Monday, 20 June 2011

Romans 8:18-30 Hope in Suffering?

How does the world think of suffering? What strategies does it suggest for facing it?

How is a disciples’ perspective different?

The bible is honest about life; it doesn’t hide away the unpalatable truths or the difficulties, or shy away from the hard questions. It is not possible to read the bible and remain in denial about suffering, its reality, its origin and what it points us to. As soon as sin enters the world in Genesis 3 suffering comes with it. As God’s pronounces the curses we see they are shot through with suffering. In a world made sick by sin suffering is now part of normal life. If you reject the key stone of creation – God and his word – then that world becomes dislocated and painful. Enmity, pain in childbirth, battles and strife in relationships, painful toil, thorns, thistles, sweat, and death are all a normal part of life exiled from the Garden of Eden, outside of God’s glory and his presence.

And it doesn’t just affect those who reject God. Saints suffer – Abel is murdered, because he makes righteous offerings to God, by his jealous brother, Abraham and Sarah are childless, Joseph is hated and betrayed, Israel are oppressed in slavery in Egypt and so on. Saints suffer. That continues in the New Testament as the Church suffers – beatings, persecution, ship wreck, and death. And even the Son of God suffers. Jesus God made man steps into his sin sick creation and even he is not immune from suffering, he feels hunger and thirst, he mourns, he is opposed, hated, confronted, abandoned, isolated, betrayed, unjustly condemned and crucified.

The bible teaches us again and again that suffering is normal in a fallen world and God’s people are not immune, the gospel is not a get out of suffering free card!

In Romans 8 we see the distinctive nature of Christian suffering because Christians have a certain and sure hope that suffering cannot shake, a hope which, in fact, suffering makes stronger. The suffering Romans 8 talks about is not only those trials believers face because of their faith but the whole spectrum of suffering; illness, death, hunger, mourning, loss, poverty and so on... But how ought we to react? As we live in a fallen world as those who trust Jesus how are we distinctive in suffering?

As we come to this passage we need to put it in its Romans context. Romans 1-2 show us why everyone needs the gospel, Romans 3 remind us of God’s standard of righteousness and our inability to attain it, while ch4 shows us that justification is by faith. Ch5-8 look at what it means to live under grace:

5:1-11 Suffering with the assurance of future glory
          5:12-21 The work of Christ is the basis of our assurance
                   6:1-23 The gospel liberates us from slavery to sin
                   7:1-25 Rescued from the law in Jesus
          8:1-17 The work of the Spirit is the basis of our assurance
8:18-39 Suffering with the assurance of future glory.

Chapter 8 begins how? “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ...” and ends(39) with the assurance nothing can separate us from the love of God. Those who believe in Jesus are secure even as they suffer, and (17)suffering does not mortgage our hope, but it points us to our hope which we see in our Saviour.

Suffering is the way to glory(17-18)
Paul reassures these believers that their hope is in Jesus who justifies them, who makes them sons and heirs with him, they share in his inheritance and they will share in his glory, and they will also share in his suffering.

Glory is a big idea in Romans, (1:27)we forfeited the glory of God when we rebel against God, (3:23)now because of sin we fall short of the glory of God and face death, but (5:25)because of the grace of God by faith in Jesus we can be justified and know the hope of the glory of God. That one day we will see God in his glorious splendour, brilliance, holiness and majesty and we will be fitted to be in his presence, glorified ourselves so we can be in the presence of his radiant glory.

In (18)Paul puts suffering and glory on the scales to weigh up if suffering now is worth glory then and his conclusion is an emphatic yes! “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” As he weighs these it’s as if suffering now is but dust on the scales compared to the weight of glory that is our hope.

But what evidence is there to back up Paul’s conclusion? That is what Paul provides in(19-27), before concluding(28-30).

Evidence A: Creation groans longing for hope realised.
(19)Begins with a “For” which is missed out in the TNIV, but it helps us see the connection, I consider suffering now to be nothing compared to glory then because... **What is creation waiting for? “for the children of God to be revealed” for the new creation when God’s creation will be remade and governed by Christ-like stewards, when it is liberated from its subjection to decay and imperfection, when it returns to its former glory when it sung the symphony of God’s glory without discord.

