New Living Translation
The Future Glory
18 Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.
Yet heartache we suffer pain filled with grief now is nothing compared to the joy and glory he will present to us later revealing compassion and joy in faithfulness and love
What is the Meaning of “All Things Work Together for Our Good?”
WRITTEN BY WENDY MCMAHAN
How long could you go without a source of income? If you didn’t have a paying job for a few months or even a year, would you still be able to trust that God was working everything together for your good?
When Larry Ward founded Food for the Hungry (FH) at the age of 45, he felt a clear call from God. According to Norman Rohrer’s biography of Dr. Ward, One at a Time, Dr. Ward had just received a pay increase at his previous job. Yet he resigned from that position to follow God’s call.
Rohrer writes, “In (Dr. Ward’s) new mission, he would work for two years without a salary. He was not beginning with small plans. He was prepared to pay the price of venture.”
Did you catch that? He was a successful, driven professional with a young family at home, yet he would go for two years without a salary.
Two years without any income would make most of us wonder if we had truly heard God’s call. But in moments when God’s timeline doesn’t appear to match up with our expectations, we can trust God’s promises.
A Promise for Our Good
Romans 8:28 is a promise that rang true for Dr. Ward, as it has been true for Christians throughout history.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28 (NIV)
The Living Bible translation words it this way: “And we know that all that happens to us is working for our good if we love God and are fitting into his plans.”
The Apostle Paul wrote the book of Romans, which many consider to be the most rich theological treatise in Scripture. He begins chapter 8 by discussing the differences between living by the Spirit and living by the flesh. He points out that living by the Spirit makes us sons and daughters of God.
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 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 8:16, 17 (NIV)
Then Paul compares the sufferings that we face in this life with “the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). He entreats us to wait patiently and to trust that the Spirit intercedes for us when we don’t know what to pray for.
All Things Work Together
The promise of Romans 8:28 that God works for our good “in all things” is reassuring. It means that no matter the circumstance, there are only two qualifiers for God to be working all things together for our good.
First, He works for “the good of those who love Him.” If you love God, you can trust that He is working for your good. He loves you back, and when we love people, we seek their welfare.
Second, He works for “those who are called according to His purpose.” Do you realize that following God entails submitting to His purpose for you? You have been called by Him for a purpose that He holds for your life.
In fact, the wording of this verse suggests that these two qualifiers–loving God and experiencing His call–are actually one. Those who love God are called according to His purpose. And vice versa.
Being called according to God’s purpose also reminds us what “our good” actually is. It’s not our comfort or worldly success. It’s the furthering of His purpose through us.
Small and Large Things
Today, FH workers continue to see God working things together for their good every day.
Amalia Toc has served with FH in her home country of Guatemala for 11 years. As a child she lived in an FH community and was a sponsored child. Later, as an adult, she learned of a job opportunity at FH and applied.
Amalia took the step of faith to work for FH, but in her first few weeks on the job, she doubted God’s call. She couldn’t see God working all things together for her good. Like Dr. Ward, she took a pay cut to join staff at FH. She also left behind a job with a pending promotion, frequent bonuses, and good friends.
When she arrived at FH, her first task was to translate a stack of letters between sponsored children and their sponsors. “Although I enjoyed translating the letters, it became monotonous after a few days. The doubt hit me again.”
Amalia’s strong faith kept her coming to work. “Then I stumbled upon a letter that brought the answer I was looking for,” she said. “The sponsors wrote with so much love to a sponsored child. They told this young girl how much Jesus loved her, and that He had beautiful plans for her life. They encouraged her continue working hard in school.”
“Reading the letter brought me to tears,” she said. “I could feel that those words were from God to me, too. Since then, I’ve known that God wanted me here.”
How About You?
Are you going through a circumstance where you can’t see God working? When Dr. Ward founded FH, he had already been through many faith-building experiences that led him to trust God’s promise to work things together for his good. He persevered through those two years of need by remembering God’s faithfulness in the past. And later, as he continued to face challenges and hardships in ministry, he gained strength by looking back on that time as yet another circumstance in which God had worked.
Likewise, Amalia has had the courage to serve with FH for the past 11 years because she can remember a specific way that He spoke into her life when she felt lonely and confused.
Today, take a moment to thank God that He is working all things together for your good, even in the circumstances where you can’t yet see the result.
Romans 8:18 Meaning of Present Suffering and Future Glory
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
Explanation and Commentary of Romans 8:18
“In this world, you will have trouble” (Jn 16:33). The world is fallen (Gen 3), and while it is in the process of being restored by the finished work of Christ, suffering will remain a part of the experience for anyone in it, until the final return of Christ on the last day.
But there is no suffering whatsoever that should be considered random or pointless. Jesus told his disciples that there was trouble in the world so that they would have peace in their understanding that Jesus has overcome the world (Jn 16:33). In Romans 8, Paul discourses on the same theme. He explains that we must share in Christ’s sufferings in order to share in his glory.
The New Testament authors are completely consistent on this point. All suffering for the Christian is meant to produce joy and strength in us, leading to greater reward (Mt 5:12). All suffering for the believer is refinement, character shaping, and glory producing.
Breaking Down the Key Parts of Romans 8:18
#1 “I consider…”
How we look at our situation matters a great deal and will dictate our feelings and behaviors in response. Some psychologists have said that life has no meaning apart from that which we give it. The reality is that life is bursting with meaning, but we must recognize the true biblical meaning, especially when we are suffering. Consider your suffering in light of cosmic reality as revealed by God in his Word.
