This is my favourite verse of the Bible, so this short study of it may be a bit biased (hey, I even have a photo of it). This is a very personal verse to me, it is a verse that I clung on to desperately back in days of doubt and suffering; it’s a verse that I recite daily as a reminder to myself; it’s a verse that I offer as comfort to non-believers (they usually appreciate the first two lines).
Romans 12 is without a doubt my favourite chapter in the entire Bible. Romans is not an easy book to understand, because it is an epistle written by Paul to encourage and reprimand the Roman church then, and is filled to the brim with theology. This letter was written at a time when Paul hasn’t been to Rome yet, but was intending to head over (about AD 56/57). It should be noted that in AD49, Claudius exiled all Jews from Rome because of rioting instigated by Christus. Many Jews returned to Rome after the death of Claudius in AD 54, so at the point of writing, the Roman church was culturally awkward with the Romans/Gentiles having to accomodate with the sudden influx of the Jewish Christians where it once was a purely Gentile Church. Romans 12 especially goes deep into 3 studies: Life of a Christian, Gifts, Love.
Analysis: Part 1
Romans 12:12 is about as straightforward as a verse can get, but its depth is immense. Firstly, be joyful in hope – 2 things to consider here, joy and hope. Hope is not often associated with joy. More often than not, hope is associated with feelings of fear and desperation. Fear of disappointment. Wariness. Doubt. Hope is defined as a feeling that what is wanted can be had, or that events will turn out for the best. In times of desperation, when we are cornered by our circumstances, it is a great reminder that our hope lies in God [Psalms 39:7, amongst others], and we can afford to rejoice.
No doubt, it is very hard to rejoice in hope. However, next up would probably be tougher: patient in affliction.
Analysis: Part 2
Suffering cannot be compared, but read Philip Yancey, read C.S. Lewis, read Job, read about Jesus [Isaiah 53:3]. Everybody suffers in ways you and I cannot grasp – yet Christ understands – For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin [Hebrews 4:15]. He understands, and because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted [Hebrews 2:18].
Jesus understands in a way that no mortal does; because he had already gone through what we suffer today. He understands – No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it [1 Cor. 10:13].
Because he understands, because God is faithful, there will be a way out. This is the promise that we have to hold on to. This gives us the courage to hope in times of affliction, this gives us the ability to be patient in times of affliction.
John Piper explains: “It is one thing to bear a sudden tragedy. It is quite another to suffer its pain for weeks and months and even years afterward.” When Job was first told about the death of his sons and the destruction of his possessions, his first reaction was to worship the Lord [Job 1:21]. But as time passed, he was not given his reprieve, and he began to curse the day of his birth [Job 3:1]. I do not wish to go into an analysis of Job (either the book or the character), not now at least, Job is a fascinating book that deserves an entire site to itself. But that a man claimed by God to be the most righteous man in the land [Job 1:8] would lose patience in times of suffering is a simple statement of how difficult it is to be patient in affliction.
How, then, can we be patient in affliction? John Piper encourages us to hold fast to God, no matter what. From the hymm, If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee (Modern Translation: if you will only let God guide you):
If thou but suffer God to guide thee
And hope in Him through all thy ways,
He’ll give thee strength, whate’er betide thee,
And bear thee through the evil days.
Who hopes in God’s unchanging love
Builds on the rock that naught can move.
Analysis: Part 3
Let us hold fast to God, despite our afflictions. Let us have faith in God, and be faithful in prayer. It screams out, PRAY! How do you be faithful in prayer, really? I think it’s simple. To be faithful in prayer, you have to pray. Prayer is an act of faith [1 John 5:14]. It is easy for us to lose the strength to pray when we are discouraged. Patience plays a big part here – having (joyful) hope in God‘s promise of deliverance, having the patience to keep hoping and not losing that hope, allows us to keep the faith to pray. It’s a pretty little loop isn’t it? Prayer strengthens our faith, begets hope, allows hope to transcend into a form of joyful expectancy through our faith in God‘s promise. In turn, our ability to be patient in affliction depends on our prayer.
You can’t just say you only want to be joyful in hope and not be patient in affliction. You can’t just be patient in affliction and not faithful in prayer. They are like the three musketeers: one for all, all for one. Buy one and get the other two free. Buy into the theology of any one part of this verse, and you’ll find that the other two will come along naturally.
And perhaps the easiest way for us to start is through perseverance in prayer.
If you suffered by reading till the end of this, whether you got what you hoped to get out of this, I ask that you make this your prayer today: God, bless me with the strength to be joyful in hope, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer.
God bless you.