Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Sermon: Romans 5: 1-11 Rejoicing in Suffering?

What are some of the things you might rejoice over? It could be a birthday, or maybe a family wedding. You might rejoice over a new baby in the family, or perhaps if Britain wins any gold medals at the Olympics next year. We all know how to rejoice, how to celebrate good things that happen. But did you notice the most remarkable and strange thing that Paul said in our reading today, something to rejoice over?

As he begins chapter 5, Paul reminds us of the ground he has already covered in his letter to the Romans. Despite the wrath of God being revealed against sin (all sin, all people), God has made a way for sinners to be justified - by faith. We have been justified - it has already happened. That means that now, we have peace with God - the war is over, he is no longer angry at us or hostile to us. All this comes through the death of Christ.

More than that, we also have obtained access to grace - no longer in guilt but in grace, it’s like a door has been opened, and we can come inside. God is gracious towards us; and we can look forward in hope to what God has prepared. No wonder Paul says we can rejoice in hope. All these things are brilliant blessings!

But in the very next verse (3), we find this strange rejoicing. Let’s look at it together. ‘More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings.’ If it was Family Fortunes, we asked 100 people name one thing you would rejoice in - would sufferings be in the list? You’d probably get the X and the noise. You almost want to ask him, Paul, are you wise, rejoicing in sufferings? Is he a sadist, taking pleasure from pain?

It’s not what we expect, or even want to hear, is it? Yet Paul is saying that suffering is the normal Christian life. It’s not that when you become a Christian everything is sweetness and light, and all your troubles disappear. It’s more likely that your suffering will increase - yet Paul says we can rejoice. Why?

It’s not that we rejoice in sufferings, full stop. It’s rather that our sufferings are almost like a production line. For a couple of summers, I worked in a factory on a production line. Each section had their own thing to contribute to the overall product. So it is here - suffering produces endurance (as we keep going under pressure); endurance produces character (the fruit of the Spirit, the tested genuineness of who we are); and character produces hope (as we look forward to what God has prepared). We can go through this process and not ‘crack’ because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit given to us.

Now you might be thinking to yourself, well, if God loved me, he wouldn’t let me go through... (you fill in the blanks). Perhaps you doubt God’s love when you face those sufferings. It seems like God has abandoned you. Just in case that’s where you are, Paul includes another reminder of just how much God loved you, loves you, and will continue to love you. Once again, he takes us back to the cross, and points to it and says - this is how God loves you! ‘but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’

It’s not that you were good or righteous - no, it was while you were God’s enemy, Jesus died for you! What love, that gives himself for enemies. If God has already done that, if Jesus has already died for you, then how can you now doubt his love?

It’s the point Paul draws out in the rest of our passage. Since you’ve been justified, much more shall we be saved... if this, then much more that.

I cannot know precisely what you may be going through today. There may be depths of sufferings that no one else knows about, and you wonder how you can continue, you wonder if these sufferings mean God doesn’t love you. That could not be further from the truth.

God has already demonstrated his love for you in the cross of the Lord Jesus. His love is sure. As you have been justified, you stand in his grace, with the assurance of his love poured into your hearts by his Holy Spirit. Your sufferings are producing eternal fruit as you endure, your character is formed, and hope bursts forth. Suffering is not the absence of God’s love, but the assurance of God’s love - helping us and preparing us for his eternal glory. So hold in there, and be sure that Christ is holding you!

This sermon was preached at the Midweek Holy Communion in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Wednesday 6th July

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