What is he saying? He is reminding us that sometimes in moments when we thought all was lost, we end up finding out that some of life’s greatest treasures and truths were found through hardships.
You see dear friend, one of the arguments of Christian philosophers is that God has a morally justifiable reason for allowing suffering. And if we see in the midst of our pain that we are not sovereign, that alone is a vital lesson for proud humanity. But there is more. The Cross of Jesus Christ is the quintessential expression of unjust suffering.
In the midst of Jesus’ crucifixion, He prayed for the forgiveness of His tormentors. Life was mended by God’s grace at the point when all else seemed broken.
Could it be possible that in the midst of our pain some of the greatest wealth of God's grace can be experienced? Pause and take note that even in your life, a sudden tragedy may call to you to stop long enough that you might listen to Him, and see your life through His lenses, not yours!
As we move through this series of studies on pain, we discover that the perfect gift from God is a surprising gift that surely landed on the wrong list. It is the gift of pain.
If you are like me, you immediately take a second glance at the text of what Paul wrote in Romans, chapter 5. Surely Paul is not relating trouble and suffering and affliction to gifts like peace and grace . . . but, he is.
Now notice, verses 1 through 3a. Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult [triumphantly praise] in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult [triumphantly praise] in our tribulations . . .
There it is. Not only does Paul vigorously and enthusiastically praise God for peace, grace, hope, but he vigorously and triumphantly praises God for trouble (which is the Greek word “thlipsis,” meaning: “pressure, suffering . . . pain”).
Could Paul be having a moment of apostolic insanity? He is praising God for pain!?
As I have been to countless prayer meetings over my life, I have never yet been to one where someone said, “You know, I’ve been having a lot of problems lately, and I just want to thank God for ‘em.” Woo, that would take you back, this person is insane! Right!
I have never heard anyone say, “There’s a lot of pressure in my life right now and nothing’s working out and I’m just praising God about it! Thank you, Jesus!”
Let’s face it, you have never sung a song from the hymnal that went something like:
Thank you Lord for all of my troubles,
Thank you for giving me struggles,
Thank you Lord that things never work out;
I’m thanking You now as my world is full of doubt.
Now, I made that up, in honor of our study, aren’t you glad. Hold your applause! I know some of you are excited, I can see it in your eyes. If you would sing that song, the average prayer meeting will disband in disbelief. We may not sing it, but the truth remains that we all struggle with praising God for the gift of pain.
Before we get to our text, I want to mention briefly a few things about pain in general. I will start with physical pain.
Physical pain is an inevitable part of life
1. First, as we have already covered, physical pain is an unavoidable part of life. Nearly two hundred years ago, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to a friend. In it, he said, “The art of life is the avoiding of pain. That may sound good, but I would disagree.”i
The art of life is not avoiding pain; but the art of life is learning how to respond to pain, and learn the lessons of life through pain. The experience of living has everything to do with how you live through the experience.
The truth is, now please follow me closely in this, every one of us not only experiences pain in life, but we actually began life in pain. Listen to one author’s description of that event.
“Your world is dark, safe, secure. You are bathed in a warm liquid, cushioned from shock. You do nothing for yourself; you are fed automatically, and a murmuring heartbeat assures you that someone larger than you fills all your needs. You life consists of simple waiting – you’re not sure what to wait for, but any change seems far away. You meet with no [discomfort], no threatening adventures. [Ah], it’s a fine [life]. One day you feel a tug. The walls [seem to be] falling in on you.
Those soft cushions are now pulsating and beating against you, crushing you downwards. Your body is bent in half, your limbs twisted and wrenched. You’re falling, upside down. For the first time in your life, you feel pain. You’re in a sea of roiling matter.
There is more pressure, almost too intense to bear. Your head is squeezed nearly flat, and you are pushed harder, harder…oh the pain, the noise, the pressure. You hurt all over. You hear the sounds of screams and crying and groaning, and an awful fear rushes in on you. It is happening – your world is collapsing.
You’re sure it’s the end of whatever there is. You see a piercing, blinding light. Cold rough hands pull at you; then a painful slap. Congratulations . . . you’ve just been born.ii
Welcome to the new world! That first experience in life delivered a message to every one of us – pain is an unavoidable part of living.
Physical pain is an essential part of life
2. Secondly, physical pain is not only unavoidable, it is an essential part of life. Many people believe that pain is God’s one mistake. The nervous system, with its millions of pain sensors, always gets “bad press”. If God is so wise, why didn’t He create us with a built in ability to never feel pain?
Dr. Paul Brand revealed the gift of pain in his lifelong work with people who suffer from Hansen’s disease. We know this disease by another name – leprosy. While the word “leprosy” conjures images in our minds of stubby fingers, ulcerated wounds, missing legs, and distorted facial features, in actuality, leprosy is not the direct reason for those visible effects.
