Understanding Present Sufferings
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children 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 freedom and glory 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 to sonship, 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 they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
Paul has just gotten done saying that God has adopted us a children and the proof of our adoption is that we follow the ways of the Spirit, not sinful men or the sinful me! This allows me to share in the glory of Jesus if I also share in his suffering.
This raises the issue of suffering and in what way it is to be expected or is appropriate for the adopted child of God. Just as it was surprising to the Children of Israel that God would allow them to be miraculously delivered from Egypt and still face difficulties in the future, we find that as followers of Christ, miraculously delivered from the penalty of our sins and wonderfully adopted as God’s children, we face future challenges. The issue of suffering is plain in every person’s life. We seek to avoid them. Let’s see how Paul treats the subject!
- What are Our Present Sufferings?
- All of creation sets the scope
Some suffering comes without any reference to personal cause and effect.
The environment is trying to kill you. Life is hard, dangerous even.
Sunburn, dehydration, hypothermia, tick borne illness, allergies, cancer, Covid, hurricanes, floods, tornados, avalanches, volcanoes, meteorites, blizzards, extreme cold etc.
Thorns and thistles grow, and behind them there is a personal evil being: A snake in the garden!
Job 2: 3 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.”
4 “Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. 5 But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
6 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.”
7 So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job
- The consequence of living in a sinful world
Cain killed Abel, Lamech killed more and bragged. By the time we get to Genesis 6, the thoughts and intents of the heart of man are only evil all the time. And God destroys the world and starts over.
Noah comes out of the Ark as a new type of Adam, he still has a sin problem and mankind goes careening down toward judgement!
Romans 1 process of the depravity of the heart and mind of people.
Revelation 21: Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
This world described here is the world that we long for. It is coming, but it is not the world in which we live now.
Right before Jesus is arrested:
John 16: 33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
- The necessary hardship and discipline cycle
Acts 14:22b “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,”
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children.
11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.
Biblical example of the Children of Israel in the wilderness. Were they not being led by God specifically and directly? And yet they go without food. But are fed by manna (which is a picture of Jesus). And then they go without water, but get it from a rock twice. (Which is Jesus. Struck to get life the first time, spoken to the second time). Even the Passover Lamb where they are delivered from slavery in Egypt, the firstborn dies so God’s people might have life. (Jesus). They are saved from the Egyptian army after Passover power by walking through the Red Sea (OT picture of baptism and new life in Christ). So, we can expect to walk in some trouble in life and in that trouble find life from Jesus!
Why is this necessary? I believe that Christians suffer in order to communicate to the world that Resurrection life exists. A reaction in faith to the difficult circumstances that we encounter communicates to a world lost and blinded to the truth that there is a different way to encounter life than through great circumstances.
- We are Saved in Hope v.24
- Hope of future Resurrection
New Creation, new physical world, new bodies in the future!
Hope is Resurrection language. It is the language of eschatology. We are in the Last Days. We have a different citizenship. We look forward to a different “country”
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
- Hope of present Resurrection 8:28
God’s power is made perfect in man’s weakness!
You can find this idea all over Scripture!
God demonstrates His power in unusual ways as a sign of His reality. We partner with Him as His kingdom citizens and priests.
I Cor 1: 18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
Glory in trials
The whole book of I Peter is about God causing life to result from our present suffering in the same manner that He did from Jesus’ suffering!
I Peter 1: 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
God’s Power in demonstrated in our weakness
II Cor 12: Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Ability to minister because of our troubles
II Cor 1: 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.
And in case you want an example of the measure of Paul’s need:
II Cor 1: 8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. (Sounds like Job!)
9 Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. (This isn’t a one time experience!)
On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.
I Cor 15: 32 If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised,
“Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”[d]
An Old Testament example of the same principle
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego:
Daniel 3: 16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
- Jesus’ Resurrection guarantees ours
In terms of present life and circumstances.
4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.
II Cor 4: 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
In terms of new creation.
I Cor 15: 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come,
Because we have some suffering to do in this life and because the power of resurrection is greater than the power of suffering we should look forward past our current pain to where God is taking us. He is taking us to glory!
III. Fix Your Eyes Forward
Patience: hupomone: cheerful endurance
The refrain of the Book of Revelation: This calls for patient endurance. Why?
Because history has an end point!
Because your life has an end point.
Because all of your painful circumstances have an end point.
Because the end point of all of reality is that God is at work for His glory and our good!
- Pain shouts at you
Pain is incredibly isolating. It is what tests our faith. When we suffer pain forces itself on our attention. I don’t think about my ankles, do you? Well, I broke mine last year at this time. It hurts more now, I think about it more.
We don’t want pain and are driven to avoid it, so whenever we are threatened with having to face it, we will seek to avoid it. But when it comes to compromising with temptation, that attitude leads to death.
- God shouts at you in your pain
“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” CS Lewis
Phil 3: 7,10 Fellowship With Jesus
7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Fellowship with the Spirit
I Peter 4: 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.
Fellowship with the Prophets
Matthew 5: The repeated beattitude
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Demonstrated in the oldest stories!
Back to Job:
42 Then Job answered the Lord and said,
2 “I know that You can do all things,
And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.
3 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”
4 ‘Hear, now, and I will speak;
I will ask You, and You instruct me.’
5 “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear;
But now my eye sees You;
6 Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes.”
- Glory awaits you
We hope for what we do not have and we wait patiently for it. This is Resurrection. There are no painful circumstances that will not be redeemed. And our painful selves will also be changed.
I John 3:
1 See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
The Cross is not our enemy!
17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.