I did not know whether to call this reading ‘strength in suffering’ or ‘solace in suffering’. Paul mentions here the fact that their persecutions did not put them to shame because of the living hope that was strong within them. Why does he mention shame? This is only a suggestion but I think he is making a contrast between those who suffer for Jesus and those who suffer for wrongdoing. From the point of view of the authorities, both groups were being punished. We are not surprised that wrongdoers would be ashamed because they would have realised that they deserved the penalty they had received.
With God’s people, it was different. Instead of feeling shame they were experiencing something very profound within them. They were enjoying a rich sense of the love of God in their souls. The apostle uses a beautiful picture in describing how they were given this experience. When they were converted, they were given the Holy Spirit as a sign that they belonged to God. What did the Holy Spirit do when he came? He began to pour into their inner lives the sweet awareness of divine love. Paul uses a perfect tense (has poured out), which indicates an event in the past that had or has ongoing consequences. The event was our conversion and the consequences are ongoing experiences of divine love.
There are three deductions that we can make from this statement by Paul. First, hostilities of the world cannot in themselves prevent believers having a strong sense of the love of God. Second, God himself does not want his people to be without this strong sense of the love of God. Third, when a believer loses this sense of the love of God, he should ask himself or herself why this has happened?
As Christians, this is a very important question to ask ourselves. Do we have this awareness in our hearts that God loves us? If we don’t, are we content to live without it, perhaps using silly reasoning to persuade ourselves that we don’t need to have it? The wise thing to do if we have lost this sense of divine love is to repent and the wise thing to do if we have this sense of divine love is to treasure it.
Justification is God bringing his forgiven people into a status of permanent security. From it flows precious blessings that can be experienced in this life even if we suffer for the faith. We can discover a dedication we did not think we could have, we can develop a character we did not think was possible, and we can possess a hope that transforms us in the midst of trials. In it all, we can know the rich ongoing sense of God’s love through the work of the indwelling Spirit. All this and more is connected to the wonder of justification.