No pain, no gain. That’s what we used to holler at one another while lifting weights. One of my assignments when I was a Houston Police officer was the Vice Division where I worked undercover. Working undercover meant you didn’t want anyone you were dealing with to know you were the police. Maintaining your anonymity was your best defense. My partners and I would go places ordinary uniformed officers wouldn’t or couldn’t go. More often than not, we would be searched thoroughly by the people we were dealing with who were looking for anything that would identify us as a police officer such as a badge or gun. Some of the places we went the door got locked behind us after we entered. And, unlike our uniformed counterparts, we didn’t have walkie talkie radios on us to call for help, many times our partners, our backup, was outside or down the street and we were unarmed. To get the job done, and get out in one piece, you had to rely on your brains and your brawn. I could generally talk my way out of most situations and not give myself away, but there were times when you might have to fight your way out. So, the best way to avoid that was to look like you could put up a pretty good fight. Therefore, me and my partners worked out in the police gym three nights a week lifting weights. We were in pretty good shape, which was a deterrent to anyone thinking they might want to mix it up. As you worked out and got stronger you realized you had to push yourself or you wouldn’t get anywhere. So, we would spot each other adding more weights to what we were accustomed to lifting and would yell: No Pain No Gain as we struggled with the added weight.
No Pain, No Gain. I can almost hear the Apostle Paul yelling it in his letter to the church in Rome. If you’re going to make gains on this earth for the kingdom of God, there will be pain, but it will be worth it. Paul says; Therefore, since we have been made righteous through his faithfulness combined with our faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have access by faith into this grace in which we stand through him, and we boast in the hope of God’s glory. John Wesley, the founder of our Methodist denomination, believed that Christ’s faithfulness, first of all, brings “peace with God.” And, a second implication is that we stand in grace, rather than fall under the just condemnation sin deserves. Wesley is talking about justification which is the making of our relationship with God right through Jesus Christ. Wesley understood justification as God’s mercy and grace, shown in the suffering and death of Jesus on our behalf, the pardoning of our sins and the restoration of our capacity for love of God and neighbor. This justification occurs in the exercise of faith that is a gift from God to actively trust in Jesus and receive God’s pardon and acceptance. It’s not a gift to be put up on a shelf to be admired. It is a gift that is meant to be used, and used often.
But not only that, Paul exclaims; We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Wesley asked; Where is the boast? He believed that, as Christians, “boast in the hope of God’s glory”, meant that that glory was the participation in the life of God, most spectacularly experienced in the resurrection from the dead and the glorification of the body. Wesley also felt that, despite this hope, or perhaps because of it, the justified also boast in their troubles and tribulations. In such trials, the love of God surrounds and suffuses the sufferer by means of the Holy Spirit, which is why they can produce endurance and virtuous character. Enduring the pain for the glorious gain.
Paul’s telling his readers, and us, that we will experience difficulties that will help us grow as Christians if we recognize the opportunity for that growth. Knowing this, as Christians, we rejoice in suffering not because we like pain or deny its tragedy, but because we know God is using life’s difficulties and Satan’s attacks to build our character, to make us stronger. It goes without saying that everyone has their fair share of pain and suffering. That’s life. But it’s not the pain and suffering Paul is talking about. Everyone has those times in their lives when something bad happens to them and they wonder why. They get knocked down and struggle to get up. Was it just bad luck? Was it the result of a bad decision, or due to someone exercising their free will without thinking how it would impact an innocent person? No, Paul is talking about the suffering we experience on behalf of God in His service. When trying to do something in our service to God, doing what Jesus would do, we run into problems, hurdles, obstacles and resistance, both passive and aggressive. Through our strength and character, we won’t give up because we know it is God’s will that we meet the challenge, and this pushing forward helps us build endurance for the long run. And this endurance produces character, Christian character, that ability to reach down deep and tap into that strength that comes in Jesus Christ. And, that character produces hope, our hope for the future.
And, Paul tells us that this hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. During these really troublesome times, times of a virus that has no cure yet, times of civil unrest bringing us protests and riots over racial injustice, times when the relevance of the church is placed in doubt, our hope in God’s future is no empty sentiment. It is upheld by the Holy Spirit that indwells Christ’s followers, mediates God’s love, and assures us of God’s reliability and grace. People look at us like we’re crazy for maintaining this hope in a God that nobody has ever seen. They look around and see all the bad in the world and doubt that God exists. They think we’re fools, but we’ve been down this road before countless times over the last two thousand years. And, each time, God’s faithful endured, persevered, and came through on the other side stronger and more faith-filled than ever because we’ve been assured of our salvation, that we’ve been saved for something much better. Now is such a time.
As John Wesley emphasized throughout his career, during some extremely dark and dangerous times, the effects of salvation are not only communal, for all the members of Christ’s family, but also personal. Those who receive reconciliation through Christ by the indwelling of the Spirit experience, in Wesley’s words, a “divine evidence or confidence of his love, his free, unmerited love to me a sinner; a sure confidence in his pardoning mercy, wrought in us by the Holy Ghost.” You just feel it deep down, in your very being, it’s there.
When people wonder about this faith, hope and different kind of love we have, we must tell them that these are what are at the heart of our Christian life. Faith, hope and love are in our DNA. We tell them that our relationship with God begins with faith, which helps us realize that we are delivered from our past by Christ’s death. The hope we have grows as we learn all that God has in mind for us; it gives us the promise of the future. And, God’s love fills our lives and gives us the ability to reach out to others. It’s not our place to judge, but it is our place to care. Of course, when you tell them that, they look at you like you’re crazy. They can’t believe that you are doing all this to glorify God. There has to be something more to it, some sort of angle. Why would somebody do something like that, when it’s every man and woman for themselves? No thanks, I’ll just take care of number one.
I’ve said it before, as dark as it seems, there may be no better time to be a Christian, or no better time when the world needs the love of Christ shown to others by His followers. I mean, the Church of Jesus Christ, has taken a real beating lately. Our church and countless others are getting older and smaller. Many are facing certain closure. Others have circled the wagons and have lost their footprint in the community. Nobody knows where they are or what they do, if they do anything. These may be some of the tough times that the Apostle Paul was talking about. Times when we reach deep down and grab a handful of that character we’ve developed over the last several centuries. Times when we put our shoulder into the task and show the world that endurance we are so well known for. I look at this current virus shutdown and wonder how we will come out on the other side because we aren’t getting any younger. I have to rely on the hope that the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, and we will live to fight another day if we persevere.
In closing, Paul reminds us that when we were still weak, at the right moment, Christ died for us ungodly people. He says that it isn’t often that someone will die for a righteous person, though maybe someone might dare to die for a good person. But God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us. What God has done for us, and what God does in us, are together a part of God’s work of restoring the whole of creation back into a right relationship to God. But we don’t fully achieve that relationship without putting forth an effort, an effort that sometimes may be painful, but the gain is worth the pain.
So, the problems we run into as we live in service to God will develop perseverance, which in turn will strengthen our character, deepen our trust in God, and give us greater confidence about the future. So, thank God for those opportunities to grow, and deal with them in his strength, as without the pain we experience in His service there is no gain for those we are given to serve in Jesus’ name.
Please pray with me.
Loving and merciful God, how amazing is your grace, the grace that saved a wretch like me, wretches like us who long for the hope we have in you through your son, Jesus Christ. We once were lost but are now found alive and loving in you. We once were blind to what it was to be a servant in your name, but now we see what it means to endure the pain so that others can gain a life of love in you. We pray that our sufferings produce endurance, that our endurance produces character, and that our character produces the hope that does not disappoint. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.