Romans 5:1-4 — Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. 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. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Did you notice in this passage how the sequence which ends with hope, begins with trouble? This is not the way we usually look at it. We usually think that the only way we can keep our hopes up is to believe that trouble will not come. Our hope is that we will not have any trouble. But Paul turns it all around and starts with trouble. And then, he says, that will lead to hope.
In the last hundred years, humankind has taken control of the world in incredible ways. Problems that caused life and death situations for our ancestors are not even given a thought by us today. Polio was at one time a dreaded killer and crippler; now you don’t hear much about it. The diagnosis of cancer used to be a death sentence; now, many kinds of cancer are treatable. Housework is easier, travel is fast and comfortable, food is in abundance, and even if there is a total crop failure in your area, the supermarket shelves remain full. If you are bored, there are endless opportunities for entertainment on your phone, hobbies and travel options galore, and parks to explore.
We have done away with so many troubles, we might begin to hope that that someday we will be able to eliminate trouble completely. Only a few more discoveries, a few more inventions, and we will be just fine. Our hope is to be without trouble; if not today, then tomorrow; if not this year, then next year.
Deep down, we know better. The troubles remain, and, if anything, increase. If for a while things do go well for us, we know it won’t last. To hope for a time of no trouble is a false hope.
Paul is more realistic. He starts where we what we all have all the time—troubles. Suffering. Paul isn’t trying to eliminate all the trouble in his life. That’s not where his hope lies. No, Paul plunges into life and faith and service to God, doing what he has been called to do, come what may. Oftentimes, it even seems he’s looking for trouble, and he gets is; conflict, beatings, disease, shipwrecks, and more. But for Paul, such suffering builds patience and endurance, and that builds character, and then, character produces his hope. Hope comes from faithfully passing through trouble in faith; not by eliminating the trouble.
It is amazing to realize how much of the Bible was written by people who were in trouble, cut off from health, loved ones, homeland, or freedom. Sometimes it is only in the midst of trouble that we realize fully the value of what we have lost. It is when we are sick that we appreciate good health. It is after a loved one has been stricken that we realize how much we love them. It is when we have no job that we realize what a blessing work can be. It is after a nation has lost its freedom that it realizes how priceless freedom is. It is when we social distancing becomes necessary that we realize what a blessing it is to get a hug from a grandchild.
So too, in all our troubles in life, we can see a sign pointing us to that which we have lost– our fellowship with God. Our trouble can point us to the restoration God has promised, and with that promise, we can again have hope. Therefore, Paul begins where we are at, with suffering, and he says that can lead us to the hope that comes from knowing we are at peace with God (verse one).
We do know that suffering doesn’t always lead to hope, not even for Christians. Suffering can also lead to bitterness and despair. Suffering can strengthen our faith and hope and character. Suffering can also destroy people. But Paul is not here giving a step by step analysis of what always happen when we face trouble. Rather, he’s giving a promise– a promise that we are justified by faith in Christ. That’s how this chapter begins. And now, he says, with that promise, your suffering can be turned into hope. If you believe the promise and see your life and suffering in the context of that promise, then suffering does lead to hope. Suffering can create in us the desire for that hope. (continued…)