Romans 5:3-5 “More than that, 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.”
“We rejoice in our sufferings.”
We have here a totally unnatural response to suffering. Only God can produce that. It isn’t hard to be angry or frustrated with suffering. If we just give way to our fleshly, automatic responses, this is likely where we are headed. Nobody wants to suffer. I don’t want to suffer. I want an easy life; I want goals met without roadblocks, I want plans carried out without interruptions, I want pleasure that is unhindered by pain, I want choices that are dictated by pure want and not scribbled out by limitations. I want myself and everyone I love to be healthy and happy.
I suppose we call that hedonism. For the Christian, we might not want to attain this “easy” and “pleasure-filled” life in the same way the world might, or at least we shouldn’t. Many of the pleasures of this world Christ has made ugly in our eyes. But if that is the case it doesn’t mean we are free of self-indulgent want. It doesn’t mean we are free of the idolatrous and entitled thirst for easiness.
Simply put, we want a smooth road and pleasures by the wayside. Comfortable and enjoyable friendships, respectful children, loving spouses, a healthy church, steady income, hobbies, health, vacations, laughter- simple things. Not ungodly things. Good things. And it is so easy to make them all idols.
So I’m preaching to myself. Suffering can lay its hand on so many avenues of life. It can interrupt our “good things,” or turn them upside down. It can even destroy them completely. And who wants to rejoice at that?
No. It is not a natural response. In fact, many circumstances call for what I have called “fitting sadness.” Rejoicing does not mean there must be the absence of sorrow, for the bible says we are “sorrowful yet always rejoicing (2Corinthians 6:10).”
But here we have it. “We rejoice in our sufferings,” strange as it seems, and the scripture says it is because of what we know God is going to produce through them.
“knowing that suffering produces endurance,”
The King James translates this “patience,” and other translations say “perseverance.” In suffering you are always faced with a choice as to how you respond. Will you trust God and turn to Him, encountering the trial with a patient and surrendered heart, or will you get angry and anxious, falling into self-pity? Sometimes you respond well, and sometimes you fail miserably. For the Christian, endurance can happen either way. When a Christian falls God’s word says “though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand (Psalm 37:24).” You fall, but you repent- you change your mind about how to respond and ask for God’s help and forgiveness. He will cause you to get up again and persevere.
The more times you encounter suffering, the more opportunities you have to gain perspective and grow. You experience God’s provision, protection, comfort, deliverance, and an abundance of goodness from His hand in your suffering, and though your heart cries out for relief, you are able to recount his kindnesses to you. You know He is faithful, and worthy of your praise and trust, so you grow in your determination and steadfastness to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:15).”
“and endurance produces character,”
I think of James 1:3-4 “…the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Trials test your faith like dross crusted gold plucked up by tongs and held in the fire until the dross burns off (1Peter 1:6-7). The burning and refining is not a comfortable, easy process, but it is working in you tested, genuine, character producing faith. As you endure and persevere, Christ is working patience and steadfastness in you, and He is shaping and molding you into a person who is more like Jesus.
“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.”
As we continue closer towards the day when we meet Christ and are finally made like Him, we look back on our path of perseverance and refined character, and we become more confident in our hope. We believe with greater confidence that we have salvation for we know that only God could have kept us and grown us through all our trials.
Like our faith, our hopes have been refined. This verse says that this hope “does not put us to shame.” Have you ever hoped for something and been put to shame? Maybe it was something you wanted desperately, and you almost had it. You dreamed about it, worked for it, maybe even publicly declared that you were going to get it. And then it fell. For whatever reason it evaded you and slipped out of your hands.
I think of Ecclesiastes 2:11 “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil that I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”
There are hopes that go unfulfilled, and it is a most bitter and painful thing. Proverbs 13:12 “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” and sometimes with the disappointment there is also shame.
Suffering solidifies your hope in your salvation and eternal home with Jesus Christ. It makes other earthly hopes grow dimmer and sets your eyes on Him in a way that nothing else will. This is our “blessed hope (Titus 2:13),” and it is a hope that cannot be frustrated, not in this life or the next. It is sealed up with the love of God that “has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
This is what makes rejoicing in suffering reasonable. When people would say we’re crazy to believe there is still reason to rejoice, we can point them here. We know God uses suffering to make us grow in our patient endurance, and from there He will refine our character, and that will produce in us greater hope, and in that hope, even if life itself shatters all around us, we will never be put to shame.