Embracing Suffering in Ministry: Lessons from Romans 8 – Part 2
We’ve been making our way through the second half of Romans 8, and have gone over the first three of six words: frustration, groaning, and fellowship. We now come to the fourth word: sovereignty. And that’s in verse 28. “We know that for those who love God, all things work together for good.” God is in control. He’s sovereign, and he works even the greatest tragedies into something good.
In verse 37, after listing a huge set of problems in the previous verses, he says, ‘In all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.’ So this is another reason why we are not bitter in the midst of our suffering: he’s turning it for good. We accept that in faith. So when the apostles heard that their task was made illegal, the first thing they did was to get to their group of friends. And the friends got together and they prayed. But their prayer is most interesting. They made just two short requests: consider their threats, and help us to proclaim your word with boldness, and demonstrate your power with signs and wonders. Those are the two short requests they made. The rest of the prayer is an affirmation of the sovereignty of God—of how God worked through history, how people rose up against the Lord and his anointed, and then finally, how everybody who was somebody in Jerusalem—the Jews, the Gentiles, the Romans, the Pharisees—everybody got together, and they killed Jesus. But what they did was what God had already predestined to take place, so that the greatest tragedy became the greatest triumph in the history of the world.
So we believe that God is sovereign, and you know in 1983, when we had the big riot that started off the war in Sri Lanka, this is the passage that God gave me that sustained me through total confusion that we are going through in our country. We knew that God will work through us in the midst of this, therefore we have to keep working. That’s why after reflecting on the sovereignty of God, the disciples requested and said that they wanted to continue to do their work to proclaim the word with boldness.
This brings us to the fifth word: patience. And we go back a little bit. If God is sovereign, we look at life with hope. Even hope is faith in the dark times when things are not going well. But because we know that things are going to be well, we have hope. And if we have hope we have patience. Verse 25, ‘If we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.’
In the Bible, the word patience, there are two words for patients, macrothumia, which has more to do with people being patient with people, and hupomone, which is often translated as endurance, which has more to do with circumstances. Hupomone is used here. Now, hupomone is an active word. It’s a word that is almost one of triumphant fortitude. It’s a word that Leon Morris in his commentary says is used on the battlefield. When things are going tough, we try to see what we should do. How can we get out of this situation? How can we solve our problems? It’s an active word, it comes from the battlefield, where Christians are working. You see God is working. We don’t defeat ourselves and adopt an attitude of resignation: what can we do, this is God’s will. Or as people say, this is my karma. No, that’s not what we say. We say God is working for good. Therefore, we have hope. Therefore, we must join him, dressed by hope, and we work.
There was a Japanese professor, who in the middle of his career, went blind with a detached retina. And when he was getting blind, he wanted to find out the mystery: why did this happen to him at the peak of his life? He could not agree with what his religion said, that he was suffering for things he had done in his previous life. So he started looking for an answer. Somebody encouraged him to look at the Christian answer. And he began to read the gospel. And he came to the place in John, where the disciples asked why a man had been born blind. And Jesus said, “It was not because his parents sinned, or because he had sinned, but he had been born blind so that the works of God may be revealed.” And he said, “Could the works of God be manifested through my blindness? Then that is the answer. I will use this blindness.” And he became a Christian. He became an evangelist, and later went to Scotland, did his theological studies, and became a theological professor at Kobe Theological college. That’s Christian patience. God is working, and I will work knowing without giving up: triumphant fortitude in the midst of difficulty. So, that’s our fifth word.
So we have frustration, groaning, fellowship with the Holy Spirit, sovereignty, and because God is sovereign, patience.
Now I want to tell you one more word. And that is the word love. That’s our great source of joy. Verses 38 and 39, ‘for I am sure, that Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.’ God’s love is deeper than every challenge. And that’s the greatest thing about us. God is with us. That’s one reason why we spend time with God: we want to breathe his love, we want to imbibe his greatness. We want to imbibe the sense of his sovereignty. God is with us. God loves us. God desires the best for us.
I tell our staff in Youth for Christ that our job is to go into the world. And when we go into the world, we get bashed that you can’t avoid. But after getting bashed, we come home. And we come and spend time with God. And when we spend time with God, we relish his love, and the batteries get charged. So, they get charged again, we go back into the world and get bashed again. But we come back and we spend time with God’s love, and our batteries are charged.
Paul puts it beautifully when he says in Romans 5:5, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” That word translated poured as the idea of flooded. In fact, some translations use the word flooded. There is an inexhaustible resource of love, no shortage. So we in our ministry get bashed, people are bitter, they’re angry, they are nasty to us, they don’t appreciate what we do, they misinterpret our actions, they scold us, they attribute motives to our actions. We face pain all the time in ministry. Jesus promised this. “In this world, you will have tribulation,” he told the disciples. But God’s love is greater.