#2 “…that our present sufferings…”
If you are not presently suffering anything discernible, be grateful, but understand that the nature of this world in this age where most of the world is still fallen, is suffering. Your present sufferings are only one microcosmic manifestation of the ultimate reality that the world is broken and in need of restoration. Thanks be to God that the process of restoration is well underway and a foregone conclusion.
#3 “…are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
This is a powerful way to give meaning (see #1) to our present sufferings. It is indeed how God gives it meaning. Suffering is productive, and the ultimate product is our glory. This is such an astounding truth that were we to comprehend it, we would walk around with our minds constantly in rapture and praise. We will have all impurities removed, in part by our sufferings, and what we will be is nearly impossible to grasp in its glory.
Present Suffering, Future Glory (Romans 8:18-25)
“Mom, why are there mosquitoes that give people malaria? Why are there germs that make us sick?”
“Mom, I saw on the news a bad flood that killed a lot of people. Why are there floods and earthquakes and hurricanes and tornadoes? Why are there famines where people starve to death?”
“Mom, why did my friend at school get cancer and die? Why did Grandma get sick and die?”
“Mom, why do people set off bombs to blow up other people? Why do people do bad things to hurt each other?”
Maybe your kids have asked you questions like these. Probably you’ve wrestled with them yourself. Some become agnostics or atheists because they cannot come up with satisfactory answers to the question of how a loving, all-powerful God can allow the terrible suffering that is in the world. Since none of us are exempt from suffering and death, it’s important that we understand what the Bible teaches on this difficult topic.
Philosophers, theologians, pastors, and others have written scores of books on the subject. Some of these books are helpful, while some are heretical. Job, the oldest book on the Bible, is devoted to this problem. And in our text, Paul gives part of the biblical perspective that we need to persevere through the suffering that we surely will encounter. It’s not comprehensive, but it is helpful and practical if we will struggle to understand and practice what the apostle teaches us here. He’s saying,
To persevere in present sufferings with hope, keep your eyes on the future glory that God has promised us.
Maybe right off you’re thinking, “That just sounds like ‘pie in the sky when you die.’” As I’ve often said, my response is, “Yes, you are going to die. Would you like pie with that or no pie?” The statistics are not fuzzy: We all are going to die (unless Jesus returns in our lifetimes). Materialists argue that when you die, that’s it—your body decomposes and your soul ceases to exist, just like an animal. Paul deals with that mistaken view in his defense of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15), where he says that if the dead are not raised, then eat and drink, because tomorrow you may die. But if Jesus was raised, then the dead will be raised. And if the dead are raised, then we should “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that [our] toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).
In our text, Paul wants us to understand two certainties and a practical conclusion that flows from them: First, the present time is marked by sufferings because of man’s fall into sin. Second, the future will be marked by glory for believers as God fulfills all His promises to us. The practical conclusion is, if we keep our eyes on the future promised glory, then we can endure present sufferings with perseverance and hope.
1. The present time is marked by sufferings because of man’s fall into sin.
Paul mentions “the sufferings of this present time” (8:18). He was not referring to an especially difficult period in history, but to the entire present age. The whole history of creation since the fall is marked by suffering. The history of nations is marked by struggles and catastrophes—wars, natural disasters, internal conflicts, power struggles, and crimes. The history of individuals is also in large part a history of trials—the trials of growing up, figuring out what to do with your life, whom you will marry, rearing children, working through struggles in your marriage, providing for your needs, growing old and facing declining health and death.
But, why? Why do we suffer? How should we as Christians think about these difficult matters? Four observations:
A. THE WHOLE CREATION SUFFERS BECAUSE OF MAN’S FALL INTO SIN.
Romans 8:19-22: “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.”
Paul personifies creation groaning as it anxiously awaits the culmination of salvation for God’s people, because that will trigger the release from corruption to which all creation has been subject since Adam and Eve fell into sin. At that time, God’s judgment on Adam included a judgment on creation (Gen. 3:17b-18a): “Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you ….”
Not only the botanical world, but also the animal world, came under the curse. In either the millennial kingdom or in the new heavens and new earth (depending on your view of prophecy), Isaiah (11:6-9) gives us this vision:
And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them. Also the cow and the bear will graze, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den. They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
Isaiah pictures in poetic language a vision of a restored creation, where there will not be any violence or death. We’ve watched the magnificent DVD series “Planet Earth,” which has a spectacular scene in slow motion of a great white shark leaping out of the ocean, grabbing a seal in its mouth, and plunging again beneath the water to consume its meal. In another stunning scene filmed at night, a group of lions bring down an elephant for their next meal. Such movies portray this as the natural order of the world, in which the fittest survive by preying on the weaker species.
But the Bible teaches that this is not natural. Violence and death, even in the animal kingdom, are the result of the curse on man’s sin. Death was not a part of the original creation, which God pronounced as good. And in the future, when believers receive the full redemption that has been promised in Christ, all of creation will be restored at least to its original state, if not to an even greater level of glory.
