeing his glory according to Paul is part of the manifold blessing connected with being justified and is a reason for rejoicing--that is, to over flow with joy.  Christians should overflow with joy in part because of the sure hope they have of seeing the glory of God.

          As we thought about this future  revelation of God’s glory, I trust we could see how this kind of marvelous hope is certainly a legitimate cause for our joy to overflow. As he moves to verse three of chapter five, Paul is connecting the concept of rejoicing in verse 2 to another cause for rejoicing.  Let’s read Romans 5:3-5.  “Not only so, but we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

          You don’t have to be a Bible scholar to figure out that Paul here is saying that one of the blessings of justification is to rejoice, that is, have overflowing joy in our...sufferings.  We can certainly understanding rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God.  That wonderful moment when the tribulations of this life are finally behind us and we behold the light of God glory which will vaporize the darkness of this world and all the pain and misery associated with this fallen place.  We can understand rejoicing in that moment when all our tears are evaporated in the light of God’s glory, all our worldly sorrows disappearing as we embrace our Savior.  It’s easy to see the wonder of that and to draw joy from that.

          But here, Paul says we are to rejoice not only in the future glory, but we are actually to overflow with joy in the midst of the suffering and tribulation which we all NOW experience in this dark, pain racked world.  This is a huge stretch for most people, especially in a culture where pain is automatically dismissed as ALWAYS bad.  Our culture runs so fast from pain and suffering that terms like “mercy” and “killing” are perversely combined together as a justification for murder in the name of...pain reduction.  Our culture’s obsessive desire to escape all forms of discomfort, and the way it demonizes all pain and suffering as being utterly bankrupt of anything good, runs completely against the grain of what Paul is saying.  To overflow with joy in suffering and tribulation sounds masochistic and perverse, even to those in the church who have been exposed to this.

          As strange as this sounds, this teaching is not unique to this text. James 1:2-3 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of our faith develops perseverance.” 

Ephesians 5:20, in a passage where Paul is spelling out what it means to be filled with the Spirit says, “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Paul says we are give thanks for everything.  We must assume that suffering and pain are included under the heading of “everything.”  The apostles show that suffering and rejoicing are not mutually exclusive concepts in Acts chapter five.  The apostles are flogged for preaching in the name of Jesus--39 flesh-tearing lashes across the back--that would be considered suffering and tribulation by any measure.  Yet they responded by “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the name.”  In doing this they were only obeying their Master who had earlier told them that when they were persecuted they should “rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.”  Jesus expects his church to rejoice in tribulation.

          There are many elements of New Testament teaching that we find hard to implement.  Sacrificial giving of our time, money and energy--few people do that. Few Christian consistently love their enemies.  Few Christians are willing to say the hard thing to people they want to impress.  But of all the tough commands of the New Testament, perhaps the one that seems the most unrealistic, the most far-fetched is this expectation that in the midst of suffering we will not just tolerate, we will not just keep a stiff upper lip and not complain, but that we will actually over flow with joy.  Surely, this is so abstract to most people as to be little more than an icon.  Its a wonderful ideal--a teaching to put on the shelf and admire, but how few of us take it genuinely seriously?   How few of us, when we are suffering the pains of life or persecution, ask ourselves, “Am I, in the midst of suffering honoring God by rejoicing in the midst of this?”  Do we ask that question--is that even relevant to many of us?

          The question we should ask of this text in Romans 5:3 is this “what is it that I, as a justified person can believe by faith about suffering that will enable me rejoice in it?”  That’s the question Paul answers in this text.  But to be frank, most of us are so far from living out the truth of this text, we need to ask an even more basic question before we ask this question?  And that is, “why is it that this prevalent, biblical idea of rejoicing in the midst of suffering is so completely foreign to me as a Christian?  The simple answer to that question is this:  To rejoice in the midst of suffering, you must have a God-centered mind set and value system and most people today are self-centered.  The key element in rejoicing in the midst of suffering is to be God-centered, that is, to live your live for God’s pleasure and not for your own.

          Let’s prove this by looking at the instances we have already cited.  Each instance where the people rejoiced in suffering or were expected the rejoice in suffering, the motive was thoroughly God-centered.  When the apostles rejoiced BECAUSE they were flogged, the reason was because “they had been counted worthy to suffer for the Name.” They loved Jesus Christ so much, that to suffer for Him was a privilege.  To suffer for Jesus meant that you were being associated with him in some way.  The association meant pain and suffering, but to be associated with Jesus was such a high honor, that to suffer for Christ was and is a great privilege.  Do you hear that they are God centered and not self-centered?

