Rejoicing In Suffering
Survey of the Book of Romans
by Scott deBeaubien – 2013/12/21
HCMI Course: Romans, Fall 2013
The Book of Romans (just Romans hereafter) tells us in chapter 5 that we have peace with God through faith, and that we can in turn, rejoice in our suffering. This is not only a radical concept, it is revolutionary and counter to all human intuition! Most folks would consider you insane if you made the proposition that hope can come from suffering, much less that we should rejoice in suffering. But there it is, Paul says it, and I believe it to be a mathematical formula that only God could create and make work.
Paul makes many references in Romans to the Old Testament or what he refers to as the “Law and the Prophets.” What we need to examine is whether Paul had evidence to point out that God will somehow turn our suffering into hope, or whether that is an effect of Jesus’ advent, and the New Covenant.
Some other key questions arise in Romans that Paul addresses. First, are we fully under God’s control or do we have some freedom, i.e., do we have any “Free will”? Second is the question as to man’s true nature, are we good or evil (or something else)? Third, Paul tackles the tough issues arising from the dispute between Jews and Gentiles: Are the Jews still the “Chosen people?” Given the brevity of this paper, we will deal with the first two questions below, but leave out the last question for another opportunity.
In the midst of all this, Paul intersperses the gospel message of redemption for mankind, provided by a just but loving God through His Son Jesus Christ who came and suffered for sinners and died so that we could be justified in His sight. After undertaking all these and other difficult theological questions to build a foundation upon which we can have faith, Paul turns to answer the key question as to how we can rejoice in suffering: How should we live in light of the knowledge of Christ?
A quick survey of Romans will bring to light the fact that it contains more references to the Hebrew Old Testament than any other book in the New Testament. Even Matthew, whose Gospel appears first in the New Testament Canon, does not contain as many Old Testament references.
Matthew: 40 formal quotes and 100 allusions (1)
Romans: 56 formal quotes, and numerous allusions (2)
The reason Paul makes such extensive use of the Hebrew Old Testament should be obvious: He is writing to a young church in Rome (and to subsequent generations) that is made up of both Jews and Gentiles. His mission is to explain the theology of the one group to the other, and at the same time to provide the background necessary to understand that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and not according to any “Works” of our own. This should have made it entirely clear to the early church – as well as to us – that our Sovereign God saves whom He wills, and salvation is not according to any effort on our part (Romans 3:24, 27-28, 4:16, 5:1).
Paul states elsewhere that he is a Pharisee (Acts 23:6, Philippians 3:5), so he probably memorized the law and the profits (the Old Testament) as part of his early schooling. He therefore is an expert and qualified to not only speak on these issues but also to draw conclusions from those older teachings in light of the coming of the Savior Jesus Christ. Paul, being a scholar then, is gifted with the unique position of being able to write a “Thesis” on faith. It is not only a “Theology of Christianity” but a “Manifesto” on how to live in light of the fact of Christ’s coming.
Paul used Adam, Abraham and the Patriarchs (Chps. 4, 5, 9) to prove to us that God’s plan of redemption had been in existence all along, and that it was necessary for Him to provide the means of our salvation since we are all corrupt by nature due to the “First sin” of Adam in the Garden of Eden. This notion of personal responsibility is not something the world wants to hear, but it is a fact that our all powerful and just God must punish sin, and since we are born sinners (we are evil by nature), we are all born already going to hell! But Paul goes on to show that God provided His solution in the form of His Son Jesus, whose act of propitiation justifies us and allows all humans go go to Heaven.
Paul then ties together these ideas that God not only makes the provision of the means of our salvation but chooses whom He wills (Chp. 9). In addition, we are personally responsible for our sin and there is a requirement for a heart level conversion in order to demonstrate what is known as “Saving faith” in Jesus Christ. God is shown to be both the one who provides salvation and He who calls the elect to salvation. Paul makes it eminently clear that God can and does harden hearts for His purposes. His use of the “Clay” reference (Rom 9:20-24) hearkens back both to Isaiah (45:9) as well as to Jeremiah (18:1-3) to resolve God’s sovereignty.
