Reading Romans 3:27 to 5:11 I was surprised to find Paul declaring in 5:2 that we as Christians do indeed boast! (Many translations use the word “rejoice” in 5:2, for example, “we rejoice in our hope” in the RSV. However, the original word has the same root as the words translated by “boast” in 3:27 and 4:2. This is reflected in some translations, for example the NTIV: “And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.” Compare also 5:3 and 5:11.)
How then can Paul use this word in 5:2 after he has expressly stated in 3:27 and 4:2 that boasting is excluded for believers in Christ and that Abraham did not have anything to boast about because he had been justified by faith?
When we compare these apparently contradictory verses with one another it becomes clear that what Paul professes in 5:2 is indeed something different from what he denounces in 3:27. While the “boasting” in 3:27 is turned inwards to yourself and backwards on what you have done, the “we boast” (or the “we rejoice”) in 5:2, is turned outwards and upwards towards what God is doing and will be doing. Therefore the rejoicing (boasting) of 5:2 is not an expression of self-righteousness; it is an expression of hope.
Once we have grasped this, we can begin to understand why Paul continues with an even more astonishing statement: “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings” (5:3a NIV). When “boasting” is based on accomplishments, it will turn sour when put under pressure. On the other hand – “rejoicing in hope” can continue to rejoice, even when it is tested.
But is it really possible to rejoice under suffering? I think it is important to remember that Paul uses “we”, “our” and “us” in verses 1 to 5. To speak about rejoicing in suffering is first of all a confession, a witness, an expression of personal hope.
Maybe you have personal experience of what hope means in times of hardship. Maybe you have had the privilege of seeing what hope means for someone else who is suffering. In the context of HIV and Aids there are many witnesses of people living with hope, who “also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (cf Rom 5:11 NIV).
To think about (or discuss): In verse 5 Paul concludes his “song of hope” with: “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (NIV). There seems to be a strong relationship between hope and love. What difference will your love make in the life of someone who is struggling to keep on hoping in the midst of suffering?