          In James 1:3-4 we are told to “consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds [WHY?] because you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete not lacking anything.”  Perseverance, which comes when we are repeatedly tested brings about our maturity and sanctification.  That is a God-centered concern.  First Thessalonians 4:3 says “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.”  We count it all joy when we are go through trials because God uses those trials to bring about HIS WILL in our lives.  Do you hear that this is a God-centered motive, not a self centered motive?  Would a self-centered person even care, much less over flow with joy over the fact that their difficulties

were accomplishing God’s will in their life?

          The first hurdle we have to clear in this issue of rejoicing in trials is the question of whether or not my priority is to live, by God’s grace a life glorifying to God, or am I going to live a life rooted in selfishness?  I am not saying that to live a life pleasing to God is tortuous.  In fact, a God-centered life is the most joy filled.  But it is the joy found in giving yourself away, not the cheap gratification which comes by following the path of least resistance and looking out for “number one.”  If we do not have as our value system, [and that is seen NOT in what we say, by what we DO] as our chief priority to live a life pleasing to God in obedience to Him, then Romans 5:3-5 and all these other texts on rejoicing in suffering will be meaningless to us.

          As we go back to chapter five we see that the same God-centered motivation.  Paul gives as the reason why justified people over flow with joy is “because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”  Those by-products of suffering, as Paul understands them are all God-centered, not self centered.  They contribute to our sanctification.  Paul’s point within the context of the blessings of justification is this:  Those who are justified have as part of that blessing a life and a faith which can be enriched and strengthened through the trials of life and that makes those trials NOT unwelcome intruders, but opportunities for joy.  Now, lets look at the specifics of the text.

          The text spells out a chain reaction which begins with suffering and ends with hope.  Think about that.  Paul is saying that suffering, rather than drawing hope from us, actually is the first link in a chain which produces hope.  Remember from last week that hope is always future oriented and is the confident expectation that God will fulfill his promises.  How ironic it is that trials of life, which we often think are those obstacles to us receiving what God has promised, are actually that which builds confidence that God will fulfill his promises.  When we are going through trials, be they persecution or just the difficulties of life, the enemy is right there to use those difficulties as his evidence to support his accusations such as, “God doesn’t really love you.”  “You will never be like Jesus.”  “You will never break this sinful habit,” “You will never be able to make financial ends meet,” “You will never get to heaven,”   and the list goes on.

Part of the reason he tries to use those trials to support his lie that God’s promises will not be fulfilled is because he knows full well that God is actually using those trials to increase our hope, our confidence that God will fulfill all he has promised to us.  But if the Adversary can get us to see the trials of life through his twisted lens of unbelief, that will blind us to the truth that those trials are actually God’s weight training program to make our hope stronger and more potent.  Let’s see how this chain works which takes us from suffering to hope.

          First, we need to understand the word the NIV translates “suffering” is a word used for all sorts of trials in the New Testament.  It is used of the “great tribulation” in Revelation chapter 7:14.  It is used for the anguish of child birth in John 16:21. It is used for the troubles which come to a person when they get married in 1 Corinthians 7:28.  It is also used for the unique persecution which comes to a believer when he stands for the truth in Acts 11:19.  This word is a broad word which means virtually any difficulty we encounter in life.  Paul says this suffering, these tribulations “produce perseverance.”  The word literally means “to remain under.”  To persevere is to patiently endure--to remain under the burden--not to give up, to hang in there. 

          Perseverance is one the most neglected of Christian virtues and it is absolutely essential to be a vibrant Christian.  Jesus implies that you cannot produce fruit unless you persevere. He said in the parable of the soils in Luke 8:15, “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”  Three things are necessary for the seed, which is the word, to produce a crop.  You must hear the word, you must retain it and you must persevere in it.  That brings fruitfulness.  Persevering isn’t glamorous.  You hear a word from God that speaks to your heart. You know this is something God wants you to work on.  You hear it and you begin to pray about it and seek to apply it.  And you fail and you fail and you fail and you fail and you wonder whether you will ever learn to receive God’s grace in this area of your life.  You feel like a cosmic failure, a 100 time loser and you are tempted to decide that this is something you will have to wait for heaven to produce and just give up.  In the middle of that process, you are persevering.  You call it failing and that is true, but you are also persevering.

