Paul’s boasting continues.
In verse 2 of this chapter Paul said that we boast in the hope of the glory of God. But we boast not only in that glory. He continues in verse 3 to say that we also boast in affliction.
As we think about what that might mean, a few words are in order about what it couldn’t mean. I don’t see that Paul could have meant that we are to draw attention to our affliction. For Jesus said that when we fast we are not to go about like the hypocrites with long faces, letting all know that we are going without food. Instead, he says that we are to wash our face and go on with life as usual. Of course, there is a difference between affliction and fasting. Fasting is a form of religious service, just as prayer and making offerings are religious services. And each of these, Jesus said, ought to be done privately so that we are not seen by men and we are not praised by men for our service. Affliction, on the other hand, is not self-imposed, or shouldn’t be, at least. It is circumstantial in our life.
But seen in the context of Romans 3:27, where Paul asks the rhetorical question, “Where then is our boasting?” it is fair to say that for Paul there is a connection between our boasting and our relationship to the Lord. We are not to bring something, our religious obedience, for example, to the Lord and attempt to curry God’s favor. There is nothing that we can hold up to God and say, “See what I did?”
Paul says, however, that we do boast in some things. Romans 5:2 says we are to boast in hope. Now he adds affliction. Our daughter, Anna, referred to people as being broken. She called her grandparents old and broken. When telling us about a certain teacher at her school, she said that that teacher “taught all of the broken children.” She was a special education teacher working with children with various physical or mental disabilities. What Anna was pointing out was that there is with mankind a kind of ideal humanness that includes full physical and mental well-being. We do not judge the blind person as the normal man, and those who see as having some special ability. Rather, seeing is the norm. Those who cannot see have been deprived of something. (Please understand that I am not trying to demean those that have some type of disability, or to ignore the fact that those who have lost one ability often compensate by showing a super-ability in some other area.)
We all have affliction. We are all broken. We all face trials and suffering. It will take various forms and come at various stages of life, but we all suffer. Paul is saying that we as believers should boast in that affliction. Our brokenness, that which makes us less than the ideal human, is what we present to God.
We do this, Paul continues, because we know that our affliction produces perseverance. Affliction teaches us, or produces in us, the ability to withstand the affliction. The antidote, it might be said, is in the poison. And our perseverance produces character. Character might not be the right word here. Testedness, if it weren’t such a clumsy word to say, might be better. The meaning here is that the affliction produces in us perseverance. And our perseverance produces in us the attribute of having been tested and having passed the test. We are proved strong.
Paul does not stop there, however, but adds that this testedness produces in us hope. So we are back where we started, so to speak. Paul had said that we are to boast in the hope of the glory of God. But then adds that we are to boast in our affliction, that produces perseverance, that produces character, that produces hope. The train terminals are affliction and hope. The stations on the way are perseverance and testedness.
What Paul has not made clear here, but will elsewhere, is that we can boast in our affliction-turned-to-hope because precisely there that we are being most Christ-like. Jesus came not to be served, but to serve. And he was not merely a servant, but according to Old Testament prophecy he came as a suffering servant. Jesus was identified and had his identity in the fact that, while he was here on earth, he suffered. He was afflicted. But his affliction, which resulted in his perseverance, which resulted in his testedness, then resulted in hope. This hope is a certainty about our future. And, as Paul said earlier in verse two, it is a glorious hope. It is God’s glorious hope. And it is now our hope. And we should boast in it all day long.