Despite prosperity preachers, and despite our wishing it were not so, we will be glorified with Christ in the resurrection, if we suffer with him in this life . . .
“Now if we are children, then we are heirs– heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17).
Considering the context (8:1-16), Paul is probably thinking about suffering in our struggles against sin. In the passage below, he’s thinking about suffering in our struggles against persecution.
“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him . . . “ (Philippians 1:29).
But in Romans 8:18-25, he seems to broaden his thinking to include all kinds of suffering with which we struggle in the body. Paul tells his readers how he evaluates the suffering situation (“I consider . . . “)
“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (8:18).
“ . . .the sufferings of this present time” are no small thing. Paul knew suffering. So do we. My suffering (though it certainly could be worse) consumes me. Christians endure cancer, heart disease and more. Persecution causes suffering, dislocation, fear and death. It’s happening today.
So Paul’s statement makes some of us say, “Yeah, right. You don’t know what I’m going through.” And what some of us are going through makes Paul’s consideration sound like childhood fantasty. Thus we’re immediately faced with a choice: to believe or not.
Paul makes the same comparison in 2 Corinthians 4. “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure . . . (4:17). Put suffering on one scale and glory on the other—the “glory” scale crashes down to the counter under the weight. “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will give us later” (8:18, NLT).
“ . . . glory” is one of those hard-to-define words, a word one uses when a word is insufficient. Greek is doxa, a manifestation of God’s excellent power, awesome holiness, awesome majesty. English definition: “majestic beauty and splendor”. But definitions don’t do it. “Glory” is more–a word we use when something is so wonderful it can’t be expressed. Paul tries . . .
“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (8:19-21).
This glory is so glorious, Paul explains, that the whole creation “waits with eager longing . . . “ The Greek apokaradokia personifies creation as someone who is eagerly, expectantly waiting with his head stretched forward alertly.
Possible? Really? Is creation—trees, grass, flowers, clouds, sun, stars, bird, turtles, lions, air, planets—“waiting with eager longing” like a child for Christmas morning?
What’s creation waiting with eager longing for? “ . . . the revealing of the children of God . . . “ I understand Paul to mean the unveiling of God’s children as God’s children.
Now we’re seen as ordinary people. People like everybody else. But then, glory. The word stirs in me a child-like wonder that defies detailed definition. It’s enough to wildly imagine.
In our wild imaging, note this: creation longs to be “set free from its bondage to decay and . . . obtain the glorious freedom of the children of God.” Our “freedom” will be from death and all ills associated with it. Creation itself longs to be freed from its bondage to decay. That raises an interesting question: In what way is creation decaying? That research is for another time.
What’s also interesting and is just my speculation. Paul’s language may imply God’s children “get glorified” (in an instant–1 Corinthians 15) and the glory sort of sweeps from us to creation. Whatever the sequence, as in the first creation, we (in this case God’s redeemed children) are the zenith of the glorious new creation.
But Paul has more to say . . .
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (8:22,23).
The creation “waits with eager longing” because “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains . . . “ Paul bases his view on Genesis 3:17-19 . . .
“And to the man he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ”’You shall not eat of it,” cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Creation lies under God’s curse. The suffering of man’s sin against the Creator extends to the creation. It’s in pain. But Paul calls it “labor pains”. Something’s about to be born.
“ . . . not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” Christians groan. We have “the first fruits of the Spirit”—the fruit of the Spirit’s work inside us that portends an overwhelming harvest to come.
We groan in suffering. Our bodies hurt, grow weak, contract disease, endure the wounds of persecution, die. We have received “the Spirit of adoption” (8:15); but we wait for the fullness of adoption—“the redemption of our bodies.”
“So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:42-49).
In present suffering, this is our hope.
“For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (8:24,25).
We were “saved” in hope, says Paul. That is, from the start, the gospel promised, not just sins forgiven, but the hope of glory. To miss this is to miss the wholeness of the gospel. It’s to leave Christ in the tomb—and us with him.
What we see of Christianity now is not all it is, not all we receive. We have a hope of what we don’t yet see. And this hope produces “patience”. The Greek word, hupopalmanay, is better translated “patient endurance.” Because we have the hope of glory, we patiently endure until the glorious day of bodily redemption dawns.
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Suffering. Honestly, I’d rather be delivered from it now (and still have glory awaiting!). But I don’t get to choose. Christ Jesus has revealed himself to my mind and heart–and I must follow. I understand persecution suffering, because enemies of the cross will attack Christians. I don’t understand what appears to be random illness that sits me in a wheelchair and robs so much of these years with my wife.
But this is the path our Father has chosen for me, his child. I still pray for healing. But I listen to Paul’s words. too. Beyond this suffering our Father has prepared incomparable glory. Somehow, by his grace, I must keep my eyes on that future. And I must trust, like a little child, that the fantastic hope of a glorified body and a glorified new creation lies ahead.
So I put my child-like hope in Christ, looking beyond suffering to the glory that is way greater.