MESSAGE FOR AUGUST 1, 1999 FROM ROMANS 8:18-25
This morning, we continue our examination of Romans chapter eight. In this section beginning with verse 14, Paul writes of an unspeakable blessing associated with having the Holy Spirit live within us. That is, those who have the Spirit are children of God. He then gives five characteristics of what it is to be a child of God. Last week we saw numbers four and five which come out of verse 17. Paul says here, “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.” From this text we saw that to be a child of God meant first, that a child of God has a God-sized inheritance. We said that to be an heir in this context was a future oriented concept. Our inheritance waits for us in heaven. We also said that to have this inheritance was glorious because it involves sharing in the glory of Christ. That is, it means that we will be glorified—our salvation will be complete and we will be made to be like Jesus. Finally, we said that our inheritance was God himself. He is the ultimate prize and reward of heaven. Relating to Him in the intimacy of His personal presence is the central blessing of our inheritance and should be the cause for our eagerness to leave this world.
Verse 17 also tells us that a child of God is one who suffers. Paul makes suffering a condition for receiving our inheritance. “If indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Although we are obviously not saved by suffering, but by grace through faith, suffering for Christ is a mark of one who has saving faith and Paul can therefore make it a condition for heaven. In the next eight verses, Paul continues this theme of the necessity of suffering and develops the idea. Its as if Paul introduces this sobering teaching on the necessity of suffering and says, “But let me tell you the truth about suffering—its not nearly as disabling if you experience it from God’s perspective.” So let’s look at verse 18.
Paul says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” This verse tells us so much of Paul’s theology and what motivated him as a Christian. We must always remember that the framework of Paul’s entire theology, that which defines it is this larger than life, cosmic drama that God is playing out on earth. The current “act” being played out in this drama began with the birth of the church and will continue until the church’s mission on earth is ended. The church are those people called out by God to live out the life of Christ on earth between Pentecost and Christ’s return to earth in the final act of this drama.
The New Testament paints a picture of a church which lives in ambiguity. That is, we live in the midst of several spiritual tensions. New Testament theologian George Eldon Ladd puts it this way. We are people who live in this present, evil age, but we really belong to the coming, glorious age. For instance, we live as citizens of heaven, but we dwell physically on earth. We are already in the kingdom of Christ, but we await the coming of the kingdom in completion. We have experienced new life in Christ, but we await the inheritance of eternal life. We have been saved, but we await the completion of our salvation. We have been raised to newness of life, but we long for the resurrection of our aging, frail bodies. Jesus said, we are “in the world, but not of the world.” Finally, as Paul points out in verse 18, we experience genuine suffering as Christians now, but we look forward to the glory of the life to come with Christ. Do you hear the pattern of, on the one hand, already receiving God’s grace and mercy, but on the other, we have not received the total package? The church lives in the middle of this tension between what has already been done by God and what still remains to be completed.
This is the framework of Paul’s theology and everything he writes about the Christian life must be seen in that eternal context. We are people who live in this present, evil age, but belong to the coming glorious age. So when Paul writes, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us” he is rubbing against one of the major themes of New Testament theology. Because this verse deals with such a huge biblical idea and one that should have a profound impact on how we live every day of our lives, this morning I want to focus on just this verse. Also, because this verse espouses a view point so incredibly foreign to most of us, I am going to look at it very broadly and more topically today. Next week, we will dig into the text more specifically about what Paul means when he speaks of “the glory that will be revealed in us.”
We know from verses 14-17, that suffering is necessary for the child of God. But here, Paul wants to put the suffering we do here in this age into its larger context. He places these two dimensions or ages side by side as it were. The present dimension of this life, with its suffering and hardship, and the future dimension with its glory. His point is very simply to say that the glories of what lies ahead for God’s children, (in particular the glory that will be revealed when our salvation is completed and we are like Christ,) those glories are so great that what we suffer now for Christ is not even in the same ball park as what lay ahead. They are so far apart in terms of their intensity and magnitude, there is no comparison.
