Let me briefly backtrack for us so that we can put into context the lesson that we will study today. In the first three chapters of Romans, Paul dealt with the predicament of humanity, our sin, and the gracious salvation of God for all who will believe in His Son, Jesus, our Savior. Paul drilled into our heads that salvation is by faith through grace and not by our works.
In Romans 4, Paul used Abraham as his prime example of God’s justification by faith. Abraham was justified, not by observing the Law; the Law was not given for another 430 years. He was not justified by circumcision, the sign of the Covenant was given by God after Abraham’s justification. Abraham was justified; he was made right with God, by God’s grace, through faith alone. “Abram believed the LORD and He credited it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6 NIV) Paul used Abraham as a model for all of us, Jews and Gentiles, who desire a right relationship with God. In Romans 5, Paul takes the letter in a brand new direction. The very first verse reads,
1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… (Romans 5:1 NIV)
“Therefore” takes us in a new direction. Paul says, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…” What glorious news that is for you and me! We have peace with God!
In verse 2 Paul says that we rejoice, or we boast, in the hope of the glory of God. The word “glory” originally meant, “opinion, reputation, or honor.” When we glory in the Lord we are expressing our opinion of God, and knowing God’s divine attributes—His love, sovereignty, grace, justice, omnipotence, and much more—our glorying in God is expressing the highest opinion of all.
There is another kind of glory, different from the original meaning, which is rooted in the Old Testament idea of the “shekinah.” This kind of glory is a visible manifestation of God’s glory, most often understood as the brilliant kind of light that you can’t even imagine—a light so bright that it is unapproachable. We can read about this expression of God’s glory in Exodus 34:29-35 where Moses went to be with God on Mt. Sinai. When Moses came down from the mountain his face was shining. Read with me from Exodus 34:29-30.
29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. (Exodus 34:29-30 NIV)
Moses had been in the presence of God and God’s glory illuminated his face. In the New Testament we can see another example of this kind of God’s glory. In Revelation 21, John describes, as best he can, the glorious heavenly city, the New Jerusalem. In his description he speaks about the glory of God. Turn with me to Revelation 21:23-25.
23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. (Revelation 21:23-25 NIV)
Can you imagine? What an amazing future awaits those who have been justified by grace through faith! To bask in the glory of God both day and night, to constantly be reminded of God’s glory everywhere you look, and to share in that glory by God’s grace—I can’t wait to get to heaven! Some of you may be wondering what I meant when I said that we will share in God’s glory. In Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi he wrote about the contrast between the futures of those who have been justified and those who have not. Read along with me in Philippians 2:19-21.
19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:19-21 NIV)
Those who refuse God’s gift of grace are consumed by their attachment and focus on this world. When God’s grace is poured out upon our hearts it reorients us, we begin to understand that this is not our home, and our longing for home grows more and more with the passing of time. Paul says, in these verses, that in the future our lowly, sin-scarred bodies, will be transformed so that they will reflect the glorious resurrected body of Jesus.
Let me share one more Scripture with you as we prepare to turn our attention to our Scripture for today, found in Romans 5:3-5. The Scripture I want us to look at is Romans 8:17-18. In this passage Paul tells us that we will share in two things with Jesus. See if you can pick them out.
17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs– heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:17-18 NIV)
We will share in His sufferings, but we will also share in His glory! That is a thought that is beyond my comprehension, but it is a truth that I need to be reminded of each and every day. This life is not all there is—there is a glorious future awaiting those who will cling to the Savior and walk in the grace of God.
I said that I wanted to use this Scripture from Romans 8 as a springboard for our study for this morning. Won’t you turn with me to Romans 5:3-5.
3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 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. (Romans 5:3-5 NIV)
In this section of Romans 5, Paul is following up on what he has just said about “rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God.” In verse 3, he says that we not only rejoice in this hope, but we also rejoice in our sufferings. Remember, the word for “rejoice” can just as easily be translated, “boast” or “celebrate.” We are to celebrate our trials, rejoice in our suffering. That woke some of you up, didn’t it? That is absurd to us modern-day, American followers of Jesus. We are trying to alleviate suffering and we will do anything to get out of our trials. I love what F.F. Bruce has written about this passage of Scripture.
