Joy in Hard Circumstances
Listen to the Sermon audio
The final sermon in our series on Joy. Romans 5 tells us we can rejoice in the midst of suffering. How do we do that? What do we gain?
Thank you, worship team, and thank you all for participating in that Palm Sunday reading, that's the Palm Sunday expression, how appropriate today, the Sunday before Easter and yet how appropriate it is this coming Friday where we commemorate that five days, just five days after that triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the same crowd or at least mixtures of that crowd that had claimed him were now calling for his his crucifixion. So Palm Sunday prepares us for Good Friday, which ultimately leads us to Easter Sunday. Well we are looking at - this is the last Sunday in this month's emphasis on joy. We've been looking at the the Christian virtue of joy all through this month. What does it mean that as we become aware that, from the first week in the month, that the father, as he looks at us through what Christ has done, taking our sin upon himself, covering us with his righteousness, that God, the father, delights over us with singing - the ultimate basis for our joy. And from there, the second week, we looked at joy in contentment, how Christian contentment, a totally different thing from worldly stoicism, but how there is great joy in Christian contentment. And last week we looked at the joy that we experienced following Christ as we heed his command to bear fruit by abiding in him. But this week - this is the last week of joy. But it is also the hardest. At least that is my experience with the topic for this week.
But again, an appropriate topic as we look forward to Good Friday. And it is joy in tribulation, joy in tribulation. And our text is going to be Romans Chapter five, the first five verses. But I will tell you again, Joy is not something that is natural to me. I don't think it really comes natural to any of us. But some of us, some of us, our personalities. Maybe it's a bigger transformation in our lives. And that's me. And this is the hardest week. This is the hardest week for me personally. I'm imagining some of you will be able to identify that as we go into this topic. So I just want to pause at this moment and ask for the Holy Spirit's help. Would you would you pray with me? Lord, we come to you acknowledging that this work of transformation is totally of you, we can't will ourselves to be joyful. Our attempts to do so are artificial. We want this work, Lord of true joy, to be borne out in our lives. And again, as I've already said, Lord, this is the hardest week for me personally, facing joy in the midst of tribulation. So we ask for your Holy Spirit to do what you promise that he he will do that he will take this word, your word, and he will use it like a sword to pierce to the very center of us, pierce beyond our thoughts, pierced beyond our feelings.
Pierce to our will, pierce to the very center of our soul. Do your transforming work through your word, by your spirit. We ask you in Jesus name. Amen. Joy and tribulation. When I think of that word tribulation, it's also sometimes translated as trouble, I think of the words spoken by Job's friend Eliphaz and Job Chapter five. Eliphaz says afflictions do not come from the dust. It's not just chants, in other words, that we encounter trouble in our life. Neither does trouble sprout from the ground. But mankind is born for trouble, as surely as sparks fly upward. I don't know what that image of sparks coming up conjures in your mind, it brings me back to raising three boys, being around campfires, either on a camping trip or in our backyard, having a campfire in the summer or the fall. And one of my sons who will remain nameless, but there's always one pyro and every family is there or not, they really enjoy taking sticks and stirring up the fire, which, of course, releases showers of sparks, or occasionally he'd bring a big log. And when nobody was watching him would throw that log in the middle of the fire again, shooting up sparks and sparks come any time there's fire. But you do something like that. And what happens? You shoot not just sparks, but embers burning embers up into the air, often embers that land on clothing and burn holes in clothing or land on tents and burn holes in tents.
And that's the image I think of here, because really what Eliphaz is saying it's an observation of of life that surely, as sparks fly up from any fire, even when nobody's stirring it up, sparks fly up as surely as that happens. So surely does trouble in some shape occur in our lives? And there is the sparks of trouble that just generally comes up. There are the sparks of trouble that, like burning embers, burn holes in our life. They leave permanent impressions. They do permanent damage in our lives. And that's just not an Old Testament observation. That's the truth that Jesus himself says. He's he says it this way in John, 16:33 In this world, and he's speaking, by the way, to people who follow him. He's not speaking to people who disregard him, in this world you will have tribulation. That word tribulation is the Greek word in the original text is thlipsis and bring that out only to say that you can search in a Greek concordance, you can search for thlipsis and see how many times tribulation in some form or another appears in the New Testament alone. I've counted at least forty three times. I would say it's a theme. I would say that tribulation thlipsis is a theme all throughout scripture.
