Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, August 12, 2020
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Hope 6/14/2020

Romans 5:1-8

Paul begins by giving us the good news. That’s usually how we like it, right? Give me the good news first, then I’ll be able to take the bad news a little easier.

“We are justified by faith.” The word justified means “declared not guilty.” We are guilty, of course, “for all have sinned,” but our guilt has been laid on Christ, who bore it to the cross. And because of this, we have “peace with God.” We often conceive of peace as an “inner tranquility,” but biblically speaking, peace exists between two parties. Peace is a right relationship. We can’t have a right relationship with God as long as our sin stands in the way, but Christ has removed the guilt of our sins.

So through faith, “we are ushered into a place of privilege.” The Greek word used here was often used to describe being brought into the presence of royalty. The word privilege often gets a negative tone in our society right now. “Privileged” people are viewed as problematic. If you say the wrong thing, you’re labeled by some as “privileged.” But the privilege of being called a child of God is available to all. John 1:12 says that “to all who receive him and believe in him, he gives the right to become children of God.” Every person can experience the privilege in which we now stand. All can have the confidence and joy of looking forward to sharing God’s glory.

That is the good news. We have an identity in Christ which the world cannot take away from us. We are already complete in Christ. But as Christians, we live in a state of tension. We live in a now and not yet reality. We are already children of God, but we have not yet received our glory. We are already saved, but we are not yet removed from the troubles and suffering of this world. We have not yet received the fullness of what God will do on our behalf. We still live in a world deeply affected by sin, and so we continue to suffer.

Suffering was a daily reality for many Christians in the first century world. Joining up with a strange, new, and foreign religion was the kind of thing that could cost you your job, your family relationships, and that could lead to you being actively persecuted. Suffering remains a daily reality for many Christians around the world today.

But we are not inclined to accept suffering. We’re lucky not to have to deal with it in any significant way because of our faith. And we live in a cultural context where suffering is not embraced. We want technology to remove it. We want a cure or a vaccine for the coronavirus. Or at least we want a lawyer to assess blame for it.

The truth is that suffering can produce good things in our lives, but only with patience. And again, we lack patience. We live in a culture that wants instant

gratification: Fast food, quick results, and high speed internet. But we can’t enjoy the results of the journey without undertaking the journey.

Hardship is inevitable. What will we do with it? The Greek philosophers of the first century, whose words had influenced the culture to which Paul was writing, said that hardship revealed true character. The Old Testament model, out of which Paul’s thinking was forged, showed that hardship could lead to maturity. Moses and David are both good examples of leaders whose maturity was developed over a long course of difficulty.

I think we should view our faith like a muscle. It can’t grow stronger without being forced to struggle. No one enjoys suffering, but our attitude toward it is so important. If we are like spoiled children who imagine that because we are children nothing bad or difficult should come our way, then we will be discouraged by suffering. But if we see difficulty as the opportunity to grow and mature, we may not enjoy it, but it can certainly change our perception of it.

We need to keep our focus on the results rather than the process. When I was younger, I used to do a fair amount of weight lifting. I never particularly enjoyed it. But I kept at it because I wanted to see the results. Seven years ago, I got the idea in my head that I wanted to run a half marathon. I’ve been running for 24 years now, but it was usually a pretty casual approach to it, just something to keep me from turning completely into a blob of blubber. Not sure it’s worked. But I set out with a goal in mind: Running 13.1 miles. I built toward that goal over the course of about seven months. I can’t say I enjoyed the process. It was a lot of hours out on the roads. But I kept my eyes on the intended result. And when it was over and I did the race, I was glad for the time I’d spent in preparation. That should be our attitude toward difficulty. We don’t enjoy it, but we go through it because we want to finish the race and be declared a “good and faithful servant” at the end.

So Paul encouragers his readers with what is called a “concatenation,” a progression from one idea to the next. This was again a fairly common method of moral exhortation in the first century world.

“We rejoice in trials because they develop endurance,” the Greek word is HUPOMONE. I’ve read some Bible scholars who say that it should best be interpreted as “the spirit that overcomes.” Trials teach us to overcome challenges. My definition for endurance is the ability to stand up under pressure over a long period of time. When I lead the wilderness canoe trips in Ontario, I often talk about endurance on the third day of the trip. The first couple days are easy. Your body is still fresh and ready for the

challenge. But about day three, you really start to feel how difficult it is to do physically demanding things day after day. It starts to get harder to get out of bed every morning, and so on. Strength can get you started, but you need endurance to finish the race.

Endurance develops character. The Greek word here is DOKIME. One of the ways it was used was to describe metal that had been refined by fire. My definition for character is the ability to do what is right consistently even when it is difficult or costly to do so. Sometimes it’s easy to do the right thing, but character is revealed when it is difficult to do it.

And character develops hope, a confident expectation of what God will do. And hope won’t disappoint us because it’s built on the love of God. Our hope won’t disappoint us because we know God loves us. He sends his Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. And the ultimate proof of his love for us is that Christ died for us.

Christ didn’t die for us because we were good people. Paul is again using a cultural idea his readers would understand. In Greek philosophy, there was the idea of “the good man.” A good man was an ideal, but also a rarity. “A good man is hard to find,” we would say. But Christ didn’t die for us because we were good people who deserved such a sacrifice. Quite the opposite, we deserved death because we are sinners. But the ultimate proof of God’s love for us is that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. Our hope is built on the unshakeable foundation of God’s love for us. We should never, never, never doubt that God loves us. And so we should never, never, never doubt that God has a good future for us. And so, through all the trials and difficulties of life, we have hope, and a hope that will not disappoint us.

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