If this seems strange to us, let us remind ourselves that in the New Testament suffering is viewed as the normal experience of a Christian. New converts were warned that the kingdom of God could be entered only ‘through many tribulations’ (Acts 14:22); and when tribulation came their way, as it regularly did, they could not complain that they had not been prepared for it. But suffering was not only regarded as an inevitable feature of the Christian lot; it was looked upon as a token of true Christianity, as a sign that God counted those who endured it worthy of his kingdom (2 Thessalonians 1:5). Besides, it had a salutary moral effect on those who experienced it, for it helped them to cultivate endurance and steadfastness of character, and when these were linked to Christian faith, Christian hope was the more stimulated. (F.F. Bruce, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Romans. William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, MI. 1985, pg. 114)
Suffering, trials, tribulations, struggle—these were the expected experiences of those who surrendered their lives to the One who suffered and died on their behalf. How far we have drifted? Today, we market Jesus. Our public relations team seeks to persuade unbelievers that Jesus is the best self-improvement program that has ever hit the market. If I read right, when we surrender our life to Jesus, “self” moves off the throne, and the glory of God becomes our sole purpose in life. Jesus told His followers,
24 …”If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25 NIV)
I’m convinced that a major difference between those followers of Jesus who go through the trials and tribulations of life differently than most of us is found in one key word in verse 3. It is the word, “know.” Those who endure the troubles of life differently than most are those who know that there is a purpose in the trials of life. They know that God is Sovereign and therefore there is nothing wasted in God’s plan to bring us to maturity and display His glory through us.
Knowing is crucial isn’t it? Just think about some everyday things that we take for granted because we “know” what is going on. If you had never heard of surgery before and suddenly you walked into an operating room and saw people doing open-heart surgery on someone you would come unwound wouldn’t you? Because you “know” that those who are operating on the person in the room are working for his or her healing it changes everything. If you didn’t know a thing about football and you saw a group of men and boys out on a field in the heat of August it might catch your attention. If you stopped to see what was going on only to see the men yelling at the boys as they ran up and down the field time and time again—you might call DHS and report multiple cases of child abuse. Because you know that the coaches are trying to get their young men in shape and build a team you are inspired instead of horrified. Knowing makes all the difference in the world.
If you will take another look at Romans 5:3 you will see that Paul doesn’t stop with saying that we rejoice in our sufferings. That would be ludicrous. Paul says that we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering has a purpose. Paul knew this and that is why he was able to write from a prison cell to the folks in Philippi and say,
12 Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. (Philippians 1:12-14 NIV)
Paul wasn’t wallowing in self-pity because he knew. He knew that his trial was being used by God to further the Gospel. Sometimes that is exactly why we go through tribulations. It is interesting that some Bible commentators say that the word that is used in Romans 5:3 for “suffering” is meant to describe the opposition and persecution that the followers of Jesus will encounter by the world. The great Bible teacher, John R.W. Stott has written,
The ‘sufferings’ in mind are usually translated, ‘tribulations.’ These are not what we sometimes call ‘the trials and tribulations’ of our earthly existence, meaning our aches and pains, fears and frustrations, deprivations and disappointments, but rather ‘thlipseis’ (literally, ‘pressures’), refers in particular to the opposition and persecution of a hostile world. (John R.W. Stott, The Message of Romans. Inter-Varsity Press. Downer’s Grove, Illinois. 1994. pg. 141.)
I love John Stott. I have benefited hugely from his study of God’s Word throughout the years, but I am not convinced that we can draw such a fine point on the definition of the Greek word, “thlipsis.” The definition is “a pressing, pressing together, pressure, oppression, affliction, tribulation, or distress.” The word is found over 40 times in the New Testament and it is used in a variety of ways. One of the ways is exactly as Dr. Stott says. In Matthew 24:9, Jesus said,
9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. (Matthew 24:9 NIV)
There are many, many references to trials that can be directly related to being persecuted for our faith. Our convictions and allegiance to the Lord above all else will surely set us at odds with the world. We are to expect that my friends.
This Greek word is also used in another way, a more broad definition of troubles and trials. In James 1:27 we read,
27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27 NIV)
The troubles of the widows and orphans that are alluded to by James are surely more than persecution because of their faith. Widows and orphans face a unique set of challenges that are different from most of us, don’t they? James says that we are to help them with the tribulations they face in life. Another example of the broader definition of tribulation is found in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4. Read along with me.
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV)
I want to urge you to view all of your troubles, whether they are persecution from others because of your commitment to the Lord, or the various hardships that we face in life—view them all as having a purpose in your life. You may ask, “What purpose do they serve?” I’m so glad you asked. Let’s go back to our Scripture and find out.
Paul says that our sufferings are producing perseverance. Perseverance will develop character. Character will develop a godly hope that can be developed in no other way. I want to briefly take a look at each of these characteristics that are so important to God in His process of molding us and shaping us into the image of His Son. The first word is translated, “perseverance.” Literally it means, “to stand under, to bear up under pressure.” The King James Version has “patience,” but it is more than patience. Patience is merely waiting, but the word that is used here, “hupomone,” is more active. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says,
“‘hypomone’ becomes a prominent virtue in the sense of courageous endurance. As distinct from patience, it has the active significance of energetic if not necessarily successful resistance…”
What God is seeking to develop in you and me is an active strengthening in the face of any kind of trial or temptation. God wants us to depend on Him as we go through trials. He wants to be our Comforter, the One who sustains us through the troubles of life.