Hansen’s disease slowly destroys its victims simply because they do not feel pain; they have a defective pain system. The disease primarily acts as an anesthetic which numbs the pain cells of hands, feet, nose, ears, and eyes. While most diseases are feared because of their pain, Hansen’s disease is deadly because its victims feel no pain.
In villages in Africa and Asia, where Dr. Brand has worked, a leper will reach directly into a fire to retrieve a dropped potato. Nothing in his body told him not to. Patients at Dr. Brand’s hospital in India would work all day gripping a shovel with a protruding nail, or they would extinguish a burning wick with their bare hands or walk on splintered glass. Patients can slowly go blind, only because their eyes never felt the discomfort that causes the rest of us to blink.
A patient will turn an ankle, tearing tendon and muscle, but simply adjust and walk with a crooked leg, until the rest of his leg is ruined and infected.
No wonder Dr. Brand once said, “Thank God for inventing pain.”iii
Now, not all pain is good. Sometimes the flaring up of pain communicates something that cannot be repaired or fixed.
It becomes something to endure and suffer through. However, for the majority of cases, pain is God’s warning signal, and without it, none of us would survive very long.
Pain of the Soul
Paul reveals in Romans, chapter 5, that just as physical pain is inevitable and essential, another type of pain is as well.
Pain of the soul is an inevitable part of life
1. Paul reveals that suffering, pressure, and the pain of adversity in life is also inevitable. Notice that Paul did not say, in verse 3a, and not only this, but we also exult if tribulations come . . No, Paul wrote, “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations . . . .”
In other words, Paul assumed tribulations would come! Peter said a similar thing when he wrote, in I Peter, chapter 4, verses 12 and 13, Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ . . .
What did Christ suffer? Rejection, abandonment, misunderstanding, ridicule, beatings, and martyrdom! Should we expect anything less?
So. . . keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. Peter uses the same word that Paul used, “exult,” meaning to fervently praise your way through times of suffering.
Steven Davies said: “After researching this subject, reading different books, in addition to the Book, God’s Word, I believe I can summarize the trials of life into six categories.” Here they are:
• things I want to experience, do not happen
• things I do not want to experience, happen
• things I like, I do not get
• things I do not like, I get
• things I am waiting for, never come
• things I am not ready for, come early
Some would say: Amen to that!
Surely these are things that God would never want us to endure, right? The gifts of adversity and affliction and pain are unwanted gifts. We do not want them, but are they are given to us by an angry God, or they are allowed to happen by a weak God? Surely a powerful God would only design wonderful things for us, right?
Solomon wrote it this way, in Ecclesiastes, chapter 7, verses 13 and 14a, Consider the work of God, for who is able to straighten what He has bent? In the day of prosperity be happy, but in the day of adversity, consider, God has made the one day as well as the other . . .
That verse is probably the most ignored verse in the twenty-first century of Christianity. Everyone seems convinced that God wants to bring days of prosperity and blessing; that surely God would not bring days of adversity.
Solomon wrote it, however, God not only creates the days of prosperity, He also creates the days of adversity. What do you say to the accident victim? What do you say to the believer who suffers a crippling illness? What do you say to someone standing next to a grave or at the scene of a violent crime? Why doesn’t someone admit that life is a war zone with real battles and real bullets and real blood? There is sickness, heartache and disappointment. There are crippling accidents and crushing experiences and tears and death.iv
Wouldn’t you like to hear from someone who is like the Apostle Paul in not only wanting to know about the power of the resurrection, but the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings as well? What would that person say? Well, to begin with, they would say that tribulation and affliction are inevitable.
They would say:
• things you want to experience, do not happen
• things you do not want to experience, happen
• things you like, you do not get
• things you do not like, you get
• things you are waiting for, never come
• things you are not ready for, come early!
If you are still not convinced that adversity and pain are inevitable to the believer, listen to this verse in Philippians, chapter 1, verse 29, For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake
People today say, All suffering is wrong . . . all who suffer are out of the will of God . . . if you suffer, you are in sin . . . if you don’t have prosperity, you evidently don’t have faith.v
Listen to a great man of faith record in II Corinthians, chapter 4, verses 8 through 9, and I quote, we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed
That is what I call, overcoming the adversities of life.
You might write a word in the margin of your Bible at Romans, chapter 5, verse 3. The word Paul used that is translated “tribulation” is a word that referred to olives being squeezed in the press or grapes being crushed for their juice. So, you could accurately write the word “pressure” or “pain” in the place of “tribulation”.
Paul writes the shocking testimony in verse 3, And not only this, but we also exult [triumphantly praise in the midst of] our tribulations . . . In other words, Paul is saying to every believer, “Times of painful pressure are an inevitable part of every believer’s life . . . but you can fervently praise God, as you go through the squeeze of life.”
