“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 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 5:1-5 ESV)
I live in an area where thunderstorms are quite common. In fact, we often joke that you can tell someone who was raised in the area because when a severe thunder storm comes, the native to the area will often be on the porch watching the storm instead of hiding in the storm shelter. But storms are common to more than just central Oklahoma and I’m sure you’ve lived through your share of storms and not just the “weather” kind of storms. We’ve all faced tragedies, storms, hard times and challenges in life and this year has been a textbook example of life’s challenges. Most of us are just bracing for the next onslaught. As predicted, the fall and winter have brought an increase in COVID-19 virus cases and our hospitals are reaching critical capacity, schools are moving back to online learning and businesses are being asked to enforce social distancing and mask guidelines to help curb the virus and protect our most vulnerable population.
This is the perfect place to point out that sanctity of life is not limited to just opposing abortion in our culture but includes many, many other areas of care, protection and effort for Christ followers. It includes protecting our senior adults, pregnant mothers and those with immuno-compromised health who are more at risk to this virus. Our church will continue to require masks, practice social distancing, encourage hand washing and do everything we can to keep all of our members safe and healthy during these challenging times. That’s all for my public service announcement, now back to our focal passage.
When these storms pound us relentlessly, much like this virus, we find ourselves beginning to feel fearful or worried. I think all of us are ready for the challenges of 2020 to be over and would like to see a return to normalcy for the coming year, but who knows what 2021 will bring or how long this virus will dominate our lives. However, Paul says that “we can have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Peace. What mental image comes to mind when you think about a sense of peace? Is it lying on a warm, sunny beach with the sound of the waves gently crashing on the sandy shore? Is it walking through a forest with the quiet sounds of nature and a gentle brook splashing nearby? How about lying on a river bank on a summer night with a sky full of stars and the sound of crickets or frogs lulling you to sleep. My favorite? Relaxing near a crackling fire with a warm blanket and good book.
SCREEEEEEECH! What was that?
Yep, something always happens to bring you crashing back to reality. Doesn’t it? One of the kids yells, “MOM! DAD! Come quick!” The phone rings and you find out that something has gone wrong at work and they need you there IMMEDIATELY! Your sense of peace is suddenly gone and your life is in chaos, once again. In all honesty, the peace that I asked you to mentally picture is NOT the kind of peace that Paul has in mind. The Jewish sense of peace is not the same feeling you get when sit by that fire, walk along that forest pathway or lie under the stars listening to the sounds of the night. The sense of PEACE that Paul has in mind is one that exists in your spirit when you know that you are right were God wants you to be – everything is just as it should be – not because you’re relaxed or at ease physically or emotionally but because you are surrounded by God’s power and presence. David captures the idea of it in his Psalm 23:
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23:1-6 ESV)
Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear evil (but will enjoy perfect PEACE) because YOU ARE WITH ME, your rod and staff bring me comfort. I wrote a post a few years ago called “Relational Peace vs. Situational Peace” referencing Jesus’ words in John 14 where He says, I give you peace, but not like the world gives.” You can only know the peace that God gives through a relationship with His Son, Jesus. That kind of peace is deep and lasting and exists regardless of our situation because it is solely based in a trust relationship (faith) with God – it is relational and not situational – so our spiritual relationship brings peace in any and every situation when we trust Him. David’s sense of peace in the valley was based upon his relationship with God, “YOU are with me.” The fear of death’s threat had lost its strength and was a mere shadow without any substance because of God’s power (rod and staff) and presence (you are with me).
That’s Paul’s point in this passage, you don’t find peace with God through your own achievements, moral goodness, financial successes, educational degrees, research accolades, theological understanding or any other human means. Peace with God comes only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives.
Next, our faith brings us a sense of joy or rejoicing in hope of the glory of God. Just what does “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” mean? Ultimately, it means that we are celebrating (joy) as we anticipate (hope) the revealing of God’s glory and the fulfillment of His coming Kingdom. In other words, as we look around us we don’t become disheartened by our present circumstances or situation and we remain focused on the fulfillment of God’s promises and His reign in our lives but also over our world and all of its issues. Remember the words of Jesus’ prayer in Matthew 6, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We pray, seek, anticipate and rejoice in the impending reign of God over all things, all people, and every place.
