Book of Romans Bible Studies
Romans 5:3-4 - Hope in the midst of trial
by Fraser Gordon
Last time we looked at Romans 5:1 “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”. We looked at how God is no longer angry toward mankind because of sin. The sin issue has been dealt with and we now have access to God. There is peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ making atonement and paying the full price of the penalty of sin which was an offense to the righteousness, justice and character of God. The full price has been paid by the Lord Jesus Christ, we have peace with God.
It goes on to say that not only do “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”, but “through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand...” Romans 5.2.
We looked at the wonderful position which the believer through faith has come into, a standing in grace. We are accepted in the beloved, we are placed into a risen Christ and therefore from God's perspective we are in His beloved Son, righteous, holy, accepted. Everything is done by a standard that Jesus has attained, which He also maintains. Not only that, but we “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” Romans 5.2b. We looked at what the glory of God was. Romans 3:23 states “all men have fallen short of the glory of God”, this means every single man or woman born into this world falls short of a standard, or the character of God. Paul is saying that the character which was seen in God and in the Lord Jesus Christ is the hope for the Christian. The character and the life of God would now be made manifest in the earth through our relationship toward them. So these are all wonderful things, peace with God, a standing in grace, and the hope that Jesus would be manifest in our life here on earth. And there is also glory to come.
But wait there's more!
Paul goes on to say in Romans 5.3 “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance;”
So not only these wonderful truths that we've read in verses 1 and 2, but “we also glory in tribulations”. Who glories in trials? Who glories in persecutions and troubles? Other versions say I exalt or rejoice in tribulations. Now what is it about Paul that he could say that? Could you say that whatever is in your life you're glorying or exulting in it? It's a big call. What did Paul know that we don't? Every one of us could talk about the things we're facing, it may be sickness, relationships, or work issues. There could be troubles and trials in different ways for each one of us, we all have something that is going on. Maybe persecution - the western church on the whole hasn’t a clue about true persecution. We face many trials and troubles but when it comes down to it we don’t know what true persecution is. If you look at how the eastern church are persecuted for their faith, to be honest, we don't know anything. We pray for the eastern church, we pray they are upheld in what they are facing. Do you know they actually pray for us?! They pray that persecution would come to the West because of what it produces. That is not to say that one day we might face persecution, but believe me it's a possibility. Things are changing radically. Things that were once held as bedrock truths are now pushed to the side, and a belief in God is being criticized and looked at as pathetic and mocked. True persecution is happening in the East where families are ripped apart and people put in prison. Daughters are taken away from families and married off or people are beheaded or killed for their faith. We don't face that and we don’t know what it’s like, but we still have trials, troubles and tribulations that come to us.
Paul could say in Romans 5.3 “and not only that, but we also glory”, or we exult “in tribulations”. I've come across people that have this perception that because you're a Christian no trouble should come to you. Some of my workmates believe trouble shouldn't happen because, “you’re under the Big Guy, He's looking after your life so isn't He supposed to take care of you? You’re supposed to have a life that is pain-free and trouble-free, isn’t He a God of love, does he love you?” Or, “have you done something bad that God is punishing you for?” I remember when Wendy and I had Ella, all sorts of trouble came our way. Ella was getting platelet transfusions at Waikato hospital every few days. I came home to Tauranga to bury my dog in the midst of it all and then got a call from the surgeon saying that Wendy had a perforated bowel as a complication of the caesarean. The surgeon was afraid of septicemia and needed to operate as soon as possible. I had Ella on one side of the hospital and Wendy on the other, so I rushed back.
There was a nurse with the gift of encouragement and she said to me, “we don't get many families like you, have you done something wrong?” Then she said, “are you cursed?” When it came out of her mouth I could hear the intent behind it, “doesn't God love you? If God loves you why are these things happening to you, have you done something wrong, are you being punished?” I could hear the voice behind it. She had no idea what she was saying but behind was the intent that I was being punished or that God didn't love me anymore because of what was going on. Some people think because you are a Christian bad things shouldn't happen. Paul knew something else, if anyone knew what it was like to have tribulations it was Paul. Shipwrecked, stoned, lost at sea, imprisoned, beaten, persecuted, hated by his own people, hated by the Jewish establishment, deception; people coming after him and teaching heresy in the churches he established. He knew what it was like to suffer and he knew what it was like to go through tribulations.
