You only really know a person, heir character, when you know what they’ve suffered. So goes a popular aphorism. And I think it’s true. More importantly the apostle Paul seems to think it’s true as well. In Romans 5:3-5 he explains why.
As we saw in the last post in this series Christians can “boast” in their sufferings for Christ’s sake because these kinds of distress assure us we are standing with and following Jesus in his work in our world and we have caught a glimpse of what awaits us, the glory (v.2) to come.
Within such an embrace of this life and suffering in Christ we “know” something about how this life shapes us. According to Paul:
Suffering generates Endurance
Endurance generates Character
Character generates Hope
Let’s try to unpack that a bit. We suffer, because of who we serve and what that service means. Paul tells us elsewhere that the value of knowing this one and what he calls us to is of “superior value” to everything else (Phil.3:8). Since even suffering possesses a positive value in this light, it produces that cussed orneriness that keeps us keeping on!
And when we keep on keeping on, standing firm in the crucible of faithfulness to Christ and his work, our lives start to look like his. We begin, bit by bit, to reflect his character which as Paul says later in this letter is just that for which we are destined – to be “conformed to the image of (God’s) Son” (8:29). Each one of us are to look like Jesus Christ in the uniqueness of who we are, our character. Our lives will show others what he looks like. And all of us together as his body bear his likeness. This is the gift keeping on keeping on gives us. It keeps us in the “place” where the Spirit effects this transformation.
And character, looking more and more like Christ, enables us to encounter the sufferings that will come with hope and the certainty that the God we serve and love (v.5) will never disappoint or put us to shame.
All of this, we must remember, is part of Paul’s exposition of the “peace” we have with God through Christ (v.1). Peace is having one’s life aligned with God not a conflict or struggle-free existence. In fact, as we have seen, it’s just the opposite. Suffering – endurance – character – hope: that’s the way we grow as followers of Jesus in a not-yet-fully-redeemed-world. Suffering for Jesus’ sake is just part of the package. How we process that suffering makes all the difference. And Paul is teaching us how to faithfully process it!
Our problem with this, however, is we don’t expect to suffer as Christians. We’ve never been taught that that’s part of the package. Indeed, we expect Christ to save us from suffering and distress or get us out of it as quickly as possible. Paul’s counsel here (or James’) strikes us as unbelievable and impossible. The apostle will get to that matter in due time.
Here, though, he is laying out the shape of life in and with Christ. And in that vein it’s important to notice the Trinitarian envelope around this life in and with Christ.
-Trinitarian means grace. “God” (the Father) and the “Lord Jesus Christ” have done all things necessary to establish us in “peace with God (v.1). And the “Holy Spirit” gives us the “love of God” in our hearts to respond rightly to all God has done for us.
-Trinitarian means mission. That’s where the suffering comes in. And Paul shows here how God has provided for that as well.
So it seems appropriate to close with: Thanks be to God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!