When I was a kid our family had a station wagon and we often took trips to various places. I remember road trips to Tucson Arizona, Boston Massachusetts, St. Louis Missouri and many, many places in between. Of course, we would anticipate these trips as we packed and prepared for them and we would load that wagon up with kids, luggage and lots of food as we set out on these grand adventures. We didn’t have lots of money, but we would eat bologna sandwiches, peanut butter and crackers, cheese and other snacks that Mom had packed and then sleep in the car or stay with relatives along the way and at our destination. I’ve made the road trip from Oklahoma to Massachusetts and back, again, on several occasions. I also remember asking that question: “Are we there, yet?”
You can earnestly pray, seek, anticipate and intensely desire that God’s kingdom would come and still grow impatient and ask, “Are we there, yet? Will it ever happen? What’s taking so long? Oh Lord, please hurry!” The anticipation isn’t wrong, the seeking isn’t wrong, the desire for the fulfillment of God’s promised kingdom reign isn’t wrong but it would be wrong to abandon hope or detract from God’s glory. To abandon hope is to lose faith in God’s ability and desire to fulfill His promises. If this is an issue for you then I would encourage you to go back and read last week’s post. To detract from God’s glory is an issue of pride and is self-destructive as Proverbs 16:18 points out: “Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall.”
Finally, I want us to consider the spiritual growth progression that Paul cites in this passage. He says that not only do we rejoice in hope but we rejoice in suffering. Why? Because suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope and hope doesn’t leave us disappointed or ashamed because God’s love has been poured into our hearts and lives. Spiritual growth progression? We have a tendency to miss this part of the faith lesson in scripture. We think that faith is all about believing or trusting God to give us what we want, desire, expect or need. We treat faith and prayer like a kid treats a visit to Santa at the mall at Christmas time. Just like a five year old on Santa’s lap, we begin to believe and pray by telling God all of things we want and expect from Him while ignoring all of the things that God wants and expects of us (see Gal. 5:22-26 for an example).
So, Paul says we should begin by rejoicing in our afflictions. Rejoice in afflictions? That’s crazy! Well, actually that’s Paul. By the way, this idea certainly isn’t limited to Paul. Jesus, James and Peter all share the same sentiments regarding these struggles (see Matt. 5:10-12; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 2:20-21 for just a few examples). Paul even tells us in Philippians 3:8 that he considers everything he once thought to be advantageous or a “gain” he now considers to be a loss or just “filth” in order that he might gain Christ. God’s economy doesn’t work the way we want or expect. Things we expect to be good, beneficial and advantageous are often the very things that keep us from being available and effective in the Kingdom of God. God uses afflictions to make us spiritually stronger and able to endure or bear up under the load. As our spiritual endurance grows, we produce, demonstrate and openly display proven Christian character.
In baking, when you “proof” your dough you are placing it into the proper conditions that will show or demonstrate that you’ve put the correct ingredients in the right proportions into the dough and this is seen in the results as your dough properly develops and rises. If your dough doesn’t “prove” then some ingredient was left out of the dough, or was too much or not enough of an ingredient or you did something wrong in the process. So, proofing your dough is giving the dough the opportunity to demonstrate you made it correctly by the results. Hope is the “proofing” of your faith. As God pours into you the proper ingredients in the appropriate amounts then faith begins to grow through affliction, develop our endurance, and strengthen our character which is then proven by this process and it results in producing hope in our hearts. The problem is that we often want the results but without the work.
Good, delicious, soft bread takes time for the dough to rise and the process to work. Good, obedient, mature Christians take time for the Spirit to develop… affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. Hope doesn’t leave us disappointed because God’s love is being poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
Do you find it hard to love others in the same way you love yourself? Join the club. Why is it so hard? I think it is because our hearts are so full of selfish love for ourselves we have no room to love God or love others. However, when God begins this work of grace in us through faith in Jesus, then affliction begins doing its work of producing endurance and endurance starts developing our character. Then, as God’s love fills our hearts then it forces our love for ourselves out and lets God’s love overflow onto those around us. Love others in the same way you love yourself – that can’t happen without divine intervention and it all begins and flows out of our own pain – affliction produces endurance, endurance produces character, proven character produces hope, and hope won’t leave us disappointed with the end results.