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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:Suffering and Christian Character
Text:Romans 5:3-5 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Comfort in a World of Pain

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

(1976 Psalter Hymnal unless otherwise noted):

411:1,3,4,5 - How Firm a Foundation

452 - Have Thine Own Way, Lord    

322 (Red) - My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less

445 - When Peace Like a River     


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Pastor Ted Gray
Suffering and Christian Character”
Romans 5:1-5
The news is filled with accounts of suffering. Stories of crime, discord, and tragedy seem to dominant every newscast. But the suffering isn’t just that which is reported on the news. In the past week each one of us has suffered in some way: The loss of loved ones hits home hard, the advancing years take their toll on health, young people have hard decisions and seek guidance. Suffering, of one type or another, is inevitable in each person’s life. As Job 5:7 puts it, “Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.”
Yet against the unpleasant and painful background of human suffering, our text, in Romans 5:3-4 declares: We also rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
The key words in that text are we know.” When we know why we suffer we are better able to understand how our sovereign God, in allowing suffering, can bring good out of bad, comfort and peace out of trial and heartache.
When trouble and hardship come along, the unbeliever and the skeptic say, “God must not be all powerful, because if he is all powerful he wouldn’t allow all this human suffering.” Or “God must not be a loving God, if he were he would put an end to human suffering and misery.” But the Bible teaches that God, all powerful and truly loving, yet allows us to suffer for many reasons, including to increase our endurance, perseverance and patience.
Suffering and Patience
One frequent prayer request that I have heard over the years, is the request for patience. Perhaps the same is true for you. Have you had a friend or family member ask, “Would you pray for me, that I would have more patience?”
When I’m asked that question I reply that I am willing to do so, but I have always qualified what is involved in a prayer for patience. Quite often, when you pray for patience God may allow you to suffer, for suffering produces patience, endurance and perseverance.
While many newer English translations render our text as suffering produces perseverance”, many others render the text as “suffering produces endurance.” And the King James Version renders the text as tribulation worketh patience.”
All of those renderings are accurate to the original word in the Greek. Patience, endurance and perseverance are all linked together. And each quality is a crucial quality for every Christian. The reason why it is so important to patiently endure and persevere is that it is only the person who perseveres to the end who will be saved. That’s how Jesus put it in Matthew 24:13. He promised, He who endures to the end will be saved.” 
Jesus also told that well known parable about the sower and his seed. The seed represents the truths of the gospel, and the soil on which the seed fell represents the human heart and how it responds to the gospel. Some seed fell on rocky ground, where Jesus said, They (the seeds) did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away.” (Matthew 13:5-6).
The disciples did not understand what Jesus was speaking about, so they asked him to explain the parable. He explained, in Matthew 13:20-21, As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.” In that passage Jesus is emphasizing the importance of having deep spiritual roots in order to patiently endure tribulation and trial.
He went on to explain that the same was true for seed that landed among thorns. In verse 22-23 he says: As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.”
Many Christian writers have encouraged us pastors to finish well. They note that many pastors, and many Christians, for that matter begin well. They begin the Christian life with enthusiasm and joy. But then, whether because of hardship on the one hand, or the allurements of the world on the other hand, they fall away.
There are so many who are like the Apostle Paul’s partner in ministry, Demas. In Philemon 1:24 Demas is listed, along with Mark, Aristarchus and Luke as being a fellow worker with Paul. When Paul wrote to the Colossians, Demas was still a faithful worker. Paul writes, in Colossians 4:14, Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas.” But then, in 2 Timothy 4:10, we read: For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.” Although Demas had a good beginning, he never persevered – never patiently endured – to the end.
Perseverance is crucial in the Christian life, and it is built through suffering. Admittedly it doesn’t seem that way initially. We face suffering and often want to quit. We don’t want to persevere and patiently endure. But with each instance of persevering through suffering, we are made stronger for the sufferings yet to come in our lives. Each trial, each testing, strengthens us to persevere in the inevitable trials to come.
And the way we are strengthened to patiently endure is by focusing on Christ. Hebrews 12:3 points us to Jesus as the one who gives us the strength to persevere: Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you do not grow weary and lose heart.”
The Link Between Suffering and Character
God uses suffering to mold us and shape us into conformity with his Son, Jesus Christ, which is the second result of suffering that our text speaks of: We also rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character…”
Our character is revealed by our response to suffering. Two people may face the same dilemma, such as a diagnosis of cancer, the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one. And the character of each person will be revealed by how they react to the suffering.
The unbeliever often blames God, but those who trust in the Lord patently endure trial and suffering, knowing that it procedures character. It produces character in us as suffering shapes and molds us more and more after the likeness of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ, while on earth, was a man of sorrows and suffering, acquainted with grief. And Philippians 1:29 points out, For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.”
Part of that suffering involves sustaining the same type of ridicule and rejection that Jesus received. Jesus warned us, If they persecute me, they will persecute you.” Part of being a Christian involves suffering the ridicule of the world, just as our Savior and Lord suffered the ridicule of the world. And to patiently endure such ridicule, Christian character strengthened by suffering, is necessary.