And in that theme we see it used to indicate situations of pressure, whether it's external or internal pressure situations where where we experience distress, situations of trouble, situations of affliction. In fact, if you go through all the different occurrences of oh, well, let me let me let me unpack a little bit where the word comes from. The word at that time, the most common usage usage of it was to describe what happens when they make olive oil. They use a olive press. You see here a modern recreation of this. This is in Nazareth Village in Israel, where they recreated some of what life was like. An olive press involved a large stone wheel that was turned around again and again in a hollowed out bowl. The olives were put in that bowl and that wheel think again of the meaning of thipsis as pressure pressing down is the meaning of thlipsis that we all that heavy stone, wheel would press down those olives producing the olive oil. You can even see if you can make it out in the picture on the screen there, you see how it's darkened in the bowl there and around that center post. That's the olives that's being pressed down. So that's the image of thlipsis, the image of being pressed down, the image of a weight of some form on you, pressing you down over and over and over again. As we go through the New Testament and we see all the different ways this thlipsis, this this pressure is used, it describes a whole variety of situations.
And my guess is, one, if not a number of these you may be experiencing this morning. There is the thlipsis, of sickness and accidents. There is the thlipsis of disabilities that may result from sickness or accident. There is the thlipsis of worldly losses, maybe a business failure, maybe the loss of material possessions due to events beyond your control. There is the thlipsis of financial struggles, even of poverty. There is the thlipsis of relational griefs, not only broken relationships, but the pressure that we feel when we have a loved one who is going through a painful situation or a loved one who is turned away from the Lord and how that is like a weight, a burden, a pressure upon us. There is the thlipsis of bereavement, of losing somebody that we love to death. That can be a form of tribulation. There is the thlipsis of persecution of when people in the world oppose those who follow Jesus and do so by persecuting them, including even killing them. In fact, as you go through those forty three occurrences, the majority of those occurrences of thlipsis apply to some form, some reference to persecution. But I want you to see this because really the reality that we see, both voiced by by Job's friend and by Jesus and the reality borne out by our experience in life is that everybody experiences thlipsis.
And maybe, you know, your first decade or two of life, you don't quite appreciate that, but you get into that third decade and beyond and you begin to understand that as sparks fly upward, there's just a constant flow, some small, some large, a lot in between of thlipsis, of tribulation, of situations that come into our lives and press down on us. And I wouldn't ask for a show of hands this morning, but if I did, I imagine that if I asked you to indicate in some way that even as you sit here this morning. Yeah, you're mind is is filling with something that you are under right now that is pressing down on you. That is some form of thlipsis, I might imagine that would be, if not most of you, all of you or if not all of you, most of you, it is a reality. you don't escape thlipsis. You don't escape tribulation by having enough resources, enough money. You don't escape it by by being of a certain social class. It is a reality in life as sparks fly upward. So we encounter thlipsis we encounter trouble. Thlipsis tribulation is the word that Paul uses in our text today. Romans 5:1-5 when he writes that we rejoice in our tribulations, our thlipsis and Paul. Here, let me just read the text. If you have a Bible, I'm going to read the first five verses of Romans Chapter five.