We all have hard days and some are worse than others. I read this the other day; it's called Tough Days.
“There was a hard hat employee who reported on his accident form. When I got to the building I found that the hurricane had knocked off some bricks around the top so I rigged up a beam with a pulley at the top and I hoisted up a couple of barrels of bricks. When I fixed the damaged area there were a lot of bricks left over. Then I went to the bottom and began releasing the line, unfortunately the barrel of bricks was much heavier than I was and before I knew what was happening the barrel started coming down while I was jerking up. I decided to hang on since I was too far off the ground by then to jump. Halfway up I met the barrel of bricks coming down and received a hard blow to my shoulder. Continuing to the top I banged my head against the beam and got my fingers jammed in the pulley. When the barrel hit the ground it burst open spilling the bricks, now I was much heavier than the barrel so I started down at high speed. I met the barrel coming back up and received severe injuries to my shins. I landed on top of the spilled bricks getting severe cuts and bruises and at this point I must have lost my presence of mind because I let go of the rope, the barrel came down fast putting me in hospital. I respectfully request sick leave.”
What is scriptures view on tribulation or hardship? James 1.2 says, “count it all joy knowing that the testing of your faith produces...” John 16:33 “In this world you will have trouble but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world”, and Hebrews 2.17-18 “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted”. Jesus suffered and had to work through all the same things as us, as a man, even though he was God. He laid aside his right to act as God that's why he's able as a high priest to sympathize with whatever it is we are going through. 1st Peter 4:12 “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you”. You could almost say that because you are a Christian there's a high probability that you may face more things than a non-believer. I think there is possibly in Scripture enough to support that view. As we go through this you'll see it from God's perspective and what He is trying to bring out and why He would allow these things.
Thankful for Job
When you're a new Christian and you haven't been in the faith long you come across your first real dry patch or first trial or suffering. Your instant thought is what on earth is wrong? You've gone through this honeymoon period where everything's great and you have all the feelings, you feel the presence of God and every car park that you pray for you get. At some point that wanes and you may go through some really dry patches. What is going on? Or you may get persecuted. It's exactly the same with the seed in Matthew 13, there are seed sown among the stones which grow up quickly. Sometimes there are people you think are in the church but the first sign of persecution, trial or hardship; as fast as they come in they go out. I had a friend like that, I was sure he was saved. He lasted about three months and the first lot of trouble, he was gone. Jesus said it's the seed which hasn't found fertile ground to root in. It falls among the stones and when persecution, heat, and trouble comes, it withers. There isn't enough depth to carry on and persevere. When Israel came through the Red Sea they celebrated with tambourines, there were songs about great deliverance. Three days later they had their first trial. They didn't have any water and when they did find water it was bitter. It was in front of them but they couldn't drink it. They moaned and grumbled continually.
What are ways we react? Have you heard of stoic or stoicism? It's a Greek philosophy from about the 3rd century and it meant that you subdue all emotions for pain. When trouble comes there is no, ‘oh this hurts’ or ‘I’m going through it’ or ‘I'm anxious’, all is pushed to one side and instead it's, ‘I've got a stiff upper lip’, just bear it, take a concrete pill, which would be a New Zealand saying, ‘just harden up’. All these things are stoic ways of dealing with trials but it's not the Christian way. All your emotions aren't bypassed when trouble comes.
The other thing that's influenced many Christians in the West is the prosperity gospel which has invaded the thoughts of many people. God is there for your benefit, you will be healthy, wealthy and without any pain or frustration. Your life is one of continual victory. Its core is a humanistic gospel. You shouldn't have any pain, you shouldn't have any trouble, and if you do, it’s a lack of faith. All of it is nonsense. Alternatively, some say everything is of the devil, or the enemy. Now there are some things that come from the enemy there's no doubt, but not everything. I'm really thankful for the book of Job, I'm thankful that God allowed this righteous man to go through what he went through. When it comes to suffering Job is high on the list. He was righteous and holy and there was nothing in his character that displeased God, but God allowed suffering to happen to him. Satan had to come before God to ask permission and he could only go so far. Satan is on a leash. We all have hedges around us and God allows things to happen to a degree but Satan doesn't have free rein over our life. We shouldn't give him as much credit as he gets. Yes he is the prince of the power of the air, yes there is deception and yes he is the accuser continually. But not all things, not all sickness, trouble, or pain is from his hand.
