Present Suffering, Future Glory

August 13, 2023 Speaker: Josh DeGroote Series: Romans 8

Topic: Suffering Passage: Romans 8:18–23

I want to talk to you today about suffering. Suffering. Not a subject we enjoy talking about. The only people who enjoy suffering are people who are strange and probably kind of sick. But it’s important we think biblically about suffering. 

For at least a few reasons. First, we all suffer. Or if you haven’t yet, you will. DA Carson put it succinctly when he said, “If you haven’t suffered, you just haven’t lived long enough yet”. So we need to understand what the bible says about suffering because we all do or will. Second, we live in a world that is full of suffering and it comes in all different kinds of forms: natural disasters (Maui), disease, injury, old age, etc. Third, this isn’t the way God originally intended it to be. In other words, things have gone haywire in the world. In Genesis 1-2, we see the creation account and after each day, God looked at what he made and said, “It is good”. When we get to Genesis 3, things went very bad. And there is one more reason that connects directly with our text. We need a biblical understanding of suffering because Paul said that if we want to be glorified with Christ, we must suffer with Him. 

Well, if anyone has the clout to address us on this subject, it’s Paul. Paul had a pretty stout resume when it comes to suffering hardship. Listen to this:

countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. (2 Corinthians 11:24-27)

We need to hear what Paul has to say. More importantly, we need to hear from the Lord. Even Paul’s experience is not our authority on the matter. God’s word is. 

It’s important to hear this. The message today on suffering, which I believe our text is about, should NOT leave you thinking that we are to be indifferent to alleviating suffering - ours or that of others. We most certainly should relieve suffering where we can. 

But a biblical understanding of why things are the way they are and why we suffer can give us wisdom and endurance and hope in the midst of it… even while we seek to help and relieve suffering. 

Let’s get to our text. Remember two weeks ago, we ended at verse 17 which said that we are “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ provided we suffer with him, in order that we might also be glorified with him.” In other words, there is no crown without a cross. It was that way for Jesus and it is for us too. The way to glory is the way of suffering. The Christian life is not all suffering to be sure. But there is suffering, and this is by God’s design. Anyone who tells you otherwise is not telling you the truth. Don’t listen to them. So co-heirs with Christ are called to walk the Calvary road on the way to glory. Then Paul says this in verse 18 and contains the main point of our text:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 

The rest - verses 19-23 - all support this verse. They all serve to explain the meaning of verse 18. So here is the big idea of our text today:

Big Idea: All present suffering and calamity - both personal as well as cosmic - is part of a bigger plan of God to give us a future that is better than we could imagine.

We see this in verse 18. Present suffering is not worth comparing with the future glory. Let’s look at this big idea by breaking it apart into its constituent parts:

  1. The reality of present suffering
  2. God’s bigger plan
  3. A better future (resurrection)


The Reality of Present Suffering (v. 18)

Notice in verse 18 it uses the phrase “the sufferings of this present time”. Paul said, 

I consider the sufferings of this present time not worth comparing…

There is something about the present time that makes it a time of suffering. The future age will not be. Suffering will end. All of it. In the future. But not now. As Christians we will suffer and we should not be surprised. And I want to make this point. Paul is NOT talking only about persecution. He is not. You might think that from what he said in verse 17 - “provided we suffer with him, in order that we might also be glorified with him.” But we see that Paul has a broad understanding of suffering, which certainly includes persecution, but is not limited to it. 

Look at what he does: First he says back in verse 17 - we must suffer with Christ to be glorified with Christ. He starts with the personal. Then he describes creation itself as suffering. He personifies creation and describes creation as under a weight of oppression and desire to be liberated. And then in verse 23, he goes back to the personal. Personal, cosmic, personal. And what happens in the created order affects Christians. Christians die in earthquakes and tsunamis. Christians have to clean up after a derecho. So let’s step through this. 

Verse 19, Paul describes creation as “waiting with eagerly longing” for something. The NASB says the creation is anxiously longing. Something is not right; creation itself is longing for the revelation of the sons of God. 

Verse 20 says that creation was “subjected to futility, not willingly.” The creation was subjected to futility, vanity. It’s the second law of thermodynamics. Entropy which says that the universe is heading toward more disorder and a depletion of energy. And scripture teaches us that this is not a quirk of nature, but creation has been subjected to this. And it was not subjected willingly, but was subjected to futility by Someone. So when we see things going haywire in the created order, it is not just natural phenomenon, but part of God’s judgment on sin.

