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Paul writes "but we rejoice in our sufferings". What exactly does "sufferings" (thlipsis) encompass in this context?

Some examples of situations some people may label as suffering:

  • persecution for the sake of the gospel
  • difficult living conditions during a Christian mission
  • financial hardship due to losing a job
  • bereavement
  • imprisonment (guilty of crime)
  • imprisonment (innocent)
  • being a victim of child sexual abuse
  • terminal disease with no obvious natural cause
  • terminal disease due to substance abuse
  • depression

These don't all fall into the same category. What does sufferings / suffering refer to in Romans 5:3?

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5 Answers 5

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Paul famously answers your question in 2 Corinthians, where he boasts about his sufferings.

"Let no man think me a fool; if otherwise, yet as a fool receive me, that I may boast myself a little... Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I. Are they ministers of Christ?... I am more. (11:16,22,23; KJV)

If it's true that Paul wrote the book of Romans after Corinthians 1 and 2, and before Acts, then it's fair to include the following, from 2 Corinthians, KJV.

  1. "Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one." (11:24)

  2. "Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;" (11:25)

  3. "In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren;" (11:26)

  4. "In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness." (11:27)

  5. "Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches." (11:28)

  6. "Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?" (11:29)

You didn't ask but it's interesting to note that, again, Paul says he's rejoicing in his sufferings:

"If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities." (11:30)

And again, he ends the chapter, boasting (about his success):

"In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands." (11:32-33)

Other sufferings, from Acts:

  1. "bonds and afflictions" (20:23)
  2. "they went about to kill him [Paul]" (21:31)
  3. "bound with two chains" (21:33)
  4. "carried into the castle... borne of the soldiers." (21:34,35)
  5. "Away with such a fellow from the earth; for it is not fit that he should live" (22:22)
    "examined by scourging" (22:24)
  6. "And falling into a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground." (27:41)
  7. "there came a viper out of the heat and fastened on his hands." (28:3)
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  • Thank you for your answer. Do you mean to say, by your answer, that these are examples, from Paul's own life, of the kind of things Paul would consider suffering when writing to the Romans, or that Paul, when writing to the Romans, was specifically referring to his own sufferings, as you have listed? Or to put it another way do you see the sufferings of Romans 5:3 as specific or general?
    – atomice
    Mar 18, 2017 at 14:50
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In Romans 5:3 what is the nature of the sufferings (thlipsis)?

The original Greek word used is θλίψεσιν (thlipsis Strong's G2347) and is defined as "affliction, persecution, tribulation".

Jesus used the same Greek word when speaking about the sufferings that Christians would undergo:

“Then people will hand you over to tribulation and will kill you, and you will be hated by all the nations on account of my name.–Matthew 24:9

Paul was speaking to Gentiles that would now be persecuted for this new teaching called "the Way". (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; see also John 14:6) But this would also apply to those that would follow Christ and his teachings, even down to our day.

James spoke of the need to deal with different trials:

2 Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you meet with various trials, 3 knowing as you do that this tested quality of your faith produces endurance.–James 1:2, 3

While some of the examples given in the original question may not be associated with Christianity, but they can be opportunities for us to turn to Jehovah God to help us in our time of need.

Though I walk in the valley of deep shadow, I fear no harm, For you are with me; Your rod and your staff reassure me.–Psalms 23:4

When anxieties overwhelmed me, You comforted and soothed me.–Psalms 94:19

3 Praised be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of tender mercies and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our trials so that we may be able to comfort others in any sort of trial with the comfort that we receive from God.–2 Corinthians 1:3, 4

[All scripture quotations from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Study Edition)]

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God uses suffering to accomplish his purposes. It is a normal part of the Christian life. We are to rejoice in the midst of, but not in, suffering. Thlipsis is (tribulations) and persecution, in the narrow sense. We are suffering for the sake of Christ.

Linda Clifton-Jones

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  • As it’s currently written, your answer is unclear. Please edit to add additional details that will help others understand how this addresses the question asked. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Nov 12, 2021 at 4:13
  • Hi Linda, Welcome to the site! Your answer is a good start but it needs to be developed further. You can edit your answer by asking what purposes God accomplishes through suffering, for example. Nov 12, 2021 at 17:05
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In Ancient Greek thlipsis meant "pressure".

In English it means "compression or constriction by an outside cause...". Collins English Dictionary.

An example of this would be "Peine forte et dure". "A method of torture formerly used in the common law legal system in which a defendant who refused to plead would be subjected to having heavier and heavier stones placed upon his or her chest until a plea was entered, or death resulted" . Wikipedia.

I mention this background because in the New Testament we can see thlipsis as A. "pressure", and B. Pressure which proves the Christian's faith. e.g. Acts 20:23-24:

"except that the Holy Spirt testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions[thlipseis] await me 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the Gospel of the grace of God".

What is the nature of the sufferings, pressure, thlipsis of Romans 5:3? That Paul might "testify to the Gospel of the grace of God".

[Pressure+ peace of God = Faith demonstrated]

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I would submit the suffering talked about here is explained in the next few chapters of Romans. He is preparing the new believer for what awaits him and is talked about in the next chapters of Romans commencing in Romans eight.

Not only that, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; Romans 5:3

He first gives us a baseline of Jesus suffering for each one of us when we were His enemy. It's important to know when one go through this journey that God is not mad at you and the suffering will actually be good in the end.

God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

For if, when we were enemies of God, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!

We are now reconciled to him and no longer counted an enemy.

So again I would submit the suffering that he initially talks about in Romans 5:3 Is expanded on in the next three chapters of Romans.

A new battle takes place within a believer. This produces internal suffering in the mind and emotions As explained Romans 6 and 7.

This causes pressure within and here is the definition of this suffering.

2347 thlípsis – properly, pressure (what constricts or rubs together), used of a narrow place that "hems someone in"; tribulation, especially internal pressure that causes someone to feel confined (restricted, "without options"). 2347 /thlípsis ("compression, tribulation") carries the challenge of coping with the internal pressure of a tribulation, especially when feeling there is "no way of escape" ("hemmed in"). [By contrast, 4730 (stenoxōría) focuses on the external pressure exerted by circumstances.]

This is an internal pressure then that we are told to rejoice in. There's no way to get out of it. One way out is to go through it to the end.

Christians will go through this battle becoming more aware of sin in their body when trying to live under the law that exposes the sin that lives in each one of our bodies.

Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10So I discovered that the very commandment that was meant to bring life actually brought death. 11For sin, seizing its opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through the commandment put me to death.

This is definitely a time of suffering and one can be shocked at what lives inside of him. Of course Jesus always knows what's inside a man.

But in order that sin might be exposed as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, Romans 7:13

When going through this one suffers and feel hemmed in and is seeking a way out. One is feeling under condemnation once again and experiencing death not life.

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?

This is the suffering that we rejoice in because it takes time to go through all this, God perseveres teaching us this important lesson to us, And in the end His love is poured out into our hearts and we begin to walk in newness of life.

because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.a 2For in Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set youb free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2

Now that is something to rejoice in and it's discovered after going through the suffering of the previous chapters that most will go through as a believer.

Therefore rejoice in your sufferings....

Of course scripture talks about other sufferings that a lot of us will endure but that's for another post.

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