We’ve been in Romans 5 for a couple of weeks now, moving slowly through the wonders of the first few verses. And even though we’ve just been lingering in the opening to this chapter I’m already beginning to feel this first section of Romans 5 is like the Christmas gift that keeps on giving.[1] You see, salvation is not just a gift from God we unwrap once when we first believe, it’s a gift that holds all kinds of other gifts inside of it.

So imagine it. There you are, it’s Christmas morning, and you’ve got an enormous gift in front of you, and the tag says it’s from God and to you. You open it up and find it’s the gift of justification by faith alone and you’re thrilled. You’ve heard the gospel, you’ve turned from sin toward Christ in faith, and you’ve been saved and redeemed. You’ve found the power of God is truly found and experienced in the gospel of God. But then you find there is another gift inside the enormous gift of justification, and when you open it you discover its peace with God! Then you find another gift inside that gift and when you open it you discover its access into grace! Then you find yet another gift inside that gift and when you open it you see it’s the ability to rejoice in hope! You almost can’t believe it, that this initial gift of justification by faith alone has given you so much to enjoy, and just when you think you’ve found all the gifts there are to find…to your delight you see there’s one more gift to unwrap. So you grab it, unwrap it, and to your great surprise you find this gift is the ability to rejoice in your sufferings. You’re surprised at this, because it seems so contrary to what we normally think of suffering. But then you see the tag attached to this last gift and find that it says, “…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…” You sit back and think, ‘My O’ my! Because I’ve been justified by faith alone, I not only am now at peace with God, I not only have access into grace, I not only rejoice in great hope of the glory of God, I can now rejoice in my sufferings! Everything has changed for me. I now have the deepest assurance a human can enjoy. Nothing in my life, whether pleasant or painful, nothing can separate me from God who has so loved me!’

Church, it seems for Paul, the gift of justification is the gift that keeps on giving. We’ve seen this for the past two weeks in v1-2, and we’ll continue seeing this today as we come to v3-5.

Look with me and see how v3 begins, “Not only that, but we rejoice…” How v3 begins links it directly to what we’ve just seen in v1-2. Because of our justification we’re a people who rejoice, who boast, who glory, and exult. We rejoice in being at peace with God, we rejoice in our access into grace, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. As v3 begins we discover that Paul’s not done describing our rejoicing. No, rejoicing continues on. In what? Over what?

See our first heading…

Rejoicing in Suffering (v3a)

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

Why does Paul go to suffering here? It feels like an abrupt shift doesn’t it? From rejoicing in hope of the glory of God to rejoicing in our sufferings. What then, moves Paul to begin discussing suffering? I think Paul moves to suffering in v3 because he can very likely imagine certain readers of his who might object to what he has said in v1-2, saying that he has put forth a kind of easy and always wonderful Christian life. I think Paul knew these objectors would accuse him, or maybe they’ve already accused him, of being far too optimistic, a kind of unrealistic dreamer.[2] ‘Peace with God and access into grace? Rejoicing in hope? What about our sufferings Paul? What about our illnesses, persecutions, and hardships we encounter because we follow Jesus? What about that Paul?’ I think Paul shifts in v3 to suffering because he’s now on the offensive.[3] And he eagerly desires to show his readers and us today that our sufferings don’t get rid us of these blessings, but that our sufferings are themselves occasions intended by God to increase these blessings in us.[4]And because of that we are indeed to rejoice in our sufferings.

Now notice what Paul doesn’t say here. He doesn’t say we’re to commiserate in our sufferings, or have a kind of communal pity party. He doesn’t say we’re to passively submit to our sufferings, as if it’s just par for the course in a fallen world and something we’ve got to deal with.[5] He doesn’t say we’re to rejoice in spite of our sufferings, as if we’re just to get through it, or grit our teeth and stick it out. What does Paul say? He says we’re to do the opposite of what we would naturally think to do. That we’re to rejoice in our sufferings, to boast in our sufferings, to glory and to exult in our sufferings.

This teaching isn’t just something found in Romans, it’s found all over the New Testament. In Acts 5 after the apostles were beaten and charged to no longer speak of Jesus we read in Acts 5:41, “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” In Philippians 1:29 we read, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake…” We could go to James 1:2, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you face trials of various kinds…” And lastly 1 Peter 4:12-13, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice…(just like Paul says in Romans 5:3)…insofar as you share in Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed.”

