The last thought of the previous passage really set us up for today’s sermon. In verse 17 we were told that we are heirs of God, “if indeed we suffer with [Christ], that we may also be glorified together.” The promise of glory was made in that verse, and now we have an entire passage on the subject. This sermon and the next two are all about the glory that will be ours. We will see that this glory “is the climax of God’s plan for the world and for his people. . .” (Moo, 137).
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The Sufferings of this Present Time (18)
We have already been told that if we are to share in Christ’s glory, then we must share in His sufferings; but Paul wants to make it clear that no matter the intensity of our present sufferings it will not even come close to comparing to the intensity of the glory of God that we will experience in the near future. The sufferings of this present time include those things we suffer at the hands of others and from living in a fallen world. From the beginning of church history until now, in our country and around the world, Christians have been persecuted for their faith. They have been mentally, emotionally, and physically abused. They have suffered lack of employment, their families have disowned them, and they have been imprisoned among many other things for the sake of Christ. They have been miserable for His name’s sake. That is suffering. Yet, we also suffer because of the weakness of our condition. We suffer from poor health, broken relationships, financial misery, and so much more. Sometimes we bring these things upon ourselves, and sometimes they come upon us from no direct cause of our own.
Maybe you have thought to yourself that God’s children should not suffer the way they do. Maybe you’ve thought that you would give up your hope in Christ because of suffering. The main point of verse 18 is to help you to persevere through sufferings. Those of you who have not suffered much: you will. If you live long enough, you will suffer. This passage helps you to prepare. Thus, this verse serves two help two kinds of people: those who are suffering to persevere and those who haven’t suffered to be prepared. The challenges of this life are worth it because of what will soon be revealed to us. We are promised that no matter the intensity of our present sufferings, they will not compare to the intensity of our future glory.
The Whole Creation Groans (19-22)
When was it that the creation was subjected to futility? The earth was cursed when Adam and Eve sinned against God (Gen 3:17-18). The futility that it was subjected to is a state of frustration. We can be quite sure that the earth, “did not reach its original created goal of being a place where people could dwell securely and with minimal labor” (Moo, 137). God is the One who subjected it to the frustration on account of Adam’s sin, but it was in hope. The creation is portrayed the same way we have been. It is seen as a slave who will be delivered from bondage.
The whole creation, the earth and all that it includes, has shared in the suffering of the present age and so will share in the future glory. God has reconciled “all things to Himself” by Christ (Col 1:20). He has made peace through the blood of Christ’s cross, and all things will share in the glory that awaits us.
In verse 22 we are taken from the slave illustration to the example of an expectant mother. “The pain of an expectant mother is a natural and common biblical metaphor for hope. . .” (Moo, 137). Childbirth can be very long and very painful, but the joyous outcome does not even compare in significance. The delay and the pain soon fade away as joy overwhelms the mother and family. Groaning in that situation can be attributed to the pain of the mother and/or the longing for the labor to come to pass. This is how creation is depicted. When Paul says that the “whole creation” groans in this way, he means the earth and all that’s in it (the animate and the inanimate; the beasts and the birds; the trees and the dirt; the waters and the mountains).
Even We Ourselves Groan (23)
Verse 23 is the main point to which the Apostle has been leading us. Christians also groan in a similar manner. Even we ourselves groan during the sufferings of this present time. The Spirit is brought back into the conversation. What are the firstfruits of the Spirit? Life in the Spirit is a pledge of the glory to come. Now we see in a mirror dimly, then we will see face-to-face. We groan for several reasons including: our sufferings, our weaknesses, the incompleteness of our salvation, our struggles with sin, and much more. “Our groans express both present pain and future longing” (Stott, 242).
The last phrase of this verse demonstrates that already-not-yet nature of the Christian life that will be the last idea of this passage. On the one hand we are already the children of God, and on the other hand we are not-yet adopted. We are eagerly waiting for the adoption. We are saved, but not fully saved.
We were Saved in this Hope (24-25)
We have figured out that we must live this life in hope, and that is how this paragraph is ended. We are eager for the future, but we are patient in the meantime. The hope that the Apostle talks about is our complete deliverance.
Conclusions and Applications
You must know this, Christian; only after a life of suffering will we see His glory. If all you seek in this life is to be comfortable, then you are not seeking Christ. If you are setting your eyes on dollars, then you are not setting your eyes on Christ. If you are hungry for pleasure, then you are not hungry for righteousness. Christ was exalted in glory after He was humbled in suffering. The present age is marked by suffering and the next is marked by glory for the children of God.