Two observations before we move on: First, this text assumes that God is the creator of all that is. It did not evolve by chance or random mutations over billions of years. Right out of the starting gate the Bible presents God as the creator (Gen. 1:1), “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” It doesn’t put it up for debate or discussion. It hits you before you can duck with the fact that God miraculously created all that is by the word of His power. Psalm 33:6, 9 declares, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host…. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.” The psalmist sandwiches his practical application between these verses (33:8): “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.” God alone is the rightful Lord of creation and Lord of your life. The fact of creation should make you bow in wonder and worship before Him (see, also, John 1:1-3; Heb. 1:2; 11:3).
Second, even though the creation is fallen, it still bears witness to the majesty and glory of the Creator. David marveled (Ps. 19:1), “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.” Here in Flagstaff at 7,000 feet elevation, with the city’s efforts at restricting light pollution, we often can see what David must have seen in those dark Judean skies. The Milky Way stretches across the sky. The constellations beam their light from trillions of miles away. Sometimes with binoculars, I have located Andromeda galaxy, 2.5 million light years away, with one trillion stars. It makes you feel properly small and God properly big!
Last weekend, Marla and I went to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Standing on the rim and gazing at the vastness of that great geologic wonder always takes your breath away. Every evening a large group of visitors gathers on the patio of the North Rim Lodge to watch the spectacle in the sky. The sunsets are gorgeous and we watched lightning from the thunderstorms across the canyon. But, sadly, I would guess that very few of those watching this spectacular show even gave a passing thought toward the greatness and glory of the Creator! But those of us who know Him should revel in His creation. If the fallen creation is this beautiful, just think how spectacular the new heavens and earth will be!
So the first observation from these verses is that all creation suffers because of man’s fall into sin. It is presently enslaved to corruption and death. But, also,
B. ALL BELIEVERS SUFFER BECAUSE OF MAN’S FALL INTO SIN.
This needs to be stated because, as I mentioned in our last study, there is a pervasive false teaching that God wants every Christian to be healthy and wealthy. They say, “If you’re sick or poor, then you need to claim your healing or your wealth by faith.” Those who teach these lies are preying on people’s greed and their natural longing to be in good health. But as I also said, I’ve never seen one of these false teachers live to be 120. They all succumb to disease and death at about the same age as the rest of us. Do not follow their teaching!
Paul himself suffered terribly. When he got saved, the Lord told Ananias the prophet whom He sent to open Paul’s eyes (Acts 9:16), “for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Paul often mentions the trials that he endured, which would have driven most of us to despair (see 2 Cor. 11:23-28).
Our Lord Himself was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief (Isa. 53:3). He came to this world of suffering to bear our sins through His own suffering and death. So why should we think that somehow we will be exempt from suffering? In the sovereign purposes of God, some suffer more and some suffer less. But none are exempt. It’s a part of living in this fallen world. This leads to a third observation:
C. WE NEED TO THINK BIBLICALLY ABOUT SUFFERING SO THAT WE WILL GROW THROUGH IT RATHER THAN BE DESTROYED BY IT.
Note Paul’s opening phrase (8:18), “For I consider ….” The word means to reckon, think about, consider, or ponder. In other words, this paragraph is the result of Paul’s careful, biblical thinking about suffering. It’s important to think biblically about suffering because when it clobbers you or those you love, you will be engulfed by a wave of powerful emotions. I’m not suggesting that you should suppress or deny your emotions, but I am saying that you need to process them through the grid of biblical truth, so that you are not devastated by your trials.
Peter indicates that it is especially in a time of trials that the devil prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour us. But we must resist him by being firm in our faith and by understanding the biblical perspective on trials (1 Pet. 5:8-10). In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul does not deny that believers grieve when they lose loved ones, but he does say that in light of the promise of the Lord’s coming and the resurrection of our bodies, we should not grieve as those who have no hope.
The Bible gives us far more perspective on suffering than I can comment on briefly here. As you read it, ask God to instill His wisdom in your heart for how to handle suffering. But here in our text, Paul wants us to think about four things: First, our present sufferings are relatively short compared to our eternal sharing in the glory of God. Second, the weight of our present trials is like a feather on the scale, which can’t compare with the tons of gold of the glory that will be revealed to us. He expresses the same thought in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18,
Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
A third thing to think about to endure present, temporary suffering for future glory is that our future glory with God is absolutely certain. God has promised it and He cannot lie. Christ promised to return in power and glory to bring final redemption to His people and to judge His enemies. Either He was mistaken or it is our certain future. And in the rest of the chapter Paul unfolds a fourth reason that we need to think biblically about suffering, namely, that God is using it to conform us to the image of Christ. Not even torture or martyrdom can separate us from His great love (8:35-39). There is a fourth observation from our text:
D. THE FACT OF SUFFERING DOES NOT UNDERMINE THE FACT THAT GOD HAS A PLAN AND THAT HE WILL ACCOMPLISH HIS PLAN.
Often people observe the terrible suffering in the world and doubt God’s love or His power. The argument is especially emotional when we consider little children suffering physical or sexual abuse or the horrible effects of war or natural disasters. We think, “It’s one thing if wicked people suffer such things, but how could a God of love and power allow these precious little children to suffer such things?”
But Paul shows that such things stem directly from man’s fall into sin. As we saw in chapter 5, when Adam sinned, the whole human race sinned in him. If you say, “That’s not fair,” you’re on dangerous ground, to accuse the Sovereign God of being unfair! And you’re arrogantly implying that you would have done better than Adam did, so you don’t deserve to be penalized for his sin. So you’d best not accuse God of being unfair for imposing suffering on the human race because of sin.
