Suffering, endurance, character, hope…

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Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. 

Here we have a community of people who are enduring hardships, persecution, and suffering because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Paul is wanting offer a word of encouragement, so he gives the people a particular way to understand the trials they are facing.

Continuing his comparison of justification by faith rather than works he reminds the people in v.1-2 they have peace with God. This is an important starting point because some may interpret their hardship as punishment from God. Understandable – but no. In fact suffering was not a punishment at all, but something quite different. In v.3 he says, “we also boast in our sufferings”.

Why would someone boast in their sufferings? Well, Paul makes the case that ongoing suffering isn’t simple misfortune, but produces endurance (the capacity to resist giving up). Endurance then produces character (an ongoing dimension of one’s personal makeup) which produces hope. Hope is a powerful thing. It gives meaning to hardship. It points to something greater than oneself.

My mother’s father (my grandfather) was named Richard. When he graduated high school in San Antonio he was drafted into the army to fight in WW2. He was sent to the Pacific theatre and suffered incredible hardship as a prisoner of war in a Japanese war camp. He never spoke much about this, but I learned from other sources just how awful it was and what my grandfather must have gone through. Fortunately he survived the war, got married and had a family of which my mother was the oldest child.

Prisoners of war in the Pacific theatre had to endure beatings, torture, deprivation beyond imagination. Many prisoners died, but some lived. When asked how they did it many point to the fact that they never lost hope they would one day be freed from captivity. They understood it might take a while, and life would be hell in the meantime, but eventually the Allied forces would overcome the enemy. Most importantly, they believed their suffering was part of a larger effort to prevent Japan and Germany from doing to the USA what they had done to other nations: mass killing, subjugation of the people to slave labor, and worse. Their suffering had a greater purpose, which produced the fortitude necessary to survive – and perhaps even return home and thrive.

This is the kind of thing the apostle Paul was explaining to the persecuted Christians in Rome. There’s a sequence of things from suffering to endurance to character to hope. And then v.5 explains the fundamental source of these things. It is none other than God’s love given to us via the Holy Spirit, which is given to all believers then and now.

Maybe like me, you’re going through some stuff that seems like it will never end. Maybe you could use some God-given hope today. You are not alone. Lord let it be so. Amen.

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