Embracing Suffering in Ministry: Lessons from Romans 8 – Part 2
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.
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.