What Does It Mean? Pt. 4
Study Guide – May 15, 2016
Pastor Clay Olsen
Sometimes you hear little proverbial sayings by others and it makes you stop and say; What does that mean? On an NBA commercial one of the guys said: “Success is just failure that hasn’t happened yet.” What? So, as long as the failure hasn’t yet happened, you must still be succeeding, huh? Okay… Actually, one of my favorite sayings was by John Madden, who said that when he was coaching football, right before the team would go onto the field he would say to his guys: “Men, the horse might be blind, but it’s time to load the wagon!” He said he never knew what it meant, but the guys always kind of liked it.
On another note, people often make statements about life in which even though they think they know what they mean, it doesn’t really matter, because they are completely wrong about what they said as well as what they mean. For example: Most people, many Christians included, talk about the trials of life as though they are a detour on the road to personal fulfillment. It has a seemingly nice ring to it until you point out that, first of all; if you are traveling on the road to personal fulfillment you have actually gotten onto the wrong road, because the road that we are to be traveling is called ‘the road of personal discipleship’. And the road of personal discipleship is a road that is focused on being faithful to fulfilling God’s will for your life, not focused on one’s own personal fulfillment, whatever that is anyway. Plus, the secret of a personal fulfilling life is letting God fill you as He sees fit as you focus on pouring out yourself in fulfilling God’s will and obeying God’s Word. Remember, God’s way of filling and fulfilling us is completely counter intuitive to man’s way of thinking. Plus, what God fills you with is far more fulfilling than anything you can get from the world anyway.
But now let’s add the second thing to the first thing in order to catch the whole thing. Trials are not only not a detour on the road to personal fulfillment, trials are themselves the inevitable bumps and potholes all along the actual road of personal discipleship. It’s like driving on the interstate around Raleigh right now; some parts are pretty smooth and other parts are horrible; but they both make up the road around this city.
The point is; trials are to be expected on the road of personal discipleship. However, unlike just experiencing them as a bunch of problems that are in our way, faithful believers can make them produce something that is not only valuable for them on their journey through this life, but also produce something rewarding for them on their journey through the next life as well. Let’s take a look.
Five of the most all encompassing verses in Scripture about our peace over this world’s problems are found in Romans 5:1-5. They not only declare our justification before God and our peace with God, but they also then explain how God is going to do justice for His children who have to endure unjust afflictions, and therefore can have the peace of God while having to live in the midst of an unjust world. Rom 5:1-5- “Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Also through Him, we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Holman Bible
Many people want the ‘peace of God’ in their life. But, as the Apostle Paul points out, before you can have the ‘peace of God’ you first have to make ‘peace with God’. And you make ‘peace with God’ by coming to God through faith in Jesus Christ as your only Lord and Savior. And by God’s grace through our faith in Jesus Christ we are then both forgiven of our sins and also given Christ’s righteousness or His right standing with God and thus, are declared righteous before God. Even though we are not righteous in ourselves, we are righteous ‘in Christ’ and are therefore justified before God. And thus, now we not only have this ‘peace with God’, we also have the ‘peace of God’ so that we can both ‘rejoice in the hope of the glory of God’, and also rejoice in the midst of the afflictions of this life. And no, we don’t rejoice about the afflictions themselves, but about what God is going to make them produce if we have to go through them.
Notice again; ‘affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope.’ This particular word ‘produces’ was one of Paul’s favorite words. He used it 21 times in his letters to the Churches. And it was one of his favorite words because it was one of his favorite truths about the connection between the temporary trials of this life and the eternal benefits of the next life. Remember, Paul was the one who experienced some of the most severe afflictions of all in his own journey down the road of personal discipleship. Remember his testimony? 2 Cor 11:24-28- “Five times the Jews have given me their punishment of 39 lashes with a whip. Three different times I was beaten with rods. One time I was almost killed with rocks. Three times I was in ships that were wrecked, and one of those times I spent the night and the next day in the sea. In my constant traveling I have been in danger from rivers, from thieves, from my own people, and from people who are not Jews. I have been in danger in cities, in places where no one lives, and on the sea. And I have been in danger from people who pretend to be believers but are not. I have done hard and tiring work, and many times I did not sleep. I have been hungry and thirsty. Many times I have been without food. I have been cold and without clothes. And there are many other problems.” ERV
Remember, this was already Paul’s experience by the time he wrote this letter to the Romans. So what was the key to his rejoicing? And by ‘rejoicing’ we’re not talking about feeling wonderful and whooping it up about all the hardships in your life, no, not at all. After you’ve been whipped 39 times, you don’t feel like dancing and laughing. So what does Paul mean here by ‘rejoice’? Well, ‘to rejoice’ comes from a Greek word that also means ‘to exult’. And ‘to exult’ carries the meaning of ‘to recognize your complete victory’. It’s like a boxer that is bruised and battered after 15 rounds, with ribs hurting and eyes swollen, and he can barely lift his arms…and then the referee holds up his arm and pronounces him; “the Victor!”…along with all the awards and rewards that come with his victory.
