Day 19 - Suffering and Glory
17 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 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.
In July 2012 the largest wildfire on record in New Mexico was burning through over 300,000 acres of forest in the Gila National Forest. Over 300 square miles of forest was destroyed by fire. Hiking through this section of the forest a year later creates a somber mood as the blackened tree stumps seem to stand in the fields like grave markers. However, amidst the black are tiny patches of green growth. These small saplings, wildflowers and vines create a picture of hope for the future. One day, this forest will be beautiful again! Hiking through this trail brings a mixture of sadness for what has been lost and hope for the future.
Paul has convinced us all that we are sinners (Roman 1-3), told us about a wonderful gift of righteousness that is given apart from the law (Roman 4-5) and helped us understand the our relationship to sin as a believer (Romans 6-7). Now, Paul has opened up Romans 8 by revealing the source of this new life of righteousness, it is the Spirit of God in us! He ended the first section by reminding us that the Spirit in us confirms our status as children of God (8:16)!
Now it is time for a reality check! Following the positive direction of Paul’s words and the feeling that this just keeps getting better, we may become complacent and believe that we are now living on easy street! However, if your life is like mine, you would agree that easy street is not a good description of life as it is now. The passage builds on the concept of being God’s child by including the fact that we are also God’s heirs which make us co-heirs with Christ (8:17). We get to share in His inheritance. That sounds great until we read that the inheritance includes both glory and suffering (8:17).
MARKING THE TEXT:
Circle the words sufferings (8:18), frustration (8:20), bondage to decay (8:21), groaning (8:22), groan inwardly (8:23),weakness (8:26) and groans (8:26).
Being in Christ definitely has its perks. We get life, we get righteousness, we get freedom from death, freedom from sin and freedom from the law. I told you it was good news! But, the reality is that being in Christ also means we get to share in His suffering (8:17). Jesus had told his disciples that the world would be difficult for them (John 16:33; John 15:18). Paul uses the word groan to create a word picture of the suffering. The word he uses is a word which means heavy sigh and is usually associated with grief. You have been working on a project at work for 2 weeks and then the system crashes and you lose all of your work (heavy sigh). You have not been feeling well and go to the doctor to find that you have cancer (heavy sigh). The school principal calls to tell you that your son has been suspended for drug use (heavy sigh). The disappointments and difficulties of life make us groan.
Paul uses the word groan three times. First the creation groans (8:20), then we groan (8:23) and finally the Spirit groans (8:26). These disappointments and difficulties come on the physical level, the personal level and the spiritual level.
The creation is used as an illustration of suffering and groaning. Mankind’s choice to sin and disobey God had an impact on the creation itself. The earth was cursed because of man (Genesis 3:17-19). Thorns, thistles, fear in the animal kingdom, natural disasters, parasites, etc., have limited the earth from bearing the kind of fruit it was created to produce. It is experiencing what Paul calls frustration or failure to thrive (8:20) and has become subject to the law of entropy, everything is in a constant state of decaying or dying (8:21).
We are groaning because though our spirits have come alive through Christ, our bodies are still mortal and subject to pain, sickness and temptation. We sigh heavily every time we are reminded of our mortality, weakness and limitations (8:23). Paul uses the word weakness (8:26) to describe this. It means that we lack the capacity to understand, accomplish or bear up under some thing in our lives.
The Spirit of Christ that lives in us (8:11) groans along with us interpreting our heavy sighs to the Father because we can’t seem to find the words to express what it is we really want or need. The Spirit is called the Comforter or Paraclete, one who comes alongside. In our weakness, we are not alone, God Himself, in the person of the Spirit groans alongside us and interprets our groanings to the Father.
MARKING THE TEXT
Underline the words eager expectation (8:19), hope (8:20), wait eagerly (8:23), hope (8:24) and wait for it patiently (8:25).
Without the spirit living in us, this groaning would lead to despair and discouragement. However, the presence of the Spirit of God is in us like the firstfruits of what God has in store for us. Under the old covenant, the Israelites brought the first fruits of their harvest as an offering to God (Leviticus 23). It was a guarantee of what was to come. Christ is called the firstfruits from the dead
(I Corinthians 15:23), His resurrection guarantees our resurrection. Paul says we have the firstfruits of the Spirit. The Spirit of God living in us is a guarantee of greater life ahead! So the groaning doesn’t lead to despair, it leads to hope.
The creation is standing on its tiptoes leaning forward for the curse to be lifted. The words eager expectation (8:19) are actually translated “standing on tiptoe” in the Phillips translation of the Bible. Paul uses the word again in verse 23 to describe our attitude toward the redemption of our bodies. Our flesh continues to struggle with temptation, addiction, disobedience, sickness, pain and death. We are eager to trade in these bodies for our perfect, glorified bodies.
This expectation of good creates in us hope. Hope is the confident and joyful expectation of good in the future. The good in the future that we are hoping for is the glory of God (8:17, 18). The glory of God always marks His presence. The glory of God hovered over the tabernacle in the wilderness, over the mercy seat in the temple and around the angels announcing the birth of Jesus. We will share in the glory of God, we will be eternally in His presence, with glorified bodies on a perfect planet with no decay, no weakness and no groaning! In his sermon entitled Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis says, “The door on which we have been knocking all of our lives will open at last”
So we have inherited the sufferings of Christ and the glory of Christ. The good news is while the sufferings might be difficult, they pale in comparison to the splendor of the glory which is our hope. John states that we are currently the sons of God but we don’t yet see it fully (I John 3:2). Paul says in another epistle that our current troubles are actually moving us toward the glory of God (II Corinthians 4:7). We keep our eyes fixed on the glory instead of the suffering but we do allow a heavy sigh from time to time.