So when we come into His presence, his love can overflow into our lives and flow out of our lives. And take away with that flow all the anger, all the bitterness. That’s why it’s so important for us to bask in the presence of God’s love. I like to do that singing hymns. I like the old hymns. And I like to sit and just sing the hymns and remind myself, ‘What a wonderful Savior we have.’ And how wonderful, how deep is his love for us. So love floods into our life.
Then 2 Corinthians 5:14 says that “The love of Christ controls us” the old translation, the King James Version said, “The love of Christ constrains us.” That word has the idea of applying pressure on us. Do you remember when Jesus was going to the home of Jairus, and this woman touched the hem of His garment? Luke tells us that the crowd pressed on him. That’s the word that is used here: pressed. See when the love of Christ comes it’s so full, it pressures us, it presses us and tells us love, love, love.!
Now we have to obey. Obedience is the key that opens the floodgates of God’s love. But we have to obey. We have to forgive, for example. We have to accept that God is going to work this for good, which is an act of obedience because we believe what the Bible says. And we refuse to allow our lives to be ruined by self-pity and anger. We obey that’s part of obedience. And when we obey, when we love our enemy, when we forgive our enemy, when we ask our enemy to forgive us, when we go and talk to the person we don’t like to talk to, when we obey that inexhaustible resource of love which is in us, expresses itself. Because we are filled with love, we can work and serve him and continue to serve, because love keeps coming and going, coming and going, coming and going.
Somebody asked Charles Spurgeon, “Of what persuasion are you?” Now, I suppose Charles Spurgeon was involved in numerous controversies. And so that person must have been thinking of what is your view on the downgrade controversy or whatever, you know, whatever controversy it was? The question was, of what persuasion are you? His answer was, ‘for I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, no things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus.’
We are people who have been loved by God. And in response, we are in love with Jesus. That’s the most important thing in our life. Not the pain that comes to us. Not the immense hurt. Of course, we will go through the pain. We will groan, we will struggle, we will grapple, we spend days and days struggling with it. Why did this happen to me? But finally, the love of God breaks through. And we realise, God’s love is greater. and God is with me. I don’t have to fear.
So we are people in love with Jesus. And people who are in love are happy people. And so we are joyful. Not because of what people do to us. But because Jesus loves us. And that’s an amazing thought.
“I’m so glad that Jesus loves me.
Jesus loves me. Jesus loves me.
I am so glad that Jesus loves me.
Jesus loves even me. “
I have told my children that I want that song to be sung at my funeral. Unfortunately, it’s not available in the Sinhalese language, so it has to be sung in English. (But it’s okay.)
“Wonderful things in the Bible I see.
This is the greatest that Jesus loves me.”
Now, therefore, we have to guard our love relationship with God. This is what gives us the strength to serve. We are in love, we are affirmed by God, that brings us joy, and our service is an overflow of that love and the joy that comes with it.
I heard of a missionary whose name was David Sitton. He started an organization called ‘To Every Tribe Mission.’ And he was saying how when he was a teenager, an old missionary, 90 years old, who had started his missionary career at the age of seventeen. Having been a missionary for 73 years, he came to speak at their youth fellowship. And this old man got up. And he kept saying the same thing over and over and over again. What did he say? “You can forget everything I said, but don’t forget this thing.” And he just kept saying that over. “Forget everything I said, but don’t forget this thing.” And the young people were wanting to say,
Say it! Say it! Say what you have to say!” Finally, he was ready to say what he had to say. And this is what he said, “The joy of the Lord is your strength. When the joy goes, the strength goes.”
Yes, my dear friends, frustration is an aspect of life. We can’t run away from it. So we groan without running away without quitting. We groan. we cry. We express our pain. But we know that as we do so, the Holy Spirit groans with us. He intercedes for us in our helplessness. And not only that, we know that God is going to turn everything into good. And if he’s sovereign, then we have hope. And if we have hope, we have patience. We work in the midst of hardship, in the midst of difficulty. But not only do we have patience, but we also have the love of God to help us which nothing can separate us from. We are people in love. Guard that relationship. That love is more precious than all the pain that your ministry will bring. It gives you the strength to embrace the pain of ministry.
This article is the second one of the two-part article series of the transcript of Session 1 preached by Ajith Fernando in the AIPC 2021 Online Conference held on Sep 17-19, 2021.
Please click here to view the sermon.