Now, part of what makes this verse so powerful is that that Paul is uniquely qualified to make this point because he had experienced BOTH the glories of heaven and the sufferings of earth in profound ways. A partial list of his sufferings are found in the well known text in 2 Corinthians 11:25-28. Let’s hear this so we can more deeply appreciate what he is saying in Romans 8:18. He writes, "Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”
That gives us a flavor of the sufferings Paul knew. In fact, he saw his sufferings as the badge of authenticity to his ministry. What separated Paul from the false teachers was this, Paul was willing to suffer any abuse and take no money for his labors. Jesus said to Ananias in Acts nine about Saul of Tarsus, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” Now, when Jesus who is the expert par excellence in suffering tells someone how much Paul is going to suffer, we can be assured his suffering was on an enormous scale of intensity. Yet even with that incredible resume of misery, that intense suffering, Paul says it is not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us.
How can Paul say that about something in the future? The answer in part is because Paul had been to the future and had briefly tasted, not the glory of the revelation of the sons of God, but the glory of being in paradise with God. In Second Corinthians 12 he speaks of his experience of being in the very presence of God in the second person because of humility and says, “He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.” Paul had no trouble articulating his sufferings, but when it came to describing the glory of the next dimension he puts his hand over his mouth. It is so sacred, so lofty, so awesome, not only are there no words to describe it, but God forbid him from even attempting to speak of it. This understanding is clearly part of what motivated Paul to suffer as he did and not give up and we must do this as well.
The point is that Paul, who was an expert on suffering and who had seen only a foretaste of glory, looked at the two in a side by side comparison and said, “There IS NO COMPARISON!” This suffering, even the level of suffering that Paul did (which is beyond anything any of us will do) is a drop in the bucket. Now, we must notice the huge, life changing implication of this verse. The clear implication is this: This life in this age and the sufferings that go along with being obedient is to be lived out in comparison with the life to come and what will be revealed in glory. That means that every bit of suffering we experience must be measured against something to come in heaven. We are to always and continually live with the backdrop of heaven shining its light on everything we do. We are to be making our life decisions, big and small, with this eternal perspective.
Now, we allow comparisons to influence our decisions all the time. We have a new job opportunity and we evaluate whether or not we should take it by means of dozens of comparisons. What will the money be like compared to what I am earning now? What will the kid’s schools be like compared to what we have now? What will the housing, commute, benefit package, over all quality of life be if I take the job compared to what I have now? This is the way we make so many of our decisions. I will shop at such and such a store because the prices, conditions, atmosphere are better compared to where I shop now. Do you see the way this comparison thinking is second nature to us?
But Paul is saying that, as it relates to suffering, we are to make those comparisons, NOT on the basis of what we are NOW experiencing, but compared to what we WILL experience in glory. Paul made all sorts of decisions which were utterly stupid apart from this future comparison. For instance, we read in Acts 20-21 that he was told that if he went to minister in Jerusalem, he would suffer persecution and imprisonment when he got there. But He went anyway, because God told him to go and he wasn’t comparing being in prison with being free from shackles. That comparison would have led him to stay as far away from Jerusalem as he could. He was comparing the suffering of a Roman prison with the glory reserved in heaven for Him for obeying God. That kind of comparison between the sufferings of this world in obedience to Christ and the far surpassing glories of heaven made the decision an easy one for Paul. He went to Jerusalem and ended up in prison, just as he knew he would.
What does this mean to us? Many of us live pretty much for our selves, our comfort, our self-centered concerns and our picture of eternity can look something like this: We imagine that after we have gorged ourselves with as much as this world has to offer us in a lifetime, we can then turn and sample the heavenly delicacies which have been waiting for us. We live as if both dimensions exist for the purpose of servicing our appetites for self-centered pleasure. How repulsive! With that mindset, heaven for the average western Christian, when you come right down to it, is little more than the next stop at the end of this earthly pleasure tour. This life, for many believers is like a long, roller coaster ride which totally engrosses us—captures all our attention. When you die, you are then escorted off the ride onto another, even better pleasure ride that lasts forever. There is a huge wall that separates the two dimensions. They are in separate, air tight compartments. This is so distorted and not at all the picture Paul paints for us.
Glory should be the constant backdrop against which we are to see this world. Heaven and the glory found there is NOT simply a vague destination where this life terminates for the believer. That is an unbiblical and superficial understanding. Heaven should be invading more and more into our lives every day. It should be that which we compare our sufferings against. Heaven should be barging into our lives perpetually, influencing our decisions, compelling us to suffer in this life as we weigh that comparatively miniscule cost against the glory of eternal reward. The old saying is still true, “heaven should be in the saint long before the saint is in heaven.”
