In Romans 5:2 Paul wrote that because we have been justified by faith (verse 1), ‘we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God’. And that is a wonderful thing; we are quite happy with that. But now in verse 3 he writes ‘Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings ...’

The unexpectedness of this statement surprises us. Why should Paul, in the middle of his lengthy explanation of the gospel truth of justification by faith, abruptly refer to suffering? And, why would anyone rejoice in their sufferings?

When we consider the mentality of his culture, and, if we stop and think about it, the mentality of our own culture, Paul's statement is not surprising. It is a common human perception that suffering is a punishment for sin, that if something bad happens to us, then we must have done something bad to deserve it. We can see this quite easily in the frequently asked questions 'What have I done to deserve this?’ and 'Why do innocent children suffer?’ Suffering is clearly viewed as punishment, as an expression of the 'justice' that 'god', whoever or whatever 'god' is, is meting out to the inhabitants of earth.

But Paul says that not only do we rejoice in our hope, but we also 'rejoice in our sufferings'.

Justification by faith results in peace with God. Justification by faith means that we stand in God’s grace. Justification by faith means that we can now rejoice in God. It also means that we can now rejoice in our sufferings.

Because we are justified by faith and have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, we also know that, no matter what suffering comes our way -

It is never because of our lack of faith.
It is never evidence that God is punishing us for our sin.
It is never an indication that God does not love us.
It is never an indication that God cannot help us.

God’s word tells us that suffering is...

Here because of sin: Genesis 3; Romans 8:18-27,
Part and parcel of human existence: Hebrews 2:9-18; 4:14-16; 2Corinthians 1:3-7,
Part and parcel of being a disciple of Jesus Christ: Mark 8:31-37,
An unavoidable outcome of our identification with Christ: John 15:18-16:4,
A means by which the genuineness of faith is proved: Luke 8:1-15,
A means by which God is glorified: 2Corinthians 6:3-10; 11:16-12:10,
A means by which God refines us: Hebrews 12:1-11.

In keeping with the last sentence above, Paul tells us in Romans 5:3-5 that:

'suffering produces perseverance' that is, patience, endurance, fortitude, steadfastness.

'perseverance produces character ... ' The Greek is 'dokime': the process of proving, the effect of proving, approval, approvedness, tested character. The imagery is that of proving gold by testing it with fire.( See James 1:3; 1 Peter 1:7; and Job 23:10.)

'character produces hope ... ' - confident certainty and expectation.

'and hope does not disappoint us ... ' Hope does not make us ashamed, or put us to shame.’ Rather than destroy our hope, as it would if we were trusting in our own merit, our suffering, regardless of its cause, is taken up by God and used by him for our good and for his glory.

Because God has poured out his love into our hearts ... ' This is the ground or foundation of our confidence, our hope. The verb is perfect tense: it happened in the past and the effects of that are continuing in the present. Note that this is not speaking of our love for God but of God's love for us poured into our hearts, so that we have received and still possess his love.

‘by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us ... ' It is God's Spirit within us, who testifies to the love of God for us, who assures us that we are now children of God - see Romans 8:15,16 and Galatians 4:6. God himself, by his Spirit, assures and comforts us (John 14:15ff). We belong to him. We are his forever. We have his love forever.

Because of justification by faith we have peace with God. We know that nothing that happens to us is God applying the penalty of our sins to us. God, in sending his Son to die for us, in acquitting us on the basis of the sin-bearing death of his Son, demonstrated his great love for us. This love has been poured into our hearts. Because of this love we know we are forgiven. Because of this love we know that God no longer holds our sin to our account.

Because believers have this grand assurance grounded in the death of Christ and testified by the Holy Spirit, we are liberated forever from the mentality that sees suffering as God’s punishment, as the outpouring of God’s wrath.

Therefore, we can rejoice in our sufferings, and from the sure position of peace with God, and, overwhelmed by the love of God, may commit ourselves to him, and by his grace navigate the suffering in such a way that brings him glory.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2020