“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings...” (Romans 5:3a)
Are you kidding? Who is the one who rejoices in sufferings? I know I don’t find my joy in my sufferings.
But, the apostle Paul writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit said that he rejoiced in his sufferings! Why would he say such a thing?
Notice that the verse begins with “more than that.” He had declared that anyone who has been justified by faith alone in Christ alone is at peace with God. More, he stated a propositional truth. He said that those who have been justified are destined for glory. He followed this certain hope of glory with his view of suffering. He saw the suffering of this life as a means by which God prepares His people for glory in heaven.
Paul rightly viewed suffering as producing strength, confidence, character and a deepened faith. All of what suffering produces in the believer’s life ends in a deep and abiding confidence in our hope of glory!
Some attempt to explain Romans 5:1-5 as specifically referring to suffering for the gospel.
However, there is nothing in the context requiring Paul’s use of the word “suffering” to gospel-related tribulation. I believe that the more natural interpretation that includes all pain and suffering is the apostle’s point. Clearly, there will be suffering and persecution for Christ’s sake and the sake of the gospel. Jesus said don’t be surprised if the world hates us because it hated Him first. Those who follow Christ will be persecuted. However, there is just plain suffering, sickness and death. What about simply living in this fallen world?
One option given by the purveyors of the health-wealth gospel is that God doesn’t want anyone to suffer. If that were so, no one would suffer. They want us to believe that if we only had enough faith or prayed the right prayer we’d all be healed.
Their teaching is more than nonsense, it is damaging.
First, to believe that God wants everyone to be healed, we have to limit God’s sovereignty.
Think about it: If God is unable to accomplish what He wants, then is He really God? God has revealed that He will lift His curse upon creation. (Revelation 21) There will come a time when there is no more pain, no more crying and no death.
But now we live in a world that was broken by the fall of Adam and Eve. All creation was cursed because of original sin.
Second, to believe the claim of the health/wealth teachers, we must deny reality.
Suffering is real. No matter what we think or don’t think about sickness, suffering and death, they are undeniable facts of this life. A friend of mine used to say denial is not only a river in Egypt. We can’t simply “name it, claim it and frame it.”
No one escapes the pain of losing a loved one, seeing someone we love suffer with an illness or experiencing pain, loss and sickness ourselves.
I would suggest to you that in the midst of suffering there is only one thing that will cause us to persevere through it. That one thing is not a thing but a person. Only knowing the one true God in Jesus Christ will give us the hope of which Paul wrote in Romans 5.
Those who are in Christ have been given the Holy Spirit who testifies to our spirits that we belong to God. We will suffer now, but we are not those who suffer without hope. And, our hope is a certain hope. We can say with James, “count it all joy...” because on the other side of suffering is glory.
Those who study culture have written that our Western culture is predominantly individualistic. Even in the church we seem to focus everything on the individual.
The truth of Christianity is grounded in the word “covenant.” We who profess Christ are in a covenantal relationship with our Father in heaven. He has saved us as individuals and He has adopted us into His family. The visible family of God is the church.
This may seem disconnected to persevering through suffering. But, the church is God’s blessing of a community of believers who will stand along side of us in the midst of our suffering.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)
The Rev. Lou Tiscione is pastor at Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)