Today will be the fifth in my series of sermons discussing Paul’s list of exhortations given to the Roman Christians as recorded in chapter 12 of his letter to this first century church.  Paul covers a great deal of material in this letter before getting to his list of behaviors in chapter 12 which he prefixes by saying, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual  act of worship.”  

       The fact Paul uses the word “Therefore” to begin this section of his letter tells us that what he is about to write is connected to what he has already written.  While it would take many sermons to discuss what Paul wrote prior to what is recorded in chapter 12, it is apparent that what Paul wrote is all about God’s mercy.  Paul is essentially telling the Romans he has instructed them as to the salvation that has been revealed through Christ and now because of this he is urging them to offer their bodies as living sacrifices.

       If you read through the first eleven chapters of this letter you will find a rather complex discussion of the covenantal transition that had taken place where Paul makes it clear that righteous standing before God cannot be established through human effort but can come only as a result of the mercy of God as manifested through Christ Jesus.  Paul also makes it very clear that our inability to create a righteous standing before God does not in any way relieve us of the responsibility and obligation to behave righteously. Paul makes a rather pointed remark at the beginning of Chapter 6 of his letter when he writes:

       Romans 6:1-2: What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?   

       How do we die to sin?  Paul goes on to write that through baptism we experience a burial and resurrection.  While we don’t experience an actual physical death or an actual physical resurrection when baptized, we are said to share in what Jesus accomplished through death and resurrection.  What Jesus accomplished was to defeat sin and death by taking our sins to the cross and three days later being resurrected to a perfected life.

       While baptism doesn’t do away with our human nature, it does signify our acknowledgement of what Christ did for us and the new life with which we now appear before the Father, a perfect righteous life that is credited to us because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross. Before the Father, we have died to sin with Christ and we have been raised to righteousness in Christ.  Paul is saying that we now need to reflect this new status before God in our behavior.  This is the message Paul is sharing with the Roman Christians.  This is the message Paul is preaching to one extent or another in all his letters.  Paul is saying we have been resurrected to a new life in Christ so start living that new life. 

       I have been preaching for several years now that the Kingdom of God is a present reality in so much as it represents the way of life Christ and the Apostles were teaching.  The resurrection of Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom.  When it is said we are resurrected with Christ it is the same as saying we have been resurrected into the Kingdom of God.  While we don’t at present experience the completeness of the Kingdom, we are expected to practice Kingdom living.

       Last week I explained how Israel was delivered from Egyptian bondage and placed in the Promised Land so they could be a showcase to the nations around them as to how to behave as a people.  I also explained that under the New Covenant, this hasn’t changed.  God still desires and expects us to be a showcase for His way of life.  This is what Apostle Paul is driving at in his letter to the Romans and in chapter 12 he focuses on specific modes of behavior that if practiced will allow us to be that showcase for God’s way of life. 

       We began our examination of Paul’s list by studying his instruction to love without hypocrisy.  We next looked at what it means to hate evil and cling to what is good.  We then looked at what it means to be devoted to one another in brotherly love and honoring one another above ourselves. Last week we discussed what it means to have zeal for the things of God.  Let’s now continue with Paul’s list of righteous behaviors in verse twelve.

       Romans 12:12:  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

       There is an old saying that says “hope springs eternal.”  This simply means that we humans tend to always hope things will be better even though we at the time may be experiencing affliction of one kind or another.  When Paul says we are to be joyful in hope, he is saying we are not only to express the normal human proclivity to be hopeful but to be hopeful in a joyous manner.  Hope is more than just wanting something to happen.  Hope involves expectation that something will happen.  Some of the common synonyms for hope are to trust and anticipate that something is going to happen. When Paul was on trial before the Sanhedrin, He said:

       Acts 23:6: My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.    

       To Paul the resurrection was not just something he hoped would happen in the sense that it possibly may happen.  Paul was convinced it would happen. For Paul it was a realized hope.  Even though it hadn’t happened yet, Paul had absolute faith that it would. We see Abraham expressing the same kind of hope when told he and Sarah would have a child in their old age.

       Romans 4:18-21:  Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be." Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead--since he was about a hundred years old--and that Sarah's womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.

       As can be seen, the word hope, as used in Scripture, is often synonymous with faith.  Paul had faith in the absolute reality of resurrection. Abraham had absolute faith in the power of God to facilitate the birth of a child in his and Sarah’s old age.  With both Abraham and Paul, their hope is a realized hope in so much as there is no doubt in their mind that the object of their hope will occur.