So how does all this work? When these things come to us we have normal reactions. It's not to be stoic and harden up. We have normal emotions of pain, anguish, hurt and confusion but we don't stay there. Like the psalmist said in Psalm 23 “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,''. We don't camp in the middle. Many times when we go through things we pitch a little tent right in the middle of the valley and we camp down there and wallow in self-pity. But we should walk through - its a journey, yes we have all our normal emotions, we’re on a journey with God through them and our emotions are not bypassed. It’s a walk.
What did Paul know?
Paul goes on to say in Romans 5.3 “we glory in tribulations knowing that tribulation produces perseverance;”
Paul knew something that made a difference. He could exalt in the things that were happening to him. He knew something which the non-christian doesn't know; that tribulation produces perseverance. He knew that God is always active and has a chief role in using all things to conform us into the image of his Son.
2 Corinthians 4: 7-11 “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed-- always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” Verse 16-18 “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.”
Can you consider whatever you're facing today as a light affliction? Paul is talking in terms of eternity. What you are facing today is working for you a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. In other words what we go through now and the way it’s played out in our lives is for eternity. Just like the verse that was read out this morning in James 1.2 “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” or perseverance. These verses tell us that whatever we’re going through is working for our benefit. Paul knew these things were working with God for our good, not for our harm. It changes the way we look at what comes our way. If we can see it from God's perspective, even though it’s terrible, even though it hurts and we don't understand, even though we want to get out as fast as we can (which we try to do as soon as we get in trouble). It is all working for our benefit and we need to see it from God's perspective.
Hardship, trouble and trials
Romans 5.3 “tribulation produces perseverance”, or in some versions patience, or steadfastness.
Perseverance means to abide under or stay under pressure. Think about how women persevere with childbirth, the pain they go through to bring life, they do it again and again, and it’s worth it. I had to go to the animal kingdom to find a male that persevered in the same light. I watched a documentary on Emperor penguins a while back. The Antarctic can get as low as minus 60 degrees celsius, you'd get an understanding for how cold that is, and you’d need more than your thermal socks and scarf! Around April it’s breeding time and the female gives birth to an egg. As soon as she's given birth she passes it to the male - this is all sounding a bit backwards isn’t it! She gives it to the male and straight away she's off shopping. A bit of R and R, she's done her work. She does a bit of swimming and goes fishing. You have a complete role reversal - he has to look after the egg and balance it on his feet because the temperatures are minus 60. He has a little pouch that comes over the top of it. She goes fishing, looking for food and can be gone for months and he has to stay with the egg. All the females go hunting and gathering, I thought the male always did that but not Emperor Penguins. He has to wait with all the other males and they huddle in close because it's so cold. The penguins keep rotating from the middle to the outside as one body with full unity otherwise the ones on the outside freeze. They shuffle constantly to keep their bodies moving in the sub zero temperatures. There could be a little picture in that, when you're really going through things. You won't see a lone penguin standing on a pinnacle of ice because of the temperatures, he wouldn't last. They need to come in close as a group and conserve heat. If the egg is unattended for two minutes it dies so they balance it on their feet for a couple of months waiting for the female to come back. That's a lot of waiting, persevering, I don't know how they do it. When the female comes back she regurgitates food at his feet. I’m glad Wendy doesn’t do that! The male penguin has to wait and persevere under these incredible temperatures just to keep the chick alive and then it hatches and grows and does the same thing. I thought that was quite amazing! They don't know what storms or temperatures are coming tomorrow, but they persevere. Spurgeon said “by perseverance the snail reached the ark”.