Pastor John Piper (“Subjected to Futility in Hope,” part 1, on DesiringGod.org) points out that if you think that somehow the suffering in this world is out of proportion to what is deserved, then you do not grasp the infinite holiness of God or the unspeakable outrage of sin against this holy God. God’s judgment on the entire creation as seen in all of history’s horrible tragedies reveals how horrific our sin is to Him. Piper adds, “But in fact the point of our miseries, our futility, our corruption, our groaning is to teach us the horror of sin. And the preciousness of redemption and hope.” Thank God, He sent the Savior!
But the fact of terrible suffering does not undermine the fact that God has a plan and that He will accomplish His plan. Paul says that the creation was subjected to futility “in hope” (8:20). He also uses the analogy of birth pains (8:22). The outcome of birth pains is the hope of new life. And even so, God is moving history toward a goal that includes our future glory:
2. The future will be marked by glory for believers as God fulfills all that He has promised us.
I can’t elaborate due to time constraints, but I want to include this in this message to convey Paul’s flow of thought. God’s final purpose both for fallen creation and for His adopted children is the glory of complete salvation. Note four things about this glory:
A. THE FUTURE GLORY IS NOT TOTALLY REVEALED TO US YET, BUT IT INCLUDES THE REVEALING OF ALL THAT GOD HAS PROMISED FOR US.
J. B. Phillips (The New Testament in Modern English [Geoffrey Bles], p. 324) paraphrases 8:19, “The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own.” In Colossians 3:4, Paul says, “When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” In 2 Thessalonians 2:14, he says, “It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (See, also, Heb. 2:10; 1 John 3:2.)
“Glory” is a hard concept to get your brain around, but it includes all of God’s promises to bestow on us the “unfathomable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8). Streets of gold and gates of pearl and mansions prepared for us are limited analogies that say, “You can’t imagine how wonderful it will be!”
B. THE FUTURE GLORY INCLUDES THE FULL RENEWAL OF CREATION TO ITS ORIGINAL PERFECTION AND PURPOSE.
The new heavens and earth will probably be even more glorious than the Garden of Eden was. With new, glorified bodies we will live on a new earth and enjoy God’s creation as it was before sin entered this world.
C. THE FUTURE GLORY INCLUDES OUR FREEDOM FROM SIN AND ITS CORRUPTION, INCLUDING THE FULL REDEMPTION OF OUR BODIES.
“Freedom of the glory of the children of God” (8:21) means at the very least, freedom from sin. We now enjoy the privileges of being God’s adopted children (8:15-16), but we haven’t yet come into our full inheritance, which includes the redemption of our body (8:23). Now, by God’s Spirit, we are able not to sin; but in glory we will not be able to sin. Hallelujah!
D. THE FUTURE GLORY IS GUARANTEED BY OUR PRESENT POSSESSION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, THE FIRST FRUITS OF OUR REDEMPTION.
The indwelling Holy Spirit gives us a taste of what it will be like to be holy, as Jesus is holy. But we’re still living in these fallen bodies that are prone to temptation and sin, with all of its terrible consequences. But the Holy Spirit is the promise that God will not abandon us to our sin. He’s the down payment that signals that God will complete the purchase. The practical conclusion follows:
3. Keep your eyes on the future promised glory and you will persevere in present sufferings with hope.
Paul anticipates us thinking, “But, I can’t see this future glory.” His reply is, “Yes, that’s the very nature of hope.” If you can see it all, then it’s not hope. Our salvation includes hope because we don’t receive it all in this life. The hope of our salvation is not uncertain, as when we say, “I hope it doesn’t rain on my picnic tomorrow.” Rather, it is absolutely certain because of the many promises of God, who cannot lie. But we hope for it because we have not yet received all that has been promised. So Paul concludes (8:25), “But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” The key to persevering in suffering with hope is to keep your eyes on the promised future glory.
If you’ve ever watched your favorite team play in the Super Bowl, you were anxious as the game progressed, especially if it was close. If your team fumbled or threw an interception, you groaned because you didn’t know the outcome. You hoped they would win, but your hope was uncertain. Maybe you even got depressed when they were far behind.
But if your team came from behind and won in the last seconds of the game and later you watched a replay of the game, your whole attitude was different. You didn’t despair when they fumbled or fell behind, because you knew how it all would turn out. Knowing the certainty of the future glory gave you hope to persevere through the setbacks.
If we become anxious or depressed in trials and lose hope, it’s because we’ve forgotten the absolutely certain outcome: Future glory forever with Christ! Yes, there is present suffering because we live in a fallen world. But God has promised future glory. Keeping that in view will enable you to persevere any suffering with hope.
1. Think about someone who has lost hope and perhaps his faith in Christ because of trials. How would you use the truth of this text to help such a person?
2. Why is the “health and wealth” teaching heresy? How does it damage people? How can you refute it biblically?
3. What are some practical ways to gain a clearer vision of the future glory promised to us so that it affects your daily walk?
4. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Romans: The Final Perseverance of the Saints [Zondervan], p. 14) argues that believers should not be shaken or cast down by suffering. Is this realistic? Where is the balance between acknowledging despair and yet trusting in God? See 2 Cor. 1:8-10.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2011, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation
FROM THE SERIES: ROMANS
FROM GUILT TO GLORY — EXPLAINED
The Agony and the Ecstasy
Author: Ray C. Stedman
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READ THE SCRIPTURE: ROMANS 8:18-28
First John 3:2 says, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God; but it does not yet appear what we shall be,” (1 John 3:2a KJV). That is the theme that Paul brings to a focus in Verses 18-28 of Romans 8. He deals with two themes: the sufferings of believers, and the glorification of believers. First John 3:2 has always been a comfort to me, as a pastor, because it reminds me that, though we are all sons of God, sometimes we don’t appear to be his sons. Sometimes when I am beset by saints who come to me and criticize various things that are going on, I have a difficult time relating to them. Then I have to remind myself, “Well, they are still children of God, even though it does not yet appear what they shall be.” As I see the increasing decrepitude in people’s deteriorating physical bodies as they grow older, I have to say again, “It does not yet appear what we shall be.” Things are moving toward a great day, but it is not here yet; and until that day, we have to put up with the difficulties and the hardships and the sufferings that our current situations bring us to. These are the themes that Paul links together in this great section of Romans 8. He stated this very plainly earlier, in Verse 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. (Romans 8:17 NIV)
This verse links together two things that we probably would not put together: sufferings and glory — hurts and hallelujahs. They belong together, and you find them together in almost every passage of Scripture that deals with the suffering of the Christian. In fact, the Apostle Paul links them directly together in Second Corinthians 4:17:
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Corinthians 4:17 NIV)
So, our sufferings as believers — physical, emotional, whatever they may be — are directly linked with the glory that is coming. The important thing we need to see is that both the sufferings and the glory are privileges that are given to us. It is easy for Christians reading these passages to get the idea that we earn our glory by the sufferings that we go through — those who go through the greatest suffering will earn the greatest degree of glory. But it is wrong to see it that way. We never earn glory. As this passage makes clear, glory is given to us as part of our inheritance in Christ. And suffering, also, is our inheritance in Christ. Suffering is a privilege committed to us. Paul says this again very plainly in Philippians 1:29:
For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him [or, for his name’s sake], (Philippians 1:29 NIV)
In the early part of Acts, it is recorded that the early Christians actually did this. They rejoiced in their sufferings. They rejoiced because they were counted worthy to suffer for the sake of the Lord. And though they were beaten and mistreated, they went away rejoicing because God had counted them worthy to bear suffering for his name’s sake. I think this is the transforming view that makes it possible for us to endure suffering and, more than that, to actually rise above it with triumphant rejoicing. We can do this when we see that our sufferings are privileges committed to us. Our Lord Jesus said this himself in Matthew 5:11-12. He said, “Blessed are you when men persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for his name’s sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets who were before you,” (Matthew 5:11-12 KJV).Nothing will help us more in enduring suffering than a clear view of the glory that is linked to it. That is the theme of this section in Romans 8, beginning with Verse 18:
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18 NIV)
The theme of that verse and the next nine verses is that incomparable glory lies ahead — glory beyond description, greater than anything you can compare it with on earth. A magnificent and fantastic prospect awaits us. All through the Scriptures there has been a thread of hope, a rumor of hope that runs all through the Old Testament, through the prophetic writings, and into the New Testament. This rumor speaks of a day that is coming when all the hurt and heartache and injustice and weakness and suffering of our present experience will be explained and justified and will result in a time of incredible blessing upon the earth. The whisper of this in the Old Testament increases in intensity as it approaches the New Testament, where you come to proclamations like this that speak of the incomparable glory that lies ahead.
Now, we tend to make careful note of our suffering. Just the other day, I received a mimeographed letter from a man who had written out in extreme detail (even though rather humorously) a report of his recent operation. He said he had had to listen to all the reports of other people’s operations for years, and now it was his turn! We make detailed reports of what we go through in our sufferings. But here the apostle says, “Don’t even mention them! They are not worthy to be mentioned in comparison with the glory that is to follow.”
Now, that statement would be just so much hot air if it didn’t come from a man like Paul. Here is a man who suffered intensely. No one in this room has gone through even a fraction of the suffering that Paul endured. He was beaten, he was stoned with rocks, he was chained, he was imprisoned, he was shipwrecked, starved, often hungry and naked and cold. He himself tells us this. And yet it is this apostle who takes pen in hand and says, “Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that shall be revealed in us.” The glory that is coming is incomparable in intensity.
Our sufferings hurt us, I know. I am not trying to make light of them or diminish the terrible physical and emotional pain that suffering can bring. It can be awful, almost unendurable. Its intensity can increase to such a degree that we actually scream with terror and pain. We think we can no longer endure. But the apostle is saying that the intensity of the suffering we experience is not even a drop in the bucket compared with the intensity of glory that is coming. Now, you can see that Paul is straining the language in trying to describe this fantastic thing that is about to happen, which he calls the revelation of the glory that is coming.
This glory is not only incomparable in its intensity, but it is also incomparable in its locality. It is not going to be revealed to us, but in us. The word, literally, means “into us.” This glory is not going to be a spectator sport, where we will sit up in some cosmic grandstand and watch an amusing or beautiful performance in which we actually have no part. We are to be on the stage. We are going to be involved in it. It is a glory that will be “revealed into us,” and we are part of it. I think that incomparable spokesman, C. S. Lewis, has explained this more accurately than anyone else. I would like to share with you a paragraph or two from his message, The Weight of Glory:
We are to shine as the sun. We are to be given the morning star. I think I begin to see what it means. In one way, of course, God has given us the morning star already. You can go and enjoy the gift on many fine mornings, if you get up early enough. “What more,” you may ask, “do we want?” Ah, but we want so much more. Something the books on aesthetics take little notice of. But the poets and mythologies know all about it. We do not want merely to see beauty, though God knows even that is bounty enough — we want something else which can hardly be put into words — to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That is why the poets tell us such lovely falsehoods. They talk as if the west wind could really sweep into a human soul. But it can’t. They tell us that beauty, born a murmuring sound, will pass into a human face. But it won’t — or not yet, at least.
