Sometimes, the Bible says things that are a little difficult to accept. Maybe we read some instructions (like the command to love our enemies, in Matthew 5:43-48) and say, “I don’t want to do that“. Maybe we learn about giving up sins (especially those that we have become attached to), and are reluctant to do so.
I don’t think that God does things for no reason, though. There is a purpose and a plan behind the instructions that we read in the Bible, even the tough ones. Having said that, I don’t think that we always get the privilege of understanding all of the details about this life, and occasionally we must trust God for what we don’t completely follow with our own finite minds and limited experiences.
The following text from the book of Romans might be one of those difficult passages.
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Romans 5:3-5 NIV
We have this idea of glorying in suffering, which does not always match what we feel like doing. Suffering sounds like the exact sort of thing that we want to avoid at all costs (sometimes even at the cost of our integrity or morals).
However, this unexpected statement is followed by some explanatory logic:
Suffering helps us build perseverance, and who can’t confirm that going through tough times in life has helped them build patience and perseverance? In fact, elsewhere in Romans, the KJV translation even uses the term “longsuffering” where other translations might use a term like “patience”. While we might not use the word “longsuffering” much in daily conversation anymore, patience is sometimes just that: suffering for a long time, rather than giving up. In addition (per a commentator), there is more here than just “toughing it out”: this patience is wrought through trust in God and confidence that He will get us through.
And, perseverance builds character. To me, this is like the difference between the naïve idealist who supports a particular cause but hasn’t encountered the challenges of life, and the mature person who has struggled with the realities of fighting for the same cause. Both of these people may desire the same good for others, but the latter does so despite knowing the cost. I also think of character as being related to integrity: doing the right thing even when you know that it will probably bring judgment or suffering, especially when you have been there before and felt the pain of doing the right thing in a fallen world.
Finally, this character gives us hope. How does it do so? I think of this as the experiences of life showing us who God is, so that we can have confident hope in Him. Even through suffering, God is faithful. His grace is ever-present. His peace passes all understanding. His mercies are new every morning. Our hope in Him is not wishful thinking. Instead, it is the logical conclusion from the facts that we have observed: not just in good times, but in times of suffering, too.
This brings up a question, raised by the Lookout (cited below): Would you rather have hope that comes with suffering, or no hope at all? Of course, we might like to have hope without suffering (the “best of both worlds”, we may think), but if suffering is the way to help our hope grow (along with these other positive attributes), are we willing to go through suffering in order to gain these greater things?
In the end, our hope doesn’t result in our shame. In one sense, this “shame” might be the guilt that we bear for our sins, which we no longer have once God justified us. In another sense, shame might be unfulfilled hope (the kind where we believe that something will happen, but it doesn’t actually occur – like getting stood up for a date- and we’re embarrassed). In both cases, though, there is no cause for shame to the one who has put their faith in God’s grace through Jesus Christ.
Our sins are forgiven, and I think that this is confirmed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, since how could God live in us if we hadn’t been pronounced righteous? And, we don’t have to be embarrassed by our hope not coming to fruition, not only because we can trust God to keep His promises about Heaven and eternity, but also because we are already enjoying God’s blessings of grace. For anyone who doesn’t believe that God will extend grace to those who have faith in Him, the testimony of millions of Christians who are already experiencing that grace says otherwise.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for February 13, 2022
- The Lookout, February 13, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Romans, Volume 1, by Jack Cottrell. College Press Publishing Company, © 1996.