          The victory will come, but it only comes to those who persevere.  What you are doing as you persevere, is you are watering that seed of the word, you are cultivating that seed of the word through your heart of obedience.  One day, you will find that that seed will produce fruit and as you continue to persevere it will produce more and more fruit--that word in your heart will start to be manifest.  We all like that part, when someone comes up to us and says, “boy, you sure are more patient these days.”  Or, when we realize that the sin which used to give us fits, we haven’t committed in quite a while.  We love that part, that’s harvest.  We hate the perseverance part in our flesh because that’s hard work, but the harvest--the changed life does NOT come without the perseverance.  Often, I’m convinced we give up persevering just moments before the fruit is visible and that’s a tragedy.  If you are persevering now, if you are just “hanging in there,” you are on the road to a harvest--claim that promise and don’t give up!

          Suffering produces perseverance and perseverance, character.”  The word translated “character” has a narrower focus than that and actually means  “testedness”  that which is tested by ordeal.”  It comes from the same word as in First Peter 1:7 which also speaks of trials.  It says “These [trials] have come so that your faith--of greater value than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”  As you persevere, you are refined--that is you are made useful for something.  You are seasoned.  Before the age of Teflon, if you wanted a frying pan that would not stick, you had to season it.  It had to be heated and used.  If you fry an egg in an unseasoned pan, you will have a mess.  An unseasoned pan isn’t good for anything.  A piece of wood is seasoned when it has been exposed to the heat and the sun and it dries out and becomes suitable for use. 

          Perseverance, and the fire and heat that go with that, produce a person whose faith is mature, who is not tossed by the wind of circumstance--who doesn’t walk by sight, but by faith.  Isn’t this the kind of person you want to be?  Our trouble is that we all want (in some way) to be mature and full of faith, but we don’t want to go through the fire which is an essential ingredient necessary to make us mature!  Even Jesus “learned obedience through what He suffered.” Show me a mature saint and I will show you someone who has suffered.  And a rule of thumb is, the more mature they are, the more they have persevered.  In their long years of persevering, they have seen God prove himself over and over again and their faith has been purified in the fire of life’s crucible.  That testedness can produce, according to Paul, not bitterness, not anger, not cynicism--that’s what comes from suffering without a biblical mind set.  Suffering results in hope.  These people have a strong confidence that God will fulfill his promise.  These are people who have been hurt enough by this life that they know their joy is not coming for the things of this world.  Hebrews 11 says these people are looking for “a country not their own...they are longing [and hoping] for a better country--a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God for he has prepared a city for them.”  They place their hope in God.

          This person is confident about the future because they have seen God work in their past and we see God’s work in our lives most dramatically in times of suffering.  Its in the times when we are sure that if God doesn’t do something, we will just die, or go bankrupt or lose our child or our marriage or reputation or job--its in those times that God proves himself strong to us.  We hate those times--they put the squeeze on our flesh.  But the good news from Paul is this, for the person who has been justified, the pain doesn’t have be wasted.  It doesn’t have to be in vain.  These people have been trained by the pain to hope in God.  Next week, we will look more at this hope and why it will never let us down, but let me ask some questions.

          Do we rejoice in suffering?  Do we see the trials of life as unwelcome intruders, or as that which God has ordained to make a man or woman of God out of us?  If we don’t, it is almost certainly because we want to be comfortable and pain-free more than we want to be godly.  If you want to separate out the mature, from the novices, those who just talk Christianity from those who live it, see how they handle adversity.  Adversity is the infallible proving ground.  Its in adversity, that the cream rises to the top--the true, godly saints are seen. God is more concerned with our character than our comfort.  Is that true of us, or have we allowed the values of this world to pollute our souls?  We have all of eternity to be pain-free, but during this brief life, God is at work to make men and women of God of whom it can be said, “the world was not worthy of them.”  For the saint, there need be no wasted pain.  Every drop of it can be used by God to do something far more important than maintain our comfort--He can use it to bring us to maturity.  He can use it to make us people who hope in God--whose trust and confidence is NOT in the circumstances of this life, but in the faithfulness of God.  May God give us grace to view life through this God-centered lens, to live this way and may God say of  us, “he is not ashamed to be called their God.”

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