No condemnation and no contradiction

Reading through Romans is not conducive to keeping up with my journaling. I get so lost in the details, the wonderful details of grace!

Pilgrims need to slow down — I need to slow down and let the words of grace found in Romans wash over me like a soothing stream that reshapes even hardened rocks over time.

Romans chapter 5 explodes with truth that weary pilgrims (and if for those who are not weary I guess) grasp and cling to. For me, after walking through deep valleys where the light was very dim, the hope that Paul talks about in chapter 5 takes on new meaning, or at least meaning with teeth.

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:1-5

A theology of suffering takes root when we, actually suffer. Oh give it time, it happens to all of us. You see, it must, if we are to grow. Suffering has always been something that is hard to talk about. Not so much because it is not a pleasant thing to discuss (which is true), but because unless you have suffered there is always a danger of being too carefree in the way we talk about it. Suffering is not a light matter. Suffering might be better not talked about, if we approach it with no scars or bruises. Yet, we have to talk about it because God does not ignore it. We also have to talk about it because if it isn’t here now, it is around the corner, or on the doorstep ready to ring the doorbell. Peter says we should expect it, so we do need to talk about it and be prepared for when it comes (or for when it comes again). So God doesn’t avoid the topic of suffering (as if it would be better to not talk about it because it would spoil the “good news”). In fact, he put the most horrific suffering ever known on center stage! Suffering is part of the good news, part of salvation, part of sanctification, a part that cannot be removed!

Paul gets to chapter 5 with elation. The faith that he talks about in chapter 4 is realized in real results in chapter 5. There is reason to celebrate and rejoice.

Paul introduces what becomes the theme of this paragraph: the hope we have as Christians to share in God’s glory. But Paul quickly adds in a surprising development, “we also rejoice [or boast, kauchaomai again] in our sufferings. Wait, what??

Preaching the Word commentary says this, “Catch the force of Paul’s words – “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” The word “rejoice” (kaukaomai) means to boast in the sense of jubilation – exultant rejoicing – to shout about it! We used to fall short of the glory of God (3:23), but now we boast in it!”

It seems quite natural to exult in something which is positive. But the rejoicing that comes next (verses 3, 4) is supernatural by anyone’s standards.

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings…”

Paul is not bashful. He knows that the good news can cause us to question life itself. We expect that when (or after) we come to Christ, that God cleans everything up. Life gets easier. Problems go away. We live “happily ever after.”

Good insights from the NIV Application Commentary, “Having ministered with people for so many years, Paul knows that many will react to this enumeration of blessings in one of two ways. Some will think he is promising believers a trouble-free existence, suggesting life will be a “bed of roses” now that they belong to God. Others, who have been Christians long enough to know that suffering does not come to an end with conversion, may dismiss Paul as an unrealistic dreamer. Thus Paul takes the offensive. Yes, he says in effect, I know Christians will continue to suffer. But life’s difficulties do not contradict what I have been saying about the wonderful blessings of being a Christian; in fact, God actually uses them to bring us even greater blessing.”

There is no contradiction in suffering and salvation. Quite the opposite, these two words go together. They were made to be together by the Creator of life himself.

So Paul speaks of the process of sanctification. The steps of transformation. The road of a pilgrim.

Faith

Peace with God

Hope in glory

Suffering

Perseverance

Strength of Character

Hope

There is no contradiction. The challenges we face in suffering are like weight resistance training. Suffering is required for maturing in Christ.

Word Biblical Commentary (Romans, Vol I) — “Paul means to jolt his readers by the very positive attitude he takes to suffering—“we exult even in these situations of pressure and experiences of distress.” For Paul such suffering is not an antithesis to the believers’ experience of acceptance by God, rather its complement; such suffering does not contradict or prevent their standing in the grace of God, but rather is the condition in which that grace is experienced in its greatest strength.”

Lord, these words that you speak to me through Paul, they arrest me. They stop me in my tracks. They shed new light on the dark path. They give hope where there seems to be no reason for hope! Thank you Jesus that when you give life, you give it in abundance! No, not a pain-free abundance, but a life that is rooted in sacrificial love. Help me to accept each day, each trouble, each painful moment, as another step in the road to eternity. I need corrective lenses when I am looking at suffering, lenses that see you at work in mysterious ways, unseen ways, but a work that you promise to complete. Thank you that you use brokenness and weakness to declare your perfections and to work in me patience, strength of character, and hope! It always comes back to hope because you will do what you promise. Your will, your way, your timing – that’s my prayer that I honestly find myself still fighting against! You know that, and yet you love me!

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