Pastor’s Class Notes
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Romans 5:3a “And not only so, but we glory in tribulation
Introduction: We have little difficulty in acknowledging the first three results of Justification by faith: peace with God, access to the world of grace, hope of the glory of God (vv. 1-2). But the fourth result goes against our grain. It is “unnatural.” We glory in tribulations also. We should be able to rejoice in our troubles. May God help us understand what Paul is saying here.
I. CHRISTIANS DO SUFFER
This is implied in the word “tribulation.” It is an accepted fact. The Greek word for tribulation literally means pressure. It refers to the afflictions, stresses, and difficulties of everyday life. All kinds of things are constantly pressing in upon us. Difficulties abound in every person’s life. We all face concerns regarding health, finances, friends, security, the future, etc.
Cults offer an invitation to escape troubles and to enjoy immediate Utopia. They claim, “Come and everything will be perfect, sugar and spice and everything nice. Let’s all live happily ever after, no problems, no difficulties.”
Even some Christian preachers leave the same impression. They imply that being saved will end all problems; everything will be beautiful from then on. That mind set explains why some desert Christian living at the first sign of trouble. They were led to believe they would experience no more problems.
However, the New Testament speaks to this issue with blunt honesty. It deals not in sugarcoated fairy tales, but rather in straightforward truth. Jesus warned His disciples, “In the world ye shall have tribulation” (JN 16:33). Paul said, “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God (AC 14:22). Peter said, “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you” (1P 4:12). We sing, “Take the name of Jesus with you, child of sorrow and of woe. . . .” Therein we confess our true ancestry. Do not be surprised at pressure and stress. Learn to expect them, and as much as God grants you strength, treat them as ordinary guests.
You will have much greater peace of mind when you quit trying to escape problems, and instead attempt to learn from them the lessons God is teaching through them.
In our spirits we revel in sunshine: we have peace with God, revel in grace, look forward to glory, rest in security. But our spirits inhabit physical bodies which dwell in an evil world. As long as we walk this sod, there are sorrows to bear, and sufferings to endure. In fact, the Christian is likely to have more troubles than anyone else because he is an alien in this world. We suffer all the “common” burdens, plus the added afflictions of being outcasts to the world.
In our spirits there is sunshine; in our flesh there is rain. The Christian lives in a rainbow world, resulting from a marriage of the two. Sometimes the pleasant rays of the sun are prominent; sometimes the rain predominates.
These are facts that must be accepted. Don’t fool yourself. Learn to accept reality. You are always going to be facing pressures in life.
II. CHRISTIANS DO NOT ENJOY TRIBULATIONS
I want to clarify this, lest someone misunderstand Paul’s use of the preposition “in” here. To glory “in” tribulations does not mean that we are happy in them or that we think they are fun. It is not the pressure itself that Paul rejoices in, but rather the beneficial effect they have on Christian character, as Paul explains in the following phrases.
Christianity is not masochism, a delight in punishing one’s own self. The Christian is not expected to stir up problems or to go out of his way seeking trouble. We do not need a martyr complex or “holy” paranoia.
When things go awry, we are not expected to feel good about it immediately. God does not expect us to be psychological weirdos. The Christian meets trouble with an initial sadness. At first he is made unhappy, and this sorrow may linger a long while.
But even in our saddest moments, the believer should sense a strong assurance undergirding him. No matter how deep the pain, or how agonizing the sorrow, the believer should truly be able to say, “It is well with my soul.”
Ours is a situation of inexplicable paradox. We can hurt, and yet feel good at the same time. Sorrow can reign on the surface while joy controls beneath the surface. It is like hurricanes–they rage atop the ocean, but down deep that ocean remains absolutely calm. Paul confessed the paradox in his life. He viewed himself “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor 6:10). Peter confessed that believers can “. . .greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations” (1P 1:6). Richard Baxter said on his deathbed, “I have pain, I have pain. There is no arguing against sense; but then, I have peace, great peace!” There is the paradox: when life crushes down the believer, his response should be peace and calmness. We never hit “rock bottom,” because underneath are the everlasting arms.