Another way that suffering produces Christian character within us is by shaping us to be more like Christ and less like Adam. Christ is pure and holy in every respect; we are impure and unholy down to the deepest recesses of our being. To change us, to mold us and purify us, involves suffering. Hebrews 12:10 speaks of this when it says: God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.”
The chisel effect of suffering is never pleasant, but the finished product brings great joy. The famous Italian artist and sculpturer, Cellini, described in his autobiography how he felt when a massive slab of marble was delivered to the town of Florence for him to sculpture and carve. He described for several pages the care and thought that was used with each stroke of the hammer on the head of the chisel. Each strike of the hammer was delivered with thoughtful care for the finished sculpture. How much more care does our Heavenly Father use as he allows suffering to mold and shape – to sculpture – his adopted children after the likeness of his only begotten Son?
David recognized this sanctifying use of suffering – the use of suffering to build proven Christian character. He wrote, in Psalm 119:71, It was good for me to be afflicted, so that I might learn your decrees.” And Peter, in 1 Peter 1:7, tells us how trials have come so that your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire - may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
Billy Graham use to tell the story of man who lost his job during the Great Depression of the last century. One day, as he was wandering through the city, he stopped to watch some masons do stone work on a large church. One of them was chiseling away at a stone, forming it with his chisel into a triangle.
Curiosity got the best of the man, and he asked the mason what he would do with the stone. The mason paused and pointed to a small opening near the top of the church, by the steeple. “Do you see that little opening up there?” he asked. “I’m shaping this down here so that it will fit up there.”
Billy Graham described how the man had tears in his eyes as he realized that God, loving and all powerful, yet shapes and chisels our Christian character here below as he prepares us for our place in heaven.
We have undoubtedly all known Christians whose character has been formed by suffering. True Christian character always reveals God’s grace in the life of the suffering believer. We have many biblical examples, including that of the apostle Paul. He had the thorn in the flesh that bothered him greatly. He prayed earnestly that the Lord would remove the thorn, but the Lord simply said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
And through his suffering the apostle’s character was formed more and more after the likeness of his Savior, the Man of Sorrows, who suffered even to the point of death for you and for me. Because of his suffering Paul came to the realization that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. He came to understand what the Lord said to Isaiah, in Isaiah 48:10, See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.”
In that way our suffering is much like the making of a pearl. A pearl is produced by the irritation of sand or another foreign object within the oyster. Without the irritant there would be no pearl. The irritant causes the oyster to put a coating of nacre over the irritant. The nacre is the same substance as the shell of the oyster, but the nacre is put over the irritant for years and years. It takes 7 to 8 years for a good pearl to be formed. 
The irritant produces a pearl of great beauty. And in a similar way, God, as he allows suffering in the lives of his children also produces godly character within us as we see that his grace is indeed sufficient for all our trials.
Christian Character Produces Hope
Verse 4 concludes by telling us that character produces hope. And verse 5 adds: And hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
The word “hope” as used in the Bible has none of the uncertainty that it has in our common English use of the word. Hope that is based on anything human, whether based on ourselves or on others, is certain to disappoint. But the hope that verse 5 describes will never disappoint because it is hope based on faith in Christ. Our hope is a certainty through the work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
However, those of you with an ESV Bible, or even a newer NIV Bible, may have noticed that verse 5 is rendered as: And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
That verse is speaking about the certainty of salvation for all who, confessing their sin, believe in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. When God, through his indwelling Holy Spirit, pours out his love into our hearts – as verse 5 declares – we have the blessed assurance of salvation.  
Our salvation is not a mere hope. We don’t say, “I hope I get to heaven. I hope that I am saved from my sin.” Instead, because God has poured out his love into our hearts, we can echo the words of the apostle Paul, in 2 Timothy 1:12, I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.
Because our hope is focused in Christ, it is a certainty. We have the certainty of salvation and we have the certainty written about in Romans 8:18 that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
Yes, we suffer in this life, but our suffering produces perseverance, character and hope. Because of that we are called to rejoice, even in the sufferings of life, for even then, or especially then, we are reminded that our sovereign, loving Lord does work all things – even suffering – for the good of his children. 
In the trials that come into your life, are you focused in faith upon the Lord Jesus Christ? Have you put your faith in him, not just to see you through trials in life, but to save you from sin and grant you everlasting life in the glory of heaven? Do you know what it is to have peace with God, having been justified by faith in Christ alone?
If so, then strive to put the words of James, the half-brother of Jesus, into effect in your life. James begins his letter by writing: Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4). Amen!
                                                  - bulletin outline -
We also rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces
perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. –  Romans 5:3-4
                            “Suffering and Christian Character”
                                         Romans 5:3-5
I.  God allows suffering in our lives for many purposes, including to build:
     1) Endurance, perseverance and patience (3)
      2) Christian character (4) that is tried and proven (Isaiah 48:10)  
      3) Hope in Christ (4), which will not disappoint us (or put us to shame - ESV),
           as we are assured of our salvation from sin (1-2)
II. Application: Knowing why God allows suffering, and how it sanctifies us, enables us
     to rejoice even in our sufferings (3; James 1:2-4)



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Rev. Ted Gray

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