I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us …
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. (verses 18, 22-24)
Theologians often talk about the “now” and the “not yet” of the Kingdom of God. Right now, in Christ, we have received a first taste of God’s kingdom-rule in our lives. We know the presence of his Spirit, we receive answers to prayer, we partake in transformation, we experience forgiveness, new life, and divine power. But we haven’t yet experienced God’s unfettered rule in all its fullness. That awaits the end of time when everything is set right, when the glory of God himself is fully revealed and his reign fully established. We still pray, with meaning and intensity, “Your Kingdom come.”
This passage, perhaps as clearly as anywhere in the scriptures, speaks of the ongoing divide between “now” and “not yet.” “Present sufferings” continue. Future “glory” is yet to be revealed. In the meantime there is a sense of “groaning,” both personally and in all creation.
Several things stand out:
(1) “Now” doesn’t even compare with the “not yet.” Whatever difficulties we may encounter at the moment, Paul says they are “not worth comparing” with the glory that is to come. This doesn’t minimize present suffering, nor does it discount the intrusion of horrendous persecution in the history of the church, nor the hard-edged hardships that Paul himself experienced. Rather, it magnifies the wonder of the glory that is to come, beyond what we can even imagine. This is not a flippant statement, but rather one of profound faith. Paul, living through “present sufferings” as he did, has the right to declare it. We have the calling to embrace it.
(2) All creation “groans.” This is an open-eyed, straightforward appraisal. Things are not right. Natural disasters happen. Climate upheaval, fuelled by humanity’s actions and inactions, progresses. Viruses surge. Suffering results. There is a deep-seated yearning for things to be different.
(3) Even though we are “in Christ,” the groaning continues. We have been redeemed, forgiven, adopted, renewed, yet the fullness is not yet here. We lean forward, yearning for that coming day when adoption and redemption will be complete. In the meantime, we struggle, suffering from weakness, pain and loss. They swirl around us and indeed well up within us. The battle is not yet done. The Kingdom has not fully come. We should not be surprised.
(4) Yet, we have “the firstfruits of the Spirit.” The Comforter is here. God is at work. His Kingdom is truly breaking in. And “hope” has been birthed. Not a wishful-thinking that fuels daydreams, but rather a rock-solid hope that is rooted in the sure promise of the Sovereign Lord himself. “Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
Praise his name. With eyes open to present reality we set our eyes on Jesus again.
Sovereign Lord, thank you that the firstfruits of the Spirit are here. Thank you that hope has come. Strengthen me, in the midst of my own groaning, to look up, more strongly yet, to you. I rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
Reflect: Name your own groanings. Place them in your Lord’s hands once again. Embrace the hope of future glory. Trust.