Summary: We can rejoice in many things, but rejoicing in suffering might have us asking "Rejoice in What!?!?!"
Rejoice in What?!?!
September 17, 2006
What do you rejoice in? For the language-challenged among you, rejoice means “to feel joyful about something; to be delighted about something.”
You might rejoice in something you accomplished. You might rejoice in your childrens’ accomplishments. You might rejoice in your favorite football or basketball team’s success. You might rejoice in some simple pleasure, like a favorite food, or a vacation in the mountains, or a good book.
You might rejoice in God’s provision for you. You might rejoice in His wondrous love and amazing grace. There are many things we can think of to rejoice in.
And there are things we wouldn’t normally think of rejoicing in at all, except, perhaps, when those things are tied to an understanding of the Kingdom of God, and God’s love for us.
Romans 5:1-5 (NIV) 1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
So far, so good, huh? As followers of Jesus, we can all look forward to the glory of God, being in His radiant presence at the last day, or at our death, and then throughout all of eternity, about which the Word of God says in:
Revelation 21:23 (NIV) 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.
Thinking of this, hoping for this, and remembering that hope in scripture isn’t a mere wishing, but it’s sure and certain, so hoping for this is definitely something we can rejoice in, isn’t it?
But wait. There’s more. This passage in Romans doesn’t end there.
Continuing with verse 3: Not only so, (in other words, not only do we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God) but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given.
Now wait a minute, you might think, upon reading this passage for the first time. I can relate to rejoicing in some things, especially rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God, but suffering?
You might be inclined to say, upon reading that we rejoice in our sufferings:
Rejoice in what!?!?!
But what Paul writes here to the Roman Christians is absolutely clear. There’s no ambiguity at all, no need to explain it away with some interpretation other than the clear meaning of the text.
Verse 3: We also rejoice in our sufferings. The NASB says: “we also exult in our tribulations”
Let’s back up the rejoicing truck a second. Maybe rejoice doesn’t mean the same thing here as it meant in the previous verse. But no. It does.
In fact, one commentary suggests rejoice may not be a strong enough word. Exult, as in the NASB, might be a better word. Or even boast.
The Greek word here is translated in the KJV of the New Testament as glory 23 times, boast 8 times, and rejoice 4 times.
Well, then, maybe sufferings only includes suffering for Christ. Maybe this is addressed to the suffering church, and not the rest of us regular, everyday Christians.
Unfortunately, scripture doesn’t let us off the hook there, either. The English words used in the KJV for tribulation, which is rendered suffering in the NIV, include tribulation 21 times, affliction 17 times, trouble 3 times, anguish 1 time, and persecution 1 time.
The complete Word Study Dictionary says this word means,
"In a figurative manner, pressure from evils, affliction, distress (2 Cor. 2:4; Phil. 1:16); of a woman in travail (John 16:21). Often as a (substitute word) for evils by which one is pressed, i.e., affliction, distress, calamity (Matt. 13:21; Acts 7:10, 11; Rom. 5:3; 2 Cor. 1:4; Heb. 10:33)."
So, it’s clear there are passages where the context is referring primarily to suffering for the cause of Christ - and we might make a case that those passages might also apply to more generic suffering. We also should note that this passage in Romans would obviously also apply to persecuted believers, but there’s no doubt it’s referring to sufferings, tribulations, troubles of all kinds.
The bottom line here is that Paul is exhorting us to rejoice in our sufferings. Sufferings, plural…. that means any and all sufferings, from stubbing our toe or getting caught in a traffic jam, to significant pain, and the more serious things that cause us to suffer, either emotionally or physically,or both.