       When Paul says to the Roman Christians they are to be joyful in hope, he appears to be telling them they are to have confidence in the reality of the glory that will be revealed in them through resurrection.  Earlier in his letter to the Romans Paul wrote this:

       Romans 5:1-2: Therefore, 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 in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

       Paul understood that it was through Christ we have access to the grace of God and because of this we can rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  The glory of God is seen in scripture as our transformation. It is seen as our being rescued from eternal death and passing from death unto life.  All this is possible because of the grace of God the Father manifested through Jesus.  When Paul writes of being joyful in hope he is virtually saying be joyful in Jesus because Christ is our hope.  Paul actually says this in a letter he wrote to Timothy.

       1 Timothy 1:1: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope.

       In a letter Paul wrote to the Colossian Church where Paul was discussing how salvation had been made available to the gentiles, he made the classic statement, "Christ in you, the hope of glory."  Being joyful in hope is to constantly recognize that in Christ we have eternal life and a glorious future. Peter wrote that we should praise the God and Father of Jesus who resurrected Him from the dead and thus facilitated an inheritance that can never perish.

       1 Peter 1:3-4: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you.

       Jesus is seen in this passage as our living hope.  A hope that is sure and therefore a hope we can rejoice in always, even in the face of the trials and tribulations of this world. In fact the trials of this physical life grow dim when we keep our focus on Jesus and what His resurrection from the dead means for us.  Back in 1922 a hymn was written which included a chorus that has become a Christian classic.

       "Turn your eyes upon Jesus; Look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace."

       If we keep our eyes upon Jesus we will essentially be practicing Paul’s exhortation to be joyful in hope.  This will also help us to be patient in tribulation which is the next item in Paul’s list of ways we present our bodies as living sacrifices.

       Romans 12:12:  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

       Paul writes that we are to be patient in affliction.  The Greek word translated "affliction" is thlipsis and has the basic meaning of “pressing together.”  Metaphorically, it refers to oppression, affliction, tribulation and distress. This Greek word shows us that the nature of affliction is that it is a pressure which is applied to us, which is exerted against us. Having affliction is like being in a vise with the handle being turned tighter and tighter.  Having affliction is like having a great burden pressed down upon us. It is like bearing the weight of a heavy anvil. That's why affliction hurts. Affliction is painful. Affliction makes us miserable.

       There are many forms of affliction. Perhaps the most common and the one that we think of the most are sicknesses and diseases. Because sickness threatens our health and therefore our life or that of a loved one, it exerts great pressure upon us. It is a tremendous burden. It hurts. But that is not the only form of affliction. Troubles of any kind are afflictions. Having a car accident and all the troubles that come with it is affection.  Having problems in the family, a husband and a wife who cannot get along, children who are rebellious, troubles with our neighbors, money problems, difficulties at school, and difficulties in the church, are all afflictions.  Fighting temptation and sin are afflictions.  Whatever brings pain and sorrow and hurt places pressure upon us.  No matter what kind of life we have, all of us have this kind of pressure and therefore we all have afflictions. None of us are free from afflictions.

       I would think most of us would prefer to live a life that is free from afflictions. In fact, that seems to be the goal of most people. We try to arrange our life in such a way that we avoid what hurts. We prefer to avoid suffering. We prefer to avoid troubles. We want the road upon which we travel to be free of potholes, free of stumbling blocks, free of sharp turns and hills. We want a nice smooth road, a nice smooth ride. We don't like pressure. We don't like heavy burdens. We don't like to be squeezed. We don't like pain and suffering. But reality is much different. Reality is that life is filled with affliction. Life is one problem after another. We just get over one problem, we think that it's going to be a little easier, and along comes something else. Affliction is part of the human experience.

       Some who preach the health and wealth gospel give the impression that once you become a Christian, life becomes a bed of roses and affliction becomes a back burner issue.  That, however, is not reality and it is not what the scriptures show to be the case.  The first century developing Christian community experienced much affliction.  At one point Paul made the statement that it is through much affliction that they would enter the Kingdom.

       Acts 14:1: We must go through many hardships (Greek thlipsis ) to enter the kingdom of God.

       Affliction is a normal and natural dynamic of the human condition. Much affliction results from sin, either our own sin or the sins of others or some combination of the two. The broad definition of sin is to miss the mark.  When we miss the mark or others miss the mark, affliction often occurs.  We miss a red light and drive through an intersection and hit someone broadside and cause affliction for ourselves and others. All because we failed to hit the mark which in this case was to stop for the red light. 

       We have a heart attack and the doctors discover we have clogged arteries.  Clogged arteries often develop because of life style choices involving poor diet, lack of exercise and failure to relieve the pressures of life.  This is what leads to many diseases.  On the other hand, our bodies do wear out regardless of how well we may take care of them.  Regardless of how well we may take care of the body, the body will die.