Therefore, Paul writes, Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace and which we now stand and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. But not only this, rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God, we also rejoice in our thlipsis in our tribulations and our troubles. Why? Because we know that tribulation produces endurance, perseverance and endurance or perseverance, produces proven character and proven character produces hope. And this hope, this hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us. Paul says that we rejoice in our tribulations. It is easy for me to rejoice, to find joy in the fact that because of what Christ has done for me, taking my sin upon him, imputing his righteousness to me, God rejoices over me with singing. It is maybe not quite as easy, but still easy by comparison to take joy in the contentment that following Christ can bring. there is even a sense of ease compared to this in which I can rejoice. I can take joy in as I abide in Christ, that I bear fruits and the joy that can be derived from bearing fruit, but finding joy in tribulation, rejoicing in tribulation, that seems to push us over the edge.
As a young believer, I was under the mistaken delusion that beginning to follow Jesus, recognizing him as savior and Lord, that that would somehow bring this bubble over me. You know, that the tribulations, the problems that I was wrestling with at the time of coming to Christ would suddenly dissolve and I would be protected in some way by from trouble, from thlipsis. And I'm sure if you relate to that at all, you've experienced the same thing that I have experienced. No, in some ways, it turns up the heat, doesn't it, to follow Jesus. I think of a young man in our extended family, I learned just this week, somewhat of a distant relative, but I know the this part of the family well, who a young man with a promising athletic career could have even potentially led to professional sports. And yet through being involved in an auto accident, not his fault, sustained a disability where that dream in one day went away like that. And now I was just told this week by family members that this young man is saying he is angry at God. He has turned away from the church. He's turned away from from the faith that he was brought up into because he's angry at God. And can we not relate? Have we not all been there where we have lost something, where some tribulation has been allowed to come into our lives? And the immediate response is, God, why did you let this happen? So this is common to all of us.
In fact, John Calvin said it this way. Tribulations provoke a great part of mankind to murmur against God and even to curse him. How easy it is when we get in situations like that to say, well, God, you must not love me, God, you must not be powerful enough, God, I don't understand this. And in that situation, that is hard allow it instead to harden our hearts. Now, in the case of that family member God has providentially lined up that Cindy and I are going to actually be able to perhaps have some contact with him. And over time, I pray the story is not over, that his heart is not permanently hardened, and that God may even use us in some way to help him walk through that to the place where he can actually rejoice in his loss. Rejoice in his tribulation. So I want us to see this, Paul is not simply saying here when he says rejoice in tribulation, he is not simply saying don't complain about it. He is not even saying just stoically it. That's two weeks ago we looked at why Stoicism is not Christian. He is actually going beyond that to call us to rejoice in our tribulations. The word rejoice as he means it there or as he uses it there, that term means actually to glory almost to the sense to the sense of to boast in we glory, in perhaps academic achievements, or we glory in sports achievements, or we glory in other achievements in life, vocational achievements.
In other words, as we reflect on what has been achieved in our life, we take joy in it. Paul is saying rejoice in tribulation. Paul is saying that it is actually a ground of glorying. And now Charles Hodge helpful to me says this. That does not mean that we glory in the midst of tribulation. And I may still have I know I have a long way to go in my spiritual maturity, but I'm not at the point where in the midst of tribulation, I find a reason to rejoice in the midst of it. But Hodge goes on to say, what it really means is that we rejoice on account of them as we reflect what God can do is doing has done in the midst of our tribulations. That is a cause for rejoicing. How? Well, Paul says, we rejoice in our tribulations knowing that. And let me stop there just for a moment. Many commentators say that's like the most important verb in the verse there, knowing that it is not just a matter of feeling that key to everything else in this verse is what we deliberately focus on.
