For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing 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 will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
You cannot miss the focus not just on the person, not just on humanity, but on creation itself.
In today’s modern culture, there is a real emphasis placed on climate activism, “protecting the planet”, “net zero” (carbon), “clean energy”. Arguably, we could describe the actions and attitudes of “Extinction Rebellion”, “Insulate Britain” and other pressure groups as religious fanaticism. This is earth worship, and bears all the hallmarks of a religious cult, especially as they desire not just to speak out what they believe, but to impose their views on other people. In many ways Paul prophesied this when he said men exchanged the glory of the invisible God and served and worshipped created things instead of the creator “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen” (Rom. 1:25).
The nature of creation is, interestingly, one of the foundational aspects of Christian belief. The creation account in Gen. is, by and large, dismissed and ridiculed as “unscientific nonsense” by people who claim that they only believe that which can be scientifically proven. Interestingly, some “Scientific facts” are not “facts” at all in the true sense, they are philosophical conclusions drawn from evidence by people blind to their own bias.
The two different beliefs about the world we live in, which might be described as creation and evolution come about by people who are looking at the same evidence.
To summarily dismiss a belief in creation because of some perceived bias in the Christian worldview. Yet not recognise your own ideological and worldview bias in a scientific understanding of things is inconsistent at best, or disingenuous and hypocritical at worst.
Some things we can say about creation …
- God made it, it didn’t just happen by random chance (Gen. 1 stuff). The text says “and God said” in Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26. This is an act of choice.
- Creation itself declares the glory of God. (Rom. 1:20,”For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse”, Job 12:7-10 “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind”, Ps. 19:1-4).
- When Adam sinned, it didn’t only damage his relationship with God, it damaged creation itself (“cursed is the ground because of you” Gen. 3:17).
- Creation is not permanent, a day will come when it passes away (e.g. 2 Pe. 3:5-7 “But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly”, Lk. 21:32-33 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away”, Mt. 24:35 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away”).
It is this sense in which creation is transitory that Paul seems to be speaking, he says here,
- Creation waits (v19) – for the children of God to be revealed.
- Creation was subjected (v20) – to frustration.
- Creation will be liberated (v21) – from its bondage to decay.
- Creation has been groaning (v22) – quite literally “in labour”.
Note that frustration, labour pains, waiting, liberation of creation are all expressions which talk of waiting and something which is to come.
The main thing I want to look at this morning is suffering. This passage contains one of the verses which well-meaning people wheel out to encourage people who are going through a hard time. It’s this one …
Rom. 8:28 “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”.
Great. Thanks. I’ll tell you what, YOU do the suffering and I’ll give you the encouragement!
about encouragement: Encouragement is one of the key characteristics we should have in church. It should be top of the list of things we should seek to do for one another, and whilst encouragement can and must be verbal, it should frequently go so much further. I believe that encouragement is not only verbal, it is practical as well, we can use not only our words, but our time, our resources and our physical presence to encourage people.
example: it is so discouraging when you organise something and no one turns up. So — If someone organises something, encourage them by showing up!
Anyway, back to the suffering.
Before we look at what Paul says about suffering generally, we should really note that he was someone who was speaking from experience. Right from the very start of his life as a Christian, he knew he was going to suffer.
God says to Ananias that He would show Paul, “how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:16).
In 2 Cor. 11:16-33 Paul gives us a snapshot of some of the suffering he had to endure:
I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not as the Lord would but as a fool. Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!
But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Heb.? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labours, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 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; 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; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.
So when Paul talks about attitude towards suffering, he is not speaking theoretically, he is speaking from experience. I am convinced that Paul’s sufferings outweigh any suffering you or I have experienced or are likely to experience. Ultimately we know Paul’s suffering was ended through martyrdom (it is generally accepted that he was beheaded in Rome during the reign of Nero). So Paul has experience of suffering and when he talks of overcoming suffering, we can be confident that he is talking from that experience.
The first thing we have to do to start to cope with suffering according to this passage at least is this — put it into context. If you are going through a tough time, then according to v18, compare your suffering with the glory to be revealed to us: ”I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us”.
Iin Heb. 11, we read of the faith of the saints, starting with “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”, we then read throughout the passage of lots of people of faith, some known, others completely anonymous, but it is pointed out that for all of them, their faith in this life was exercised as an act of hope for the future. So, for example, ”By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (v8). we read in Heb. 11:13-16 “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city”. And finally in vv39,40 “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect”.
when I did my basic training in the army, it was really hard. If you’ve not endured it, you won’t believe it, in any other environment, you would call it extreme bullying. If your bed wasn’t laid out properly, it was thrown out of the window, if your boots weren’t spotless, they were thrown out the window, if your wardrobe wasn’t immaculate, yep you’ve guessed it, all your clothes went out the window. Every aspect of your soldiering was watched with a magnifying glass, your marching, your drill, how you read a map, how you handled a weapon, even how you march up to the adjutant and came to attention on pay parade, it was all scrutinised minutely. I endured it by internalising the stress and thinking to myself … this is going to end. At the end of this training, I will be passing out and I won’t ever have to endure it again. I recognised and clung on to the transitory nature of the circumstances.
