NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson IV)
Verse 3b-4: Why are we content with our troubles? Because we know that these troubles make us more patient. And this patience is proof that we are strong. And this proof gives us hope.
Just in case the leaders of the church in Rome did not get the point, Paul reiterates that all of the troubles and trials that come from standing strong in the faith against all the winds of opposition from Satan and the world is beneficial to the believer. This idea did not start with the Apostle Paul. Jesus made this clear in His Sermon on the Mount.1 Therefore, the disciples were not afraid to testify about Jesus being the Messiah and thought it a privilege and honor to suffer for His sake.2
In fact, the Apostle Paul was inspired to talk about his sufferings for the cause of Christ.3 And when things became almost unbearable for him, he went to God in prayer, and the Lord answered him this way: “My grace is all you need. Only when you are weak can everything be done completely by My power.”4 Therefore, Paul was able to tell the Ephesians: “I ask you not to be discouraged because of what is happening to me. My sufferings are for your benefit – for your honor and glory.”5 That’s why he encouraged the Philippians: “God has also given you the honor of suffering for Christ.”6 As such, he motivated them by saying: “Your faith makes you give your lives as a sacrifice in serving God.”7
Paul was not alone in emphasizing this theme of dealing appropriately with trials, and tribulations when they come rather than running away. The Apostle James shared a similar message: “My brothers and sisters, you will have many kinds of trouble. But this gives you a reason to be very happy. You know that when your faith is tested, you learn to be patient in suffering.”8 James goes on to say, that letting patience work in a believer’s favor will result in their becoming more mature and on their way to becoming what God wants them to be. Also, the Apostle Peter, who knew firsthand want it meant to be confronted for his faith and association with Jesus, tells his readers that they may suffer for doing right. And if that happens, they have God’s blessing. So don’t be afraid and let it worry you when people make you suffer.9
Paul points out that it all works together for our good because it makes us more patient, and this patience is proof that we are strong, and this proof then gives us hope. The prophet Isaiah offered this motivational truth: “Young men may grow tired and weary, even the fittest may stumble and fall; but those who hope in Adonai will renew their strength, they will soar aloft as with eagles’ wings; when they are running they won’t grow weary, when they are walking they won’t get tired.”10 That’s why Paul told the Corinthians: “We have troubles all around us, but we are not defeated. We often don’t know what to do, but we don’t give up. We are persecuted, but God does not leave us. We are hurt sometimes, but we are not destroyed.”11 That’s because faith and trust keep hope alive.
Several early church scholars offer their insights. For instance, Clement of Alexandria has this to say about endurance and hope: “Endurance is directed toward future hope. Hope is directed toward the reward and restitution of hope.”12 Then Ambrosiaster comments on strength through testing: “It is clear that if endurance is of the quality we have said, our character will be quite strong. That there should be hope in someone who has been tried and tested is perfectly reasonable. One who is thus made worthy is sure to receive a reward in the kingdom of God.”13 And Chrysostom speaks about how character gives power to hope: “Endurance produces character, which contributes in some measure to the things which are to come because it gives power to the hope which is within us. Nothing encourages a man to hope for blessing more than the strength of a good character. No one who has led a good life worries about the future.… Does our good really lie in hope? Yes, but not in human hopes, which often vanish and leave only embarrassment behind. Our hope is in God and is therefore sure and immovable.”14
In response to Paul’s teaching that Christians accept trials and persecution as a resource for producing patience, Reformer John Calvin had this to say: “This is not the natural effect of tribulation; for we see that a great portion of mankind are thereby incited to murmur against God, and even to curse His name. But when that inward meekness, which is infused by the Spirit of God, and the consolation, which is conveyed by the same Spirit, succeed in place of our stubbornness, then tribulations become the means of generating patience; yes, those tribulations, which in the unregenerate can produce nothing but indignation and clamorous discontent.”15 He then goes on to say: “According then to the present passage, we then only make advances in patience as we ought, when we regard it as having been continued to us by God’s power, and thus entertain hope as to the future, that God’s favor, which has ever aided us in our necessities, will never be lacking for us. Hence he adds on, that from temporary relief arises hope. It might make us ungrateful for the benefits received except the recollection of them confirms our hope as to what is to come.”16
