One of the discussions Mike and I sometimes have is, which about which book or books of the Bible are the hardest to preach. Mike contends that anything by John is clearly the most difficult, but I disagree with him. I dis-enjoy preaching from Paul the most. It is not that I don’t like what Paul has to say, in fact I believe Paul gives us a window in the struggle of the Christian life that is both helpful and insightful. The problem I have with Paul is that he lays out a beautifully logical argument, and at first I feel that his logic seems to negate the need for explanation. He present his thoughts and ideas in such a manner, it five the impression that these concepts and ideas at hand are nearly self-explanatory. I almost feel presumptuous coming to these texts and trying to explain them. But at the same time in spite the impression Paul’s writing gives, I find the logical arguments Paul is presenting to be anything but self-explanatory and not at all clearly evident. I find Paul’s rhetoric hard to follow, his grammar and diction unclear, and the logical path, which he is presenting, to be a hard path to follow.
This little paragraph is one of those paragraphs that seem to ride the line of this juxtaposition so well. On the surface it seems clear and easily explicable, but when you read it again you quickly realize that it most definitely is not. Very few of us would read this paragraph and immediately walk away feeling as if we fully understand what Paul is attempting to teach here.
To make this passage all the more difficult to come to a firm grasp of its meaning, it is also riddled with a number of Christian buzz words. You know, words which we all use and just assume we all know the meaning. Words like: grace, justification, faith, hope, peace. Words that we all know but words when pressed many of us would have a hard time explaining exactly what we mean when we are using them.
In many ways coming upon this passage is like going along a well-traveled route. When you go the same way every day, you do it without really paying attention to the things around you. In fact when you go the same way long enough you forget the names of the streets, you may even forget the definitive landmarks along the way. You may know how to get there, but you could not explain to someone unfamiliar with our city how to get there, or worse you may not be able to get to some place which you know you pass on a regular basis that way but can’t quite remember where along the route it is.
As I move through this familiar neighborhood passage, lined with these familiar words and phrases, I have heard quoted over the course of my Christian life, I find myself distracted and begin to wonder where it was it was going again and certainly loose the trail Paul has been leading me along. It is perhaps easy to look at this passage and see it as a trail to salvation, a path leading to justification, a guideline, which if followed will lead us to being set right with God, which brings us to a place of hope.
But those of us who have read or studied Romans before have walked with Paul through the twist and turns of the path he takes us down in the book of Romans, may remember, Paul contends that we are unable to do anything , which will lead us to salvation. We can’t earn our justification. We can’t live by any set of guidelines, which will lead to righteousness in the eyes of God. Paul’s greatest argument up to this point is righteousness before God is a gift freely given by Christ to all those who will accept. There is no way to be good enough, live right enough, there is no way to earn our way into God’s good graces. We are simply loved by God. We are set right before God because God chooses to set us right. Justification, salvation, being loved by God is something that God just does, not because we have earned it, or deserve it. God loves us simply because God chooses to love us. All God asks is for love in return; to love God with all our entire beings, all that we are and to also love those around us with the same kind of free and unmerited love, with which God loves us. So to see the words in this passage as a path which leads us into the good graces of God would go against everything Paul has been saying throughout the first four chapters of the book of Romans.
We are loved by God, we are made right before God because we choose to accept that love, we choose to accept God’s gift of making us right, otherwise known as faith, accepting that God will love us, accepting that God will make us right, believing that God will do what God says God will do. So if this paragraph is not about how we can be made right before God, then what is it about?
But how then are we to read, “we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us,” if it is not a clear path for us to follow? Perhaps a better way of thinking about it is, Paul is laying out the consequences of the love of God in our lives. “When we are made right,” before God, “there are tangible consequences.” All our actions and choices have consequences. We usually think about the negative consequences our actions, but there are positive consequences as well. This is something I am continually working with my girls to help them understand. I tell them, “Your choices have consequences or results. You can choose to work diligently cleaning your room and the consequence of that are that there will be enough time to go do something fun as a family. If you choose to sit there and read, or play or whatever you might do up here, there will be no time, we will not get to go for a bike ride, or to the park or whatever it was we were going to do before dinner.” There are consequences for all of our actions. The consequences of faith, of accepting God’s love and allowing that love to change our lives are laid out by Paul here in this passage.