So yes, as opposite as it may seem to us, Christians are people who rejoice in their sufferings. But care is needed here. Paul is not calling for a sanctified version of masochism here, where we’re supposed to be the kind of people who are most happy when life is most painful, or visa versa, that we’re supposed to be the kind of people who are most troubled when life is most comfortable. No, that’s not what’s in view. What’s in view then? We rejoice in our sufferings because of what our sufferings do to us. Or maybe to say it better, we rejoice in our sufferings because of what God does to us through our sufferings. Where do I get that? Look ahead to our next heading…

The Work of Suffering (v3b-4)

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings…knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…”

So we now know why we’re to rejoice in our sufferings. It’s because we know what God does to us, what God works into us, and what God produces in us through our sufferings. Do you see what this means? For the Christian there is no suffering that’s meaningless, none. Do you often feel like that? Things are going well, you’re growing in your faith, you’re devoting yourself to the Word, you’re devoting yourself to prayer, you’re doing life with the Church, and all the sudden you find yourself in the throes of suffering. The seas of life were calm but in a moment the waves and winds seem to be overtaking us. It might be a phone call about a loved one, young or old, who has grown ill or has died. It might be an unexpected job loss. It might be a season of depression and sorrow or a season of great struggle. It might be the news of a positive Covid test and you happen to be high risk. Whatever it is, suffering often seems and feels like a random unwelcome intruder into our lives that serves no purpose other than making us miserable and fearful. It’s true that suffering comes in many forms to us all and that it’s never simple or pleasant. But because of what Paul says here, we know, all the suffering we encounter or experience in this life isn’t meaningless but has purpose to it. What is that purpose? It works hope into us.

Look at the progression in v3b-4, “…suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…” So our sufferings unleash and increase a cascade of good things within us. There are three steps to this progression here.

First in the list is endurance, suffering produces endurance in us. Endurance is the power to last, the strength to abide, the ‘stick-to-itiveness’ to hang on.[6] When thinking on endurance, picture a muscle. To make any muscle grow you’ve got to bring resistance to it. And when you bring resistance to the muscle it tears and it initially gets weaker and sore. But through the soreness what happens? The muscle grows back stronger in order to handle the resistance more easily. This is like God’s work with us in suffering. Suffering of any kind truly feels like we’re being torn apart and growing weaker, and in a true sense it is doing just that to us. But what happens through the soreness of suffering? God grows us stronger, makes us more able to endure, more fit to last until the end. Suffering produces endurance.

Second in the list is character, once suffering produces endurance in us, Paul says endurance produces character in us. Character is a word we often use to describe the whole of who a person is. So if someone displays many vices in their life, we might say they’re lacking in character. Or if someone displays many virtues in their life, we might say they’re upright in character. So the word character is getting at what kind of person we are, what good or bad qualities we possess. Isn’t it interesting that character is here in this list? We might think character is something we grow by being disciplined or by simply doing right things and avoiding wrong things. But what’s Paul saying here? Our character grows in the furnace of affliction. But wait, we all would agree that good character is something we should pursue, right? Ok, but is affliction and suffering and trial something we pursue? We’d all say no. See the problem then? Character is grown in suffering, but while we want good character we don’t want to suffer. So how are we to grow in character if we’re so bent on avoiding suffering? The answer comes here in our passage. God works character into us by putting us into the furnace, by allowing us to come in and out of seasons of suffering. Or we could say it like this, everything we want in life, in our own lives spiritually, in the lives of our children, and in the life of our church, everything we want lies outside our comfort zone. And even though we’re all too eager and content to stay in our comfort zone, we praise God, because in His grace He takes us where we won’t go on our own in order to produce in us what we couldn’t produce on our own.[7] He leads us out into the wilderness, if you will, to lead us closer to Him. This is God’s method of growing our endurance and character and our dependence on Him and our love to Him.

And we need this.[8] We have much lingering corruption and impurity in us. We do not respond to Him and His gospel as we should. We do not praise Him as we ought. And we do not live for His glory as we must. We need Him to do this work in us, and we must know that He does this for our good. Earthly parents discipline their children because they love their children. How much more does our heavenly Father do this with us who belong to Him? Not only that our endurance and character would improve, but that our lives come to more and more resemble Jesus Christ, who was Himself made perfect through suffering according to Hebrews 2:10.