We do not collapse in total failure. Rather, we fall to our knees and look up to a loving Father who cannot be wrong or make a mistake.
III. CHRISTIANS BENEFIT BY TRIBULATIONS
Believers have a new insight into suffering. They see value issuing from it as a result. Listen with spiritually keen ears to the following thoughts.
A. SUFFERING HELPS US APPRECIATE JESUS.
To be without pain would mean to be without the ability to share in the suffering of our dear Lord. If you did not hurt, you could never understand what Jesus bore. It is through sorrow that we best see Him, and appreciate what He has done for us.
B. SUFFERING HELPS US DESIRE MORE OF JESUS.
You must constantly be reminded of your own weakness in order for you to appreciate the strength of God. Only as you run out of yourself will you truly desire more of Jesus.
We always tend to overrate ourselves. But suffering jerks us back to reality regarding our own estimation of ourselves. We think we are better than we really are. Troubles jerk us from being on such good terms with ourselves. Just when we think we can stand on our own, we suddenly find ourselves trembling. And, usually, this shakiness is caused by something small.
We do not have to worry about nuclear bombs, the end of the world, another Nazi holocaust, or the horrors of abortion to be unnerved. Little things will do the trick.
What do we worry about? Wind blowing our hair out of place, bad breath, pimples, car payments, satisfying our spouse. It does not take much to knock us off our cocky throne. You are not all you crack yourself up to be.
Suffering reminds us of this and helps us distrust ourselves more, which in turn helps us desire more of Jesus.
C. SUFFERING HELPS US STAY CLOSE TO JESUS.
Getting close to Jesus does not necessarily mean our troubles will lessen. Without troubles, we would get careless in the Christian walk. Our communion with Jesus would be much more spasmodic than it is now.
Troubles keep us sensitive to His voice. They remind us we need a new and fresh walk with the Lord constantly. Confrontations jolt us back into the Savior’s arms.
Years ago a Christian named “Mary” was exiled to Northern Siberia. From that place of oppression, she wrote these words in a letter: “I am learning to thank God for literally everything that comes. I experienced so many things that looked terrible, but which finally brought me closer to Him. . . . How can I do otherwise than thank Him for continual hardships? They only help me to what I always longed for–a continuous, unbroken abiding in Him. Every so-called hard experience is just another step higher and closer to Him.”
The Psalmist had captured this truth. He had learned this valuable lesson. He confessed, “Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept Thy Word” (PS 119:67). Suffering helps keep us close to Jesus.
D. SUFFERING HELPS MAKE US MORE LIKE JESUS.
God uses it to chip away our rough edges. Isaiah said, “He (God) made me a polished arrow” (IS 49:2). That occurs only under intense grinding. It is a process filled with pain. The process is painful, but the result is beautiful.
There once was a rich, young, beautiful lady who had discontent in her heart. One day she happened on a lady who had been confined to a bed for 30 years. The older woman was in pain, and near death. Nevertheless, she spoke of peace, mercy, and the joy she was soon to experience. What a contrast!–one full of life, youth, possessions, beauty, and yet miserable; the other old, sick, hurting, dying, poor, but contented.
The young lady confessed to a friend, “I would gladly change places with that poor creature to have her peace.” Fortunately, the young lady pursued the matter further. She learned of Jesus for herself and found His strength. Thank God for an old sick suffering woman through whom Jesus could reveal Himself to that young lady.
Conclusion: Now let me return to our text and share a surprise with you. I needed to say all that I’ve said before I could tell you this. You can appreciate it now even more.
The word translated “rejoice” in verse two is the same Greek word translated as “glory” in verse three. The very emotion, rejoicing or glorying, is to be the ultimate result of our thinking about seeking God in the future, and our enduring of suffering.
Christians should walk in such constant communion with God that they can face the bright future and eventually the dark present with the same basic emotion. God help us to grow to such heights. I yet have a long way to go to reach that point.