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Theology in Romans

I.  Introduction:

 We have a tendency to believe that suffering is a curse from God.  When we go through trials and difficulties as Christians we can often think that they are the punishment for our sin.  Granted, we will face consequences for our sin, but sometimes we view all suffering as directly linked to our own personal failures.  Thus, suffering is a curse.  Yet, in our text this morning (Romans 5:1-11), Paul states that one of the blessings of being justified by faith is that we rejoice in our sufferings.  Paul does not say that we rejoice because we are able to avoid suffering.  No, we suffer like everyone else.  In fact, we suffer more due to being followers of Christ just as He told us we would (see John 16:33, cf. Acts 14:22, 2 Timothy 3:12).  Paul will go on to say in Romans that we are fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him (8:17).  Thus, the Bible makes it clear that we will suffer.  We cannot follow Christ and try to avoid suffering at the same time.  Rather, we must take up our cross and follow hard after the One who suffered for us on His cross.  So then, we will suffer as Christians.

 Yet, again, Paul says that one of the blessings of our justification is not simply that we suffer, but that we rejoice in our sufferings.  How do we do that?  How do we rejoice in our sufferings?  I think the answer is that we must have an understanding of suffering (a theology of suffering) that is biblical.  So then, in our time together tonight, I just want to look at a few passages and what they teach us about rejoicing in our suffering.

II.  Passages:

 A.  Romans 5:3-5 Just to review what was said this morning, Paul teaches how we can rejoice in suffering.  What does he say?  We rejoice in suffering because we know its purpose.  And what is the purpose of suffering?  Paul tells us: suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame.  We do not rejoice in the pain (masochism), but in what God is using the pain to produce, namely endurance, character, and hope.  As we go through difficult times we develop endurance and patience.  We grow stronger in our trust in God.  We mature (or develop character).  This maturity fills us with hope, which does not lead to shame because it rests upon the sure foundation of Godís love for us.  He has given us His Spirit (v. 5) and His Son to die for our sins (v. 6-8).  Both of these demonstrate (or prove) Godís love for us.  Thus, we can rejoice even in the midst of suffering because we know that God is at work making us more like Christ.  He is maturing us in the faith so that we will be more and more sure of His love for us.  Since we know the purpose of suffering, the good and glorious purpose of being more like Christ, we can rejoice.  (For a similar argument see James 1:2-4.)

 B.  John 15:18-21 Jesus taught His disciples about suffering regularly.  He did not want them to be caught off guard when the world persecuted them.  His reasoning is simple enough: if they persecuted me, the Master, then surely they will persecute His servants.  Yet, how does His teaching here help us to rejoice in our suffering?  Again, we see a purpose in our suffering.  In this text the purpose is that our suffering identifies us with Christ (see 1 Peter 2:21, 4:13).  We suffer because we are His followers.  We suffer for His name and His glory.  We are becoming like Him since He came to suffer.  Our joy rests in the fact that such suffering confirms that we are faithfully imitating our Savior.  We are delighted to glorify Him in this way. 
 A great example of this is found in Acts 5.  The disciples had been arrested twice for preaching Jesus.  The religious leaders in Jerusalem wanted to silence them, but fearing what would happen if they actually put them to death, they decided to simply beat them and charge them to stop preaching Jesus (v. 17-40).  So how did the disciples respond to this treatment?  Did they grumble and complain and wonder if they needed to change strategies, since preaching Jesus only lead to suffering?  No!  Listen to their response: Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name (v. 41).  And just in case you are wondering how this impacted their service, Luke adds: And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ (v. 42).  How could they respond like this?  Because Jesus had taught them to expect nothing less.  They were humbled at the thought of being identified with Jesus through suffering.  Half of the time, we are outraged at such a thought.  That is why we need to meditate more on what the Bible says about suffering.  We need a firm theology of suffering so that when the Lord calls us to suffer, we will rejoice and bring Him glory. 

 C.  2 Corinthians 4:16-18 Several passages teach us to look to the future hope that we have in Christ as we go through suffering (see 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, James 1:12, 1 Peter 5:10).  Paul encourages us here by reminding us that the troubles we face in this life are slight and momentary when you compare them with the eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.  Notice the connection that Paul makes between our present suffering and future glory.  He says: For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory.  Present suffering prepares for us eternal glory.  Amazing.  I think the connection involves us being made like Christ.  If we are not experiencing present suffering, then it stands to reason that we are not being made like Christ and may not be His follower.  Yet, our present suffering assures us that we do belong to Him and will be with Him in the future. 

III.  Conclusion:

 Obviously, there are many more passages that we could consider in seeking a theology of suffering.  Yet, I think we can summarize what we have considered tonight with three thoughts.  First, we rejoice in suffering through remembering the suffering of Christ.  As we face suffering, we can look to Christ and the cross and rejoice.  Second, we rejoice in our suffering through knowing what it is producing.  God is using suffering in our lives to make us like Christ.  If we prize such transformation, then we can face the suffering with joy.  Third, we rejoice in suffering through resting in the promise of heaven.  The troubles we face are light and momentary compared to glory.  May we be a people who have a theology of suffering that is thoroughly biblical.  And may that theology lead us to rejoice in whatever suffering we face.  Amen. 

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 25 August 2010 )

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