In today's Second Reading, Romans 5:1-5, Paul says something rather remarkable. After telling his readers that Christians “boast in hope of the glory of God,” he continues:
Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions,
knowing that affliction produces endurance,
and endurance, proven character,
and proven character, hope,
and hope does not disappoint,
because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
Boasting in our afflictions? We might wonder what Paul is talking about. How many of us brag about our trials and tribulations? About the most difficult times in our lives? We might complain about them, but we seldom, if ever, hold them up as something in which to take pride.
Let's look more closely and see what Paul means.
We'll start with the Greek word for “boast,” which is kauchaomai. The Greek, while it can suggest a boast, doesn't mean bragging about something but rather glorying or rejoicing in something.
We are to glory and rejoice in our afflictions then. Glory and rejoice, really? Paul seems to be asking an awful lot. Most of us are more likely to moan and groan about our troubles than rejoice in them.
But Paul has his reasons, which he makes clear in an interesting logical chain. Affliction produces endurance. Endurance produces proven character. Proven character produces hope. Hope does not disappoint. Why? Because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
Link 1 – Affliction produces endurance.
The Greek word for “endurance” is hupomonē, which can also mean patience and/or constancy. Troubles and trials teach us patience when we handle them properly, and patience is, quite literally, a virtue that instills in us a habit of doing good and helps us grow closer to God.
Link 2 – Endurance produces proven character.
The Greek word for “proven character” is dokimē, which can also mean experienced. When we cope with our troubles and trials with patience, we grow in character. We gain experiences that help us cope better with life as a whole. We have proven that we can deal with whatever comes our way. We are mature.
Link 3 – Proven character produces hope.
The Greek word for “hope” is elpis, which can also mean confidence and/or expectation. When we have reached maturity through our patient endurance of afflictions, we can look ahead with confidence, sure that we can manage whatever comes our way and hoping that the future will be bright. We have overcome difficulties in the past, and we know that we can do so again.
Link 4 – And hope does not disappoint.
With the positive attitude cultivated by hope, we will not be disappointed with our lives. The Greek word for “disappoint” may actually be a bit stronger than suggested by this translation. It is kataischunō, which literally means to shame, disgrace, confound, or dishonor. When we live in hope, we will not suffer the shame and disgrace of confounded expectations. Hope does not disappoint us.
Link 5 – Why does hope not disappoint? Because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.
The hope that we have comes from God and is a part of His great love and mercy for us. He gives us our hope. He pours it into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, Who lives within us. The Greek word for “poured out” is ekcheō. It suggests a gushing, an overpowering outflow. How can that lavish abundance of love and hope ever disappoint?
Now we see why we can boast about and even rejoice in our afflictions. These troubles and difficulties help us grow. They teach us patience. They give us perspective and experience. They lead us to maturity. They guide us toward hope. And most of all they allow us to experience God's love in ever new and deeper ways.