“And let us rejoice and exult in our hope of experiencing and enjoying the glory of God. 3 Moreover [let us also be full of joy now!] let us exult and triumph in our troubles and rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that pressure and affliction and hardship produce patient and unswerving endurance.4 And endurance (fortitude) develops maturity of character (approved faith and tried integrity). And character [of this sort] produces [the habit of] joyful and confident hope of eternal salvation.5 Such hope never disappoints or deludes or shames us, for God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:2b-5) The Greek word for hope (elpis) in verse 2b is not like the English word for hope; it is something that is certain but not yet realized.
This is a very rich passage as it speaks of two subjects which are very difficult for us to grasp: 1) how suffering (righteously) is actually (spiritually and eternally) good for us as we understand God’s purpose for suffering – it produces godly character that looks increasingly more like Jesus Christ which will redound to God’s glory and our eternal good; and 2) the perfect and unconditional love of God which is hard to grasp in a world that tells us we have to earn love and affirmation through our performance; from A’s on our report card or touchdowns on the gridiron, to being a financial success in business or a macho man with the women. If we don’t believe in God’s unconditional love for us (as believers) Satan and our flesh tempt us to believe that our suffering proves that God is punishing us because we are failures in His eyes.
In the movie, Miracle, they interviewed coach Herb Brooks (now deceased) and asked him how he knew how hard to push the various Hockey players (many of which had big egos because they were stars at their respective colleges) in order to get them in shape to defeat the long-reigning champions, the Russians. He replied, “I did not really know how hard to push each individual. But what I was after was to get out of them what was in them, not anymore and not any less.” Well our Lord knows exactly what’s in each of us. For example, we see in Matthew 25 and Luke 19 that God gives varying talents to individuals that represent potential for us to bring Him glory. And we also see through these passages that God rewards us not based on the number of talents He chooses to give us, but how we respond to and steward the talents/opportunities that He gives us. Thus God only expects a one-talent person to respond as a one-talent person; and a ten-talent person to respond as a ten-talent person; no more and no less. Thus a faithful praying grandmother can receive as many rewards as a multi-talented evangelist. And rewards can be understood as “glory” or our capacity to reflect the beauty and glory of God for all eternity. If we have this eternal perspective (which is God’s perspective on this brief life) we can rejoice in suffering.
God loves us just as we are but loves us so much that He doesn’t want to leave us that way and He uses suffering to take us to that next level of Christ-likeness. The word “transmute” means “to change or alter in form, appearance, or nature and especially to a higher form.”(http://i.word.com/idictionary/transmute.) God “transmutes” suffering into glory by His grace. In other words, we have to go through the pain in order to get the glory but He gives us the grace to endure the pain until it transforms us more into the likeness of Jesus, which is our highest good and for the glory of God. Grace has two meanings; unmerited favor and enabling power to trust and obey the Lord. (Strong’s definition: “the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues.” http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G5485&t=KJV)
Suffering and tribulation purify and refine our hope so we hope for what God tells us to hope for (eternal glory) and hope in Him to sustain us as we go through this refining process. He has to transmute our earthly hopes (often through shattered dreams) into eternal hope. Every day unbelievers are moving further and further away from what they hope in (temporal happiness) but we are moving closer and closer to sharing in the glory of God forever and ever. A man asked the pastor who conducted the funeral of a rich but unsaved man, “How much did he leave behind, Reverend?” “Everything,” the pastor replied. But Paul said the opposite: “[But what of that?] For I consider that the sufferings of this present time (this present life) are not worth being compared with the glory that is about to be revealed to us and in us and for us and conferred on us!” (Romans 8:18
Walter Cronkite’s trademark sign-off for 19 years as anchor of the CBS Evening News, was “And that’s the way it is.” Ken Boa suggests that we need to change that and say, “and that’s the way it looks” for only God has the final say on the outcome of world events and the events of our lives. Thus Joseph could see the events of his life from God’s perspective. “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” (Gen. 50:20) The Old Man and His Horse story illustrates this: [“The Old Man and His Horse (a.k.a. Sai Weng Shi Ma) Once there was an old man who lived in a tiny village. Although poor, he was envied by all, for he owned a beautiful white horse. Even the king coveted his treasure. A horse like this had never been seen before — such was its splendor, its majesty, its strength. People offered fabulous prices for the steed, but the old man always refused. “This horse is not a horse to me,” he would tell them. “It is a person. How could you sell a person? He is a friend, not a possession. How could you sell a friend.” The man was poor and the temptation was great. But he never sold the horse. One morning he found that the horse was not in his stable. All the village came to see him. “You old fool,” they scoffed, “we told you that someone would steal your horse. We warned you that you would be robbed. You are so poor. How could you ever protect such a valuable animal? It would have been better to have sold him. You could have gotten whatever price you wanted. No amount would have been too high. Now the horse is gone and you’ve been cursed with misfortune.” The old man responded, “Don’t speak too quickly. Say only that the horse is not in the stable. That is all we know; the rest is judgment. If I’ve been cursed or not, how can you know? How can you judge?” The people contested, “Don’t make us out to be fools! We may not be philosophers, but great philosophy is not needed. The simple fact that your horse is gone is a curse.” The old man spoke again. “All I know is that the stable is empty, and the horse