This is something that is unique to God’s children in connection with the afflictions, the troubles, the trials, the hardships, and the pains that God’s children will go through in this life. And that is; If we have to go through it and God doesn’t remove it, then we can know that whatever it is, it is going to add to our personal gain, because God never wastes His children’s pain. God makes the problems of this world produce rewards in the new world for our eternal gain and for His eternal glory.
When Paul began to realize that he was going to be compensated for any and every conflict he ever had to endure in this life, either by way of affliction or hardship or pain, it changed both the way he looked at trials and the way he looked at himself. As he looked at trials he saw this: 2 Cor 4:16-18- “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” NIV
Although Paul’s trials were severe and were seemingly working against him, what he understood is that God was making them work for him, producing reward for him. And so he basically developed a new way of looking at suffering. When he looked at the sufferings of life, in essence, he saw weighing scales. And on one side of the scales he saw his sufferings, and on the other side of the scales he saw his rewards, or rather, God’s compensatory rewards for him. It was like every time the world, the flesh, or the devil placed another thorn of suffering on one side of his scales, the Lord Jesus Christ placed a bar of gold, silver, or precious stones on the other side of his scales. And although the pile of the sufferings grew high on one side, the load of precious gems of his rewards grew greater and heavier and far weightier on the other side. And, of course, the precious gems symbolize ‘great rewards’. And Paul became so encouraged by this understanding, so enriched by his gain in the midst of pain, that he even developed a deeper understanding about his identity in Christ. And so he wrote: “…in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Rom 8:37 NIV
In the midst of the afflictions of his life, and in the battles of the struggles that he faced, and as he experienced the sufferings in his body; in these boxing matches of life he looked to the Lord of his life, and in every fight Jesus was holding up his arm and pronouncing him; “the Victor!”, along with all the awards and rewards that go along with his victory in Christ Jesus. Paul saw himself as more than a conqueror, as actually ‘the Victor’ in his union with Christ, and he then saw even his sufferings as those things that were producing eternal gains, gains to such a degree that he said, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time (this present life) are not worth being compared with the glory that is about to be revealed to us and in us and for us and conferred on us!” Rom 8:18 AMP
Now, again, this doesn’t diminish the problems and pains of the sufferings of this present life. What it does it that it assures us that God is going to make even the pains of this world produce something that will be gain on behalf of His children; gain in one way or another. Like even now, God will make them produce endurance and character and hope; a confident hope that God will turn even bad things into good on our behalf. Yes, afflictions are like destructive consuming fires in the hands of the world. But when God’s hands get a hold of them He makes them become like constructive refining fires that removes the dross of our lives and makes the gold our faith even more valuable than ever before. Again, God makes this world’s problems produce gain on behalf of His children.
And remember, there is a part of you that this world can’t touch, can’t afflict, can’t harm. It’s your soul and spirit. It’s the eternal you that belongs to God. And so if you have to go through fiery trials, know that God is going to go through them with you, and will make sure that they will never get to that part of you that is the real you; your soul and spirit. That’s what God meant when He said: Isa 43:1-4- “But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator…“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you. For I am the Lord your God…you are precious in My sight…you are honored and I love you…” NASU
Remember that we live in a world to which we do not belong. And all these trials and tribulations and the sufferings in our bodies, as well as our struggles in our works, all remind us that we don’t belong to this world. It’s as C.S. Lewis put it: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” We were not made for this cursed temporary world. We were made for God’s blessed eternal world. Even by reminding yourself by saying, “I was not made for this world” helps you better understand why things in this world are so messed up. You weren’t made for this world. This is a toxic hostile harmful hurtful world in which you are only passing through on your way home; home to God’s triumphant holy healthy happy world. But still, even while passing through this cursed world, God is seeing to it that even this cursed world is going to made to produce many things on behalf of His children for them to enjoy in their pilgrimage journey now, as well as produce many rewards for His children to experience in when they reach their forever home.
This is a defeated world, even death is a defeated foe, and the victory belongs to Christ and Christ’s family; the born again children of God. So even as we battle against the struggles and afflictions of this world, know that God is producing gain out of every pain, and that in every fight we fight, He is holding up our arm and pronouncing us, ‘the Victor’! That’s how the Apostle Paul looked at his sufferings, and that’s how he looked at himself, because that’s just the kind of God and Savior we have!