The Paragraph begins, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith. . . “ Paul is basically saying, “Therefore, since we have been made right by God”; “Therefore since we have have accepted the love of God”; “Therefore since we choose to believe that God will do what God says God will do, then . . .” Then all that follows is true. Then these next few things stand to reason. Paul then back tracks and tells us again what it is that brings on these consequences. It is because Christ died for us, it is because God loves us. We were broken, we are anything thing but good, or right. We were sinners. Sinning is living a life apart from loving God and a part from loving others. We were choosing our ways, our desires, what we wanted over and above God and over and above others.
Even as we were living lives in opposition to the love of God and lives where far too often we were not showing love to those around us, God choose to love us, Jesus choose to die for us, and choose to live a life loving God and loving others, as an example for us to see. So we can know once and for all what it looks like to live a life of radical love, which can only be lived by those who accept and are transformed by God’s love.
God pours God’s love into our hearts, into the core of beings and that changes who we are, and how we live our lives. If we call ourselves Christians, if we have accepted the love of God, and know that God has made us righteous, when we ourselves are not righteous, we are justified, we are the people to whom Paul is speaking in this passage. Paul begins by telling us that because we know the love of God in our lives we have peace.
But the peace of which Paul speaks here is not necessarily what we immediately think of when we think about peace. Peace is simply living without war or even conflict. Peace does not mean to be in a place where there is not noise, no trouble, or any hard work. It means to being in the midst of those things and still be calm in your innermost being. ”
Maybe we sell peace short, or perhaps it is that we expect too much of it. We want to make peace the absence of chaos and turmoil. We want to make it the lack of noise or trouble. Peace in these terms is something that is a void. It is something that “is not,” it is something defined wholly on its lack of something else in this way it makes peace a negative. The peace of God on the other hand is not a negative. It is the love of God our hearts, at the core of our beings, which carries us through the chaos, and turmoil, it helps us make it through the noise, trouble and hard work.
And this is exactly what Paul is talking about. The consequence of being right with God and having the love of God poured into our hearts, into the center of our very beings is peace and that peace is seen in the midst of the suffering, in the midst of the hardships and struggles of our life, does not negate our sufferings, it does not make them go away. But the peace of God, which is given to us with God’s love, is something which not only carries us through the turmoil and trouble, but the love of God not only transforms us and our lives, but it transforms the suffering; chaos and noise of our lives, into hope. God is not in the negation business, God is in the restoration and transformation business.
Paul tells us that the suffering we have, produces endurance; we are given by God what we need to be able to endure, to make it through the suffering, but not only that the endurance produce character, it forms us and shapes us. Because we have the peace of God taking us through the chaos, and trouble, the suffering, we endure. It does not break us, it does not misshape us, but God is instead able to take these horrible parts of our lives, these things that happen to us, the struggles we go through and use them to make us more Christ-like, use them to transform us, character . The Character Paul speaks of is not a 1950’s style, “it builds character,” kind of character, but Paul is speaking more about how we are shaped, into what we are shape, or more accurately into whose image we are shaped. As we endure struggles and hardships, God steps into our lives and can redeem even the most horrible things in our lives and use them to shape us and transform in to the very image of God, thus instilling into us hope. Hope not just for now, not just hope that will help us continue to endure, but hope that one day things will not be as they are now, one day there will be a world, without pain, a world without the pain of struggle a world without suffering. IT is eternal hope, that is hope in an eternity where all things are right, good where all things reflect the goodness of God. Hope that one day we will be completely made over, hope that in the end all things will be restored to the way they should be, the way they would have been had there been no sin.
It is this hope, which allow us to moves from day to day. Hope is one of the defining characteristics of Christians. We hope for something we cannot see, something which most of us will not fully experience in our lifetimes, but as we walk through this life, through the chaos, the trouble, the turmoil, the noise and hard work which make up our lives, we know there is something better. We know that we were not created to live broken, wrecked lives. We were not created to lives constantly struggling with and against those with whom we share this planet. We were created for something better and God promises something better. God promises to change us, through us, ultimately our world. The hope of all creation is to be transformed in this way, and this hope is the ultimate consequence, which is lived out, experienced, and infused into the life of all of us who accept the love of God, and allow that love to be poured into our lives, be lived out in our lives, transforming every part of our lives and pouring out of our lives into the world around us.