Verse 21 says creation is in “bondage to corruption…” and needs to be set free. What is “bondage to corruption”. What is this? A better word for corruption may be perishing or destruction because I think that is what Paul is getting after. He is talking about creation’s bondage to death. Have you noticed that at some point every living thing in this world dies? 

Verse 22 says creation groans. There is a deep and painful sigh like a woman in labor groaning for the baby to be born. And right here, with all this talk of the creation anxiously waiting and subjected to futility and in bondage to corruption and groaning, we might be tempted to think that Paul has completely changed the subject from our suffering. But he hasn’t. He has included all of the created order in it, and he has in mind ours as well. Verse 23 says, 

And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit (that’s us!) groan inwardly. 

We groan. As long as we live in these bodies, we groan. In these bodies, subject to weakness, we will never be completely free from pain and sorrow and disease and death. So we groan. Listen to Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:4-5:

4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

He’s talking about getting our new bodies. Until then, we groan. But why is it like this? Why suffering, futility, decay, entropy, and groaning? 


Because of God’s Bigger Plan Through Suffering (v. 20)

You have to see this. There is a phrase in verse 20 that is so key to understanding this. 

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope…

Why suffering? There are different answers and they are not completely wrong. They just don’t get to the bottom of it. Some would say there is suffering and decay and corruption in the world because of the devil. Well, he certainly does cause great suffering, but that answer doesn’t go deep enough. Some might say the world is messed up and there is suffering in the world because of sin. There is certainly truth in that answer, but I think we need to go a layer under that. 

Creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope. Who subjected the world to futility? God. Why do I say that? Because it says he did it “in hope”. The devil wouldn’t do that. But God would. 

But why would God do this? The world is so messed up and there is so much suffering in order to give an external manifestation of the horror of sin. I want to prove this to you, because you may be thinking, “sin is not that bad, is it?” Genesis 3:17-19:

17 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Romans 5:12 says that death entered the world through sin. God pronounced the death sentence upon mankind because of sin. Think of the greatest catastrophe in terms of natural disaster to ever happen on the face of the earth - the flood. Why? Because of the great evil that had filled the earth. God can get our attention through pain in ways that he cannot otherwise. CS Lewis famously said in his book The Problem of Pain:

Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

But pain and suffering and futility and bondage to decay is not the end of the story. God subjected the world to futility “in hope”. That’s huge! Creation groans and we ourselves groan “in the pains of childbirth”, like a woman in labor. 

A Better Future

Not just better. Glorious in the truest sense of the word. What is the creation anxiously longing for? What has God subjected creation to futility “in hope” for?  What is creation groaning for? There are three phrases that I think all point to the same thing. 

The revealing of the sons of God…  (v. 19)

The freedom of the glory of the children of God (v. 21)

Adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (v. 23)

The creation anxiously waits for the revelation of the sons of God. What is this? We are children now right? The word revealing means to unveil, make known, manifest, to uncover. So there is something to be fully realized and revealed. Listen to 1 John 3:2:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

We are children now. But something will happen when “He appears”. We will be like him because we will see him as he is. Then we will be fully manifested for who we are - children of God. And so creation waits anxiously for this reality. The final day, the return of our Lord and our resurrection because in our final liberation, all of creation will be liberated and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God (v. 21). 

And so all of this makes us groan inwardly. We anxiously await and groan for the final stages of our adoption to be complete when our very bodies will be redeemed at the final resurrection and death itself is swallowed up in victory. This is the better future for which we ultimately hope for. This is what God has in mind. Fully freed, redeemed, and resurrected sons and daughter; and a renovated creation - glorified and renewed, no longer subject to decay and futility. And this is when we will enter into a future time in which there is no more suffering. 

3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4-5)

Without this hope, it is like it’s always winter, but never Christmas. Gloom all the way down to the bottom, always a time of present suffering. No, suffering does not have the final say. Our Redeemer does. Suffering and futility and groaning is all temporary, God’s glorious future is forever. Not only that, but our present suffering actually produces a future that is all the more glorious for having gone through the suffering of this present time. Don't’ believe me? Listen to Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:17:

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,

All present suffering and calamity is part of God’s bigger plan to provide for us a future better than we could imagine. Let's pray.

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