John Bengel says that while tribulations throughout life seem to deliver us up to death, not to glory, yet not only are they not unfavorable to hope, but they actually aid it. However, while tribulation develops patience in the believer, for the unbeliever the result is impatience and apostasy. Bengel also points out that patience is not learned without adversity; it characterizes a mind not only promptly, but also makes it robust enough to endure. And once patience has been developed, a person’s hope is also strengthened.17
On this same subject, Adam Clarke makes the point that endurance under trials, without sustaining loss or deterioration, is a metaphor taken from refining metals. Says Clarke: “We do not speak thus from any sudden raptures [euphoria], or extraordinary sensations we may have of spiritual joy: for we find that the tribulations through which we pass are the means of exercising and increasing our patience, our meek toleration of injuries received, or persecutions experienced, on account of the Gospel.”18 He then concludes: “For we thus calculate, that He who has supported us in the past will support us in those which may yet come; and as we have received so much spiritual profiting by means of the sufferings through which we have already passed, we may profit equally by those which are yet to come: and this hope prevents us from dreading coming trials; we receive them as means of grace, and find that all things work together for good to them that love God.”19
Robert Haldane explains: “The Greek word translated [by the KJV as] ‘experience’ signifies trial or proof. Here it means proof; for trial may detect a hypocrite as well as manifest a saint. But proof implies that the trial has proved the genuineness of the tried person, and also of the faithfulness and support of God, which will enable us to overcome every difficulty. And proof produces hope. That is, when the genuineness of our profession is manifested by being proved, our hope of enjoying the glory promised to the genuine people of God is confirmed. Hope is here introduced a second time. This should be carefully noted. At first, as we have seen, it springs solely from a view of the mediation and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here; it acquires a new force, from the proof the believer has of the reality of his union with the Savior, by his being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ. Thus the ‘good hope through grace’ must be produced solely by faith, and confirmed, not produced, by the fruits of faith.”20
Albert Barnes writes about the process by which tribulations produce patience: “The effect of afflictions on the minds of Christians is to make them patient. Sinners are irritated and troubled by them; they complain, and become more and more obstinate and rebellious. They have no sources of consolation; they deem God [to be] a hard Master; they become fretful and rebellions just in proportion to the depth and continuance of their trials. But in the mind of a Christian, who regards his Father‘s hand in it; who sees that he deserves no mercy; who has confidence in the wisdom and goodness of God; who feels that it is necessary for his own good to be afflicted; and who experiences its happy, subduing, and mild effect in restraining his sinful passions, and in weaning him from the world the effect is to produce patience. Accordingly, it will usually be found that those Christians who are longest and most severely afflicted are the most patient. Year after year of suffering produces increased peace and calmness of soul; and at the end of his course the Christian is more willing to be afflicted, and bears his afflictions more calmly, than at the beginning. He who on earth was most afflicted was the most patient of all sufferers; and not less patient when he was ‘led as a lamb to the slaughter,’21 than when He experienced the first trial in His great work.”22
In his sermon on this text, Charles Spurgeon reiterates the point made by Calvin how tribulation is not known to produce patience. He says: “Tribulation works impatience, and impatience misses the fruit of experience and sours into hopelessness. Ask many who have buried a dear child, or have lost their wealth, or have suffered pain in their body, and they will tell you that the natural result of affliction is to produce irritation against Providence, rebellion against God, questioning, unbelief, irritability, and all sorts of evils. But what a wonderful alteration takes place when the heart is renewed by the Holy Spirit! Then, but not till then, tribulation works patience.”23 He then shares a personal anecdote: “I have seen some persons, who were called experienced Christians, in whom it seemed to me that experience had worked despair; for their faces were always very long and very sad, and their speech was as sorrowful as it well could be. But here I find that true Christian experience works hope – a hope that makes us unashamed.”24
1 Matthew 5:10-12; Luke 6:22-23
2 Acts of the Apostles 5:41
3 2 Corinthians 11:23-30
4 Ibid. 12:9
5 Ephesians 3:13
6 Philippians 1:29
7 Ibid. 2:17
8 James 1:2-3, 12
9 1 Peter 3:14
10 Isaiah 40:30-31 – Complete Jewish Bible
112 Corinthians 4:8-9
12 Clement of Alexandria: Stromata 4:22
13 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, loc. cit.
14 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 9
15 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
16 Calvin: ibid.
17 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 255
18 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
19 Clarke: ibid.
20 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 189
21 See Isaiah 53:7; Acts of the Apostles 8:32
22 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
23 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit. loc. cit.
24 Spurgeon: ibid.