The truth that we know that God's word has said is the reality of facing this tribulation, that we rejoice as we deliberately focus on what we know to be true. And that knowing creates a deliberate focus that can overcome our feelings again, Christianity is not about denying our feelings in the middle of hard circumstances, in the middle of tribulations, but Christianity is saying, I am despite how I feel, I am going to deliberately focus on what I know to be true and what do we know to be true. Well, Paul begins to set out here a chain reaction of what we know and how it leads to rejoicing. Here's the first link in the chain, knowing that tribulation produces endurance. And again, I just want to unpack that word for a moment for you, because in unpacking it, you see the meaning of it, the Greek word that that Paul actually uses there is hupomone. It's a compound word. Hupo means under. Mone means to live or to remain. So think of that in regards to a hard circumstances. Some form of tribulation thlipsis in your life to remain under that, to live under that, not just for a momentary time, but to live under that as long as God allows it in our lives without trying to crawl out from underneath it. I have this picture on the screen that I think of when I think of endurance remaining under living under the hiking that I do, I've seen this a couple of times, a tree growing out of a crack in a rock.
And if you could see the wider picture there, you would see this tree, this Ponderosa pine all around it or other trees. And they're just growing out of the soil. They're just growing out of the rich soil that's around it. You know, if that tree had conscious thought, can't you imagine that tree looking around at all the other Ponderosa trees thinking, why do I have to grow out of this rock? Why do I have this impediment of this rock in my life when all these other trees just like me around me don't have this burden don't have this impediment, get advantage of - to take advantage of this rich soil? Isn't that how we often look at our tribulation, we look around us and we perceive that what we're going through, no one else seems to be suffering from that. Of course, the knowledge we don't have is of the particular forms of thlipsis that they're experiencing. My life experience is borne out that everybody is wrestling with something, but we don't see that in the midst of our tribulation. And so we look around and say, why does everybody else get that good soil? Why do I have to grow under these conditions of this pressing rock around me? Rejoicing comes Paul is saying here, When we remain under whatever tribulation that God has providentially brought about in our life where we live under it, as long as he has it in our life without trying to crawl out from underneath it, accepting that this is his providential
will, we and rejoicing comes when we can come to the place where we can pray like Jesus. Lord, here's my will that you free me from this, but not my will, but your will be done. That's the prayer Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on Good Friday before he went to the cross. Rejoicing comes when instead we remain under it by turning to his grace for the ability to endure it. This is the first link in the chain reaction. The second link. Paul goes on to say, We rejoice knowing that that endurance, that growing ability to live underneath it produces proven character. And again, I just want to bring out the meaning of the word, I think it's helpful for us to understand it proven character actually comes from one word in the Greek dokimos. And dokimos was a word related to the currency of that day coins were not as neatly minted in that day as they are today. We have nice precise molds that our coins come from. It was a little rougher in those days. And so you get coins that have varying shapes and sizes and the edges. It may have had some extra silver to them and some enterprising individuals quickly figured out, well, I could just take a knife and I could scrape off that edge, that irregular part of that edge.
And if I do that to enough coins, I'd have all these shavings that I could melt down and I could take in and and I could actually have silver that I could sell and profit from. Well you can imagine as this caught on that coins could get whittled down further and further and further. And so there was a recognition at some point a coin becomes not worth its weight anymore. Dokimos was the process of of recognizing there is a standard weight. And if that coin gets below that standard weight from people carving it off or anything and just just by wear it's no longer genuine, it's no longer authentic. But dokimos meant that coin was worth its weight. It was authentic. It was genuine. Now, carry that over into what it means to have proven character. You are worth your weight. You are genuine in your faith. You are authentic. Or maybe another way of bringing it out a little more of a modern example is think of what it means to be proven, proven character. What does it mean to be proven? Pastor Stephen Cole gave me a wonderful illustration of this. He lives in Kingman, Arizona, and Ford Motor Company has a proving grounds there in Kingman, Arizona. What they do is they bring in the new models that they have been developing and they subject them to all kinds of stress tests in that hot Arizona heat.
