As I noted in my post on Romans 8:1-17, Paul is wrapping up this section of his letter that began in Romans 5. In my previous post, I noted the bookends on condemnation. In this post, I want to explore the bookends on suffering.
Romans 5:2b-3 And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. **-** **-** **-** **-** **-** **-** Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Romans 8:17-18
What is suffering?
Suffering in Romans appears to mean both the suffering we experience because we live in a fallen world. Note that Paul refers to all creation groaning, waiting for redemption because creation was cursed in the fall. The same with humanity, we await the redemption of our bodies.
But there is also the sharing in the sufferings of Christ which implies the kind of persecution he experienced. Jesus taught, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” (Matt 5:11) He said we were to be glad and to remember that even the prophets were persecuted. John records in his gospel, “They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.” (John 15:21) Paul tells Timothy, that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12)
What is the purpose of suffering?
No doubt we question why, if we are following God, we have to suffer. It’s not a “bad” question, but maybe instead of asking why, we might ask is there a purpose to our suffering. Let’s look at just a few possible reasons for suffering.
1-Suffering connects us with Jesus
First, Jesus taught that the servant is not greater than his master. Since Jesus was persecuted, we can also expect persecution. It should not surprise us, nor upset us. Paul tells the Philippian church that they should not be frightened by those who oppose them but that they have not only been granted grace to believe in Jesus but also to suffer for Him. (Philippians 1:28-29)
2- Suffering produces perseverance
Second, persecution or trials produce perseverance. The end result of perseverance is our hope that . James tells us that our trials also produce maturity in our faith. There is an interesting verse in Hebrews, “Although he was the Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8) This does not mean that Jesus learned from mistakes or failure but that he learned through difficult circumstances all that obedience meant so that he could be our High Priest and empathize with our human condition. Jesus understands the difficulties of our trials.
3- Suffering produces compassion for others
Paul often used the body as an analogy for the church. When writing to the Corinthian church, he stressed that all parts of the body were needed, and no part was better than another. If any part of the body suffered, the whole body suffered. Paul says in his second letter to the Corinthians that God comforts us in our troubles so that we can comfort others. That’s how we are able to take care of one another, we are strengthened by God’s care for us. (1 Corinthians 12:25-26; 2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
4- Suffering prepares us for glory
Suffering requires an eternal perspective because it is preparing us for glory. As Paul states, “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) We share in His sufferings so that we can also share in His glory. We will “be overjoyed when His glory is revealed!” (1 Peter 4:13)
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.2 Corinthians 4:18
Suffering is redemptive. As we live through the many varied forms of suffering, we thrive spiritually because we have the beautiful and enduring hope that God will complete the work He has begun.
Be still, my soul; the Lord is on your side;
bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
leave to your God to order and provide;
in every change he faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; your best, your heavenly friend
through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Be still, my soul; your God will undertake
to guide the future as he has the past;
your hope, your confidence, let nothing shake;
all now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
his voice who ruled them while he lived below.
Be still, my soul; when dearest friends depart
and all is darkened in the vale of tears,
then you will better know his love, his heart,
who comes to soothe your sorrows and your fears.
Be still, my soul; your Jesus can repay
from his own fullness all he takes away.
Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on
when we shall be forever with the Lord,
when disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still my soul; when change and tears are past,
all safe and blessed we shall meet at last.