The Hope of Suffering
THE HOPE OF suffering (rom 8:18-25)
I’ve called this message “the hope of suffering” the gospel gives us the hope of suffering, doesn’t that sound exciting!...
We’ve been working out way through the letter to the Romans.
· Rom 1+2 the bad news – the wrath of God because of pervasive universal sin. Our problem is that we are all unrighteous and there is no way for us to gain, earn or merit righteousness.
· Rom 3+4 the good news – the grace or gift of God – justification by grace through faith in Christ. God’s new way of righteousness through the person and work of Christ.
· Rom 5-8 then unpack this gift showing the fruit or result of the gift of justification. In a word – Paul begins to show us the hope that we have because of our standing in Christ.
Read Rom 5:1-5
· Vs 1-2 we have peace with God, a right standing with God, access to God and the hope of Glory.
· 3-4 we not only rejoice in our past justification and our future glory, we rejoice in present sufferings. Paul wastes no time in moving from justification, or our right standing before God, to the implications it has on our present experience, our present suffering in this world. We can have joy, Paul says here, even in the midst of suffering, because suffering results in hope, it solidifies our hope, it strengthens and intensifies our hope and this hope doesn’t disappoint us because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
· This hope is more than wishful thinking, its certain confidence
· Paul’s argument reaches a climax in chapter 8 where he is going to expand on each of these themes in more detail: our future glory, our present sufferings, but our certain hope because of the ministry of the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
So let’s pick up on this in Rom 8:18-25 – look out for these key themes – hope, glory, suffering and the ministry of the Spirit.
Read Rom 8:18-25
Four anchors to hold on to in uncertain times:
The reality of present suffering (8:18)
Many people fall off the bus, they lose their way and become disorientated and disillusioned because they don’t have a philosophy of suffering.
Many charismatic churches so overemphasize the supernatural and spiritual experiences and power encounters and healings and miracles that they are left with no theology or paradigm for suffering. For them, the Christian life is about victory over suffering.
Paul will conclude this chapter – 8:37 we are more than conquerors. So in Paul’s mind the Christian life is about victory, victory in suffering, victory through suffering.
Christian – stop expecting life here to be easy!.... Stop getting shocked and horrified and disillusioned every time things break or go wrong, or people sin against you or you get sick. Stop making the goal of your life to avoid these things at all costs.
Before I trained as a pastor I trained as a mechanical Engineer and worked as a maintenance engineer for Sasol. So my job was to supervise maintenance for a section of the plant. The more we identified defects that needed fixing and the more we fixed the more we were praised and promoted. Yet at home, I resented maintenance. I hated it when something broke, or needed repainting. I carried out every bit of maintenance at home with a long face complaining how long it took and what a waste of time it was. Then one day it struck me – we are living in a fallen world. A world which the Bible says is characterize by rust and moth and decay, and thorns and thistles of every kind. I’m trying to live in a world that doesn’t include those things, and resenting it every time they come my way. I want heaven on earth now and I get angry with God and with everyone else whenever my dream of heaven on earth here and now, is not realized….And the irony is that if this world didn’t need maintenance – then I would have been out of a job, I wouldn’t have had any work to do.
All at once I changed my paradigm, I changed my expectations and maintenance has been so much easier for me every since. I don’t always like specific tasks, but I don’t resent maintenance anymore. Life in this world requires maintenance. It glorifies God to fix what is broken and paint what is rusted and show the world something of what the world ought to be – without expecting it to be what it is not….This world is not heaven – its broken in a way that only God can fix.
Illustration: What do you expect….
From time to time I used to get together with Matt Viljoen from the Afrikaans church to talk about church and encourage each other – and one day I was complaining to Matt about some difficult counseling cases I was busy with and didn’t know how to help the people and some ministries in the church that we were not running well and some people who were struggling. I was just feeling generally burdened and overwhelmed by all the brokenness I saw in the church – and Matt looked at me and said – Woolley, what do you expect? It was the same paradigm shift, but applicable to my new occupation. I wouldn’t have work to do if people didn’t need counseling and encouragement and if ministries didn’t need supervision and constant maintenance and improvement. Church and relationships are messy and require constant maintenance because we are living in a fallen world.
