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
It is clear from this that Christians are expected to experience suffering. Those who think that becoming a Christian will remove them from suffering have been seriously misled, for the Scriptures themselves teach that we are to expect suffering.
The Greek word for suffering is translated as
tribulation, something that causes distress. It can range from minor annoyances that we go through every day, to major disasters that come sweeping down out of the blue and leave us stricken and smitten. These are the sufferings that we might go through, the tribulations.
According to Romans 5, the Christian response to suffering is to rejoice:
Not only so, but we rejoice in our sufferings. Here is where many people balk. They say,
I can't buy that! Do you mean to say that God is telling me that when I am hurting and in pain, I am expected to be glad and rejoice in that? That is not human, not natural!
How do you get to the place where you can rejoice in suffering? The apostle's answer is,
We rejoice in suffering because we know... We rejoice because we know something. It isn't just because it's such a great feeling to be hurt, it is because we know something about it. It is something our faith enables us to know, a kind of inside information that others do not share.
What do we know? Paul says,
Knowing that suffering produces... Suffering does something, accomplishes something. It is productive. We know it works, and that is what makes us rejoice. Watch a woman in labor. If you have any empathy in you, you can't help but feel deeply hurt with her because she is going through such pain. And yet, there usually is joy in the midst of it because she knows that childbirth produces children. There are many women who will gladly go through childbirth because they want a child. Suffering produces something worthwhile.
Then what does suffering produce? The apostle says there are three things that suffering produces: First, suffering produces perseverance. In some versions the word may be patience. The Greek word literally means
to abide under, to stay under the pressure. Pressure is something we want to get out from under, but suffering teaches us to stay under, to stick in there and hang with it. The best translation I can think of is the English word steadiness. Suffering produces steadiness.
Second, steadiness produces character. The Greek word for character carries with it the idea of being put to the test and approved. It is the idea of being shown to be reliable. You finally learn that you are not going to be destroyed, that things will work out. People start counting on you. They see strength in you, and you become a more reliable person.
Third, we find that reliability produces something. Reliability produces hope. The hope is that we will share the glory of God, which is God's character. We have the hope that God is producing the image of Christ in us. This hope is a certainty, not just a possibility. We are being changed. We are becoming more like Jesus. We can see that we are more thoughtful, more compassionate, more loving. We are being mellowed. We are becoming like Christ — stronger, wiser, purer, more patient. He is transforming us into the image of his Son.
Thank you that through the pressure and testing you give a deep sense of joy. I trust that you will release in my heart your love, to steady me and enfold me and keep me strong and rejoicing.
Are we surprised by suffering? Did Jesus promise or demonstrate a trouble-free life? What is the 'inside information' about the goal of suffering that produces joyful expectation?