Over the past several weeks, I have spoken with several of our members, I have heard multiple prayer requests and I have seen tears flowing down suffering faces. People have lost loved ones, people have found out they have illnesses, some have wayward children and family members, many have issues with their spouses and marriages and all of these things reveal a single reality: there is real suffering among us.
When we are in the midst of suffering, our first response, and often the attitude that grows if our suffering lasts longer than a few days, is to abandon the possibility of joy and doubt the goodness of God. If it is true that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, how is this possible in the midst of suffering?
In Romans 5, the Apostle Paul begins with some of the most joyful words anyone can ever hope to hear,
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1
What could be better that being justified (legally perfect in God’s sight), and having peace with God (all the conflict, wrath and punishment of sin taken away from our account). This is all the result of the suffering of Jesus Christ on our behalf. What a joyful reality to live in! The Apostle goes on to say,
“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.” Romans 5:2
So, more than justification and peace, but also access to God’s grace, His kindness and favor. We notice that this is also through Christ, and it is where, “we stand”. It is our present reality. Paul sums it all up by concluding, “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Justification, peace, access and current standing in grace, are summarized as the hope of the glory of God. This is the reason for our rejoicing as Christians. That we, dreadful, dirty, unrighteous, vile, blasphemous, guilty sinners, are now justified and at peace with God, standing in His grace through faith in His Son. We rejoice in that.
However, Paul goes on to to say something that seems totally out of place,
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings…” Romans 5:3
We have more to rejoice in other than our standing with God? Oh you must mean eternity, right? You must be talking about the privilege of prayer, right? You have to mean the fellowship of the Church, right? No! That is not what Paul says. He says, “we rejoice in our sufferings”.
The immediate question that comes to my mind is, “why would I rejoice in my suffering, especially in comparison to rejoicing in the outcome of the gospel?” Thankfully, Paul has answered that question for us. He goes on to say,
“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.” Romans 5:3-5
Paul makes a path for us to follow here: Suffering produces (literally works out, accomplishes) endurance. Endurance produces character (literally proof of genuineness). Finally character produces hope (literally expectation, trust and confidence).
There are several things for us to notice here.
- Suffering comes from God, therefore we can rejoice in it. We can run to verses like Romans 8:28, Ephesians 1:11, or even the book of Job, to talk about the sovereignty of God in our suffering, but there is also something here to notice. The end goal of this suffering is to produce expectation, trust and confidence in God, so we can rejoice in our suffering, knowing that He is sovereignly using it to make us draw closer to Him.
- Suffering is not pointless, therefore we can rejoice in it. The basis of Paul’s claims to rejoicing in suffering comes from his knowledge of the accomplishments of suffering. Suffering accomplishes endurance, the ability to preserve through suffering. The only way to endure suffering, is to endure suffering. He goes on to say that endurance produces character, literally, proof of the genuineness of our faith. It is easy to say I rejoice in God because He has taken my sin away, blessed me with health, plenty of money, two vacations a year and a new car. It is quite another thing when your wife has cancer, the bills are piling up, your teenage son has just left home out of anger, you have just lost your mother, and you feel betrayed by those closest to you. But, Paul says we can rejoice, knowing that these sufferings are proving the genuineness of our faith, so rejoice in them. Finally, and perhaps most radically, Paul says this character, the proving of our faith, produces hope. This hope is literally expectation, trust and confidence in God. So this is the point of suffering, to produce greater hope in God. Paul had experienced this process himself and writes, “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” 2 Corinthians 1: 8-10. The suffering, the affliction he had experience, was sent by God to produce greater hope and reliance upon God. This is why we can rejoice in our suffering.
- Suffering does not put us to shame, therefore we can rejoice in it. Paul says, the hope that results from suffering, does not put us to shame. This truth stands right in the face of fear and doubt and says, “I am not ashamed of my God, nor of His sending this suffering to me, because His love is being poured out on my by His Spirit.” The reason suffering does not put the child of God to shame is because as we hope in God, the love of God is being poured into us through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, suffering ends with receiving the love of God so we can rejoice in it. Paul writes this later in Romans,
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” Romans 8:31-39.
This hope we have in God, combined with this love being poured into us which can never be taken away from us is why we can rejoice in our sufferings. There is rest in the sovereign Lord, who has justified you, reconciled you, caused you to stand in grace, and who even sends suffering so you may have a hope and a love that does not put you to shame. So my encouragement to you, and my plea to you is do not waste your suffering. It has a purpose, namely to increase your hope in God, your reliance on God, and your receiving of love from God. Rejoice in your suffering. Hope in God. Press on!