If you find there is hypocrisy in the church and selfishness and sin and a lack of love – what do you expect? The church hasn’t been glorified yet.
What do you expect?
Suffering of the present time
In 8:18 he says, I consider the suffering of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed.
He takes this whole present age, the whole period of time between the first and second coming of Christ and he sums it up as one big experience of suffering. To put it another way – I consider that the sufferings which characterize this present time are not worth comparing to our future glory.
The New Testament creates an expectation for us that we will suffer. We should be shocked and horrified and feel a little uneasy when we are not suffering.
· 19 can speak of creation waiting with eager longing, with great anticipation for its redemption. Creation knows it needs saving.
· 20 Creation was subject to futility. It’s original purpose and design cannot be realized. It cannot work properly, it cannot glorify God in the way originally intended. It is broken beyond present repair and must limp along backfiring and misfiring and spewing out black smoke every 10 meters.
· Creation is personified in vs 20 where Paul says “it was subjected to futility…against its will as it were” and in context God is the one who subjected it to futility. Paul is obviously referring to the original sin in Gen 3 where God cursed the ground and ordained that it would hence forth bring forth thorns and thistles and be subject to death and decay.
· Vs 21 talks about all of creation being in bondage to corruption and longing to be set free, to be liberated from this decay
· Vs 22 speaks about the whole of creation groaning together. The idea is that every aspect of creation, every part and the whole of it is groaning, is sighing, is straining and struggling under this unbearable weight. Every creature, every corner, every place, ever facet of creation is singing a funeral dirge.
· Vs 23 can say – not just creation, but we ourselves groan inwardly. Believers are not exempt from this suffering, this groaning, this straining, this longing for liberation from this bondage and decay.
So Paul is not saying we should be excited about suffering – but he is saying we should stop being shocked by it….
Peter can say in 1 Pet 4:1 “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking…..” We should adopt Christ’s mindset, His perspective which was to embrace suffering for the glory of God and the good of His people. Christ didn’t come to this earth thinking to escape the cross and sign up for a cruise ship….In 1 Pet 4:12 Peter goes on to say, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”
That’s how Paul concluded the last section in 8:17 – we are God’s children – called to share in His inheritance and share in His suffering. In fact Paul puts it in even stronger terms in vs 17 – he says, we only receive the inheritance with him on the condition that we suffer with him.
Suffering with Christ
Notice how these passages all put together – our suffering and Christ’s suffering. Our sufferings for Christ, are viewed as an extension and fulfilment of His own suffering. They are the sufferings necessary to complete His mission. As the cross was necessary suffering in order to provide atonement, so our sufferings are necessary in order to complete redemption.
VS 19 tells us that all of creation has been subject to this futility and groaning and suffering for one reason, freedom and glory and redemption have been delayed for one reason – for the sons of God to be revealed, or disclosed or put on display. Creation will groan until the last of God’s elect is called into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ and take their place along with the rest of their brothers and sisters.
We haven’t moved on from the doctrine of our adoption, that we looked at last week. Paul is expanding on it. If we are God’s children, and have this great inheritance, why is it that we suffer and groan here? Paul says – for the sake of the family…..
We are left to suffer and groan here – because of the great commission, the great mission that Christ has entrusted to us of proclaiming the gospel so that God’s children might be saved from their sin and reconciled to Him. In a very real sense, our sufferings complete, or fill up the work of Christ in redemption and that sanctifies suffering.
· Paul says in Phil 3:10-11, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Whatever it takes – so long as I’m in Christ and heading for glory with Christ.
· Col 1:24 “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,” Same idea – not that our sufferings complete the atoning work of Christ, but that they complete His redemptive purpose with regard to calling God’s children into the church.
Please stop being shocked and horrified every time you get sick, or struggle, or get mistreated, or have to deal with selfish ungrateful children or sinful people, or a corrupt government, or a difficult boss – as if something strange were happening to you!
Suffering is not the only word repeated in this text – so is the term “glory”
Four anchors to hold on to in uncertain times:
1: The reality of present suffering 2: The magnificence of future glory
2: The magnificence of future glory (18)
All the sufferings that characterize the whole of this present time amount to nothing when compared to our future glory
Glory will overtake us (18)
When vs 18 says, “the glory to be revealed to us” the English language is struggling to capture the idea. The idea is not that God is going to show us glory, as if we are going to watch this amazing movie or see this amazing sight or revelation of Glory.