A great example of the use of the word is found in 1 Timothy 6:9-11. Here, in these verses, Paul tells us what drives the world, then he urges us to be driven by something altogether different. Read along with me.
9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. (1 Timothy 6:9-11 NIV)
More money. Now there is the motivating force for many people is it not? Paul says that we are to pursue something altogether different—righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. The word, “endurance,” is the word we are looking at.
The writer of Hebrews uses the same word in Hebrews 12:1. Let’s read it together and see if you can sense the active nature of the word.
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1 NIV)
The development of perseverance in our lives is so important that God included the process involved in two different places. Let’s take a look at James 1:2-4.
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4 NIV)
God uses trials to develop a strengthening endurance in us that enables us to stand strong when the heat is turned up in the kitchen. Let’s move on the next word. We read that perseverance develops character. The Greek word for “character” is “dokime,” which means, “proving, approved, tested, or experience.” John MacArthur writes,
The Greek term (dokim? ) translated proven character simply means “proof,” which in the present context obviously refers to Christian character. The term was used of testing precious metals such as silver and gold to demonstrate their purity. When Christians experience tribulations that demand perseverance, that perseverance, in turn, produces in them proven spiritual character. Just as a metal smith uses intense heat to melt silver and gold in order to cleanse them of physical impurities, so does God use tribulations to cleanse His children of spiritual impurities. “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial,” James assures believers; “for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12). (John MacArthur, MacArthur’s New Testament Commentary: Romans 1-8, The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. 1991)
God gives us opportunities to bear good fruit, to demonstrate how the Holy Spirit is molding us and shaping us, and perseverance develops this ability to prove our character. You have heard it said that character is who you are when nobody is around. Life is a test of our true character. Life is a series of tests to see how we are doing in maturing in our relationship with Christ.
On Wednesday night we were covering our lesson over the life of Simon Peter. The lesson was called, “Why Does God Allow Storms In Our Lives?” One of the people in class pointed out Deuteronomy 8:2-3. It is a great illustration of the “tests” we are talking about. Read along with me.
2 Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:2-3 NIV)
God gave His people opportunities to show that they trusted Him, that they were relying upon Him alone, and God gives us those same opportunities today. The same word that we are looking at is found in 1 Peter 1:6-8.
6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith– of greater worth 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. (1 Peter 1:6-8 NIV)
All of these many trials that we encounter throughout our life are producing in us something that is more valuable than our comfort or happiness. We’ve talked about perseverance and how it produces character, now Paul says that character produces hope. Hope in the Bible is more than crossing your fingers behind your back and wishing something would come true. Hope is patient expectation. What are we hoping for? Is it only that we are awaiting the end of our tribulations? No, we are hoping in much more than that—we are awaiting the coming of our King and the full redemption of our bodies. Paul writes in Romans 8:23-25.
23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:23-25 NIV)
Oftentimes in this life what we hope for doesn’t come true. We can hope that our team will win. Sometimes it does and some times it doesn’t. We can hope that the weather will be good for our trip to the State Fair—most of the time our hopes will be dashed in a downpour. We can hope to win the lottery, but don’t go spending your money before they call your name. Oftentimes our hope is empty when we are merely hoping for things in this life, but Paul says in Romans 5:5,
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. (Romans 5:5 NIV)
If you place your hope, your confidence in God, then you will never be disappointed my friend. God’s promises are always fulfilled. He has promised us that He would never leave us or forsake us in this life and He has made us promises that are yet to come.
Our troubles are not enjoyable. Persecution and hardships of all kinds are painful, but they are working in us, God is working through them in each of us, if we will only have eyes to see.
James Montgomery Boice tells a story about one of the missionaries that was sent from his church, Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, to China. The Chinese church before 1950 could count about 850,000 members. Then the communists took over and banned Christianity. Now, more than 50 years since the persecution began, the followers of Jesus in China number more than 50 million. A young man from the United States was going to Hong Kong to study the Chinese church. Before he left, a friend asked him, “If God loves the Chinese church so much, why has He allowed so much suffering to come upon it?” The young man confessed that he had no answer at the time.
He left and traveled to China where he spent a considerable amount of time getting to know brothers and sisters in China. He heard their stories of suffering and the tremendous growth they had experienced, both as individuals and as a church. During this experience he gained an answer to the question that was put to him. He told the missionary, “When I get back I am going to ask my friend, ‘If God loves the American church so much, why hasn’t He allowed us to suffer like the church in China?”
I want to encourage you who are here this morning and going through your own tribulations. Don’t allow the enemy to convince you that your suffering is in vain. Don’t allow the enemy to convince you that God has forgotten you. Remember this lesson and know that God is work in the trials of your life.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
September 17, 2013