In truth, those of us who are believers, should be humbly grateful that God did choose us and call us to eternal life, knowing that He can do whatever he wants with us. Our destinies were changed by His sovereign call on our lives, and we are no longer destined for the fires of hell. Thus Paul, and God really, resolve the issue of “Free will” for us with masterful artistry to remind us that God is able to do whatever He wants, anytime He wants and using whatever means He wants to. There can be no greater cause for alarm among unbelievers than that fact, and at the same time no greater cause for rejoicing for those who are called to faith!
This leads us to Paul’s opening in Chapter 8: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” What greater comfort need we? And yet, we struggle, we complain, we moan and lay about in our supposed suffering and lament our condition. Amazing that we can be that ungrateful isn’t it? For the believer, this book and this theology should indeed lead us to doxology – tremendous praise and worship for our Creator God who through His mercy devised a plan of salvation and brought us into that plan through faith in His Son Jesus Christ! Hallelujah!
So how then can we rejoice in our suffering? How can the comfort of knowing that we belong to the Great God of the Universe bring us joy in the midst of trials? Paul goes on in Chapter 8 to give us one of the great passages in the Bible, a passage filled with hope and comfort as well as promise for the future (Romans 8:28) “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Here is the pinnacle of our faith: Jesus is the Rock, the great Rock of our salvation written about over and over in the Old Testament, here presented as the one who will both protect us and grow us through all circumstances. We understand this protection not to be about earthly things, or circumstances in this life (in part perhaps), but as to our eternal spiritual existence – for His purposes. We are born again but not into a kingdom of this earth, not in the physical realm, but as spiritual beings with a Heavenly existence assured for us.
This changes everything for the believer. It gives us what we call a “Heavenly perspective.” Paul doesn’t casually mention “All things” in Romans 8:28 so that we can dismiss it as hyperbole or some such. Rather he is making an assertion that quite literally God is working all things for our good! Here we have the basis for rejoicing in our suffering, the knowledge that God is ultimately in control of all things, and that He will make them turn out for the best for us in light of our spiritual and eternal existence.
Our part in this is to simply trust and have faith that He will control these circumstances and bring about the best spiritual conclusion – no matter what. This does not, however, always mean that our physical circumstances are going to be ideal. In fact, in light of Jesus’ warnings about persecution and his ultimate death on the Cross at Calvary, as well as the history of the Church that shows that many believers (starting with most of the Apostles) have been martyred over the centuries, we should be wary of any other gospel or preacher who teaches that we deserve some kind of prosperity in this life.
My personal favorite example is Corrie Ten Boom, in her book The Hiding Place (3) where she describes the circumstances in a German Concentration Camp during World War II. She and the other women there were subjected to numerous trials, including long and exhausting work days, starvation rations, persistent cold and deplorable conditions, and the fact that many were dying around them constantly. In fact, Corrie’s sister Betsie died in the camps, and urged Corrie before she died to forgive her captors as she had.
The most striking illustration in Miss Ten Boom’s work was where she described how after long days working their fingers to the bone she and the other women would gather at night time by the light of a candle in their barracks and read God’s Word. She said that they would be transported out of this world of suffering into a place of light and comfort. This physical world seemed to melt away and become unreal to them, and the Kingdom of Heaven would then become their “Real world” even if only for those moments they were able to sit and read to one another.
That is Romans lived out. I know there are numerous other instances, many stories of martyrs and such who have given all for the Lord, but Corrie Ten Boom’s story puts flesh on the arguments and promises that Paul brings forth in Romans in the midst of unimaginable suffering. That is how our lives are to be lived out, in light of the fact that all our sufferings in this physical world mean nothing compared to the surpassing greatness of the Kingdom of Heaven and our Savior Jesus Christ. That is true doxology coming from right theology!
1 – http://www.xenos.org/ministries/crossroads/OnlineJournal/issue3/mtappa.htm#Note1
2 – http://www.biblewheel.com/Wheel/CitationsInRomans.php
3 – The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom, Elizabeth & John Sherrill, Bantan Books, 1984