Subjected to Futility in Hope, Part 2
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
I argued last time that verses 18-25 are written to help you endure the suffering required in verse 17. "If you are children of God, then you are heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs of Christ, if you suffer with him, in order that you might be glorified with him." I said that the sum of the argument was this: "It's worth it." In other words, whatever suffering may be necessary in your life as a Christian, it's worth it in view of what you will gain if you trust Christ – and what you will lose if you don't.
This means that the main point of verses 18-25 is to give you hope. But instead of moving straight to the hope of these verses, I spent all of last week putting a kind of sober, even fearful, support under your hope. I know that sounds odd – a fearful support for hope. But it's true and it's real. There is a painful realism in this text, and it is meant to help you hold on to your hope as a Christian. The realism is this: It helps us endure our suffering in this life to know that it is part of a global, divinely-ordained futility (v. 20) and decay (v. 21) and groaning (v. 23). In other words, the sufferings of this life are part of a universal, God-decreed collapse of creation into disorder because of sin. God subjected the world to futility – that's verse 20 – because of sin. And therefore all the misery of the world – and it is great – is a bloody declaration about the ghastly horror of sin.
Does "Suffering" Refer to All Pain, or just Persecution?
And let me clarify here a question that I have been asked several times, namely, Do you mean all suffering, or just the suffering that comes because we are Christians? Do I mean all pain, or just persecution? Answer: I mean all pain that you meet on your way to heaven and endure by trusting Jesus.
I grant that Paul has in mind in verse 17 suffering for Christ that comes from our adversaries. But I deny that this is all that he has in his mind. For two reasons: one is that the rest of the text from verses 18 to 27 unfold a futility and corruption and groaning and weakness that are broader than that. The suffering "of this present time" in verse 18, which follows right after verse 17, is the suffering that comes from the world being subjected to futility (v. 20) and leads to the groaning that makes us want to have new resurrection bodies (v. 23). It is universal suffering that comes with a fallen creation, not just the suffering of persecution.
And the second reason I don't think Paul limits suffering to persecution in verse 17 is because at root the threat of all suffering is the same – whether it comes from human persecution or from Satanic attack or from natural disease or disaster – namely, the threat that our faith in God's sovereign goodness will be destroyed. In the end, the issue is not whether your pain is triggered by man or Satan or nature, but whether you trust the sovereign goodness of God over it all and through it all to bring you to everlasting glory.
The comfort and encouragement of this text is not that God has nothing to do with hostile humans or hateful demons or harmful nature, but that in it all and through it all he has hope-filled designs for his children. This is what verse 28 is going to say in summary: "We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." So when I talk about hope in suffering, I mean any and all suffering that you must endure on your way to heaven which you endure by holding fast to Jesus Christ.
Now let's look at the way Paul helps us keep on hoping in Christ when our suffering is great. I will point you to six things that Paul says – at least – maybe more depending how you break them up in pieces.
1. God Promises that after This Time of Suffering We Will See an All-satisfying Beauty and Greatness
Verse 18: "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us." "Glory" I take to mean "overwhelming, all-satisfying beauty and greatness." "Be revealed to us" I take to mean, "we will see it." There is much more to our hope. But let's just take this part and let it sink in.
Seeing beauty and greatness is one of the passionate desires and deep longings of the human heart – built into us by God. We get pleasure from seeing beauty and greatness in movies and museums and world-class sporting events and art galleries and concerts and the Boundary Waters and the Grand Canyon and the Rockies and the ocean and sunrises and meteor showers. Seeing beauty and greatness is a huge part of our joy in life.
All of these earthly things are images, reflections, pointers to a greater beauty and a greater greatness. They all point to the glory of God. Seeing this will be the end of our quest for beauty and greatness. This is why Jesus prayed for us the way he did in John 17:24, "Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory." This was the greatest thing Jesus could pray for on our behalf. It was the climax of his prayer. Seeing the glory of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was the best gift Jesus could pray that we would receive after we had suffered in this life.
Assuming one thing! That we will be glorified and changed and able to savor what we see. Which leads us to the second statement about our hope.
2. God Promises that the Children of God Will Be Revealed with Glory of Their Own
Verse 19: "For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God." So verse 18 says that something will be revealed to us, and verse 19 says that we ourselves will be revealed. What does this mean?
It means that right now the children of God do not look glorious. We look pretty much like everyone else. We get hungry and tired and sick. We age and we die. And on the way to the grave we make some progress in overcoming our selfishness and pride and greed, but we never get beyond the need to be justified by faith alone because of Christ alone, and we will say with Paul till the day we die, "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?" (Romans 7:24). So we don't not look all that great. We are not titans. We have our gospel treasure in jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7).
