It is clear from this that Christians are expected to experience suffering. Those who think that becoming a Christian will remove them from suffering have been seriously misled, for the Scriptures themselves teach that we are to expect suffering.
The Greek word for suffering is translated as “tribulation, something that causes distress.” It can range from minor annoyances that we go through every day, to major disasters that come sweeping down out of the blue and leave us stricken and smitten. These are the sufferings that we might go through, the tribulations.
According to Romans 5, the Christian response to suffering is to rejoice: “Not only so, but we rejoice in our sufferings.” Here is where many people balk. They say, “I can’t buy that! Do you mean to say that God is telling me that when I am hurting and in pain, I am expected to be glad and rejoice in that? That is not human, not natural!”
How do you get to the place where you can rejoice in suffering? Paul’s answer is, “We rejoice in suffering because we know…” What do we know? Paul says, “Knowing that suffering produces…” Suffering does something, accomplishes something. It is productive. We know it works, and that is what makes us rejoice. Watch a woman in labor. You can’t help but feel deeply hurt with her because she is going through such pain. And yet, there usually is joy in the midst of it because she knows that childbirth produces children. There are many women who will gladly go through childbirth because they want a child. Suffering produces something worthwhile.
Then what does suffering produce? Paul says there are three things that suffering produces: First, suffering produces perseverance. The Greek word literally means “to abide under, to stay under the pressure.” Pressure is something we want to get out from under, but suffering teaches us to stay under, to stick in there and hang with it. The best translation I can think of is the English word steadiness. Suffering produces steadiness.
Second, steadiness produces character. The Greek word for character carries with it the idea of being put to the test and approved. It is the idea of being shown to be reliable. You finally learn that you are not going to be destroyed, that things will work out. People start counting on you. They see strength in you, and you become a more reliable person.
Third, we find that reliability produces something. Reliability produces hope. The hope is that we will share the glory of God, which is God’s character. We have the hope that God is producing the image of Christ in us. This hope is a certainty, not just a possibility. We are being changed. We are becoming more like Jesus. We can see that we are more thoughtful, more compassionate, more loving. We are being mellowed. We are becoming like Christ — stronger, wiser, purer, more patient. He is transforming us into the image of His Son. (RAY STEDMAN)