For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. – Romans 8:18-25 ESV
Paul has just told us that we need to accept the reality that, in this life, we will suffer with Christ “in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17 ESV). All of us would love to avoid the suffering. That is only natural. But Paul seems to indicate that the suffering is part of the process that leads to our future glorification. Much of the suffering we experience in this lifetime is related to our sanctification, God’s work of transforming us into the likeness of His Son. He is constantly refining and purifying us, making our behavior come into line with our status as His sons and daughters. And Paul confidently tells us, “ I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT). We are works in process. We are not yet what we will be, and part of the problem is these earthly bodies in which we are required to live. Paul described man’s earthly body as a tent, which emphasizes its temporary nature. It is not meant to be permanent. It was designed for this world and not the next. And he tells us, “if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 5:1-5 ESV).
It is so easy for us to become one-dimensional and focus on this life, all the while forgetting that there is a life to come. This is not all there is, and this is not all we should think about. In the midst of the suffering and distractions of this world, Paul would have us keep our eyes and our faith firmly focused on the next. Which is why he said, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” As followers of Christ, we need to always remember that no matter how bad things may get in this life, there is something unbelievably better awaiting us. And no matter how wonderful things may appear to be during our time on this earth, they are nothing when compared to the glory that awaits us. Again, the biggest part of our problem concerns our bodies. When we suffer, our bodies tell us that nothing good can come from it. We become incapable and sometimes unwilling to consider that God can and does use suffering to sanctify us. Which is why Paul writes just a bit later on in this same chapter: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28 NLT).
Whether we realize it or not, our struggle with this life is proof that there is more to come. We will never be fully satisfied with life in this world. Pain and suffering causes us to long for relief and rescue. Even blessings, in the form of material or physical things, leave us empty because they are fleeting and a cheap imitation of what is to come. Everything in this world is prone to destruction and decay, and will ultimately leave us disappointed, because it cannot deliver what it seems to promise. That is why Jesus encouraged us, “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be” (Matthew 6:19-21 NLT). Our hearts will find no lasting satisfaction or fulfillment in the things of this earth. In fact, if we’re not careful, the temporal things of this earth can lead us to covet, lust, exhibit greed, selfishness and a host of other less-than-righteous characteristics. It is this reality that led Paul to warn the Galatian believers, “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:26 NLT). He had also told them, “you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world?” (Galatians 3:3 NLT). Living one-dimensionally can only lead to one thing: an overemphasis on this world. But we were made for glory. Paul tells us, “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24 ESV). We are to live with our hope set on the future, not the here-and-now. We cannot see what God has in store for us, but we hope in it and for it because He has promised it to us. These bodies will decay and die. But we will receive new bodies – redeemed, resurrected bodies that will no longer experience pain, suffering, the process of aging or the future prospect of death. And the apostle John reminds us that God “has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2 NLT). Our future glory needs to become a present reality for us as God’s children.
I’m just a-passing through
My treasures are laid up
Somewhere beyond the blue.
From heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home
In this world anymore.