I am NOT in any way comparing military basic training with some of the awful circumstances people have to live with, illness, persecution, difficult personal relationships and so on. You know what it is that you personally are having to endure. What I am saying is that sooner or later what you are suffering now will be in the past. Even if you die as a result of it, if you are a believer, you are not actually dying, you are going home. At that point, what you are suffering now will be in the past.
A key to coping with suffering is to look to the future. Paul says to the Philippians “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (Phil. 3:13). He also calls suffering, “light and momentary troubles” (2 Cor. 4:17). So, whatever suffering we might be having to endure we must recognise that it is transitory.
But if it’s transitory, there is another thing we need to be able to endure what we are going through — that is an assurance that whatever is the other side of the suffering we’re enduring is going to be better. Remember the heroes of the faith? It says this in a number of ways, here is just one of them: ”Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life” (Heb. 11:35).
What kind of “better” does Paul encourage us with this morning? 3 things I want to notice…
v21 Freedom from bondage (Jn. 8:31-36).
v23 Adoption as sons (Jn. 1:12 v Jn. 8:44).
v23 Redemption of our bodies (2 Cor. 6:19.20)
Freedom from Bondage
In v21, Paul talks of creation being freed from bondage, and I am going to make comment about creation itself, but at this point I want to note that since we are part of creation, we also are (or were) in bondage, and we can look forward to freedom. For sure, we have Jesus saying “if the son sets you free you will be free indeed” (Jn. 8:36).
It is interesting that most people see christianity as a religion of rules and regulations, specifically they see the church and christians in general as a bunch of killjoys intent of denying people freedom to live their lives how they want to and place all sorts of draconian restrictions on them.
Nothing could be further from the truth!
Sin is something which promises everything, yet in reality, once it’s taken hold it controls you. Addictions come in all forms and they start out as something which is exciting or satisfying, and before you know it, the struggle is to stop. The truth is that this is the same with all sorts of things which people do, not just drugs or alcohol or gambling. ANYTHING in your life which controls you has made you its slave. Whether its your job, your fight for recognition, or status, or something like a particular habit you can’t get the better of like anger or gossip. If you’ve ever felt “I wish I hadn’t done or said ….” about anything, you are a slave to it. Jesus says “anyone who sins is a slave to sin” (Jn. 8:34).
Jesus says, let me set you free from that and you need never be controlled by it again!
Then we have
The second thing Paul mentions is
Adoption as sons
This is something we need to really understand, we are servants, slaves even, of the Living God. Paul makes that assertion in many of his letters where he opens by saying, “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ” (or something like it), but we are so much more than that.
The importance of this is that as sons and not servants we are free, it fits right in with freedom from bondage which we’ve just talked about.
Occasionally, very occasionally, a slave would be adopted by a master, particularly if there was no natural son to be an heir. When a slave became a son, he was no longer a slave. The things required of him were different. Gal. 4:3-6 reads, “we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his son, born of a woman under the law to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights (i.e. adoption—RSV) of sons. ……………so you are no longer a slave, but a son, God has made you also an heir” (vv3-5 & v7). As Christians, we have been adopted as sons, and we are entitled to receive all that that entails. Jesus says that “a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever” (John 8v35).
We are children of God, we are brothers and sisters in Christ and of Christ. Christ himself says, “whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35).
In Galatians, Paul brings these two things together by talking about the difference between Hagar and Sarah, the difference between the son of the slave and the son of the free woman. We are, he says born according to the Spirit (which we looked at last week) the son of the free woman and therefore inheritors of the promise.
The redemption of our bodies
The word redeem means “to buy out.” The term was used specifically in reference to the purchase of a slave’s freedom. The application of this term to Christ’s death on the cross is quite telling — Jesus is, quite literally, our redeemer. If we are “redeemed,” then our prior condition was one of slavery. God has purchased our freedom, and we are no longer in bondage to sin or to the Old Testament law. This metaphorical use of “redemption” is the teaching of Gal. 3:13 and 4:5.
- Gal. 3:13 “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us”.
- Gal. 4:5 “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons”.
Related to the Christian concept of redemption is the word ransom. Jesus paid the price for our release from sin and its punishment (Matthew 20:28; 1 Timothy 2:6). His death was in exchange for our life. In fact, Scripture is quite clear that redemption is only possible “through His blood,” that is, by His death (Colossians 1:14).
The streets of heaven will be filled with former captives who, through no merit of their own, find themselves redeemed, forgiven, and free. Slaves to sin have become saints. No wonder we will sing a new song—a song of praise to the Redeemer who was slain …
And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
We were slaves to sin, condemned to eternal separation from God. Jesus paid the price to redeem us, resulting in our freedom from slavery to sin and our rescue from the eternal consequences of that sin.
So this looking forward brings us hope and patience.
It is this hope which Paul says gives us an ability to endure suffering. “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience”. (Rom. 8:24,25)
In common usage, the word hope conveys doubt. For instance, we say, “I hope it will not rain tomorrow”. Or, when asked if they will go to heaven when they die, people will often say, “I hope so.” However, that is not how the Bible sees “hope”.