Some people have a human ability to persevere. Every athlete that wants to succeed puts their body through pain and stress to endure, there’s no way around it, if you want to be at the top of your game you've got to do that. In business some people fail and fail and fail but they keep going, and then they succeed. They've got this ability to persevere even though everything goes wrong. I don't know whether you've ever watched those programmes about soldiers who want to become SAS. I'd hate to do it because they break them down physically and mentally. It's not the big bravado guys they're looking for, they look for the ones that have got this little bit of grit. When your body is saying stop and your mind is saying I can't go on anymore, that little bit of grit just keeps going. That's what they're looking for.
The bible is full of characters who learned to persevere. David was anointed as a youth but it was between 10 to 15 years before God removed Saul so David could be king. He ran, hid and waited for God to act on his behalf. David’s life is amazing because of the trials that came later. When Absalom tried to take the throne David reacted in exactly the same way, he allowed God to do what He was going to do even though it hurt. He waited for God to act and bring about His plans and purposes for him. Caleb and Joshua had enough faith to go into the land but had to wait 40 years until a whole generation died. You see in the life of Caleb that he was as strong on that day as he was in the beginning. He took the hard land, the hill of Hebron where the Giants were residing. It's a long time, waiting for God to bring about His purpose. Joseph is another example, he was falsely accused, and put in prison. He thought he was going to get out when he revealed the dream but he had to remain another two years in there. At the end he could see God was active in it, working not only for him but also for the bigger picture of the nation of Israel. He could see that God meant it for good whereas his brothers meant it for evil. Joseph saw God's plans and purposes in the things he faced. What about the women in the Bible who were barren. Peninnah was having children and poor Hannah didn't have any, and she mocked her. The Bible is full of this principle of perseverance and it comes through hardship, trouble and trials. This quote by Franklin Roosevelt sums it up, “when you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on!”
What Paul learned
So what does suffering or trials teach us. If we walked through life and everything was rosy red what would we learn about God. If everything went right you’d probably learn a certain amount but suffering gives us a need. As soon as things go wrong, the first thing we do is look for God. That produces a need for Him and for His life, it teaches us to rely on Christ, it teaches us about ourselves, that we're not as strong as we think we are. Father Christmas is how the world views God. On the whole they think He's a sugar daddy, just there for our benefit, He is, but in a different sense. Paul in Philippians 4.11-12 says “...I have learned in whatever state I am to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” He said “I've learned”, I'm really glad he said that. It’s a process we go through, learning to trust Christ in all the things we go through. In the past we've had a dealing and God has been there with us and we rely upon that again, “you were with me last time, you're with me this time. I didn't understand what was going on but you did”. It's that same attitude of learning from Him as we go. Paul didn't have it all right, he said I've learned these things and I'm really glad he did.
Can we hinder the process?
It was a question I had for myself. Better or bitter; a good example is butter, if you put it in the sun it melts, you take cheese and put it in the sun it becomes hard. Some situations melt people or turn people toward the Lord and in other situations turn people hard or bitter. Take the nation of Israel, 40 years wandering of continual unbelief, they moaned and complained about everything for forty years. They tried to change the leadership, we’ll get rid of Moses maybe that'll help. Or give us back Egypt, we want those things. For the whole 40 years they lived in unbelief and faith wasn't evident in their lives. God was incredibly gracious to them though, their provisions never ran out, their sandals never wore out, they had water and food; they didn't like the food but they had enough to survive!
Hebrews 12:11 “now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it”.
If you're a parent you know at times you need to reign your kids in. You give them rope but there's times when you need to rein them in and they don't like it. As children of God there’s times He must rein us in and we may not like his methods but it's needed. Because we wander, we have other attractions, other things that dominate us. This is the discipline of the Lord, used as part of His love, not anger. We discipline our kids because we love them. We rein them in when we see they're getting a little bit out there or wild. It's part of our love for them. When you're going through it you don't understand, but “afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it”. You've got to allow yourself to be trained by the discipline of the Lord.
Hebrews 12.12 “Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down and the feeble knees”
Here is a picture of a person whose hands are hanging down in defeat. The victorious christian has hands lifted up but this guy's hands are hanging down. He's all woe is me I don't like what's happening, his knees are feeble, they're knocking and they're not secure on the ground.
Hebrews goes on to say in verse 13 “and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated but rather be healed”.