is gone. The rest I don’t know. Whether it be a curse or a blessing, I can’t say. All we can see is a fragment. Who can say what will come next?” The people of the village laughed. They thought that the man was crazy. They had always thought he was a fool; if he wasn’t, he would have sold the horse and lived off the money. But instead, he was a poor woodcutter, an old man still cutting firewood and dragging it out of the forest and selling it. He lived hand to mouth in the misery of poverty. Now he had proven that he was, indeed, a fool. After fifteen days, the horse returned. He hadn’t been stolen; he had run away into the forest. Not only had he returned, he had brought a dozen wild horses with him. Once again, the village people gathered around the woodcutter and spoke. “Old man, you were right and we were wrong. What we thought was a curse was a blessing. Please forgive us.” The man responded, “Once again, you go too far. Say only that the horse is back. State only that a dozen horses returned with him, but don’t judge. How do you know if this is a blessing or not? You see only a fragment. Unless you know the whole story, how can you judge? You read only one page of a book. Can you judge the whole book? You read only one word of one phrase. Can you understand the entire phrase?” “Life is so vast, yet you judge all of life with one page or one word. All you have is one fragment! Don’t say that this is a blessing. No one knows. I am content with what I know. I am not perturbed by what I don’t.” “Maybe the old man is right,” they said to one another. So they said little. But down deep, they knew he was wrong. They knew it was a blessing. Twelve wild horses had returned. With a little work, the animals could be broken and trained and sold for much money. The old man had a son, an only son. The young man began to break the wild horses. After a few days, he fell from one of the horses and broke both legs. Once again the villagers gathered around the old man and cast their judgments. “You were right,” they said. “You proved you were right. The dozen horses were not a blessing. They were a curse. Your only son has broken both his legs, and now in your old age you have no one to help you. Now you are poorer than ever.” The old man spoke again. “You people are obsessed with judging. Don’t go so far. Say only that my son broke his legs. Who knows if it is a blessing or a curse? No one knows. We only have a fragment. Life comes in fragments.” It so happened that a few weeks later the country engaged in war against a neighboring country. All the young men of the village were required to join the army. Only the son of the old man was excluded, because he was injured. Once again the people gathered around the old man, crying and screaming because their sons had been taken. There was little chance that they would return. The enemy was strong, and the war would be a losing struggle. They would never see their sons again. “You were right, old man,” They wept. “God knows you were right. This proves it. Your son’s accident was a blessing. His legs may be broken, but at least he is with you. Our sons are gone forever.” The old man spoke again. “It is impossible to talk with you. You always draw conclusions. No one knows. Say only this. Your sons had to go to war, and mine did not. No one knows if it is a blessing or a curse. No one is wise enough to know. Only God knows.” http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2010/07/22/the-old-man-and-his-horse/]
Jesus had to refine and purify Peter’s hope from an earthly kingdom for Israel to the Millennial and ultimately a heavenly Kingdom (see Matthew 16:21-27) and from his human courage which failed him (see Luke 22:31-32; 54-62), to the power of the Holy Spirit which never failed him. Peter, by the Spirit, gives us very wise counsel on how to deal with the world, the devil and the flesh as we too have our hopes purified through suffering:
“Therefore humble yourselves [demote, lower yourselves in your own estimation] under the mighty hand of God, that in due time He may exalt you,7 Casting the whole of your care [all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares for you affectionately and cares about you watchfully.8 Be well balanced (temperate, sober of mind), be vigilant and cautious at all times; for that enemy of yours, the devil, roams around like a lion roaring in fierce hunger, seeking someone to seize upon and devour.9 Withstand him; be firm in faith [against his onset—rooted, established, strong, immovable, and determined], knowing that the same (identical) sufferings are appointed to your brotherhood (the whole body of Christians) throughout the world.10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace [Who imparts all blessing and favor], Who has called you to His [own] eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will Himself complete and make you what you ought to be, establish and ground you securely, and strengthen, and settle you.” (1 Peter 5:6-10)
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1. “And let us rejoice and exult in our hope of experiencing and enjoying the glory of God. 3 Moreover [let us also be full of joy now!] let us exult and triumph in our troubles and rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that pressure and affliction and hardship produce patient and unswerving endurance.4 And endurance (fortitude) develops maturity of character (approved faith and tried integrity). And character [of this sort] produces [the habit of] joyful and confident hope of eternal salvation.” (v. 2b-4) “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12) Maturity is shown when we sacrifice the lesser to gain something greater and patiently wait for the blessing (versus instant gratification). The “greater” is ultimately heavenly glory/reward gained by faithful and sacrificial obedience now in this (brief) life. How much does this heavenly prize motivate you to suffer righteously (instead of becoming bitter and rebellious) for Christ’s purposes for your life?
2. “Such hope never disappoints or deludes or shames us.” (v.5) What have been some of your greatest disappointments? Has God had to shatter some of your earthly dreams so you would embrace His eternal blessings for your life? How has this helped you hope in God’s promises versus the promises of this world?
3. “God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us.” (v. 5b) Have you ever been tempted to doubt God’s love for you because of the severe trials He has allowed in order to purify your hopes? How did you or how can you/we overcome this lie from Satan and our flesh? What is the greatest proof of God’s love for you?