       Much affliction is caused by things simply wearing out and needing to be replaced. A roof wears out and causes a leak in your house which leads to damaged ceilings and walls.   This is affliction.  This past week I de-winterized our motor home only to find a leak in the plumbing system occurred over winter for the second straight year.  That’s affliction.  Natural disasters bring afflictions to many of us at some point in life.  Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, lighting strikes, famines, disease epidemics, etc. often cause affliction for thousands if not millions of people. 

       An earthquake in China claimed 800,000 lives in 1556.   In 1974 a famine in Ethiopia claimed the lives of 200.000 people. An earthquake in Iran killed 200,000 in 1780.  China’s famine of 1960 claimed 20 million people. Sometimes famines are caused by human mismanagement of the soil and the environment in general.  Often they are caused by changing weather patterns over which humans have no control.  This is also true of disease epidemics.  In 1918 around 100 million people died of a flu pandemic. The French smallpox epidemic of 1870 and 71 killed 500,000.  The black plague during the thirteen hundreds took 25 million lives.  Around the time of the end of WW1 the Spanish flu epidemic killed 22 million worldwide

       Life is a struggle and filled with affliction.  Paul says be patient in affliction.  That is often easier said than done. When Paul wrote his letter to the Roman Church, persecution was a constant affliction for the developing Christian community.  This persecution is alluded to in many of the letters addressed to first century churches.   It is very probable Paul was thinking largely in terms of the affliction of persecution when he made the statement about being patient in affliction.

       The Greek word Paul uses that is translated “patience” is hupomeno.  This word implies something stronger than just grinning and bearing an affliction.  This word means to remain or stay steadfast. It means to hold out, endure and stand ones ground.  In other words, it has to do with standing strong in the face of an affliction.  This word is often translated endure in the NT scriptures.  In speaking of Christ, the writer to the Hebrews wrote:

       Hebrews 12:3: Consider him who endured (hupomeno) such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

       James 1:12: Blessed is the man who perseveres (hupomeno) under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

       There is a lot of rhetoric throughout the NT scriptures about staying the course, and persevering.  This is a theme that is repeated over and over again.  The first century Christians are told over and over again to hang in there and stand tall against persecution and the general trials and afflictions of life.  Not only are we to stand tall in the face of trials but we are to do so joyfully. 

       James 1:2-4: Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

       Facing trials and affliction is seen in scripture as the pathway to building righteous character. Because it is seen as a positive dynamic of life, it is seen as something to be embraced and not shunned.  Considering trials to be pure joy does not come naturally to human nature.  We much prefer to travel down the easy road and avoid trials.  But, we know trials are an ongoing dynamic of life and apparently a dynamic God placed in the human experience for the purpose of developing and building perseverance.

       Because it is often humanly difficult to cope with trials and affliction let alone do so joyfully, we need to pay close attention to the third exhortation in the group of three we are considering today.

       Romans 12:12:  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

       Being faithful in prayer may just be the only tool whereby we can manage to be patient or endure and persevere in affliction.  We know that Jesus prayed often for the strength to persevere.

       Hebrews 5:7-8: During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.  Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered.

       Prayer is communicating with God.  Prayer can take many forms.  Prayer can be worship, reflection, intercession, request, discussion and all the other ways we humans are able to express ourselves.  Prayer can be frustrating.  Prayers often are not answered, at least not in the manner we hope for.  At the beginning of this week several of us attended a series of lectures at Elmbrook Church given by the British theologian and Anglican Bishop NT Wright.  Bishop Wright alluded to the difficulty often encountered in prayer.  He said you can pray for something a hundred times and nothing happens.  Then the 101 time you get an answer. 

       Since it is apparent God sees trials and afflictions as a necessary dynamic in the development of perseverance and even instructs we be joyful in affliction, we may better understand why God more often than not does not lift a trail from off our shoulders, at least not immediately or many times not at all.  It is apparently God’s intention is to have us deal with trials and afflictions whereby we can develop the endurance and perseverance He wants us to have. 

       Hebrews 12:1-2: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance (hupomeno) the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

       The cloud of witnesses are all those listed in chapter eleven who suffered all sorts of trials while remaining faithful to God.  Because of the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the affliction of the cross.  Jesus taught we are to take up our cross and follow him.  We are to endure the cross of trials and afflictions in our lives because of the joy set before us.  The joy of living forever in the present of God just as Jesus is doing at present. 

       We can be joyful in hope, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer if we maintain our focus on Christ and our obligation to respond to the grace of God.