Sunday sermon 10 May 2015 – Rejoicing in our sufferings?

Reading: Romans 5:1-11 (NRSV)

Rom 5:1  Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, Rom 5:2  through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. Rom 5:3  And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, Rom 5:4  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, Rom 5:5  and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. Rom 5:6  For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Rom 5:7  Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. Rom 5:8  But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Rom 5:9  Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. Rom 5:10  For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. Rom 5:11  But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Sermon:

Rom 5:3  And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, Rom 5:4  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope… (New revised standard version)

Rom 5:3  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; Rom 5:4  perseverance, character; and character, hope. (New International Version)

I recall when our first anniversary in ministry came along here in Browns Bay – it seems just the other day. We’ve just started our 5th year here. How time rolls along! Not the easiest years really. People we have grown to love have moved on – by choice, by transfer, and through death. The saddest times have been when dear people of the family here die. I still expect some of their faces to appear around the corner here on a Sunday morning. I struggle with that – such lovely men and women of God. And after nearly thirty years of ministry there are so many faces I remember – wonderful saints who taught me much – some through encouragement and others like sandpaper. I have a book actually called “the sandpaper people!” They are there to teach us. (And of course the Lord over the years has also sent many who are new brothers and sisters in the church family – who are an amazing source of encouragement and love as well.)

All this is to be expected – this dying. Some of you will die too.  Of course we all will. I remember a friend who was  a youth pastor when ministering in a retirement home decided to preach on heaven – and told the residents: “you’d better sort your life out – you’ll be getting there sooner than me!”. He’s now a missionary in a challenging nation – with his family – living a great life of faith and courage – and much more at risk than his hearers in the local retirement home.

And with the process of dying, of course, is the lack of dignity in a failing body – and the awful business of suffering. Somehow there seems to be more suffering than before. Not only in our lives, but on a greater scale around the world. Our sufferings seem to pale into insignificance when we see the persecuted church – including the images on television and the internet of people being lined up for execution (Christians and others) – being lined up to be murdered – which reminds me of Paul’s words later in Romans:  Rom 8:36  As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

Of course Paul understood suffering – listen to this from 2 Corinthians: 2 Cor 11:24  Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 2 Cor 11:25  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 2 Cor 11:26  I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 2 Cor 11:27  I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 2 Cor 11:28  Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.  

So Paul is writing to the Roman church (believers who had to live out their faith in the face of persecution by ruthless Roman governors and soldiers), and much to our amazement he says this in Romans 5:3  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings…

Wait a minute Paul – rejoice? Well we are at the mercy of translators here – this is not a cheerful rejoicing – as if we are happy when suffering. Neither do we seek suffering. Our testimonies in church should not sound like this – “ if you think you’re suffering, listen to my story this week!” like old soldiers talking about war wounds (of course most of them don’t as we have seen through this ANZAC time of remembrance).

What does Paul mean about “rejoicing” in our sufferings? (If we read the NIV rejoice is the word used.) It’s a difficult word he uses – it also means to “glory” or to “boast”. And all of them in English are tricky. He uses it in this famous passage in Ephesians 2:8-9

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.

 We feel uncomfortable with the idea of boasting in our sufferings too.  In another place in 2 Corinthians Paul uses the word a number of times. I know this sounds laborious but the last verse is helpful. The discussion is about competition between preachers – and itinerant preachers taking credit for Paul’s work and speaking badly of him – questioning his credentials in his work with the Corinthian church..

 2Co 10:13  We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the field God has assigned to us, a field that reaches even to you.2Co 10:14  We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. 2Co 10:15  Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among  you will greatly expand, 2Co 10:16  so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in another man’s territory. 2Co 10:17  But, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

And in Galatians six he says this: Gal 6:14  May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

So back to our sufferings. What does it mean to rejoice in them – to glory – to boast in them?

I think it means to acknowledge, with gratitude, that God knows what He is doing – that He is a sovereign God (Lord=King) – and that we can trust him to use our sufferings to His great glory.

Which is the direction Romans 5 takes us when we read the next verses. Listen to the passage in the New Revised Standard version:

Rom 5:1  Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, Rom 5:2  through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. Rom 5:3  And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, Rom 5:4  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, Rom 5:5  and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

It’s rich in its scope of outlining what Jesus has done for us.

  • We are Justified (made righteous – a legal acquittal) by faith.
  • He dies for us (Romans 5:6-8). Jesus died and received our death sentence. Like Maximilian Colbe,  the priest who gave his life for another in a Nazi concentration camp – offering to die in place of a man with a family when he had none.
  • We have peace with God. Our hostility is ended – and his wrath is appeased – so there is peace. The prince of peace has done this.
  • Access to this grace in which we stand. Access – like your pin number – gets you into the place where there is power to act – to draw your money, go into your house, do things that you don’t have access to without authority.  We have access into this grace IN WHICH WE STAND. It’s a position of grace – and an access to God himself in prayer, to his promises and his gifts. We also read about access in Ephesians 2:17-19: Eph 2:17  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. Eph 2:18  For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. It’s also like John 1:12 – a verse I often refer to about our rights in God through faith: Joh 1:12  Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—Joh 1:13  children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

We have a lot to talk about! A lot to rejoice in! A lot to boast about. Plus this verse (the end of verse 2):

  • and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

This is the key verse. Our first boasting (or rejoicing) is in this – our hope of sharing the glory of God.

