“Rejoicing in suffering is not simply stoicism. It is not simply a
‘Grin and bear it’ attitude, or
‘Tough it out’ and see how much you can take, or
‘Just hang in there until it’s over’ and ‘don’t let anything get you down,’ or
‘Keep a stiff upper lip.’
Many people feel that if they do that, they are fulfilling the Word and “rejoicing in suffering.” But that is not it. There are non-Christians who can do that. Many people pride themselves on how much they can take. Sometimes people who are not Christians will put us to shame by the things that they can take without complaining.
We are not merely expected to enjoy the pain. There are some people who think “rejoicing in suffering” means that you are to enjoy your pain and hurt, that somehow Christians ought to be glad when terrible tragedy occurs and their hearts are hurting. That is not what Paul is saying. But there are people who feel that way — they are called masochists — they like to torture themselves. You have met people like that, who aren’t happy unless they’re miserable. If you take their misery away from them, they are really wretched, because it is their misery that gives them a sense of contentment. That is a twisted, distorted view of life. That is not what Paul is saying.
Nor is he saying that we merely are to pretend that we are happy. Some think this passage is saying that when you are out in public, you should put on an artificial smile and act happy, when inside your heart is hurting like crazy. Now that is not it. Christianity is never phony. Phoniness of any kind is a false Christianity.
I heard a man some years ago put this very clearly. Some of you may remember this man. He was going through great physical trouble, and one of his legs was amputated. That did not arrest the course of his disease, and he ultimately died because of it. Just a few days before his death I visited him in the hospital and he said something to me that I never forgot because it so perfectly expresses what Christian rejoicing in suffering means. He said,
“I never would have chosen one of the trials that I’ve gone through, but I wouldn’t have missed any of them for the world!”
Now that is saying it. There is an awareness that this suffering has done something of supreme value; therefore, you wouldn’t have missed it. But you wouldn’t have chosen it, either! Watch a woman in labor; watch the expression on her face. If you have any empathy in you, you can’t help but feel deeply hurt with her because she is going through such pain. And yet, there usually is joy in the midst of it because she knows that childbirth produces children. It is the child that makes it all worthwhile. There are probably women here this morning who will gladly go through childbirth again because they want a child. Suffering produces something worthwhile.” (See the complete message: Rejoicing in Suffering) (Bolding added)