Come back for part two, and next week we cover how this works in life!
Pain: Unwrapping the Perfect Gifts
Romans 5:3-4 (Part II)
Pain of the soul is an essential part of life
Last week I suggested you might write a word in the margin of your Bible at Romans, chapter 5, verse 3. The word Paul used that is translated “tribulation” is a word that referred to olives being squeezed in the press or grapes being crushed for their juice. So, you could accurately write the word “pressure” or “pain” in the place of “tribulation”.
We also quickly looked at a scripture that says adversity and pain are inevitable to the believer. Listen to this verse in Philippians, chapter 1, verse 29, For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, and in II Corinthians, chapter 4, verses 8 through 9, and I quote, we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed……now it is very obvious this is talking about our Christian trials connected with our service to The Savior, not day to day life problems. Now forward with our text:
Paul writes the shocking testimony in verse 3, And not only this, but we also exult [triumphantly praise in the midst of] our tribulations . . . In other words, Paul is saying to every believer, “Times of painful pressure and tribulation are an inevitable part of every believer’s life . . . but you can exult, fervently praise God, as you go through the squeeze of life.”
That brings us to another truth that tribulation is not only inevitable, it is essential. Like physical pain, which is both inevitable and essential, so is the pain of the soul – the pressure on our emotions and the stress of life in general – is both inevitable and essential.
Ways in which God uses pain
According to the Bible, God uses pain, or tribulation, in two ways. Let me give them to you.
God uses pain to correct us
1. First, God uses tribulation to correct us. David wrote in Psalm, chapter 119, verses 67, 71, and 75,
Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word. . . . It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statues. . . . I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are righteous, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.
Like a parent disciplines their child, causing pain on their bottom side to keep them from even greater pain from a hot stove, traffic in the street and failing in life, so the Lord uses painful ordeals to seize our attention and protect us from greater harm.
God uses pain to construct us
2. Secondly, God not only uses tribulation to correct us, but also to construct us. Note: this is Paul’s approach to tribulation in chapter 5 of Romans. Notice what he moves forward to write in verse 3. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance;
Paul has been talking about justification, (Theology- the act of God whereby humankind is made free from guilt and the penalty of sin.) Now he talks about what tribulation does in us.
Pain produces perseverance.
Justification gives us peace, but it does not make us patient. Justification gives us grace, but it does not make us godly. Justification is the foundation, but Paul now talks about the construction of the believer’s life, with the foreman on the construction site being tribulation.
The common attitude of today’s Christian is that when we give our lives to God, He will remodel us. We think He will change the wallpaper or the paint; that He will put down new carpet and refinish the floors. Not so fast….. No, no, no.
God does not sit back and watch the show, Trading Spaces. He does not remodel one room; He strips down the whole house inside and out, and starts all over. He does not put up new light fixtures and call the job done; He redoes everything.
He does not work just forty hours a week; He is at work as long as you are alive! And, He has promised that what He began in you, He will complete in you. Pain produces perseverance.
Pain produces purity
• Secondly, perseverance produces purity. Continue in Romans, chapter 5, to verse 4a, where Paul tells us, and perseverance [brings about] proven character . . .
The idea in this verse is of character that is devoid of impurities. The word “character” carries with it the idea of an ancient goldsmith who refines the crude gold ore in his crucible. The only way to separate the gold from unwanted material is to reduce the ore to liquid form, through intense heat. The impurities rise to the surface and are skimmed off. He continues to add more and more heat to the liquid gold until the impurities are all skimmed off the surface. When the goldsmith can see his reflection mirrored in the surface of the liquid, he knows that the contents are pure gold.vi
God, the divine Goldsmith is refining us; separating from our lives unwanted material. Through pain, He purifies us. Job said, in chapter 23, verse 10 . . . He knows the way that I take; when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.
Imagine, if God desires to see His reflection in our character, then perhaps the heat is still intense in some area of our lives simply because He has yet to see His reflection!
Pain produces perspective
• Tribulation produces perseverance; perseverance produces purity, and finally, purity produces perspective.
Paul writes in the last part of verse 4, and proven character [produces], hope! We could call this, eternal perspective.
God does not promise to remove our pain, or even to relieve our pain, but He does promise to transform our pain and use it to construct lives that are marked by perseverance, purity, and perspective.
Our perspective, however, has to go beyond our lives . . . and into eternity. That was what gave Peter hope and joy. Listen as he writes, in I Peter, chapter 1, verses 6 and 7, In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being much more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
In other words, God has promised to set things right in the end.
Let history finish! Let it finish! While you wait, give God glory. While you suffer, honor Him. While you receive that which you do not want and do not receive what you do want, glory in Him alone.
History is not finished yet, so let it finish!
Three statements about storms: “pressure” or “pain” or “tribulation”.
