WE CAN PATIENTLY ENDURE SUFFERINGS BECAUSE OF OUR SURE
HOPE THAT THEY WILL END IN A FAR SURPASSING GLORY
John Toews: Paul introduces the thesis by setting in confrontation the present reality of suffering and future glory. The suffering Christians experience in the present age (lit., “the now time”) cannot be compared with the end-time glory to be revealed.
Paul explains the thesis in three subunits that deal with creation (vv. 19-22), Christians (we, vv. 23-25), and the Spirit (vv. 26-30). Recurring words and themes run through these sections: groaning (vv. 22, 23, 26), hope (vv. 20, 24, 25), expectation (vv. 19, 23, 25), children of God (vv. 19, 21, 23, 29). The whole is tied together by the keyword groaning (stenazein). Each subunit has its own theme: freedom versus slavery (vv. 19-22), eager expectation sustained by hope (vv. 23-25), the intercession of the Spirit for the Christian (vv. 26-30).
Michael Bird: The unstated question, though, is that if believers have been freed from the “law of sin and death,” why does death still engulf them? If believers have a share in the glory of Christ, where is this glory now?
Paul anticipates this question and reminds his audience of the “not yet” of Christian hope and turns their gaze on the future horizon of divine glory. In the midst of the sufferings of the present time, there remains a longing for a future glory that will be revealed in us, which will redeem our bodies, heal the wounded creation, and seal our adoption. The gist of vv. 18 – 30 is that believers must walk in the footsteps of the Lord and travel the path of suffering before entering into glory (see 2 Cor 4:17). Moo is right that Paul “assumes the fact of suffering as the dark backdrop against which the glorious future promised to the Christian shines with bright intensity.”
In terms of structure,
(1) Paul opens with mention of present sufferings in the context of the groaning of creation (vv. 18 – 22);
(2) then he refers to the groaning of Christians who wait in hope for their final salvation (vv. 23 – 25);
(3) Paul next comments about the groaning of the Spirit who intercedes for the saints in the interim period (vv. 26 – 27); and
(4) he describes how God’s goodness prevails for those who love him (vv. 28 – 30).
Michael Gorman: The second half of Rom 8 is among the most moving parts of the Bible, culminating in 8:31–39, “one of the most stunning pieces of rhetorical art in the New Testament.” Paul puts the suffering of the faithful into the larger context of the suffering of the entire creation and the hope of future salvation. He portrays the story of the universe as a dramatic sequence:
- human sin
- creation’s subjection and decay
- believers’ present experience of the Spirit in the midst of suffering
- believers’ final glorification and salvation
- the liberation and salvation of all creation
Paul contends that life in the Spirit—life in Christ, life as God’s children—is indeed a life of suffering, but also that no suffering can destroy believers’ hope of glory or separate them from God’s love in Christ.
I. (:18) FUTURE GLORY FAR SURPASSES PRESENT SUFFERING
“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.”
We need to reckon our share in sufferings to be insignificant compared to our share in glory.
Bruce Hurt: Logizomai was a term frequently used in the business community of Paul’s day and meant to impute (put to one’s account) or credit to one’s account. Logizomai is related to our English term logic (which deals with the methods of valid thinking, reveals how to draw proper conclusions from premises and is a prerequisite of all thought).
Michael Bird: When it comes to future glory outweighing current hardship, Paul expressed a similar thought in 2 Corinthians 4:17: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” Even more elegant is Theresa of Ávila: “In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel.”
Grant Osborne: Suffering is part of the process of sharing in Christ’s death; it will culminate in sharing his glory. If glory is the majesty of God, his character seen for all that it truly is, then his glory . . . revealed in us will occur when we suddenly become exactly what God has intended us to be. God will allow us to share in the glory that belonged to Christ alone. We will share with Christ in the glory of sonship. In that day we will fully reflect God’s image.
II. (:19-22) FRACTURED CREATION LONGS FOR END TIME REDEMPTION
A. (:19) Anxious Anticipation
“For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly
for the revealing of the sons of God.”
Michael Bird: The reason why creation is anxiously awaiting the revelation of God’s sons to be revealed is because it knows that once they are revealed in the resurrection, creation itself is next in line to receive release from the mire of corruption.
R. Kent Hughes: In verse 19 the phrase “waits with eager longing” comes from a group of words that carry the idea of craning the neck or stretching forward. Here the form of the word is intensive. Phillips translates this, “The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own.” Creation longs for the day of liberation.
