Boasting in Afflictions


Romans 5:3-5 ESV

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 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.

afflictionsWe have previously stated that reading and listening to Paul’s letter to the Romans was like being in a Bible study with the apostle Paul about the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ. It is like he had heard every question or objection that people ask and so he answers them during this letter. The apostle has just said that those declared right with God have peace with God, have access to God, and are confidently exultant about the glory of God. And as you sit around the table in your small group, you can almost see someone slip up their hand and say, “Ah Paul, Paul… what you say is very nice and all that. But are you aware of what’s happening in the world around us? This peace with God, you said that God now looks on his people to do them good. Well, I don’t see it. Everywhere I see Christians suffering. And what good is this access to God doing for hurting people? How can afflicted people rejoice in hope?” And so you see why these verses have an intimate connection with what precedes them. Therefore, we need to pay close attention to what he says in our text.
We must always remember that Paul is speaking about the justified—those who have been declared right with God. He is not talking about unbelievers. But he considers that all true believers share this experience. Notice the “we boast” in our text. Contemporary Christians pity themselves and others in suffering. New Testament Christianity boasts or confidently exults in affliction. What an utter contrast! Now we ask, “How can this be so?”
I.          The powerful assurance of the justified is seen in the fact that they can boast or confidently rejoice or glory in afflictions.
A.        “Since our relation to God is changed, the relation of all things to us is changed” (Hodge). Before being justified, afflictions were the expression of God’s wrath, but now we are his declared righteous children and they serve another purpose.

1.         We must be clear about what the apostle actually is saying. He is not saying that we like troubles (cf. Heb 12:11). Neither is he saying that we glory in spite of troubles (no “keep a stiff upper lip” attitude), nor that we merely glory during them.

2.         What is he saying? He is saying that we boast because of them: “because we know”. We know that we are no longer in a sequence that leads to judgment, but we are in a sequence that leads to glory. For example, it can be dark in a tunnel in a coal mine. But there is a different outlook when you know you’re in the tunnel heading out of the mine rather than in the tunnel and going deeper into darkness. Our situation has radically changed because God is for us (Rm 8:31).

B.        Since our Father is the Sovereign Controller of the universe, we know that he can and will even make afflictions produce good for us.

1.         The settled confidence of the true believer is stated in the great statement “we know” (Rm 8:28). When your faith is in the living, true Almighty God, when you trust him and not merely pretend to trust him, then you have this kind of confidence. This exultant confidence of the justified believer is taught clearly in the New Testament Scriptures (Mt 5:10-12; Ac 5:41; 2 Cor 4:17; 12:9-10; Ph 1:27-30; Js 1:2; 1 Pt 4:12-14).

2.         “All God’s ordering of circumstances, Paul tells us, is a means designed for the fulfillment of this purpose. The ‘good’ for which all things works is not, therefore, the immediate ease and comfort of God’s children (as is, one fears, too often supposed), but their ultimate holiness and conformity to the likeness of Christ” (Packer, The Plan of God, p. 10).

Comment: The way to shipwreck your faith is to twist God’s word and suppose that the chief end or goal of everything is your pleasure. Such a false idea is the fast track to atheism.
II.        The benefit of afflictions to the justified.
Again to be clear, you first must be declared right with God through faith in Jesus Christ before any of this applies to you.
A.        Since we are justified by faith and possess the hope of the glory of God, even our afflictions work to confirm that hope or confident expectation.

1.         We can confidently rejoice in afflictions, because our faith enables us to think of them as part of God’s master design, as they indeed are. “Far from working against our hope, they actually promote it, and, indeed, further it” (Lloyd-Jones).

2.         Do not overlook the verb “produces”. Each of the following works to produce the next one in the sequence.

B.        The hope sequence (cf. 1 Pt 1:6-7; Js 1:2-4) is a sanctifying process,  in which we become increasing set apart to God and so increasingly become like Christ. Sadly, sinners tend to live with a fixation on what is bad and ruinous. And so we focus on the first part of the sequence. Paul says that people of faith, justified by faith in Christ, see the whole sequence.

1.         Affliction – Let us not be like the people of Israel who murmured in the wilderness over every hardship. Yes, affliction is painful; it is rough in the wilderness. But there is more happening to the true Christian than simply affliction, even at the worst of times. We repeat. Afflictions are painful, but we must never grumble about them.

2.         Endurance – This is going on, striving to make progress, in the face of the difficulty (cf. 2 Cor 6:4f; Heb 12:1; Js 1:2-4). “The more gracious souls are afflicted, the more their graces are exercised and increased” (Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, Vol. 1, p. 357).

3.         Proof – This is the good result of testing (2 Cor 2:9; 13:3; Ph 2:22). Boot camp is not pleasant for soldiers headed off to war. But when they endure it, they come out of it with proof of their fighting skills. When you train by running 10K courses and finish with wind spirits, you have a certain proof that you can handle a 5K race.

4.         Hope – This is the confident anticipation of the glory of God, including seeing God’s glory and having God’s glory manifested in us. Basketball players seek for some kind of glory when they endure arduous drills in daily practice. (“I can still feel my lungs burning!”) They want to excel and win! The present is always in relation to the future of the believer. And so this hope is confident! It cannot be disappointed!

III.       The reason the justified cannot be disappointed.
Here we must notice the “because” in the text. The confidence rests on the grace of God in Christ.
A.        God’s love for us guarantees our hope.

1.         Notice, it is God’s love; the context clearly teaches this.

2.         The love is in abundant, permanent supply. “It is poured out”, which is in the perfect tense, as we have seen in the earlier verses of this section, teaches this. Here is an example of this (Mt 9:17). God’s love fills our inner being—all aspects of our person.

B.        The Holy Spirit is the agent of this action.

1.         The Holy Spirit works directly in our hearts. Let us never limit his power, especially the reality that he does work in human hearts.

2.         We know God’s love by the Spirit’s action. Unless he makes God’s love known to us, we can’t know it. This is why you can talk to a friend or loved one about how much God loves and receive blank looks in response.

3.         The work of the Spirit is because of the Father’s grace. The Spirit is “the one given to us”.

1.         Becoming a Christian will not solve your problems. In fact, your problems might get worse! But when you are a child of God, you will be equipped by God to trust and to follow him through your troubles. Perhaps then you might see your problem solved, if that works for the glory of God in your life.
Example: Becoming a Christian will not solve your marriage problems or your financial problems. But as a believer, when you trust and obey the Lord, he will be with you in your painful situation. And the complicating issues that you were adding to the problem will be eliminated, as you trust and obey.
Your goal should always be to live for the glory of God in your situation, even if you are still afflicted.
2.         This passage provides an excellent standard by which we may test our spiritual experience. For example, by it we can test “between a true belief and some merely emotional or psychological experience” (Lloyd-Jones).

a.         Sometimes (most of the time?) we hear too much testimony about the psychology of a person’s conversion experience. A person might talk about how they felt, remarkable happenings, etc. It is all made to seem rather exciting, instead of an exaltation of the Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.

b.         What matters more is what God is doing in a person’s life in an ongoing manner. Yes, you might have had some great experience, but how is God acting in your life now by the Holy Spirit? You say that you’ve been declared right with God by faith in Jesus Christ? Tremendous! Now let’s hear how you continue to live by faith in the risen Lord.

~ Dave
Pastor Dave Frampton
The faithful and spiritually profitable labors of Dave Frampton are featured here at CMC. As a Bible teacher he excels. Teachers and student alike will profit much from his labor in the God’s Word. Visit Newtown Square Baptist Church.