Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. – Romans 5:3-4
The word Paul chooses for “suffering” in verse 3 (thlipsis) means “pressure” and is often translated “tribulation.” In a few cases it refers to the “anguish” of childbirth. Thlipsis described the act of squeezing olives in a press in order to extract the oil. During the first century, it was also a Roman torture technique where a large boulder was placed on someone’s chest until they suffocated.
Ever feel like you’re slowly suffocating under the weight of a “boulder” in your life? The next time you experience such a “pressing,” expect to see God’s glory revealed!
Glory in suffering?
Paul isn’t suggesting we become masochists where we invite and enjoy unnecessary personal hardships into our lives. Nor is he referring to the natural consequences of our sinful choices, calling us to a stoicism where we become calloused to life itself, or envisioning a phony pretense where we act as if all is well. He’s simply calling attention to the value that suffering alone produces.
The imagery of childbirth is helpful here. Paul’s focus is necessary and redemptive pain. Something great is coming through the struggle, but you have to press through the pain in order to know and experience it.
The Ring of Fire
Paul had learned about God’s faithfulness as a child, but his understanding became true knowledge in a sea after a shipwreck. He was aware of God’s name Jehovah Jireh (God provides), but he became personally acquainted with this aspect of God’s character through frustrating setbacks and miraculous breakthroughs. It’s only by faithfully walking through thlipsis that the attributes of God become truly known.
We meet both God and our true selves during thlipsis. We learn what we really believe. And when we emerge out of the “pressing,” we see its effect.
What’s on the Inside?
When you squeeze something, what comes out is what’s inside. Martin Luther once wrote, “Whatever virtue tribulation finds us in, it develops more fully. If anyone is carnal, weak, blind, wicked, irascible, haughty, and so forth, tribulation will make him more carnal, weak, blind, wicked, and irritable. On the other hand, if one is spiritual, strong, wise, pious, gentle, and humble, he will become more spiritual, powerful, wise, pious, gentle and humble.”
What comes out when you’re experiencing thlipsis?
The Holy Spirit makes all the difference in the world. When the spirit of the living God resides within you, Romans 5:3-4 can come alive in you. You can find courage in God’s presence and strength. Hope can drive back ultimate despair, even as you mourn your disappointments. You can keep walking by faith even when you can’t see how everything will turn out. You can find great comfort in the Lord as you choose to remain rooted in the big 3 that Paul lists in Romans 12:12: joyful in hope, patient in thlipsis, and faithful in prayer.
There’s an intriguing word play in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 that connects the work of God’s Spirit and our journey through thlipsis.
“Blessed is God, father of our Lord Jesus Christ, father of mercies, and the God of all comfort.”
The word translated “comfort,” is paraklesis and is personified as the Holy Spirit, our great comforter.
In verse 4 the word play on paraclete begins.
“Who comforts us in all our thlipsis so that we will have the power to comfort (others) in thlipsis through the comfort we are comforted with in God.”
God, in all His sovereignty and goodness, walks with us through thlipsis so that we can walk with others through thlipsis with the very presence and power that God has given us!
Paul encourages us throughout his letters to remember this:
God’s grace is sufficient for us during thlipsis. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Thlipsis cannot separate us from the love of God. (Romans 8: 35)
Thlipsis is producing an eternal weight of glory. (2 Cor. 4:17)
Jesus told his disciples, “These things I have spoken to you so that in Me, you may have peace. In this world you will have thlipsis, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
So, how will Romans 5:3-4 come alive in you? How will you learn to redeem your struggle through thlipsis?
Choose to allow perseverance to finish its work. (James 1:4) Lean in when you feel like pulling away. The next time you walk through thlipsis, avoid the temptation to fall into a victim mentality. Instead, become a great student. Be active, not passive. Keep your heart open, your posture humble, and your mind firmly set on God’s sovereignty. You don’t need every question answered so don’t peer too deeply into the well of “why.” Trust in God, even over death itself, and allow the Holy Spirit to form your character during the “pressing.” You won’t see the result in the midst of it, but you can be sure that God will finish the good work He has started in your life. (Philippians 1:6)