In other words understand what God is doing and set yourself on a course that is in line with His will and purpose. So yes you can hinder the process of trials, troubles and discipline if you fight against God. If your life is dominated by moaning and complaining and you do not understand that God is using all these things for your benefit. It’s to bring you back to Himself, for you to learn to rely on Him and live with Him in what you're going through. This is the one thing that the non-christian doesn't have - the presence of Christ in their heart to go through trouble. It's so sad that people don't know the Lord, they’re just left to their own self, whether they become stoics or whatever, they don't have Christ to enable them to go through what they're facing. The Christian does, but we can hinder it and this is what Hebrews is saying. Pick your hands up, secure your feet, and get on the right path.
Steady under fire
Romans 5.4 “and perseverance character and character hope”.
The word for character means someone that has been approved and tested, it's a little bit like the steel they use on buildings it has to be tested so it can withstand the storms, the weights and stresses that come upon it. Aeroplane materials are the same they have to be able to handle all the stress that comes, something that's approved and tested. It's the same with us. God is making veterans and He's looking for people and creating a body that has been through things, that is able to persevere and be steady through whatever life throws our way. He's after vets.
On the golf course when you're playing a match, the most important part is about the last four holes. That's when all the pressure comes on, that's when you've got to remain as calm and steady as you can. It's the business end of the game. At the golf course we've got old guys that have been playing all their lives. Whenever they're playing a match and they come to the end, they don't get all jittery, they've done it so much they've been tested in this area, it's just another hole.
I remember I was once in a match and I was four up with four to play, it's match play every hole. If I was four holes up and only four holes to play I shouldn't lose! So, we're playing the fifteenth and the guy made a par and I stuffed the hole, so I lost that hole. So I went from four up to three up with three to play. We’re playing the 16th, he makes a birdie and I only made par so I'm now two up with two to play. Still shouldn't lose from here. Get on the 17th we both hit the green, he misses his birdie but makes his par putt. I had a putt about this long for par, it goes in the hole around the hole and out, it did a full 360 and it was actually in the hole! We're all looking at it, “it can't do that”, even he said “what, it can't do that”, but it did, so I lost the hole. I'm now one up with one to play. I stand on the 18th and I cannot believe what has just happened to me, I was four up and all I have to do is halve a hole and I've won the match, and we walk off. I couldn't get out of my head how things were unravelling and the pressure was on. He was laughing and all happy because he should have lost way back. So we’re playing down the 18th and we're both on the fairway. I've got so much fear, anxiety and adrenaline going through my body. I’m thinking, I can’t walk into the clubhouse after being four up with four to play and have to explain this! I hit my 7-iron and, it must have been because I was so pumped, as soon as I hit it I went oh no because I could see the flight in the air. I was going, “stop, stop, stop” and he's going, “go, go, go!” This ball flew over the green, over the car park up into the horse paddock. I've never hit a seven iron like it, I was so pumped with anxiety and adrenaline. I had hit this thing about 400 meters further than you possibly can! So he wins the hole and we’re all square. Then we have a playoff hole, I should have shook his hand and said “look you've got me beat mentally, I'm not gonna play”. But we played the extra hole. I teed off and put my ball right up against the trunk of a tree, that was it, I lost the match. That’s not how you do it!
I've learnt over time when it comes to the ends of these matches I’ve got to remain calm, get rid of the angst, the anxiety and the things I’m thinking about that I shouldn't. This is what Paul is saying, that perseverance leads to character, character that has been tested and approved so whatever comes your way, you're steady in yourself and you trust in God’s ability.
Now to hope
Then Paul, after character, goes straight back to hope. You have a progression; trouble brings perseverance, perseverance brings character which has been proven and tested, and character leads right back to hope. Paul was only talking about hope a few verses ago, “in hope of the glory of God” Romans 5.2 In other words “that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body” 2 Corinthians 4.10, here on earth, and in you and me. He's come right back to; if the life of Christ is to be manifested then tribulations and trials are part of God's handiwork for his children, to bring about His character and to bring about the life of the Lord Jesus. Jesus suffered, Hebrews 5.8 “He learned obedience by the things which He suffered”, and in the same way God allowed Him to go through these things, it shouldn't be any different for his body.