Knowing the love of God in adversity
First Sunday after Trinity
"Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us."
This passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans is a tremendous source of encouragement to Christians who face challenges in their daily lives and we are surely facing a huge challenge with the pandemic crisis we are living through.
The letter to the Romans was written, by Paul a man who had already faced persecution for his faith, and who was ultimately to die for it, to a church which was under constant threat and which had to meet in secret. The effect of the passage we have read on its original hearers, must have been electric. In saying that “at a time when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly”, Paul made about as clear and positive a statement as one could ever hope to read of the true nature of what Jesus did for humanity. Paul sets the nature of that gift against the background of the road which almost every Christian has to walk with God, so that we can see that, even in the midst of the trials and sufferings, God is with us.
Paul makes three assertive statements.
Firstly in verse 1. ‘We have peace.’
This is not a “pie in the sky when you die” statement. It was a declaration of what was happening in the early Church which was facing turmoil, oppression and challenges on a daily basis. Today can have an assurance of the peace of God, here and now. Why do we have it? Certainly not because of anything we have done. On our own we could never manage to restore ourselves to a right relationship with God. The good news of the gospel is that the price of our sin and disobedience was paid, once and for all, on the Cross at Calvary; and if we accept God’s forgiveness bought for us through Jesus' sacrifice, we will truly have peace. That peace is not in our head but deep within our soul. It is not supposed to be the easy peace which makes us feel comfortable, it is a peace that should spur us to share the good news with others. That peace was on offer for the Christians in the fledgling Church in Rome in the midst of their persecution. It is available for us, wherever you are reading this today. This peace is the peace of God which passes all understanding and will help us to live out our mission as God’s people wherever we find ourselves living.
At the end of verse 2. Paul says ‘We have hope.’
We talk today about “hoping for something“, in the sense of wishing for something to which we aspire, but of which aren’t really very sure. That was not the context in which Paul used the word. When he talked of rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God has was talking of something he knew, something he was sure about, something he experienced. Paul was absolutely convinced that because of what Jesus had done for him, he would be able to experience the power of God’s glory eternally. His hope was not wishful thinking but absolute belief. It begs the question for us today - what is our hope? Do we have that same joyous conviction of the power of God’s glory in our lives? Sadly for many they either do not have hope in Paul’s sense of the word or, if they do, they don’t talk about it. If the Church is to grow, perhaps if the Church is even to survive, we need desperately to experience the hope of the glory of God and most importantly tell others about it.
Finally Paul speaks about the joy of knowing the love of God which is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes, especially when the going is tough, and at some point in the life of most Christians it is, it can be extremely easy to lose sight of the joy which we have from a personal faith in Jesus. It is in these difficult times however, that like Paul, our sufferings, whatever they are, can bring us into a closer relationship with God. There are many examples down through history, and I am sure many of you reading this will have known people who radiate their faith and the love of God in very difficult circumstances.
Many years ago I had the privilege of meeting Richard Wurmbrandt, he was the author of the book Tortured for Christ. Richard was a Romanian Evangelical Pastor who was imprisoned by the Communists for his work in the underground church. He was badly tortured and his feet so damaged that he could no longer walk. When he was eventually released after many years in solitary confinement he was smuggled out to the West. He was carried into the church but insisted on being held up so that he could speak to us standing up even though it was obvious that this was causing him pain. He spoke about the joy of the Lord being so great that he had danced for joy in his cell every day. He rejoiced that his relationship with God was so wonderful and his sharing in the glory of God that Paul spoke about, was such a reality in the midst of his suffering. He said that many of the Christian prisoners shared similar experiences and then he said - ‘the underground church prays daily for the church in the free world to experience persecution so that they may have joy and know the love of God like we do!’ That statement has stayed with me for over 50 years.
Whatever our circumstances today and in the days to come may we all know the peace of God, have a sure hope and experience the joy of knowing the love of God filling our hearts and lives.