And they learn, is this vehicle going to last? Is this vehicle going to endure? So that's where even the campaign that Ford has Ford trucks are anybody know? Ford trucks are built to last. All right. They are proven they are going to last if you buy a Ford truck. This is not a Ford truck commercial, but that's the idea of being proven. You are enduring. You're going to last in your faith. You are authentic and your faith. And that's the cause of rejoicing that when you endure through tribulation, your faith becomes proven. You know, now by experience that your faith is genuine, that it is real, that it is weighty. And there is a wonderful sense of authenticity that you can rejoice in, one you would never experience if you had not been tested, if you had not born that tribulation. So. Tribulation produces endurance and endurance produces proven character, and then the third link in the chain proven character produces hope. Now, this hope is of a little different nature than the hope back in verse two, in fact, I, I could do no better than to read to you from the words of the great preacher Martin Lloyd-Jones, the hope of the glory of God. What we saw back in verse two, that comes from the understanding of the blessing of being justified by faith. That is something that every new believer should experience as we begin, as they begin to follow Christ.
But then Paul goes on here in our immediate text today to address how when we go through life and we experience tribulation, it has an effect if we allow it to make us cling to God like we've never clung to God before. And the outcome of that is that we experience his faithfulness to us and in experiencing that he develops proven character in us as we endure. And so we come out the other side of all of that, more certain of the hope. It's a deeper hope even that we experienced as we came to faith. It is the hope of an eternal glory that we could not even fully know before our trials. So our hope becomes stronger. Our hope becomes tempered by the fire of tribulations. You know, that process where a blade, whether it's a sword or a knife, is finally prepared to be used. It's not enough just to forge or sharpen that blade. The blade has to be tempered. It has to be submitted to high, high heat. And it is only through that heat. It is only through the flames that that blade becomes tempered so that it won't break. There is a confidence that it won't break, it won't bend as it's being used. That is the process that God works in us. Paul goes on in verse five and this hope, this hope that has been tempered by the heat of tribulation, it does not disappoint us.
It will not leave us ashamed that we have followed Jesus. Instead, it will bring us the experience that God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Knowing that God intends for our tribulations to produce endurance, that in turn produces proven character, that in turn strengthens our hope, that is his way of increasing our awareness of God's love and grace in our lives and towards us. We look back at our trials. This is my experience in the middle of trials and tribulations. Hard to find, joy. But as I look back and I think about some of the difficult things the Lord has brought me through, I wouldn't want to go back there again. I wouldn't want to wish that on anyone else, but I wouldn't trade it away for anything. Because of the effect that God has used it for in my life and as I reflect on that and I realize both his sovereign hand and his loving kindness using that difficult thing in my life, it fills me with joy. There's great rejoicing, recognizing how he has worked something so hard for my good in his life. I want to close with two examples of this rejoicing even in the midst of tribulation because of the effect of tribulation. This is Pastor Wang Yi. This is a pastor that I pray for every week, numerous times during the week.
And he's there with his wife. Pastor Wang Yi is the pastor of Early Rain Covenant Church in China, which I have mentioned before. And for reasons that we don't have time to go into, the Chinese communist government is intent on eradicating this church. And they have gone about it by all kinds of measures. And in Pastor Yi's case in 2019, just two years ago, they interrupted a church service and they hauled him off in handcuffs and put him into a mock trial and sentenced him to seven years of hard labor for preaching the gospel, for preaching the good news of Jesus. They arrested several of his elders as well, who've been in and out of prison. They arrested his wife, who is in prison for a short time and now is under house arrest. Any time they find groups of believers from Early Rain Covenant church or even gathering in homes to meet, if they learn of that, the Chinese government clamps down on that, breaks it up, hauls them in for questioning, sometimes puts them in jail. Think of tribulation. We haven't experienced anything like that. And yet in the midst of that, as letters from Pastor Yi are smuggled out from his prison, they're filled with joy. He recognizes God is actually strengthening not just him, but strengthening its church through this tribulation. I think about that we don't face hard to totalitarianism here in this nation, but I think we're facing an increasing soft totalitarianism.
