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When You Suffer (Romans 5:3-5)

October 23, 2016 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: The Essentials: One Mission

Topic: Romans Passage: Romans 5:3–5:5

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When You Suffer

Romans 5:3-5

(One Mission: Through Many Tribulations)

October 23rd, 2016

 

I. Suffering Defined

Sometimes when we open the Bible and talk about suffering, there is a kind of 'apples and oranges' danger. What I mean is that when some Christians hear the Bible speak of “suffering”, they automatically think of suffering for one's beliefs at the hands of those who do not believe. And to be clear, the Bible has plenty to say about that kind of suffering.

But when they...when you think about how you have suffered and are suffering, you may be tempted to think 'apples and oranges'. You may conclude, “In most cases, I am not suffering like those are persecuted...therefore, the Bible does not speak to what I am going through.”

But that conclusion would be absolutely wrong. Listen to what James, the half-brother of Jesus, says about suffering: Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds... (James 1:2) So what might this mean...“trials of various kinds”?

Well, listen to how Paul describes his sufferings. He writes, I have had...far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. [24] Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. [25] Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; [26] on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; [27] in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. [28] And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (II Corinthians 11:23-28)

Did you hear that? Paul is describing “trials of various kinds”, isn't he? Yes, he talks a lot about persecution for his faith. But he also talks about labors and lack, about accidents and anxiety. And in the next chapter (II Corinthians 12), Paul goes on to speak about a physical condition under which he suffered.

So when you think about how you have suffered and are suffering, can you in some way relate with what we might call Paul's “trials of various kinds”? Turn with me to Romans 5!

 

II. The Passage: “We Rejoice in Our Sufferings” (5:3-5)

It was wonderful to hear this passage at the start of our time together, but let's once again look at Romans 5:3-5. Consider what it tells us, what it tells you, about suffering. Paul writes:

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, [4] and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, [5] and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

So right away we find what seems to be an impossibility. Rejoice? Rejoice? Really? You “rejoice” when things are good, right? But “sufferings” are not good. “Rejoice” means happy, and “suffering” means hurting. And happy and hurting do not go together. Wouldn't you say that's how the overwhelming majority of people see it? So what's wrong with Paul. Is he a few fries short of a “Happy Meal”?

No, I can assure you, Paul is in his right mind. To be clear, Paul is not teaching that suffering all by itself, in and of itself, is something delightful and to be desired. No, God's plan of redemption culminates in a world without suffering. God is at work to eliminate suffering. So how then can Paul state that (v. 3) “we rejoice in our sufferings”?

Well, in verses 3-5, Paul shows us two pillars, two pillars that are supporting this notion of “rejoic[ing] in our sufferings”. The first pillar is, “What God Will Do”, and the second pillar is, “What God has Done”. Let's unpack these verses and see how those two pillars can help us make sense of what God, through Paul, is teaching us about suffering.

 

1. Suffering in Light of What God Will Do (vs. 3, 4)

So if we look back at verses 3 and 4, we see that Paul is speaking in the present tense: we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, [4] and endurance produces character, and character produces hope...

When we talk about what God WILL do, I hope that future tense doesn't confuse us about why Paul uses the present tense here. He is writing to encourage the followers of Jesus in Rome about a present-tense, a present-day application. “We rejoice” also means “we can rejoice” and “we should rejoice”. But why? Because of what God will do.

Now I want us to see something extremely important here. Paul does not talk about what God can do or might do with our sufferings. Do you see that? Paul simply asserts knowing that suffering produces endurance, [4] and endurance produces character, and character produces hope...He almost states it like a formula or a law or a universal principle. It's like if we were all farmers and I encouraged you, “We can be confident in our planting, knowing that a seed, grows into a tree, and a tree puts out branches, and branches bring forth fruit.”

You see, Paul wants them to know, and God wants us to know, if we belong to Jesus Christ through faith, then there is a “Law of Suffering” that is always in operation in all our trials. But that is not some impersonal law, like we might think about the law of gravity. No, it is simply describing how God is at work. As we see here, that 'law' has three stages.

First, suffering produces endurance. Listen to the reassurance Paul gives in his other letters in regard to this issue of endurance:

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. [24] He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (I Thessalonians 5:23-24)

He write to the Corinthians about the heavenly Father...who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. [9] God is faithful... (I Corinthians 1:8-9a)

So Paul is saying to followers of Jesus, no matter how you suffer, no matter the trials you face, you can rejoice in the fact that God will bring you through them. Though at times it may not feel like it, but you will most certainly endure. But there's more. Listen again to James...

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, [3] for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness [same Greek word, “endurance”]. [4] And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

So what does it look like for endurance/steadfastness to have “its full effect”? Back to Paul!

Second, endurance produces character. As God enables us to endure through difficult times, through painful trials, He is also producing character in us.

The word for “character” here in the original Greek language has to do with something that is tested and proven; so we could say this is “tested character” or “proven character”. It is the confirmation, through testing or trial, of something's true nature and substance. We are being changed on the inside. God is changing our moral fiber through suffering.

Endurance through suffering not only tests us, but our 'provenness' is a new kind of strength. You see physical survival is not the same as spiritual endurance. People can survive difficult times. They do regulalry. But spiritually, that suffering has made them more bitter, more desperate, or more insensitive to their need for God.