[Lewis sums it up in a previous sentence in this way]
The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.
That is what Paul says is about to happen. This is the incredible glory that God has prepared for those who love him, that he has given to us — not because we have been faithful, not because we earn it, but because we are heirs of God, and co-heirs with Christ. And also we are called and entrusted with the privilege of suffering for humanity. All Christians suffer. There are no exceptions. If you are a true and genuine believer in Jesus Christ, you will suffer. But we are not only given the privilege of suffering with him now, but also of sharing in his glory that is yet to come. We can endure the suffering, and even triumph in it, because we see the glory that is to follow. In the paragraph that follows, the apostle shows us two proofs that confirm this hope of glory. The first one is that nature itself testifies to this, the second is our own experience. Paul says the whole created universe bears witness to this day that is coming. Verses 19-22 explain the testimony that is found in nature. Verse 19 tells us that nature is waiting for something:
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. (Romans 8:19 NIV)
The word in the original language which is translated “eager expectation” is an interesting word. It is a word that pictures a man standing and waiting for something to happen, craning his head forward. That is why I think Phillips translates this correctly when he says, “The whole creation is standing on tiptoe, eagerly awaiting the revelation of the sons of God.” The word means “to crane the neck, to look on with a visible sense of anticipation that something is about to happen.” That is what Paul says the world is doing. It is eagerly awaiting this remarkable event toward which the world is hastening, and has been hastening, since the beginning of time. Paul goes on to explain why he makes such a statement in Verses 20-21:
For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. (Romans 8:20-21 NIV)
Paul is saying that creation not only is waiting for something, but that it is doing so because it is linked with man. Creation fell with man, the apostle declares. Not only did our whole race fall into the bondage of sin and death, as the earlier chapters of Romans explain, but the entire physical universe fell as well. It was man’s sin that put thorns on roses. It was man’s sin that made the animals hate and fear each other and brought predators and carnivores into being. With the fall of man came the spreading fear, hostility, and hatred in the animal world, and the whole of nature testifies to this fact. It is, as Paul describes it here, subjected to frustration.
Recently we have been hearing a lot about how plants are sensitive to people, how they even understand something of what we say, and how our attitudes are conveyed to them. Can you imagine how frustrated a plant can get when it wants to produce and grow, and yet it is always treated with a circumstance or attitude that frustrates it. Some of us have to live with these frustrated plants in our homes. Think of the beauty of nature — and yet every area is spoiled by thorns and thistles, and various things that mark this decay. Futility prevails in the natural world.
This phrase “the bondage to decay” is a very accurate description of what scientists call the second law of thermodynamics. This is the law of infinite increase of entropy. Everything is decaying; everything, with no exception, is running down. Though for a while something may seem to grow, eventually it dies. Even human life dies, and so does all that is with it. All of this is because of the fall of man.
I just spent a few days in the beautiful High Sierra, where the great Sequoia trees grow. As I walked about, I was sad to see how the crush of man has spoiled what is left of the beauty of creation. In the area where I was, there was once a great forest — the world’s greatest forest of sequoia trees, those great redwoods. But man came in, and in less than a decade there is nothing but blackened stumps and rotting logs where once there were thousands of trees. Ironically enough, though it was all done in the name of profit, nobody made a dime on the whole operation. At least half of the lumber that was cut was never removed and was left to rot. This is how man despoils creation wherever he goes. He pollutes the air and ruins the environment. This is all a part of the bondage to decay that we see all around us.
But the apostle argues that, if that is true, it is also true that when man is delivered from this decay, nature will be delivered as well. Therefore, when the hour strikes when the sons of God are going to be revealed — when it shall appear what we are, as John would say, when what we have become in our spirits, sons of the living God, shall become visibly evident to all — in that hour, nature will be freed from its bondage. It will burst into a bloom and fecundity that no one can possibly imagine now. The desert will blossom like the rose, the prophet says, and the lions will lie down with the lambs. None shall hurt and destroy in all of God’s holy mountain. Rivers will run free and clear and sweet again.
All that God intended in nature will come into visible manifestation in that day. Nature will be delivered into “the freedom and the glory of the children of God.” That is a literal rendering of what Paul says here, and it means that glory has a great deal of freedom about it. It is a stepping into an experience of liberty such as we have never dreamed, such as has never come into our imaginations at any time. It is incomparable glory. Now, in anticipation of that day, the apostle says, nature groans, but it groans in hope (Verse 22):
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8:22 NIV)
As Paul has said earlier, nature groans in the hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage of decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. Somebody has pointed out that all the sounds of nature are in the minor key. Listen to the sighing of the wind. Listen to the roaring of the tide. Listen to the roar of the cataract. Even most of the sounds of birds are in the minor key. All nature is singing, but it is singing a song of bondage. Yet it sings in hope, looking forward to that day, Paul says, when it shall step into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Not only does nature testify to this bondage, bearing witness to the hope that is waiting, but, Paul says, we ourselves have this testimony. Our present experience confirms that this glory is coming. Paul sets this evidence before us in Verse 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. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:23-25 NIV)
In some ways, I think that is the most remarkable statement in this remarkable paragraph. Paul says here that though we ourselves are redeemed in spirit, our bodies are not yet redeemed; we, too, are groaning. All through this paragraph there is a constant contrast between the groan and the glory; yet there is a link between the two. Nature groans; we groan. And yet the groan is producing the glory. I remind you again of what Paul said in Second Corinthians 4:17:
For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. (2 Corinthians 4:17 RSV)
Have you ever thought of afflictions in that way? Our afflictions are working for us. Every time we groan, it is a reminder to us of the promise of glory. I do not think anything will transform our sufferings more than remembering that.