Well, there is one more item in this list here before us. So third in the list is hope. Once suffering produces endurance in us, and endurance produces character in us, Paul says character produces hope in us. In a sense we can now see this progression has brought us full circle. As v2 ended in hope so too does this progression in v3b-4 bring us through suffering and back to hope.[9] But suffering doesn’t just bring us back to the same hope does it? No indeed! We might be tempted to believe our suffering and trials remove us from the hope we had at the end of v2, but our sufferings not only bring us back to hope, our sufferings make us more certain of our hope because they work these things into us.[10] And so we wholeheartedly say with the Psalmist in Psalm 119:75, “I know, O LORD, that Your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.”

How many of you can ‘Yes and amen!’ to this? Just this past week I talked with someone who has suffered through much in life. What was their conclusion? They said their suffering was awful, but they also said, ‘Knowing what I now know about God, I’d go through it all again, no question.’ That’s what I call hope.

We’ve seen rejoicing in suffering, and we’ve seen the work of suffering. Now we come to v5 where we’ll learn more about this hope. So look at v5 with me and see…

Abundance in Suffering (v5)

“…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.”

Here in v5 we learn that our hope will not put us to shame. I think shame is a curious translation here, and that it might carry the wrong meaning, or perhaps lead us to the wrong conclusion. Shame is part of what’s in view here, but I think something like ‘not being let down’ is more in view here. Because what we’ve seen is that when Christians suffer their hope grows deeper and that hope will never let them down. So I think a better way to translate this word is “…and hope does not disappoint…”

So why, why does our hope not disappoint us? The answer comes next and is stunning, “…because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Though this comes at the end of our discussion today we should not leave this as a mere matter of conclusion, but rather, we should see v5 as kind of a banner that hangs over the whole of v1-5.[11] So when we’ve been justified by faith alone and receive the gifts of peace with God, access into grace, rejoicing in hope, and rejoicing in our sufferings…we come to learn two things: 1) all of these great gifts came to us because of how richly God has loved us. And 2) all of these great gifts lead us to see and savor anew how greatly God loves us still.

But notice how careful Paul is in explaining this. How is God’s great love applied to us His children? He mentions that God’s love has been ‘poured out’ by the Holy Spirit who He gave to us. Not only is this the first mention of God’s love in Romans, it’s one of the first references to of the work of the Holy Spirit in Romans. What then does this Spirit fueled love look like? When we read that God’s love has been ‘poured out’ we should not see that as a mere drip, but as a lavishly abundant ever flowing stream from God to sinners.[12] Meaning, God doesn’t pour out His love by the Spirit in part or in small portions, no. When God pours out His love through the Spirit God intends to soak our souls with His love, and fill us up to the brim and overflowing with His love. Paul will expand on this in far greater detail in chapter 8, so for us now…we rejoice over His great love and we rejoice over the presence of the Holy Spirit who keeps us abounding in Christ, both in times of peace and in times of pain. Church, this is how loves His own, and His love will never disappoint.

Conclusion:

In suffering, we might feel like we’re the only one who’s got it this bad, but think.[13] Abraham sacrificing Isaac on Mt. Moriah, Joseph forgotten in prison, Moses not allowed into the promise land, David singing songs of praise in the dark of his own sin, Peter denying Jesus three times…Jesus on the cross. Suffering isn’t strange. Suffering is God’s furnace where He faithfully molds us, shapes us, and grows us. Because it’s God who allows us to suffer, because it’s God who holds us in suffering, we have peace in suffering, access to grace in suffering, we can rejoice in suffering, and we abound with God’s love in suffering. 


[1] R.C. Sproul, Romans, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2009), 152.

[2] Douglas Moo, Romans, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2000), 171.

[3] Douglas Moo, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2018), 330.

[4] Ibid.

[5] John Murray, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1968), 163.

[6] Moo, Romans, 331.

[7] Paul Tripp says something this a lot.

[8] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans – vol. 4 (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1985), 70.

[9] Murray, Romans, 164.

[10] Lloyd-Jones, Romans, 71.

[11] Calvin’s Commentaries, notes on Romans 5:5, accessed via Accordance Bible software, 1.29.21.

[12] Robert W. Yarbrough et al., ESV Expository Commentary: Romans-Galatians, ed. Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton Jr., and Jay Sklar (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2020), 86.

[13] Kent R. Hughes, Romans: Righteousness From Heaven, Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 1991), 102.

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