Douglas Moo: Interpreters debate just what this “creation” (ktisis) might refer to. Because he speaks so personally (e.g., in v. 22, it groans), many think he is referring only to human beings, or perhaps to unbelievers. Paul can use the word to refer to human “creatures” (Gal. 6:15; Col. 1:23), but he usually applies it to God’s entire creation (Rom. 1:20, 25; 8:39; 2 Cor. 5:17; Col. 1:15). The key to its meaning here is the fact that Paul insists that the frustration “creation” is experiencing is not its own fault. We must, therefore, exclude all human beings, since they all had a part in the Fall. With most modern commentators, we conclude that Paul refers to all of subhuman creation: plants, animals, rocks, and so on.
William Newell: The word translated “revealing” is apokalupsis, a removal of a covering,—as when some wonderful statue has been completed and a veil thrown over it, people assemble for the “unveiling” of this work of art. It will be as when sky rockets are sent up on a festival night: rockets which, covered with brown paper, seem quite common and unattractive, but up they are sent into the air and then they are revealed in all colors of beauty, and the multitude waiting below shout in admiration. Now the saints are wrapped up in the common brown paper of flesh, looking outwardly like other folks. But the whole creation is waiting for their unveiling at Christ’s coming, for they are connected with Christ, one with Him, and are to be glorified with Him at His coming. (Romans 8: Expository Notes Verse by Verse)
B. (:20-21) Appointment from Futility to Freedom
- Decree of Present Futility
“For the creation was subjected to futility,
not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it,”
John Toews: The created order awaits redemption so eagerly because creation is caught up in humanity’s futility. “Futility,” used elsewhere only in 1:21, refers to something that does not function according to design. Creation was drawn into the consequences of Adam’s sin against its will (lit., “not willingly”). Creation was subjected, or more literally “ordered under” (the verb is used twice in v. 20 for emphasis), by God to the conditions of Adam’s fall. The result is that creation is enslaved, which is further defined as the decay of mortality. Paul is interpreting Genesis 3, and together with Judaism holds to the intimate unity of humanity and creation.
- Decree of Future Freedom
“in hope 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.”
John Toews: The end-time appearance of the family of God is the decisive event that creation awaits. It will reverse the rebellion of humanity against God and the loss of the glory of God (ch. 1).
Spurgeon: Everything here is blighted, and subject to storm, or to decay, or to sudden death, or to calamity of some sort. It is a fair world, but there is the shadow of the curse over it all. The slime of the serpent is on all our Edens now.
Michael Bird: I know of no other verse in all of Scripture that better describes the majestic vision of Christian hope. The shackles of slavery replaced with freedom. The darkness of destitution driven away by rays of divine glory.
Michael Gorman: The earth, indeed the entire cosmos, and humanity were created to be partners. Despite whatever present issues exist, they will one day be co-participants in God’s glorious future.
Grant Osborne: Translating Paul’s complex thought here into English is not easy. Paraphrasing has been the most helpful. For example, Phillips has, “The world of creation cannot as yet see reality, not because it chooses to be blind, but because in God’s purpose it has been so limited—yet it has been given hope. And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have it share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!”
Martin Lloyd-Jones: I wonder whether the phenomenon of the Spring supplies us with a part answer. Nature every year, as it were, makes an effort to renew itself, to produce something permanent; it has come out of the death and the darkness of all that is so true of the Winter. In the Spring it seems to be trying to produce a perfect creation, to be going through some kind of birth-pangs year by year. But unfortunately it does not succeed, for Spring leads only to Summer, whereas Summer leads to Autumn, and Autumn to Winter. Poor old nature tries every year to defeat the “vanity” of the principle of death and decay and disintegration that is in it. But it cannot do so. It fails every time. It still goes on trying, as if it feels things should be different and better; but it never succeeds. So it goes on “groaning and travailing in pain together until now.” It has been doing so for a very long time… but nature still repeats the effort annually. But, it will be set free one day from this corruption “into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
C. (:22) Agitated Anguish
“For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth
together until now.”
Our dying world shows its desperate need to be delivered.
III. (:23-25) FRACTURED BELIEVERS LONG FOR THE REDEMPTION OF THE BODY
A. (:23) Entrapment in Suffering Bodies Causes Groaning for Redemption
“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.”