What is this then? One commentator puts it like this:

The basis of this pride in God, the hope of the glory of God, is almost certainly not the present glory of the believer (seen in Joh_17:22; Rom_8:30; 1Co_11:7; Heb_2:10; 1Pe_4:14) but the final glory that will be ours at the eschaton (Rom_8:17-18; Rom_8:21; Eph_1:18; Col_1:27). Our hope, as in verses Rom_5:4, Rom_5:5 and Rom_8:20, Rom_8:24 is a glorious trust in and anticipation of the promises God has given regarding the future. In light of this, Cranfield ([1975] p. 260) calls the glory of God “that illumination of man’s whole being by the radiance of the divine glory which is man’s true destiny but which was lost through sin, as it will be restored … when man’s redemption is finally consummated at the parousia of Jesus Christ.” The hope that every sacrifice will be rewarded is the basis for the Christian life with its mandate to live separately from the world; for every earthly glory surrendered, God will recompense an eternal glory (Mat_6:19-21; Mar_10:29-31). (Grant Osborne – IVP New Testament Commentary series). (Note: eschaton and parousia refer to the last day and Christ’s coming again.)

So when we get to verse 3, the boasting continues, logically, in the face of suffering – here it is in both translations:

NIV Rom 5:3  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; Rom 5:4  perseverance, character; and character, hope. Rom 5:5  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.

 NKJV Rom 5:3  And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, Rom 5:4  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, Rom 5:5  and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

This is really important: We are not saved by grace through faith, acquitted, reconciled, brought into a new position of peace with access to the Father and His resources, to sit back and wait for Jesus to come again or take us home in death. Tom Wright’s great question is relevant here: What do we do in the meantime?

I would say this: we are recruited into the army of God – with a mission to share the Good News of the Kingdom which has completely different values – and to which we commit ourselves.

The 100th anniversary of the outset of World War 1 is a stark reminder of the sacrifices we make in war. For Christians who really follow Jesus – all hell this thrown at us just as it was in Jesus’ ministry. Read Ephesians 6 again on the spiritual battle we face!

From his Baptism onward Jesus was under attack – the temptations were just the beginning.

Paul makes it clear: suffering produces endurance, Rom 5:4  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, Rom 5:5  and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. 

In addition, Jesus’ life of compassion and love, healing and cleansing lives from the power of darkness, ended on a cross. He knew suffering, endurance producing character – and character producing hope, hope which does not disappoint. He knew the love of God through the spirit – affirming him as a beloved son – and he knew the reality of the cup of suffering – he prayed in the garden for it to be taken away – but still endured – “not my will but yours be done” shows amazing endurance and courage. The writer to the Hebrews describes Jesus suffering like this:

Heb 5:7  During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Heb 5:8  Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered Heb 5:9  and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…

A story now to end about endurance – endurance is key in this process of character development and coping with (glorying in) our suffering.

Listen to a story of this man’s life: When he was seven years old, his family was forced out of their home on a legal technicality, and he had to work to help support them. At age nine, his mother died. At 22, he lost his job as a store clerk. He wanted to go to law school, but his education wasn’t good enough. At 23, he went into debt to become a partner in a small store. At 26, his business partner died, leaving him a huge debt that took years to repay. At 28, after courting a girl for four years, he asked her to marry him. She said no. Now endurance is endurance, but you’d think this guy would know when to give up. But he didn’t.

At 37, after two defeats, he was elected to Congress. Two years later, he tried for re-election and was defeated again. At 41, his four-year-old son died. At 45, he ran for the Senate and … he lost. At 47, he failed as candidate for vice-president of the United States. At 49, he ran for the Senate again, and lost. At 51, he was elected president of the United States. His name, of course, was Abraham Lincoln, a man many consider the greatest leader this country ever had.

Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (vss 4-5).

Don’t be discouraged! Hope in God! Trust Him! Believe Him!

Rejoice – glory – boast in the Cross of Christ. He did all that for you!

Amen!

 

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About robinpalmer

I am a Presbyterian Pastor living and working in Browns Bay on the North Shore of Auckland in New Zealand. We moved here at the end of March 2011 after spending five years in Wellington the capital city. I am passionate about what I do - about communicating and writing. I also enjoy my counselling work, especially with young people.

Posted on May 12, 2015, in Sunday Morning Sermons and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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