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The Surprising Gift of Pain

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference:

The gift of grace grants us access to God’s presence and a new status as His redeemed children. But pain also is a gracious gift from God, which He uses to produce in us Christlike character.


We have discovered here in Romans 5 that salvation is a gift that keeps on giving even more gifts. Verse 1 informs us that we have also been given the gift of peace with God. We are no longer an enemy of God, but His child, through faith in Christ. Now, in verse 2, we are told that we have been given another perfect gift—the gift of grace.

The apostle Paul writes, “Through him [Christ] we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.” This expression “obtained access” translates a Greek word that refers to being personally introduced to royalty. We are brought into the palace, so to speak, of divine royalty.

A pastor I know wrote about an evening when he was preaching in the Washington, DC area. In the audience was a member of the president’s secret service. He came up afterward and asked if the pastor and his family would like to tour the White House. They agreed, and the next morning they met at one of the gates there at the White House. When they stopped at the first guard station, the guard looked at this family and the secret service agent and then waved them in, saying, “You are with him … go on in.” As they entered the White House, more guards stood in their way until they glanced at the agent. They also said, “You’re with him. Go on in.” 

Beloved, no angelic guards are going to refuse you entrance into God’s palace of gold and glory. They will see Christ accompanying you, and they will say, “You’re with Him. Go on in.”[1]

We have been given the gifts of peace and grace. This next gift is rather surprising. It is the gift of pain. Not only do “we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (verse 2), but we also “rejoice in our sufferings” (verse 3).

That is a shocking statement. Paul is thanking God for grace and peace and the assurance it gives us, but now he also praises God for suffering. The Greek word for suffering (thlipsis) can be translated “pressure” or “pain.”

Have you ever thought about the fact that physical pain is essential? It is a warning signal, telling you to take your hand away from that hot stove or that you twisted your ankle and you need to stop walking on it.

Paul is revealing here that just as physical pain is essential, so suffering and affliction and the pain of adversity are not only inevitable but also essential.

Now, obviously, nobody enjoys pain. And many Christians today reject the idea of pain as a gift from God. They would rather believe the shallow promises of prosperity preachers that anybody who is suffering must be out of the will of God. They preach that sufferers are sinners, and if you do not experience prosperity—health and wealth—well, you just don’t have enough faith in God.

What are they going to do with the apostle Paul’s own testimony to the Corinthian church that he is “afflicted in every way” (2 Corinthians 4:8)?

“Afflicted” is a form of the same Greek word Paul uses here in Romans 5:3 that is translated “sufferings.” In Paul’s day, this word was used to describe olives being squeezed in the press or grapes being trampled underfoot. The word conveys the idea of pressure that produces pain.

Paul makes the shocking statement that “we rejoice in our sufferings.” In other words, he is saying, “It is possible to praise God when you go through the squeezing, the pressure, the painful experiences of life.”

This is possible for believers only if we understand that God uses pain for at least two reasons. First, He uses pain to correct us. The psalmist writes in Psalm 119:71, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” The Lord allows pain and pressure to grab our attention and direct our steps according to God’s Word.

Several inmates have written to Wisdom International, telling us that their arrest and imprisonment brought them to saving faith in Christ and a new direction in life for the glory of God.

Second, God sometimes uses pain, not only to correct us, but to construct us. This is Paul’s emphasis here in Romans 5. He writes, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance” (verse 3). Endurance is the ability to bear up under pressure, to persist in following Christ. Suffering strengthens our spiritual muscles of endurance.

Part of our problem with pain is that we think the Lord just wants to do a little remodeling in our lives—just a little construction project in our character. Well, the Lord is not into remodeling; He shows up with a bulldozer and starts from the ground up. Beloved, his construction projects in your life are not going to last a couple of days or a few months. His construction management company of the Holy Spirit has building plans for your entire life.

And what does He intend to build into you? Paul tells us in verse 4: “And endurance produces character”—that is, spiritual depth, virtuous character. The word translated “character” carries with it the idea of a first-century goldsmith who worked at refining the gold ore in his fiery crucible. The only way to separate the gold from unwanted impurities was to reduce the ore to liquid form through intense heat. The impurities would then rise to the surface and be skimmed away. When the goldsmith could clearly see his reflection on the surface of the liquid, he knew the gold was pure.[2] The Lord is removing impurities as He builds our character to reflect more of His image.

And that is not all. Paul writes further here in verse 4, “And character produces hope.” Hope is the assurance that God is at work in our lives.

Think about this: God never promised to remove pain. However, He does promise to control it and use it to correct us and construct us after His Son’s own image.

Sometimes when I am driving around town, I will see a sign that says “Under Construction.” And I have to slow down and stay alert. Well, beloved, your life is under construction—you might have to slow down and stay especially alert. But here is the good news: the architect, the site manager, and the owner of the property is your Savior. His work in your life, painful as it might be, will produce endurance and character and hope.

Finally, Paul writes in verse 5 that your hope in Christ will never put you to shame.

When Fannie Crosby, the hymn writer, was only six weeks old, she developed an eye inflammation. The doctor’s careless treatment left her blind. She would later write that she viewed her blindness as God’s gift to her so that she would have spiritual sight and poetic insight that would bring Him glory.

When she was only eight years of age, she wrote this little poem that convicts me with her wise perspective:

“Oh what a happy child I am,
Although I cannot see!
I am resolved that in this world,
Contented I will be.

How many blessings I enjoy
That other people don’t!
So weep or sigh because I’m blind,
I cannot, and I won’t.[3]

That is what I call graciously accepting the gift of pain—and turning it into a wonderful expression of praise to God.

Beloved, suffering is the universal language of the human race, and I’m certain every person is suffering from something. Consider it a gift to bring you closer to Christ, to correct and construct you so that in your weakness you come to depend upon His strength.

[1] Erwin Lutzer, Ten Lies About God (Word Publishing, 2000), 37-38.

[2] Kenneth Wuest, Bypaths in the Greek New Testament (Eerdmans, 1954), 73.

[3] Warren Wiersbe, Victorious Christians You Should Know (Baker Book House, 1984), 23.

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