In both the Old Testament and the New, hope means SO much more. It carries a meaning of confidence, security, and peace. Doubt is not in view in Biblical hope. Biblical hope is a confident expectation or assurance based upon a sure foundation for which we wait with joy and full confidence.
One of the verses in which we find the word hope is Heb. 11:1. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”. This verse carries with it all of the confidence that we know, for sure, with no question, what we have been promised by God in His Word (Jesus is King and I will extol Him has a verse which declares — “we have a hope that is steadfast and certain”). Our faith is confident assurance. The reason for the certainty of this assurance is Jesus. It is founded upon the Rock of our salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ. All of the actions of the heroes of the faith recorded in Hebrews 11 were made possible because they had this faith based in their confident assurance or hope in God. As believers, we are also called to give an answer for the hope that is within us to any who would ask (1 Pe. 3:15).
Therefore, Biblical hope is a reality and not a feeling. Biblical hope carries no doubt. Biblical hope is a sure foundation upon which we base our lives, believing that God always keeps His promises. Hope or confident assurance can be ours when we trust the words, “He who believes on Me has everlasting life” (Jn. 6:47, NKJV). Accepting that gift of eternal life means our hope is no longer filled with doubt but, rather, has at its sure foundation the whole of God’s Word, the entirety of God’s character, and the finished work of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
This hope is what provides for us the rock on which our faith rests, 1 Th. 1:3 declares that it is the foundation of their “work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ”.
Throughout the Bible, believers are called to anchor their hope in God himself, and for Christians, that also means we have sure and confident hope in Jesus. Jesus is the one who we hope for. He is the one through whom every believer will experience both the resurrection of the body and the full representation of eternal life. So for example, Heb. 10 says we are to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23).
And incidentally – the Hebrews verse suggests very strongly that hope is a choice we make not a feeling we have. In other words, WE can control whether or not we hope. We are not subject to it. We control hope – it doesn’t control us.
Another example of how Biblical hope bears no relation to the understanding of hope we see around us.
Finally in a place of anticipation and hope, we come to
In our hope we then come to a place where we can intercede, and yet we don’t know what to say, so God steps in and helps! “We do not know what to pray for as we ought”
Paul calls this weakness and says that the Spirit helps us, “with groaning too deep for words”
(Compare the groaning of creation and our groaning which is borne of suffering and essentially looking forward to our own benefit, with the groaning of the Spirit which is a groaning on our behalf.
- intercedes for us (Rom. 8:26).
- Intercedes for the saints (Rom 8:27).
Note “the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (v27), he then says “according to His purpose”. Thinking of 1 Jn. 5:14 which says, “if we ask anything according to his will he hears us”, or “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (Jn. 14:14). See the connection?
Note – if we are to pray according to God’s will, we ought really to be able to discern what that is! The key to spiritual success is understanding the will of God and praying for it, and following it. This fits right in with “why do you call me Lord, Lord and don’t do what I say? (Lk. 6:46).
How do we discern the will of God?
Far too big a subject to speak about in depth here and now, but here are just a few ideas …
- Scripture — God won’t tell you to do anything which is contrary to Scripture. I love what Justin Peters says “if you want to know what God is saying to you, read your Bible. If you want to hear it with your ears — read it out loud”
- Fellowship — the Bible says “there is wisdom in the counsel of friends”. Other Christians Including and especially leadership can often see things we can’t. This could create another rabbit hole to run down – choosing friends!
- Directly — God can lead people by directly speaking to them. For example, we read in the book of acts about Peter who had a dream about a sheet with unclean food on it, and Paul was directly confronted by God on the Damascus road experience. Just caveat that we can be viewed as being completely unhinged if present this wrong!
- Through Circumstances — e.g. Dan. 1v1,2 the key here is “the Lord delivered Jehoiachim” God allowed circumstances to develop. In fact, here it says he created them, they were under his control. Note that the Lord did this to an individual (Daniel), but His purpose was to teach the nation. Sometimes we might have stuff we go through because God has a greater purpose – one BEYOND us for it. Sucks right?
- Laying of a fleece — In Gen. 24v42-46 Abraham asked the Lord for a sign (“if I am right, let a maiden come to draw water, and when I ask her for some, she will offer water for the camels as well”). Laying a fleece is not necessarily wrong. Gideon was wrong not because he laid a fleece, but because it showed how little faith he had. He showed his little faith by not recognising and accepting God’s guidance the first time. There is a difference between saying, “I believe you want me to do this, please confirm it” and “do something miraculous to prove it’s you”. And lastly,
- Inner Witness — Everyone has a conscience, yet so often we ignore it when making decisions. Our consciences were put there by God, and revitalised when we became Christians (I don’t do things now that I wouldn’t have thought twice about before I became a Christian). This is sometimes called “peace”. We can often know when we are out of God’s will because we just can’t seem to find any peace about something. We can’t rest – but note though what I said earlier about God’s word, we should be wary of using this as our sole source of guidance – sin can sear our consciences and we can have “peace” about something that is sinful.
So, as we look to the future, individually and corporately as a church, we want to be sure that our plans such as they are, are not actually ours, but the Lord’s.