[W]e glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.—Romans 5:3–5
The other day, shortly after I awoke, I broke one of the nosepieces off of my glasses. It was frustrating. I hadn’t even had my morning cup of tea—how do you deal with a crisis when you aren’t even awake? My attempts to reattach the minuscule sliver of metal were completely unsuccessful. My morning, and day, and week—at least so far as I could see at that point—were spoiled. Not seeing any immediate solution, I buckled down to my schoolwork with a pair of crooked glasses and the headache that went along with them.
I must confess that my attitude about the whole situation could have used some improvement. I was annoyed. I already had more to get done than I had time to do it in. I already felt overwhelmed. I didn’t need another (literal as well as figurative) headache. With thoughts such as these I resumed work the Greek text of Romans, one of my subjects for this school year.
Balancing my jiggling glasses as I started into chapter five, I suddenly noticed something that brought my feelings of frustration and annoyance to a full stop. As always in articles like this one, there is more to the passage than can be gone into here. Yet the one particular point that caught my attention was enough to reorient my my entire perspective on my frustrating morning and I trust it will also be an encouragement to you.
Tribulation isn’t something that any of us like. While “tribulation” can refer to many different things, the basic idea is “trouble that inflicts distress.” Even though I knew from the start that my broken glasses were of almost laughable insignificance as far as trials went, that hadn’t kept me from being distressed over them. Yet here was Paul, staring up from my schoolwork, informing me that believers were supposed to glory in tribulation.
The text goes on. The reason that believers can glory in tribulation is because tribulation, whether life altering or simply frustrating, will produce patience if it is handle correctly. And patience, if persisted in, produces something here translated as experience. The idea, of course, is not just that the more you go through, the more experiences you will have to look back on. Rather, what Paul is talking about is the type of proven character that can only be forged by persistent patience in difficulty.
This proven character in turn produces hope. As Thomas Schreiner puts it, “In other words, the hard realities of everyday life conspire to make believers more godly and Christlike. This builds hope in them that they have really been justified, and that they are truly heading for future glory.” Of course, as Paul goes on to say, our hope is never ultimately based on our experiences. It is founded on the work of Christ, in accordance with the plan of the Father and applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Yet that work of the Spirit does not take place independently of the concrete circumstances of our everyday lives. Indeed, as Paul more fully develops this thought later in the book, all things are being worked together for the good of conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ.
In getting all bent out of shape by my broken glasses, I had missed an opportunity to get bent into the only shape that matters—the image of Christ Jesus my Lord. The “tribulation” had hardly been a great one, but it had still been a chance to exercise patience, build character, and strengthen hope. In viewing my one-nosepiece glasses as an obstacle to the completion of the agenda I had planned for the day, I had missed the opportunity to see the part that they were intended to play in God’s agenda for my life, an agenda planned from all eternity.
I don’t know what trials you will go through this week. Some of you will face little more than the ordinary frustrations of life in a fallen world. Some of you may go through something that changes your life forever. Yet all of us that are children of the Father will be given opportunities to be conformed, through trials great and small, to the character of Christ. My prayer, for my readers and for myself, is that those opportunities would not be wasted.
- from BDAG, the standard Greek lexicon for the New Testament ↩