The idea here is that glory is going to overtake us and engulf us. We are going to be caught up and immersed in and engulfed by and saturated with glory. This is the glory of God, the splendour of God, the beauty of God the goodness of God, the blessing of God, the favour of God, the joy of God, the power of God – communicated to us in fullest measure… The text goes on to try explain it….
· 19 all of creation is pictured as longing eagerly for this glory, quivering, shivering anxiously – like a race horse in the starting gate – just waiting to be let loose.
· 8:21 says it’s the glory reserved for the children of God. It’s the unique glory that is part of our inheritance in Christ.
· 21 describes it as freedom from all that is wrong with this world, freedom from corruption and decay and groaning
· 22 can describe the present suffering and pain as the pains of child-birth. The pains of child birth are real and difficult – but when that baby is delivered – the joy of having and holding that child engulfs and eradicates the suffering that preceded it.
· 23 describes it as the redemption and renewal of our bodies, the realization and fulfilment of our adoption.
We see here that we must expect suffering, but we must fixate on glory. Repeat. We must expect suffering, but we mustn’t make that our focus. That’s not where our attention should be – our eyes should be fixed on glory – the magnitude of the glory, the certainty of the glory, the splendour of the glory that we will enjoy.
Focus on the finish line
When you are running a marathon and you start struggling and feeling tired and discouraged – the last thing you must do is start focusing on your pain and how tired you are feeling and how long you still have to go. At that point you have to focus on how near you are to finishing, how wonderful it will be to cross that finish line – you’ve got to be able to see and taste and feel the joy and satisfaction which you will enjoy as that medal is put around your neck and you have accomplished what you set out to do and your race is run and the suffering is gone.
Focus on the promises (Heb 11:32-12:4)
Heb 11 contains what some call “faiths hall of fame” These are the hero’s of our faith and what characterizes them all is unwavering faith, undiminished hope that the promises of God will be realized, even though they were not presently experiencing them
Read Heb 11:32-12:4
This was Christ’s mindset – for the joy set before Him He endured the cross. He was able to endure the suffering of the cross because He fixed His eyes beyond the present suffering to the glory that would follow, to the reward and rest and redemption that it would accomplish.
We are to set our minds on things above as Col 1 puts is – fixate on Christ and on heaven and on heavenly reward.
This world is not our home, we’re just passing through….
Believer, this is not pie in the sky stuff. You must spend more time thinking about heaven, so that it becomes more real to you than your present suffering. You must be able to see the sunsets of the new heaven and the new earth, the farm you will enjoy working, or the books you will enjoy reading, the skills you will enjoy learning. The places you will visit…..
If what I’m describing to you doesn’t sound like heaven, then you haven’t spent enough time dreaming about heaven. If you think heaven is just one endless choir practice, then you haven’t spent enough time thinking about heaven…
Glory is not just refurbishing this earth, restoring this earth to its present condition. Glory is taking us and all of creation to a whole new level, beauty and splendor and goodness and enjoyment that makes all that this world has to offer pale in comparison – and completely unspoiled by sin and decay.
I like the way that Keith Green puts it in one of his songs. He says that God created everything we see in the universe in 6 days and yet Jesus said In Jn 14 that He has been preparing a place for us. If everything we see was created in only 6 days and heaven is being prepared for over 2000 thousand years, than we are living in a garbage can compared to what heaven will be like…
Four anchors to hold on to in uncertain times:
The reality of present suffering, the splendour of future glory
Third word is the Spirit.
The MINISTRY OF the HOLY Spirit (23)
I think the right way to understand this phrase, “of the Spirit” is, we have the first-fruits, which is the Spirit. The Spirit is the first-fruits of heaven, the foretaste of the heavenly, the first of the harvest we are about to reap, the down payment of our inheritance.
In other words, what is heaven all about? God with us, God in us!
The thing that is most wrong with this world is that the most beautiful, most knowledgeable, most exciting, most entertaining and endearing and winsome person in the universe is largely hidden and absent and unapproachable.
