Suffering vs. Glory
We are in week 3 of studying the book of Romans. Jump in with us by downloading the weekly guide for spiritual growth and reading the article below.
On five separate occasions, the Apostle Paul received the maximum beating allowed by law — 39 lashes. For the multiplication-challenged, that’s 195 stripes. That’s not counting the three times he was beaten with rods, the three times he was shipwrecked (including a full day floating at sea) or the time he was stoned. Those are just the times that danger found him, as opposed to when he carried out his calling merely under threat — threat of death, threat of imprisonment, threat of even nature (the viper bit him) conspiring against him. Paul was a man sleeping with one eye open, a minister of Christ Jesus on the run.
And all this took place in the fledgling days of his apostleship — at least 30 years before he wrote Colossians or Ephesians, both of which he composed under house arrest. This is just the little bit that we know about his life and ministry. There are decades of Paul’s suffering unaccounted for, with a beheading that he hints at in 2 Timothy still in his future.
Yet this is the same man who confidently declared in Romans 8:18 that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” and 10 verses later proclaimed that “in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
What a strange but powerful juxtaposition — the believer’s suffering and hope, confidently walking the tightrope of faith together!
When Paul writes about “the glory that will be revealed in us” in Romans, he’s writing about one of those things which “we see through a glass, darkly” in 1 Corinthians. He can’t tell us exactly what it is, but looking through that dark glass, he can see enough detail to make out an outline of the glory to come. He sees the form if not the substance. And because he knows the One Who is doing the substantiating, because he is confident of the character of the One making the promise, Paul knows it must be good.
When you can’t describe something accurately, sometimes the best you can do is make a comparison. Paul takes the things we know and extrapolates on the unknown: “However bad you think this is, the good is going to outweigh it by so much, it’ll make you forget the bad.” And when we press for details, Paul encourages us by telling us that not seeing the details helps us.
Romans 8:25: “But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.”
How do we wade through the suffering to reach that glory? What is the path of that perseverance? Hebrews 12:2 helps us articulate what Paul is telling us in Romans 8.
Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. Isaiah 26:3 tells us that God keeps in perfect peace those whose mind is stayed upon Him. This speaks to a steadfastness, a determined faith that isn’t wishy-washy. When your mind is made up on Whom you will serve — Joshua said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” — whatever you’re going to suffer afterward pales. You’re not trying to decide amid the suffering. That part is already settled. Three Hebrew boys sentenced to the fiery furnace in Daniel were so confident in their God, that even if He decided against saving them, their minds would not be changed. Their hearts were “fixed.” That’s what “fixed on Jesus” means.
Focus on the glory set before you. The suffering is real. You can’t minimize it. You shouldn’t want to. In Hebrews 11, some forward-focused believers are spoken of as “not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.” For however big the suffering is, the glory is that much bigger. They refused to minimize their suffering because they wanted a greater glory. Jesus was able to undergo what He underwent by focusing on His future glory, the glory that is His now and the glory that will only get better and better. No wonder Paul talks about forgetting those things which are behind us in Philippians. The joy is set before us, not behind us!
Rely on the Holy Spirit. Paul writes that “He helps us in our weakness.” Jesus sent the Holy Spirit so that we would not be left as orphans in this world. Jesus called Him the Comforter. Paul elaborates on those things by letting us know that the Spirit is making intercession for us in ways we can’t even understand — “groanings that cannot be uttered.” That means He’s stepping in the gap between our suffering and our glory. He is our Bridge over the troubled waters.
Romans 8 tells us about all the things that can work against us — tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril or sword — and about being counted as sheep for the slaughter. Then, in the same breath, it tells us that we are “more than conquerors.” Suffering and glory can’t be separated. But if we divide this chapter rightly, we shouldn’t want that anyway.
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