But Jesus said in Matthew 13:43, "Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father." And Paul said in Colossians 3:4, "When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." And most relevant of all, consider verse 21 here in our own text: "The creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God." The freedom of the glory of the children of God!
So when verse 19 speaks of "the revealing of the sons of God" now we know what will be revealed. "The freedom of the glory of the children of God." This is what we saw at the end of verse 17 – that we would be glorified with Christ – that our bodies and minds and hearts would be so completely renovated that nothing would stand in the way of savoring Christ for all he is worth.
So in verse 18 God promises that we will see the greatest glory in the universe. And in verse 19 God promises that we will savor that glory because we will be changed by that glory so completely that we are free from anything that would frustrate our joy in God.
And don't miss one other massive truth in verse 19: all of creation is oriented on the revelation of the children of God. God made the universe for us, not us for the universe. We inherit the world, the world doesn't inherit us. Of all God's created universe which has fallen into futility and decay and groaning, only human beings have the capacity to glorify God with conscious worship. So all creation is standing on tiptoe waiting for our revelation – as glorified worshippers.
3. God Promises that His Ultimate Design in the Decree of Futility Is Hope for His Children
Verse 20: "For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope." The effect this is supposed to have on us is to make us seriously and soberly hopeful. Serious and sober because God has decreed the fall of the universe into futility and decay and groaning and weakness. That makes us sober. It makes us tremble with a due respect for the infinitely holy God who rules over the universe with justice and hatred for sin.
But the point of verse 20 is that this futility and judgment is not his ultimate design. The words "in hope" at the end of verse 20 show that God's aim in his judicial decree of futility and pain is hope. So when you feel almost overwhelmed by your own pain and the pain of the world, remember: this was not God's final design. If you will trust him and hold fast to him as your treasure, then it will all be turned for your good. That's what the word "hope" means at the end of verse 20.
4. God Promises that All Creation, not Just the Children of God, Will Be Freed from the Present Misery of Futility and Corruption and Groaning
Verse 21: "The creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God." We've already seen from verse 19 that the children are going to be revealed with glory that suits them to enjoy the glory of God. But now we see the other part of the promise in verse 21: Creation too will be freed from its slavery to corruption and decay and futility. In other words, the universe will be changed into a place perfectly suited for the perfected and glorious children of God.
No more destructive tornadoes or hurricanes or floods or droughts or plagues or diseases or accidents or harmful animals or insects or viruses. The prophecy of Isaiah 65:17 will come to pass: "Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind." And the prophecy of Revelation 21:1-5 will come to pass as well:
I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. . . . 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. 5 And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." (See also 2 Peter 3:13)
You recall that I have said several times, based on verse 17, that we must be glorified in order to be able to respond with appropriate joy to God and to the gift of the world that will be given to us for an inheritance. But now it might be better to say: the world will have to be glorified so that it is a suitable environment for freedom of the glory of the children of God. In other words, our freedom and our glory will be so great that only a glorified world will be adequate to suit our almost infinite capacities for happiness. That's what verse 21 promises: "The creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God."
5. God Promises that the Miseries of the Universe Are not the Throes of Death but the Labor Pains of Childbirth
Verse 22: "For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now." This is another way of saying that God subjected the creation to futility in hope (v. 20). That is, in the hope for something much better than the pain coming out of all this.
If you are in a hospital and you hear a woman across the hall groan or scream, it makes all the difference in how you feel if you know you are on the maternity ward and not the oncology unit. Why? Pain is pain, isn't it? No. Some pain leads to life. And some pain leads to death. And what verse 22 promises is that for the children of God, all pain leads to life. All the groanings of this world are the birth pains of the kingdom of God. If you are part of the kingdom – a child of the King – all your sufferings are labor pains and not death spasms. And I mean all of them – even the death spasms!
6. God Promises that Our Bodies Will Be Redeemed from All Groaning
Verse 23: "And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body." Listen to the way Paul sings over this truth in 1 Corinthians:
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:51-55)
O you who trust in Jesus Christ for the fulfillment of all his promises to you, know that in this hope you have been saved, and if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it – with groaning and patience and unconquerable joy.
And to you who are not trusting Christ, remember the words of the Lord: "As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name" (John 1:12). And if children, heirs of all these promises. Receive him. Trust him. Amen.