Romans 5:3-4 (NIV1984)
3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.
How does a world-class body builder develop his or her physique? To simplify, it’s a process of tearing ones muscle tissue down so that is rebuilds itself stronger than before. This natural process takes something bad (being torn down) and replaces it with something better than before, had the negative event ever taken place (specifically, rebuilt muscle that’s stronger than prior to the workout).
The Apostle Paul provides an incredible perspective on the concept of suffering. I don’t know of anyone, besides Paul of Tarsus, who has ever suggested the concept of “rejoicing” during suffering, but the fact is that he wrote this very expression after experiencing years of suffering. You, the reader, may be going through difficult times. I certainly do not want to minimize your very real pain, but only offer perspective. Let’s study a brief snapshot according to scripture of what Paul endured simply because of his outspoken faith in Jesus Christ.
Reference: 2 Corinthians 11:21-33 (NIV1984)
21 To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that! What anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. 33 But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.
If you are at all reading this in North America, it would be an incredibly small chance that you (or anyone you know) have ever endured “forty lashes minus one” on five separate occasions in your lifetime. Let’s pause and reflect on the significance of this single line: During the time of Roman rule, it was understood that 40 lashes was effectively a death sentence. The human body would endure far too much physical damage and infection to ever recover ultimately resulting in death. “40 minus 1” would arithmetically equal 39 lashes or, specifically, a single lashing away from death. Thankfully, I’ve never experienced even a single lash and the thought process of contemplating this torture is disturbing to say the least. Yet Paul, who endured this sentence on five separate occasions, writes that we should “rejoice in our sufferings.”
And why should we do so? Because “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character hope.” Paul’s living testimonial is evidence enough that Christ truly has risen from the grave. How else could one explain the conversion of the most notorious prosecutor of Christians before his life-changing experience on the road to Damascus?
Paul had hope. Paul had hope of everlasting salvation that was provided through his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Paul had great character: no matter how difficult his pain, he never denied nor abandoned his devotion to Jesus. Paul persevered; it would have been much easier to turn away from his faith during his first torturous sentence. But he endured through it all. And I pray for you that you may find the strength that can only come from a deep-seeded faith in Christ, to persevere through whatever life-struggle may be challenging you at the time of this reading. May we turn to Paul’s life as an example to reframe our present struggles and find the strength to let our joyful, Christian light shine brightly today!