We’ve been looking at the question, does God care? The apostle Paul looked at it, too, in the fifth chapter of Romans. He was faced with an apparent contradiction, you see. In chapter previous chapters he had explained that we’re all caught in rebellion against God, but that God had provided a way to make us right (justify) us with him through faith in Christ. Romans 5:1-2 summarizes it:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Hope, glory, peace–what a great promise! What a great experience, too–except for one thing: who’s experiencing it?
Hope, yes, we can all hope. Glory? That sounds a long way off. Peace with God? Look, if this is what life is like when we’re right with God, why doesn’t it feel more like things are right?
I think that was the question in Paul’s mind as he wrote the following (verses 3-5):
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Things don’t feel right because God’s purposes go beyond making things okay. Peace with God is the essential starting point: it means we’re forgiven; we’re no longer in a state of hostility toward him. That’s huge! And yet it’s not all God has for us. He wants to increase our capacity. He wants to enlarge our souls.
There are times when I feel like I’ve been stretched large enough already, thank you very much; but then I read the life of Jesus Christ in the Gospels. I see his complete concern for others. I see his total trust in the Father. I see him sacrificing himself for us all. I see his joy even in pain. I see how small my own trust and love and joy are, and I cry out, “Oh, God, make me more like him!”
This was Paul’s cry, too, stated in other words in Phil. 3:7-14:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Do you feel Paul’s stretching, his yearning, his cry to God to enlarge his soul? Yes, in some ways he’s completely content, he tells us in Phil. 4:10-13, and he’s trusting in Christ. In that sense he’s completely okay, but he knows that “okay” is only the beginning. He’s content, but he’s not satisfied.
God won’t let his people be satisfied with being small. He wants us to grow in character, hope, love, and joy in him. There’s only one route to that result. It passes through suffering, and if we want to get there, we’d better pack our bags with faith in Christ for the trip.
A few weeks ago while I was in Texas I saw an old friend who was disappointed to see I was still suffering from my foot injury. He said, “Well, Tom, there’s this old saying that applies more to you than most people I know: ‘Never trust a leader without a limp.'”
Never trust a leader, in other words, who hasn’t felt his own pain, experienced his own loss, and made it through (by the way) with some sign of hope, love, and joy, not turning inward or bitter. He’s too small.
The same principle applies to us all, not just leaders. God wants to enlarge our souls. He wants it because he cares.