Illustration: thrill of love
You had to have been in love to know the thrill of seeing that other person and the somersaults in your stomach when she notices you back. You walk into a room and it’s like nobody else is there because all you can think about is how gorgeous she looks….I used to wonder around between classes at school, just hoping I might bump into Megan between subjects and a fleeting glance was worth a mile of walking. It’s a love so strong you want to give yourself completely to it, you will covenant yourself in loyal, sacrificial love to this one person for the rest of your life and do it willingly. You will forsake parents and siblings and move to the other side of the world for the love of this one person – and give your life to them fully and willingly and joyfully.
God has made marriage so that we might understand something of the comprehensive, sacrificial, unconditional love of Christ for His church. And to make it even more tangible, God has poured His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
The love between Christ and His people is described as a marriage and heaven is described as the marriage banquet, the weeding feast and the Holy Spirit is the engagement ring – but instead of just giving us something to pledge His love, God gave us someone, God gave us himself.
The Spirit is the sign and seal that you are a child of God and are deeply, unconditionally and eternally loved.
When Paul goes on to say in 8:35-37
· We are more than conquerors despite being killed all the day long, despite being like sheep about to be slaughtered, despite tribulation and distress and persecution…..
· We are more than conquerors through all these things not because we are so strong and have such great faith and so committed and sacrificial. We are more than conquerors, not because of anything in ourselves, but through and because of Him who loved us.
· And that love is not only demonstrated historically and objectively in the death of Christ for us – but personally and intimately and presently in the ministry of the Spirit in us.
· You must understand that there is a supernatural power – the most powerful being in the universe has taken up residence in you for the express purpose of leading you safely to glory.
· God wants you to know that although He has left you in a world and in a body that is ruined by sin – you are not alone and you will not be overcome and overwhelmed by any or all of it…..and redemption with all its resplendent glory is just around the next corner…
· Which should give you an unshakeable hope.
Which brings me to the fourth and final term in this passage… hope
Four anchors to hold on to in uncertain times:
1: The reality of present suffering 2: The magnificence of future glory 3: The ministry of the Holy Spirit.
4: The FAITH of persevering hope (24-25)
Hope is not wishful thinking in that it has an objective basis in the promises of God.
In this hope we were saved: salvation is described here as an introduction into this hope and the hope He is talking about here is the hope of redemption, the hope of liberation, the hope of glory – the hope that our adoption as children will reach fruition as we enter into the inheritance that is ours as God’s sons and daughters.
Biblical hope is faith in action. Note the close connection here between biblical hope and the faith of Heb 11 and 12.
· It’s based on what God has promised. It believes what God has promised will be realized despite present circumstances to the contrary.
· Vs 24 Who hopes for what he sees? Nothing is seen or felt or experienced in the present which would confirm or affirm that God’s promises are true and His purposes will be realized.
· What does Heb 11:1 say about faith, “Is the substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” and it follows up with this long line of people who suffered their whole life and never received what God had promised – yet they never wavered in their faith.
· Therefore Vs 25 can conclude we wait patiently, with endurance, with eager anticipation……
· Hope and faith are closely connected they’re almost the same thing – but hope emphasizes how we feel about it. We long, we look forward to, with eager anticipation.
· This unshakeable, certain hope we have – gives us strength, gives us endurance, gives us eager anticipation in the present. Suffering just serves to solidify and intensify our hope. No matter how much we suffer, how difficult the going gets, how bleak the outlook here – we gaze not at what is seen but unseen, we look not at the present, but at the future, we consider not the strength of our own resolve but the magnitude of God’s love for us – and that gets us through.
Believers don’t feel strong, but we are, we don’t feel able, but we are, we don’t feel victorious – but we rise and conquer through Him who loved us. This is the certain confidence that God has given us in the gospel, in the midst of present suffering and difficulty.
Hope says though all is lost, nothing of eternal significance is lost.
We have a great commission – and God will keep and sustain us until our contribution to His mission is done. And then He will take us home to glory.
Whether it be by train or plane, or pain – the destination is the same – we have a one way ticket to glory and our departure is imminent. That is our confidence in present suffering.