Creation is messed up, it feels the effects of sin, it is subject to decay and chaos like a marred masterpiece. And it longs for its former glory but cannot attain it because its stewards did not and will not rule it under God’s rule. And it eagerly expects, it hopes, it groans out its longing for the day when it will experience that again. Creation does not long for the absence of human beings but for a restored creation under a new Christ-like humanity ruling under God so it truly displays his glory.

Do you see the scope of your hope? It is universal! It is a hope the whole universe shares, and it is certain, in fact the groaning of creation now is like labour pains, pains that don’t indicate a tumour or a sickness or death, but an impending newness, a new life, a new beginning.

Evidence B: We groan longing for hope realised
The second proof of the magnitude of the glory we have as our hope is the groaning of the church. Suffering makes believers groan. You might say ‘Yes but it makes unbelievers groan too’ but there is a vital difference; the believers groan is not hopeless.

When the world groans in the face of suffering it is a groan of hopelessness; ‘This is awful’, or ‘How terrible’, or ‘Why me?’ or ‘How could a loving God allow this to happen?’ It moans but it is a hopeless moaning.

But notice that believers groan longingly, expectantly, hopefully, patiently. Because believers are marked by having the Holy Spirit at work in them. 8:11 “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is at work in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.” We are God’s children filled with God’s Spirit and that means our groaning is distinctive because we are resurrection people.

The Spirit within us reminds us as we suffer of our future, of which his presence is just a taster of what one day we will realise - the hope of the glory of God. And so we groan differently from the hopeless world. Our groan is come Lord Jesus, it is Father come and reveal your glory to us and in us as you redeem and renew our bodies.

That is what marks out the believer, it is a distinctive groan that longs for Christ to come and will not give in to bitterness or cynicism but chooses to boast in the hope of the glory of God even in suffering.

Our hope is so great we groan for it.

Evidence C: God groans to God for hope realised(26-27)The believer is marked out by having the Spirit, living by the spirit and being led by the Spirit, the Spirit as a taster of what’s to come helps us expectantly and longingly groan. But actually Paul goes beyond that, the glory that is our hope is so magnificent, so amazing that God the Spirit groans within us. The Spirit within us enables us to see the worlds groaning as labour pains, he enables us to pray ‘your kingdom come’ and causes us to long for God’s presence. But there is more here, beneath our groaning the Spirit himself cries out to God on our behalf – God prays to God. The Spirit joins with us in bearing the burden of our humanity, praying for us when we don’t know what to pray.

Our hope is so vast, so cosmic in scale, so universal in its significance that God prays to God from within us. That is how glorious our hope is and how certain if God prays top God for it we know it is according to his will and is a prayer that will be answered!

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

Conclusion: A certain hope worth waiting for(27)Ends with the Spirit interceding for us in accordance with God’s will, the question is what is God’s will?

God’s will is for those who love him and are called to be his people to be made Christ-like, and to follow where Christ has blazed a trail. But there is also security here because of how God’s people facing suffering are described.

Foreknown – God’s foreknowledge is relational not just knowledge based. Before believers know God he knows them.

Predestined – God’s purpose is that those he knows become more and more like Christ, increasingly reflecting God’s glory.

Called – Is the effective calling of God which brings us spiritually alive from the dead.

Justified – God’s declaration that those he has predestined and called are righteous by faith in Jesus and in a right relationship with him.

Glorified – **What tense is this in? In the past tense because our future is certain because God says it will happen! We will be glorified, our hope will be realised.

Suffering is just the dust on the scales compared to our hope of glory because what God has begun he will complete. In fact even in our suffering God is at work not just for our good – developing perseverance, character, and hope, but for the greater good because our groaning becomes part of the great symphony of groaning with creation and the Spirit crying out come Lord Jesus. And no matter how great our suffering our future is certain, our hope of glory will be realised.
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

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