I think through what we see through social media and other structures in our culture, there is a growing soft totalitarianism that is coming down harder and harder on anyone who wants to live an authentic life following Jesus and the Lord can change anything overnight. The Lord can return. But if that doesn't happen first, we may be in that situation where that soft totalitarianism may make it so difficult for us that that we have to choose. Am I going to faithfully follow Jesus or are we going to faithfully follow the gospel? Are we going to compromise or are we going to walk away from this? Will we rejoice? Will we recognize what God is doing in the midst of it? Will we endure? Will we be able to remain under it and stand up under its will our faith be proven? Will it be established that our faith is genuine, that we are not shallow ground Christians that dry up when the heat of persecution comes out over us? And then an even more severe example, sometimes God permits his children to go through terrible persecution and even martyrdom. And I think of Graham Staines, an Australian missionary in India who in nineteen ninety nine ministering among Hindus in India, a group of radical Hindus surrounded his vehicle. He was in the vehicle with his two young sons who you see in that picture there, and they set the vehicle on fire and burned them to death.
He suffered giving even his life. Any reasonable person would ask, how can you rejoice in that, how can you rejoice in the death of those two young boys, much less this adult man who's made this choice to be there? And you know what? If heaven is not real, if Christianity is a myth, then, yes, this is nothing but a waste. But if heaven is true, if what Jesus did on the cross at the empty tomb, if that is true and that's what we celebrate next Sunday, if we truly believe that that is true, then it proves that this hope does not disappoint us. We will not be ashamed for taking a stand even where we're called upon to give our lives, because even if we don't experience it in this earthly life, in eternity, we experience that hope of the glory of God. That's what Graham and his sons are experiencing even now for all of eternity. That's what men and women have given their lives all throughout church history, are experiencing even now. And so we rejoice in our tribulation, knowing that, focusing on setting aside our feelings and deliberately focusing on what we know to be true, not allowing our feelings to cloud this perspective. And what is that perspective? That eternal perspective? Paul says it in Second Corinthians 4:17, that this momentary light affliction, whatever it is in your life and my life, is momentary light affliction.
God is actually using to produce for us an eternal weight of glory, a weight of glory far beyond all comparison, far beyond what we can imagine. And knowing that deliberately focusing on that, we look not on the things which are seen the temporal, we focus on the things that are unseen, the eternal. And then finally, one more piece of the perspective, really, the piece that puts it all together, the piece we celebrate on Friday and Sunday, we look to Jesus, who the writer of Hebrews says Hebrews 12:2 knowing that deliberately focusing on that Christ, Jesus, our savior, our Lord for the joy, awaiting him for the joy that he could see that the father had waiting for him. He endured the cross. He endured the tribulation set before him, disregarding the shame we look to Jesus, the author, the finisher of our faith, who models for us what it means to consider it joy that we may be led through tribulation. We look to Jesus, the one who gives us grace, to go through whatever the Lord lays before us. That is tribulation, knowing that for the joy that awaited him, he endured the cross he despised. He disregarded the shame. Let us pray. Father, I of course, I cannot know what each person sitting here is experiencing, what you even bring to their minds about the thlipsis, the tribulation that they're in the midst of. And for some, it might be sickness, it might be disease, it might be accidents.
Others it might be financial struggles. Some might be relational grief. Some may be here grieving in bereavement for the loss of someone beloved. Some may even be experiencing some form of opposition or persecution. I think of the brother from Africa who came up to me after the first service expressing the actual persecution that he and his family experienced there because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Whatever it is, Lord, I would imagine that really, if not all of us, most of us right now are wrestling with some form of thlipsis in our lives. Would you, by your word, as your spirit works your word into our hearts? Would you by the truth of your word? Would you help us to focus on to know that in the midst of it, in the midst of our tribulation, you are producing in us endurance the ability to remain under it? And in doing that, you are producing for us proven character the genuineness of our faith. And in doing that, you are making our hope grow. You are giving us an even greater hope than we had when we came to faith in you initially. And that you do that all Lord, that we would have an even greater view of you when you do that, Lord, that we would glorify you and worship you. And we do that now. We pray this Jesus in your name. Amen.