1. Storms allow us to see ourselves.
Adversity has a way of introducing us to our real self. Church, we live in a cosmetic world. People are running through life, never willing to allow the storms to stop them long enough to get a real perspective of who they are, and what they’re encountering.
Every once in awhile, I’ll run into somebody who’ll say, "Well, you know, Preacher, I’ve really never had any storms in my life." And every time they tell me that I’m thinking to myself, "Self, you’re looking at a very shallow-hollow person. They have never allowed the storms to let them see themselves as they really are." Now, I understand why they are the way they are.
2. Storms are times of restoration.
They are times, if I allow them to be, of spiritual renewal. They are times that allow me to draw closer to God.
When we go through the storms of life, as God’s people, we don’t walk around independently and arrogantly, flipping life off as though it means nothing. When we’re really hurting in life, we want to get as close to God as possible. We want to sit at His feet.
3. Storms can bring spiritual growth in our life.
Notice, I said "can bring" because that’s yours and my choice. Storms don’t automatically bring growth, but if we encounter the storm with the right, attitude, we can and will grow from it.
A. They bring us into conformity with him.
B. They bring happiness in our Christian experience.
C. They yield the fruit of righteousness.
D. They glorify God.
E. They produce praise, glory, and honor to Him.
Look at Hebrews 12:11 with me. "All discipline, for the moment, seems not to be joyful..." Isn’t that the truth? ”Yet to those who have been trained by it..."Underline the next word, "afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness."
Do you notice when the peaceful fruit of righteousness comes? After the storm. So the sculptor cuts, and afterwards there’s a perfect image. So the potter presses the clay and afterwards, a beautiful vase. So the jeweler grinds and polishes the stone and afterwards, a beautiful gem.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I realize I’m being polished by God in the storm, and I will honestly admit to you that I always think the storm should be over before it’s done.
Paul goes on to say in Romans, chapter 5, verse 5a, “and hope does not disappoint . . .”
How many times have you said, “I had hoped . . .”? You may have said:
• I had hoped in that cure.
• I had hoped in that person.
• I had hoped in that interview.
• I had hoped in that election.
• I had hoped in that purchase.
• I had hoped in that child.
• I had hoped in that friend.
• I had hoped in that investment.
• I had hoped . . .! Paul says that hope in God will never be disappointed. So why do you hope in everything else, while He waits for you to hope in Him?
In the end, Jesus Christ, will ride on the wind to end the history of this suffering world and set all things right. He said Himself, in the last book of this Bible, in Revelation, chapter 2, verse 25, . . . [the truth] that you have, hold fast until I come.
How do you hold fast the truth? Here is how. You hold fast to the truth, accept the gift of pain, with its correction and its construction. When you accept this gift from God, and surrender to it, you will find open to you, the way of honor and glory and praise, like never before.
Remember, Ladies and Gentlemen, we are a fallen race. In the beginning man was created perfect in every way by God, but mankind chose to change all that by falling prey to Satin’s lie. Now life, as it was, is forever changed until we are made new again by the power of Christ at His return.
We have a lot of hymns in our church hymnal that were written by Fannie Crosby, a blind poet. When she was only six weeks old, she developed a minor eye inflammation and the doctor’s careless treatment left her blind. She would later write, “It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life and I thank Him for it.”
She would also write that her blindness was God’s gift to her so that she could write songs for His glory. She would go on to write hundreds of hymns including: Face to Face, To God be the Glory, Blessed Assurance, All the Way My Savior Leads Me.
Fannie Crosby wrote her first poem when she was eight years of age. Listen to the way in which, even then, she expressed praise and glory to God:
Oh what a happy child I am,
Although I cannot see!
I am resolved that in this world,
Contented I will be.
How many blessings I enjoy
That other people don’t!
So weep or sigh because I’m blind,
I cannot, and I won’t.vii
Ladies and Gentleman, that is what I call accepting the gift of pain.
How are you suffering today, my friend? Where is the pain, the pressure, the squeeze in your life?
Have you ever considered the fact that God is at work through that?
Will you accept it . . . surrender to it . . . allow it . . . ask God to use it to transform your mind and heart so that you reflect the mind and heart of your heavenly Father, in whom your hope will never be disappointed?
i Warren Wiersbe, The Bumps Are What You Climb On (Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Book House, 1980), p. 59.
ii Philip Yancey, Where Is God When It Hurts (Harper Paperbacks, 1990), p. 203.
iii Ibid., pp. 14, 23, 24.
iv Charles Swindoll, A Ministry Anyone Could Trust (Insight For Living Study Guide, 1989), p. 56.
v Charles Swindoll, Stress Fractures (Portland, OR, Multnomah, 1990), p. 55.
vi Kenneth Wuest, Bypaths in the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1954), p. 73.
vii Warren Wiersbe, Victorious Christians You Should Know (Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Book House, 1984), p. 23.