Just as our muscles grow and are strengthened by resistance and pain and they wither without these things, so the same can be said of saving grace. It grows stronger in difficulty and atrophies in the absence of it. Grace, as Rutherford also said, really does grow best in winter weather. It is not like most of the agricultural produce in our world that grows best when the sun is shining and the temperatures are mild. Saving grace grows best in the coldest and harshest of seasons. And that too is why Paul can rejoice in his sufferings.
Many years ago, as part of our church’s search to find a new assistant pastor, my wife and I took the leading candidate and his wife to dinner so that we could all get to know one another better. At some point during our conversation, we began discussing the hobbies that we each enjoyed. In describing my love for intense forms of exercise (I can’t do anything moderately!), I told them rather matter-of-factly, “I love pain.” And I didn’t think anything about it at the time. I was just sharing something that was rather unique about myself.
Several years after this dinner conversation, the candidate—who had since become our assistant pastor—told me how intimidated he had felt when I had mentioned my love for pain that night. After all, only a crazy person would say something like this. No one, in their right mind, actually loves pain, do they?
While it certainly wasn’t my intention to intimidate anyone, it is nevertheless true that it can be quite overwhelming for most people to hear someone describing themselves as I did on that occasion. I may not have seen that in connection to my own comments, but I have seen it in the words that the apostle Paul writes about himself in Colossians 1:24: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings.” Surely we all find this statement to be a little overwhelming. Some of us may even be intimidated by it. How can Paul say this? How can suffering be something that anyone rejoices in, ever?
In answering this question, I need to point out that Paul isn’t saying that his sufferings are worth rejoicing in all by themselves. I mention this for at least three main reasons. First, Paul’s use of the word “now” in Colossians 1:24 suggests that he is rejoicing in the present time (the time of his writing) for those sufferings that he had previously experienced in the past. He seems to be looking at his sufferings after the fact and seeing how God had used those afflictions for good in his life and rejoicing in that rather than in the sufferings themselves. Second, and this confirms the first reason, the context of Colossians 1:24 and of Romans 5:3-5—which are the only two times that Paul explicitly speaks of rejoicing in suffering—both explain why it is that Paul is rejoicing in his suffering and why we should be too. Third, when I say that I love pain, I don’t mean that I love the pain itself. I love what it accomplishes in me when I push myself and refuse to give in to it. I know that I become stronger, faster, better than I was before. The pain is a means to an end. I want the end, and so I embrace the means to get there. And the same thing would appear to be true of the apostle Paul.