It is unpleasant and even painful to experience a moment of hardship; it is substantially more trying having to endure something difficult over a long period of time. A brief experience of hardship doesn’t always test the full depth of our faith and character, because it is soon over and joy soon returns. But enduring some trial requires us to find joy and hope within the trial already—that is a completely different test on our faith.
Romans 5:3 speaks of joy in our sufferings. But it goes further and includes endurance. This means that the joy is not mere joy after our sufferings, nor is it even joy in spite of our sufferings because of some great external blessing that coincides with the suffering. Rather, it is joy in our sufferings.
we rejoice in our sufferingsRomans 5:3
How was it possible for Paul, somewhat even speaking on behalf of all believers, to say that we rejoice in our sufferings? He explains it all in the rest of the verse.
we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces enduranceRomans 5:3
When we suffer for a moment, we learn a lesson or two. But when we suffer over a long period of time, we learn endurance. Just like the muscle strength of an athlete is built over a long period of consistent exercise, so our endurance is fortified over the more drawn-out trials of our daily lives. Endurance is the slowly-matured spiritual skill to wake up every morning and affirm that at least we have peace with God because of Jesus (Rom 5:1), and therefore, by our faith in Him, we have access to His gracious enablement for us to rejoice in God’s glory through the worst of trials (Rom 5:2).
But endurance is not merely a goal in itself that we, to be honest, would prefer rather not to learn. Endurance produces character.
and endurance produces characterRomans 5:4
Even the world recognises this! Suffering-produced endurance purifies our character by rubbing off all the rough edges as we shamefully see our own weaknesses and sins. Such endurance adds to our character the habit of praying more earnestly, reading the Scriptures more urgently, loving the fellowship of the saints more dearly. Endurance reforms our character into Christ-likeness, always depending on the Father for grace, and always resorting to do the next right thing (for example, Jesus praying in Gethsemane, and then still healing the ear of His enemy’s servant). Endurance produces in us such character.
But even such character is not the end goal in Romans 5.
and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shameRomans 5:4-5
Hardship and difficulty, especially over a long period of time, has a natural tendency to despair and hopelessness. Yet, here we find the exact opposite. Here we are told that suffering is merely the first event in a set of chain-reactions that ends in bold hope. How can this be true? It is the exact opposite of our experiences?!
The answer lies in the object and focus of our faith. It is only those who are justified by faith (Rom 5:1) who can expect hope from suffering. It is only those who by faith use God’s grace to stand firm on the joy of seeing God’s glory, who can expect increasing hope through a drawn-out trial (Rom 5:2).
If, while you are suffering and despairing, you would like to be the one who can pen the words “we rejoice in our sufferings”, then return to the object and focus of your faith. Our Lord Jesus Christ died for us while we were in an even worse spiritual state than our post-conversion suffering-induced despair (Rom 5:6-8). Surely then He will not leave to suffer forever, but will restore us again (Rom 4:9-11).
Let that be an injection of some hope and joy for you today, building in you the endurance that can one day affirm that we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, that produces character, that produces hope that never disappoints!