Tribulation, Perseverance, Character, Hope
Went to a men's group breakfast today. I used to attend this all the time, but haven't in quite a while. They're tackling Phil Strout's God's Relentless Pursuit, which is about being a missional people in the everyday world (not just in exotic mission fields).
We talked a lot about the frustrations and stresses of the daily grind, and I read Romans 5:3-4 to the group--you know, the verse about tribulation leading to perseverance, and perseverance to character, and character to a hope that does not disappointment, for it is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
Well, I read it, and I acknowledged that it is sometimes a hard verse for us to "receive," and we talked about that for a while. Then, after the meeting, I came home and did some blog-surfing and stumbled across this post from the excellent blog of Kelli Standish, and it just happens to be about that very trouble we have in hearing the truth of this particular Scripture passage.
I also ran into this from John Piper's daily devotional, A Godward Life:
The Love of God is a current of wonder, a stream of living water, a source of strength, ever-present, ever-abundant, rushing from the very throneroom of heaven. To trust Him means to trust Him now, in the midst of your storm. "In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! He has overcome the world." John 16:33b
Paul has just said that "tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint" (verses 3-5). In other words, the goal of everything God takes us through is hope. He wants us to feel unwaveringly hopeful through all tribulations.
But how can we? Tribulations by definition are anti-hope. If they felt hopeful in themselves, they wouldn't be tribulations. What's the underlying secret of actually growing in hope through tribulation?
Paul answers in the next line: "Because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has given to us" (verse 5). God's love has been poured out in our hearts. The tense of this verb means that God's love was poured out in our hearts in the past (at our conversion), and it is still present and active.
So Paul's point is that the Spirit-given assurance and enjoyment of the love of God are the secret to growing in hope through tribulation. Tribulation works perseverance and proven character and unashamed hope because, at every point along the way, the Spirit of God is assuring us of the love of God in and through all the trouble.