Did anybody ever say to you after some minor calamity befell you, “Aw, that’s ok, it builds character?” When as a child you fell and scraped your knee, or as an adolescent you ran into a tree with your bike, or as a teen being turned down at the school dance, or any number of normal, part-of-life incidents you’ve had to suffer through. “It builds character.” Not very comforting was it? But did you know it’s actually biblical? Romans 5:3-4 says that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character.
Now there’s a lot more to the statement in the bible than in the shallow platitude we heard growing up, and it helps to understand a couple of words a little better, the first of which is “suffering.” We typically think it’s only talking about big important stuff like unjust imprisonment or persecution or some such thing. But nope, this encompasses even the little every day, ordinary aches and pains of life. Aching joints, disappointments, even the annoying dog that won’t quit barking. All the big and little things in life we suffer through.
And these produce endurance, or patience. That’s a word that doesn’t have an adequate English equivalent, but it’s something like “determined, passionate patience.” It says, “I can take this because I know what’s coming.” And what is coming? Character!
But character means more than you think. This word carries a military sense with it; that you have faced the enemy and been found faithful and trustworthy. What character is really referring to is that when the crunch of suffering comes Jesus has been seen in you; that you have depended on him and his faithful and trustworthy character has shone through.
And that produces hope. Hope, or confidence, that one day you will live fully in the same intimate, dependent relationship with Jesus that Jesus does with the Father. But for all this to happen we need to go back to verse 1 and 2. Do you have “peace with God?” Are you “standing in that grace?” It all begins there by faith through Jesus.
Once begun this process of building character is intended to take over every moment of your life. Think of how much more significant each day would be if you approached all types of discomfort and disappointment as an opportunity to know and experience the glory of God? This goes way beyond just the power of positive thinking. It is literally encountering the power and glory of God himself. Maybe Paul wasn’t irrational to say “we rejoice in sufferings.”