SUFFERING AND GLORY
By: Paul Anderson
It’s not the happy times that mess with us. It’s the suffering that threatens to derail us.
Nowhere in Paul’s writings does he rise to the heights as in Romans 8. And in this very context he gives a teaching on suffering. For Paul, pain-free Christianity is an oxymoron.
He is telling us what it means to be a son rather than a slave. It includes freedom from condemnation (v. 1), victory over sin (12), guidance from the Spirit (14), adoption into the family (15), and an inheritance as a child (17).
Then whammo! The massive word “if” shows up. Bummer: “…if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (17b). We were sailing; then we get hit in the gut.
Or do we? We usually don’t put suffering and glory in the same sentence, but Paul does—twice. If you want to understand what the apostle learned about pain, look at Romans 8. His purpose: help you go through suffering not with resignation but with the sound of victory trumpeted throughout this chapter. Here goes:
Our suffering is His suffering. We tend to over-personalize suffering. The next step is to make ourselves victims. Though Paul suffered more than any of us, we hear nothing resembling a victim mentality. He even speaks of “the fellowship of his sufferings.” If you are focused too much on your trouble, you are probably not focused enough on Christ’s cross.
Present suffering enhances future glory. Paul put all his marbles in the age to come. He said, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (18). No “poor me” attitude. He won’t let us stop and feel sorry for him. He contrasted the trials to the coming glory and called them “light and momentary troubles” (2 Cor. 4:17). When you see your sorrows in the shadow of a blissful forever, they fade in significance.
You are not home yet. Keep your bags packed; you won’t be here long, citizen of heaven. If you get sand kicked in your face or cramps in your legs, you can take it in stride and keep walking. You are learning to see the present in light of the destination. Today will be trumped by tomorrow.
Our cry for redemption matches the groans of creation. We share a common bondage, the longing for liberation, the hope of reversing the process of decay. Paul told the Corinthians that “we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling” (2 Cor. 5:2). The kingdom is now—and not yet. We are poised between two worlds, and we feel the tension. Good news—the Spirit understands our struggle and prays that we may endure (26). And get this—so does Jesus at the right hand of the Majestic Glory. Could we ever build a more impressive prayer team? When you make it, credit the consistent prayers of the Spirit and the Son of God.
Nothing is wasted, and certainly not pain. Meaningless misery prolongs the agony. Purposeful pain enhances steadfastness. Paul says, “We know…” That knowledge gives us hope in the midst of trouble. It doesn’t look good, not even close, but something wonderful is going to surface. What do we know? That “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (28). You can upgrade your confidence in God’s sovereign work, right in the middle of your pain. With every trial, you can say, “You’re up to something good.”
Pain does not separate us from God’s love. We sometimes interpret pain as the absence of God. We think: “Everything went south. Did I take a wrong turn? Is God punishing me for something I did five years ago?” Trials throw us off center, as if it is a diversion from the otherwise happy trail. Paul says it is mainline Christianity. And it makes the love of God stronger than ever. He lists some of the greatest disasters, like persecution or the sword and concludes, “That cannot separate us.” Then he lists the greatest enemies, including demons and death itself and concludes with the same triumphant spirit that he began with, that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (39). Do I hear a halleluia?
A victim says, “I’d be happy if it weren’t for these trials .” A victor says, “Those are the things that helped to make me who I am.’ A victim says, “You’d be complaining too if you had the boss I have.” A victor says, “God has put me here to serve this man,.” A victim says, “Jerry doesn’t understand me.” A victor says, “God is using the hardship in marriage to make me more like Jesus.” Everything counts!