John Toews: Two decisive moments characterize the redemption of followers of Jesus. The first is the reception of the Spirit. Paul returns to the definition of the Christian as one who has the Spirit (v. 9). The reception is a first fruits event. The image comes from the Jewish practice of bringing a “first fruits” of the grain harvest as offering to the Temple. The offering is the beginning of the full harvest, and the guarantee that the whole process will be completed. The harvest toward which the first fruits of the Spirit point is the resurrection of the body, the second decisive moment of redemption. The Spirit begins a process of redemption that leads to a new embodiment. Redemption cannot be complete with the gift of the Spirit or within the present creation, it requires an “adoption” to a new family in a new created order. Creation looks for the revelation of the children of God; believers look for their own adoption as God’s children, which is defined as the redemption of the body. The current status of family relations is incomplete; it requires a new creation.
The time between the two moments of receiving the Spirit and the resurrection of the body is a time of groaning. Christians, because of the Spirit, groan in longing for complete redemption. Spirit possession does not distance Christians from creation, but rather intensifies the solidarity with creation both in suffering and in hope for full salvation.
Michael Bird: The groaning for glory aches after two things: “adoption to sonship” and “redemption of our bodies.” Paul has already referred to adoption and redemption as present experiences of believers (see 3:24; 8:15). However, the whole gamut of Paul’s theology is pervaded by the now and the not-yet, and so it is with adoption and redemption. While Christians have already received adoption and been redeemed, these facets of salvation still await a final consummation. In the case of adoption, what awaits is the final revelation of sonship in glory. In the case of redemption, it is not just redemption from the penalty of sin, but the redemption of the body from the presence of sin that remains outstanding. The resurrection of the body will be the event that will consummate both adoption and redemption.
R. Kent Hughes: We also groan because of the misery of living in our fallen bodies in this fallen world. Ray Stedman writes:
Our lives consist of groans. We groan because of the ravages that sin makes in our lives, and in the lives of those we love. Also we groan because we see possibilities that are not being captured and employed. And then we groan because we see gifted people who are wasting their lives, and we would love to see something else happening. It is recorded that, as he drew near the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus groaned in his spirit because he was so burdened by the ravages that sin had made in a believing family. He groaned, even though he knew he would soon raise Lazarus from the dead. So we groan in our spirits—we groan in disappointment, in bereavement, in sorrow. We groan physically in our pain and our limitation. Life consists of a great deal of groaning.
Douglas Moo: Many interpreters take the phrase “who have the firstfruits of the Spirit” concessively: We groan despite the fact that we have the Spirit. But it makes better sense to give it a causal interpretation: We groan because we have the Spirit. Once the Spirit, with his demand for holiness, enters our lives, we sense as never before just what God wants us to be. As a result, the Spirit increases our frustration at not meeting God’s standard and our yearning to be what he wants us to be. What do we wait for? “The redemption of the body” refers to the rescue of the body from sin and death that will happen when it is raised from the dead (see 8:10–11).
B. (:24-25) Essence of Hope Requires Perseverance
“For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope;
for why does one also hope for what he sees?
But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.”
With hope and patience we also yearn for our full deliverance.
Michael Bird: Paul characterizes the intervening period as a time not only for groaning, but also of hope. Believers are “saved” with a “hope” for their adoption and redemption to be finalized. Hope, however, assumes that one does not possess what one currently awaits. Precisely because it is a hope in “what we do not yet have,” one must “wait for it patiently.” Christian hope looks forward, not vainly, but with confidence in God’s promise, that they will inherit the world (see Rom 4:13).
Douglas Moo: Nevertheless, Paul assures us, this hope is not of the normal human kind—“I hope I win the lottery.” No, Christian hope is solidly founded in God himself. Thus, we can “wait for it patiently [hypomones]” or, perhaps better, “with endurance.” This word suggests the ability to bear up under the trials that come our way (cf. Rom. 5:3–4; Heb. 10:36; 12:1; James 1:3–4; 5:11). “Wait for,” the same word Paul used of creation in Romans 8:19, connotes a person craning his or her neck to spot someone or something coming. In the next few verses (8:26–30), Paul will explain why believers can look so eagerly and hopefully for what is coming.
Grant Osborne: Waiting for things patiently is a quality that must be developed in us (see Romans 5:3-4; James 1:3-4; 5:11; Revelation 13:10; 14:12). Patience is one of the Spirit’s fruits borne in our lives. It includes fortitude, endurance, and the ability to bear up under pressure in order to attain a desired goal.