My daughter, Laurie, has reached the stage where she delights in mimicking me, repeating back to me the things that I say in the way that I say them. I must admit it is a great help. It’s just like holding up a mirror before me. I have been so struck by the fact that in the tone of voice she employs in mimicking me there is often a groan. I am groaning all the time. I groaned this morning when I got up. So did you, probably.
Our lives consist of groans. We groan because of the ravages that sin makes in our lives, and in the lives of those we love. We groan because we see possibilities that are not being captured and employed. We groan because we see gifted people who are wasting their lives, and we would love to see something else happening. It is recorded that, as he drew near the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus groaned in his spirit because he was so burdened by the ravages that sin had made in a believing family. He groaned, even though he knew that he would soon raise Lazarus from the dead. So we groan in our spirits — we groan in disappointment, in bereavement, in sorrow. We groan physically in our pain and our limitation. Life consists of a great deal of groaning. But the apostle immediately adds that this is a groaning which is in hope. As nature groans in hope, so we believers groan — but we groan in hope too. For in this hope we were saved, in the anticipation that God has a plan for our bodies as well. Among the Greeks, it was taught that the body was evil, and that the best thing was to get out of it, to get away from it, to escape into whatever glory awaited the human spirit, for the body was a prison, holding us in.
I am afraid that this pagan concept is more prevalent among Christians than we like to think. I find a lot of Christians who have an ejection-seat mentality. As soon as they get into difficulty, they want to pull the ejection chord and zip off into glory. They want to get away from it all. We are all tempted to feel that way, but that is not the Christian point of view. The Christian viewpoint is that, though the body is in pain and suffering and is limited now, this is an important aspect of our lives. It is something that is part of the whole program and plan of God, part of the privilege committed to us as Christians. We suffer with Christ. As he suffered, so do we, that we might also be glorified, as he is. Therefore, what is happening to us now is something that we never need to see as meaningless. It holds great meaning. That is why I think that boredom is the most non-Christian attitude that we can have. Boredom is an attitude of enduring, waiting for something better to come, but seeing nothing meaningful in what you are going through at the time. I don’t think the Scriptures ever support that idea of Christians.
We are saved in hope, Paul says, and by that hope we live. It is true that hope, by its very nature, is something yet in the future — “But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” But what makes it possible to wait is that we already have the firstfruits of the Spirit. We know that the Spirit of God is able to give joy in the midst of heartache. He is able to make us feel at peace even when there is turmoil all around. This happens to even the weakest and newest among us. This is what Paul calls the firstfruits of the Spirit — the power of God to make a heart calm and restful and peaceful in the midst of turbulent, trying, and difficult circumstances. Because we have these firstfruits we can wait patiently for the hour when, at last, even our bodies will be set free, and we shall step into an incomparable glory, such as we have never imagined or seen before. No one, in all the wildest dreams of science fiction, has ever imagined or conceived of something so vast and so magnificent as the glory God has waiting for us.
There is more involved in this program of patient waiting, as the apostle goes on to explain in Verses 26-27:
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know how we ought to pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 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. (Romans 8:26-27 NIV)
Now the Spirit is groaning. There are three groans in this passage. Nature is groaning, we are groaning, and now the Spirit is groaning with words which cannot be uttered. This passage helps us in our understanding of prayer. The apostle says that we do not know what to pray for as we ought. We lack wisdom. I want to point out immediately that this is not an encouragement to cease praying. Some people think this means that if we don’t know how to pray as we ought, and if the Spirit is going to pray for us anyway, then we don’t need to pray. But that would contradict many other passages of Scripture, especially James 4:2, which says. “You have not because you ask not,” (James 4:2b NIV). God does want us to pray, and we are constantly encouraged to pray. Jesus taught on prayer. In Philippians 4:6, Paul tells us that we are never to be troubled or anxious, but in everything, with prayer and supplication, we are to let our requests be made known to God.
There are many times when we do know what to pray for. But there will come times when we won’t know what to pray for. My wife and I had a time like that last night. We knew something was wrong, but we didn’t know how to analyze it, or how to explain it, or how to ask God to do something about it. We were without wisdom. It is at that time, the apostle tells us, that the Spirit of God within us voices, without words, his request to the Father.