But proven character is like a block of marble. The sculptor chooses a block of marble that has been tested and will not break under his hammer and chisel. God is doing the same thing through our suffering. But He does not choose us because we are worthy. He chooses us to make us worthy. By His grace we persevere. By His grace we are proven. But to what end? What is the sculptor's goal? That's the final stage we find in verse 4...

Third, character produces hope. God is creating a masterpiece of hope in us, through our suffering. Hope in what? Well, look back at verse 2 of Romans 5...

Through him [through (v. 1) “our Lord Jesus Christ”] we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Now “the glory of God” is used in many contexts throughout the Bible. But here it probably means the fullness of His glory in the fullness of His presence. We hope in the reality we will see Him, and be with Him, and delight in His glory forever and ever...like we talked about, in a world without suffering.

So hope here is not like people use the word “hope”: “I sure hope that pizza comes on time. I hope I don't get fired tomorrow. I hope your father is in a better mood tonight.” There is a connection to that usage. But biblical hope is not wishing for some good luck. It is future looking faith in what God will do.

And that masterpiece of hope in what God will do is cultivated in us through suffering. As face pain, God draws our eyes to comfort in Him and our future freedom from such pain. As we are we are confused and frustrated, God draws our eyes to Him and His answers.

One commentator put it like this...

“Hope, like a muscle, will not be strong if it goes unused. It is in suffering that we must exercise with deliberation and fortitude our hope, and the constant reaffirmation of hope in the midst of apparently hopeless circumstances will bring ever deeper conviction of the reality and certainty of that for which we hope.” (Douglas Moo)

But remember that this all goes back to the idea of rejoicing, and specifically, rejoicing in our sufferings. So as we can see, Paul does not remind us we can “rejoice in our sufferings” because He loves pain and misery. No. When we rejoice in our sufferings we are rejoicing in the good ends for which God can use the suffering; the good things God brings out of the suffering.

That's why Paul can say three chapters later: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28) In the midst of the hurt and confusion and fear and uncertainty and anxiety and wrestling and anger and frustration, I can reorient my perspective and actually thank God, and praise God, and delight in the fact that God is, in fact, at work for good on my bad days.

 

2. Suffering in Light of What God Has Done (v. 5)

But remember, there are two pillars upholding Paul's bold and radical statement about “rejoic[ing] in our sufferings”. As we've just seen, the first considers what God will do (keeping in mind there is also a present tense aspect of that). But there is also another pillar, one constructed with what God has done. And that's what we see in verse 5. Look at it again...

If (v.4) character [forged from endurance] produces hope...then we also need to see, verse 5...and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)

This is where Paul reassures us that biblical hope, God given hope, is not wishing for good luck. It “does not put us to shame”, that is, we will not be left at the altar, we will not be forgotten, we will not be disappointed. God won't show up one day, shrug His divine shoulders, and say, “Sorry. I really tried. But I couldn't pull it off.” He is good enough and strong enough to keep everyone of His promises. Amen?

And how do we know now, that He will fully redeem us then? Because of what God has done. He has (past tense), “poured [His love] into our hearts through the Holy Spirit”. Five other times this word “poured” is used in the NT in reference to God giving the Holy Spirit. Here the emphasis is on what the Spirit brings us: a strong sense of God's love for us. This is what Paul talks about, again, three chapters later in Romans 8

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. [15] For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” [16] The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God... (Romans 8:14-16)

Our cry as children of God (“Abba”) is a response to a clear sense of the Father's love.

No wonder the NT describes the gift of the Holy Spirit as a “down payment” or “good faith deposit” of what is to come. What God gave us when we first trusted Christ, helps us to know now, that God will one day fully redeem us from this suffering world.

 

III. Undeterred

Wow! That's a lot, right? Well, let's try to regroup and return to our initial ideas. We all suffer in many ways, don't we? “Trials of various kinds” as James expressed it. But through Paul, God is calling us this morning to “rejoice in our sufferings”; not in our pain, but in His purposes.

So what happens when we rejoice in our sufferings? We are undeterred. Listen to this definition: undeterred: persevering with something despite setbacks.

Remember the “apples and oranges” we talked about before? Christians do suffer for their faith. As we join in God's One Mission in this world, we can expect pushback. But any and every challenge, difficulty, all of these “trials of various kinds” connect back to our One Mission. You see, in spite of the setbacks of suffering, we are undeterred in God's work. In fact (please hear this), how we go through suffering is often a powerful witness to those around us.

When we endure through our sufferings, when our God-forged character is proven, when we shine with hope even in the worst of times, those around us, who are suffering without hope, often sit up and take notice. In light of all this, will you pray these two prayers when you are knee-deep in “trials of various kinds”?

First, will you pray, “God, help me to rejoice in these sufferings, believing you, because you love me, are at work in them to grow me in hope.”

Second, will you pray, “God, as I rejoice and grow in hope, would you please use my suffering as a light to those who have no hope.”

Wonderfully, when God is answering those prayers, we find even more reason to rejoice in even the worst of times.

So how is any of this possible? Through the sheet strength of my will or from some emotional uplift I experience. No. Those things are weak and fleeting. These things are only possible because of going back to Romans 5:1...Therefore, since we have been justified [acquitted, declared innocent] by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Justified through Jesus? How? Well, now we go forward to Romans 5:9, 10...Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. [10] For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

Hope of glory with Him, or fear of His just wrath? Which will it be for you? The cross and resurrection of Jesus make hope possible...especially in the very worst of times.