That mindset, that value system assumes something very important. Heaven cannot play such a significant role in our lives unless we are spending considerable amounts of time thinking about it. If something is to play this kind of predominant influencing role, (even to the point of motivating us to make decisions which will bring suffering to ourselves and our loved ones,) it will need to be something with which we are very much enamored with. And you cannot love something that much unless you spend much time engrossed with it. Jonathan Edwards did a lot of thinking and preaching biblically about heaven. Listen to some of his remarks about this topic of thinking about heaven. He said, “Tis a thing of great consequence to men that their hearts should be in heaven…their thoughts—their choices, their affections and their dependence is there…[this makes] the difficult duties of Christianity easy. [Otherwise, the] way uphill [is hard.]”
I believe what Edwards is saying there is, life is a steep mountain climb for the obedient Christian. And what makes that climb easier is focussing on the glory that emanates from the top of the mountain. If you only look at the crags and cliffs of the mountain, you will end up in despair. LOOK UP at the glory and you will find that the skinned knees and sore feet and close calls on the climb will fade into the glories up above. Edwards, who is completely consistent with Paul here, says that the difference between the Christian life being easy and it being hard is a mind that is much set on heaven. This is a remarkable statement if for no other reason than this crucial truth is almost unheard of today. If you don’t believe me, take a 50 year old hymnal and a new hymnal or a chorus list and compare the number of selections that have heaven as their theme. There are hardly any written today. I cannot think of one chorus written in the last 20 years where glory is the main theme. And yet, Edward says that thoughts of heaven make a difficult Christian life, easy.
I don’t know about you, but when I read texts like 1 John 5:3 which says, “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome…” my response is often—NOT BURDENSOME—they seem to be crushing me at times. When I read Jesus’ words in Matthew 11 where he speaks of the Christian life in terms of resting in him and says in verse 30, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” there are times when I feel the yoke is strangling me and the burden is burying me. Now, there are many reasons why that can be the case, but one that is often tragically overlooked—that doesn’t even cross our minds, is this one Edwards, following Paul mentions.
Living the Christian life without the glories of heaven playing a prominent role is like living with no spiritual shock absorbers. That’s what the prospect of glory should be for us, a set of heavy duty spiritual shock absorber. To ride in a car without shocks is a miserable experience because the roads are bumpy and you feel every bump to the maximum. But with new, heavy duty shocks and a good suspension system, you barely feel the exact same bumps when you go over them because the suspension greatly cushions the blows. Well, with the suffering that comes to every true Christian, life is bumpy. But Paul implies here that as we contemplate the glories of heaven and compare that with these dips in the road, those bumps, are absorbed in the wonder of what is to come. Most of us are walking around without spiritual shocks and the ruts and potholes of life can be disabling at times. It can be so disabling, that many people just choose to steer around the holes and choose to rebel against God and the path that He has chosen for them. Without these shocks, the smallest trials seem huge and the huge trials of life seem unthinkable.
Why is it that the glories of heaven, our home play so little role in cushioning the sometimes rough road of the life of Christ? Why is it that there are so few of our hymns and choruses devoted to this huge theological theme? Why is it that we seldom think to counsel a deeply wounded person by appealing to the glories that are to come? One reason is because we have made this world our home instead of seeing ourselves as only aliens on a mission here. If we know and believe that heaven is truly our home instead of just a vague destination after we die, then our hearts will be much occupied with heaven. There will be a healthy homesickness there, not only when we suffer, but when life is good. There will be a sense that we really don’t belong here for very long—this is foreign land to us and prayer, in that sense is like a telephone call home to our Father. But if heaven is only one prop in our lives rather than the cosmic back drop it is supposed to be, it will have very little influence on us.
Another reason we don’t live like this is because we are very not God centered in our living. If God is the center of our life, if we are seeking Him and our highest goal is to know him, then the glories of heaven will inescapably have to play a large part in our lives because heaven is God’s throne room. If our minds are not much occupied with heaven its because they are not much occupied with God in a God-centered way because the concepts of heaven and God are inseparable. May God give us the grace to use our lack of heaven-mindedness to show us our hearts and cause us to repent of our preoccupation with this dark world. And may we invite heaven into our lives to, among other things, enable us to suffer for Christ in a way that honors Him.
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