I have always been amazed at people who emphasize the gift of tongues and take this verse as proof that the Spirit prays in tongues through us. This verse could not mean that. Paul tells us that this praying of the Spirit is done with groans which words cannot express. Now, tongues are words, words of other languages. If this referred to the gift of tongues, it would merely be putting into other languages the feelings of our heart. But this passage has nothing to do with that. This describes the groans of the Spirit within, so deep and so impossible to verbalize that we cannot say anything at all. We just feel deeply. The apostle says that when that happens, it is the Spirit of God who is praying. The Spirit is putting our prayer into a form which God the Father, who searches the heart, understands. The Spirit is asking for something concerning the situation that we are trying to pray about. Now, what is the Spirit asking for? That is explained in Verse 28:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 NIV)
Never separate this verse from the previous two verses. The apostle is saying that what the Spirit prays for is what happens. The Spirit prays according to the mind of God, and the Father answers by bringing into our lives the experiences that we need. He sends into the life of those for whom we are concerned the experiences that they need, no matter what they may be.
Now, that means that even the trials and tragedies that happen to us are an answer from the Father to the praying of the Spirit, doesn’t it? You may leave this service this morning and become involved in an automobile accident on the way home. Someone may steal your purse. You may get home to find your house is on fire. There are a thousand and one possibilities. What we need to understand is that these things do not happen by accident. They happen because the Spirit which is in you prayed and asked that the Father allow them to happen — because you or someone close to you needs it. These are the results of the praying of the Spirit.
The joys, the unexpected blessings, and the unusual things that happen to you are also the result of the Spirit’s praying. The Spirit is praying that these things will happen, he is voicing the deep concern of God himself for your needs and mine. Out of this grows the assurance that no matter what happens, it will work together for good. This verse does not tell us that everything that happens to us is good. It does say that whether the situation is bad or good, it will work together for good for you if you are one who is loved and called by God. What a difference that makes as we wait for the coming of the glory! God is working out his purposes within us.
Paul is telling us here that we can wait with patience because nature testifies his glorious coming, and our own experience confirms it as well. We are being prepared for something — we can’t really tell what it is, specifically, but we are getting ready for something. And one of these days, at the end of our lives, if not before, we will step out of time into an incredible experience of glory, something that begs description — a glory that Christ himself shares, and that we all shall share with him.
This is what God is preparing us for. No wonder the apostle then closes this passage with one of the greatest paeans of praise in the Scriptures. As we face the sufferings we are going through now, what a blessing, and what a help it is to remember the glory that has been granted to us. We have been counted worthy to suffer for his name, that we may also share in the glory that is to come.
We thank you, our Father, for these mighty promises. How magnificent they are, how rich they are! We thank you for them. We know that one day these words, which are essentially forms and empty sounds to us, will be filled with a content that is beyond description. You will astonish our minds and our hearts by what you have prepared. We pray that we may understand this, and thus be able to endure patiently and with thanksgiving what we are going through now, knowing that it is the very suffering that is working and producing the glory. We ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.
The Agony and the Ecstasy
SERIES: FROM GUILT TO GLORY — EXPLAINED
OCTOBER 31, 1976
AUTHOR: RAY C. STEDMAN
Message transcript and recording © 1976 by Ray Stedman Ministries, owner of sole copyright by assignment from the author. For permission to use this content, please review RayStedman.org/permissions. Subject to permissions policy, all rights reserved.
What does Romans 8:18 mean? [⇑ See verse text ⇑]
This much-loved and often-cited verse is about Paul’s perspective. He has previously written that all who are in Christ are heirs of God’s kingdom with Christ, since all who are in Christ will share in His suffering before sharing in His glory.
This begins a powerful passage in which Paul discusses living, as a Christian, through the suffering that comes with this life on earth. Some Bible teachers suggest that Paul is referring “only” to suffering caused by persecution for faith in Christ. Based on the full context of the passage, however, there is every reason to understand Paul to include the everyday suffering that comes with living on this sin-stained planet. He will be clear that it is experienced by all creatures (Romans 8:20), but that only those who are in Christ look forward to sharing in the glories of God’s kingdom afterwards.
Paul’s perspective is that our present sufferings are not even worth holding up in comparison with the glories that will be revealed in us. Some readers might be tempted to hear Paul glossing over the enormous pain, physical and emotional, that comes with human existence. He is not. Instead, Paul is elevating the much more enormous glory to come. Paul understood pain very deeply. Second Corinthians 11:23–29 contains a small sampling of his experiences: hunger, thirst, danger, imprisonment, torture, and persecution. And yet, he says all of that suffering cannot compare to the glories that will be revealed at some future time to saved believers as God’s heirs with Christ. Truly, those endless glories must be incomprehensibly wonderful, satisfying, and meaningful.
Without Christ, we could never participate in God’s glory because of our sin (Romans 3:23). In Christ, as God’s fully adopted heirs, we will fully experience His glory forever (Romans 6:23). This verse does not minimize the pain we experience—it simply puts it into an eternal perspective.
Romans 8:18–30 talks about the participation of Christians in the everyday suffering experienced by all of creation. We all groan together as a woman in labor while we wait for God to reveal His children. As His children, we are waiting for the Father to complete our adoption by redeeming our bodies so that we can be with Him. God’s Spirit helps us in the season of waiting by taking our unformed prayers to God. We trust that God uses every circumstance in our lives for His purposes and that He has chosen us long ago to be His children.
Romans 8 begins and ends with declarations of the Christian’s absolute security before God. There is no condemnation for those in Christ, and nothing will ever be able to separate us from His love. Having believed the gospel, we now live in the Spirit of God. That allows us to call God Abba Father. We suffer with Christ, and we suffer along with all creation while we wait for God to reveal us as His sons. With the help of the Spirit, we are confident that God is for us and loves us in Christ