Back in 1950, there was a little town in Maine called Flagstaff that was scheduled to be flooded. Officials were building a large dam on the river nearby and the result would be a large lake which would flood the town of Flagstaff. So, of course, they told everybody they would have to move out by a given date. As a result, in the months before Flagstaff was to be flooded, all improvements and repairs in the whole town were stopped.
Which makes sense. I mean, what’s the use in painting your house if it’s just going to be covered with water in six months? In fact, why repair anything when the whole village was going to be wiped out soon? So, week by week, the whole town became more and more rundown.
One person commented on what happened and said, “Where there is no faith in the future, there is no power in the present.”
And that’s so true. How we view the future affects how we handle life right now. Let me give you an example of how that’s true on a personal level. There was a philosopher in the 20th century by the name of Bertrand Russell who was an outspoken atheist. He even wrote a book called Why I Am Not A Christian. When Russell was 81 years old, he was interviewed on a radio talk show. The interviewer asked him what he had to hang onto when death was obviously so close. Russell’s response was to say, “I have nothing to hang onto but grim, unyielding despair.”
What an honest yet hopeless response. Because “Where there is no faith in the future, there is no power in the present.” And when you live only for this life, when you think that this is all there is, you can’t help but live in despair.
And so the apostle Paul wants to make sure that we understand the hope that God has given to us. Because how we see the future that lies ahead affects the way we view our present circumstances. And no matter how difficult or even how desperate our situation may seem, Paul tells us that Christians can face life with hope.
Listen to what the apostle Paul wrote in Romans chapter 8:
“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)
It’s been a few weeks since I’ve shown you a Bible Project video, but they do a good job describing what biblical hope is all about, so let’s watch this video and then I’ll be back to talk about the hope that we have in Jesus Christ.
Show VIDEO (Hope)
You don’t have to be a very astute observer to notice that we live in a world that struggles with feelings of hopelessness. If you talk with people much at all, you’ll eventually get in a conversation with someone who will tell you that they are discouraged. Listen to any of the radio talk shows or watch the news and you are going to hear people who are cynical about life. They think the world is just going down the tubes.
On a world scale, it seems that we go from crisis to crisis. In your lifetime, there have been numerous conflicts around the world. And in spite of our best efforts, we know there will be even more conflicts in the future. There have been economic crises, leadership crises, unemployment crises, pandemic crises, natural disasters of all sorts. There’s not much in this world that lends itself to hope.
And it’s not just on a national scale. In our personal lives, there is pain. We have physical problems that afflict our bodies. We endure emotional turmoil that comes with losing a loved one or being disappointed by someone we thought we could trust.
And so, as Paul talks about life, he doesn’t try to sugar coat the pain and struggles that we go through. But what he does want to do is to put them into perspective. In Romans 8:16-17, Paul wrote,
“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.”
In the first part of Romans 8, Paul focuses on how we need to accept the fact that God has blessed our lives because we are his children. We know that we are not condemned by God. We can be assured that God has given us his Holy Spirit to live within us. But Paul wants us to understand something else. Because you are a child of God, be assured that you are going to experience struggle and suffering.
Now that’s not something we want to talk about or even think about. We tend to want to ask questions like, “If God is such a loving God and a powerful God and a caring God, then why do Christians suffer? Why does God let me go through what I’m going through right now? Why doesn’t God just fix everything?” And what we need to understand is that Christian hope is not found in the absence of suffering but in the presence of God’s Spirit.
We tend to want to talk about the suffering, we want to focus on the suffering – “Let me tell me what my problems are, let me tell you how I’m hurting, let me tell you how so-and-so did me wrong.” But Paul says it’s not suffering we are to focus on, it’s the glory!
In verse 18: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18).
When Paul talks about “the sufferings of this present time”, he wasn’t referring to a specific period in history, but to the entire present age. The whole history of creation since the fall has been marked by suffering. The history of nations is marked by struggles and catastrophes—wars, natural disasters, internal conflicts, power struggles, and crimes.
The history of individuals is also in large part a history of trials — the trials of growing up, figuring out what to do with your life, who you’re going to marry, raising children, working through struggles in your marriage, providing for your needs, growing old and facing declining health and eventually death.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
The Greek word for “consider” in this passage is “logizomai”. It’s an accountant’s term that literally refers to a numerical calculation. Paul says, “I’ve set down, I’ve done the calculations, I’ve put all the positives over here and all the negatives over there and when get the books all balanced out, here’s what I’ve calculated. We have a huge positive balance in our account. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
Paul reminds us that we live here on this earth for a little while, but we will live with God forever. And Paul wants to make sure that we don’t get so discouraged with the difficulties of this life that we lose sight of the big picture of eternity. He says, “Don’t forget, there will be a time when there won’t be any more struggles, no more pain, no more death, no more tears. For those who are in Christ, there will be only joy and happiness.”
And the fact that we are in Christ makes all the difference in the world. Because those who do not know Christ have no hope when they suffer. Whatever the reason for their affliction, it cannot produce in them any spiritual blessing or glory. Those who live only for this life cannot look forward to any resolution of wrongs or to any comfort of their souls. Their pain, their loneliness, their afflictions serve no divine purpose and bring no reward.
Christians, on the other hand, have great hope, not only that our afflictions eventually will end, but that our afflictions will actually prepare us for our eternal glory.
Look at what Paul says next. Verse 19 — “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.” (Romans 8:19-21)
The truth of the matter is, right now we live in a world that is less than perfect. Paul says this world is in “bondage to corruption”. Let’s put that in scientific terminology. This world is subject to the second law of thermodynamics. That law states that everything in this universe is decaying. Go out to the country and take a look at a barn that’s been sitting there for 70 or 80 years with nobody taking care of it, and you’re not going to see a barn that’s in great shape. Rather, you’re going to see a barn that’s about to collapse. Because everything in this world is decaying and falling apart.
What seems fresh and new one day will someday be old and broken down. Something that is growing and vibrant like a plant will someday shrivel up and die. If you want to speed up that process, just take that plant and stick it in our house. Our house seems to speed up the process of the second law of thermodynamics when it comes to plants because they die really quickly.
But seriously, the reality of the situation is that everything on this earth is subject to decay. Or as Peter puts it in I Peter 1:24, “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers, and the flower falls.” Even those of you with green thumbs can’t make a plant live forever! Every living thing will eventually die and decay. And that includes you and me. The second law of thermodynamics doesn’t offer any hope for anything on this earth.
But for those of us who are in Christ there is hope, because we anticipate a time when death and decay will no longer exist. In verse 19, Paul says, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. That phrase “eager longing” is a phrase that means “to stretch the neck in anticipation”, to be leaning forward, looking, anxiously waiting.
Some of you military families have experienced this numerous times. Your husband, your father has been in Iraq or Afghanistan for a year. And today’s the day he comes home. You stand at the airport anxiously waiting, leaning forward, looking, hoping to see him step off that plane. Paul says that’s what creation is doing — it’s looking ahead with excitement and it can’t wait to see what God is going to do for his people.
Then, in verse 22, “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.” (Romans 8:22-23)
That word “groaning” is a powerful word. It’s the same word that’s used in Acts 7:34 to describe the voices of the Israelites while they were in bondage in Egypt. They were groaning because of their circumstances. Groaning is a longing for things to be made right. In Paul’s mind, groaning occurs when we recognize that there is a huge gap between what is and what ought to be.
And all of us have been there. When we experience the fallenness of this world, we let out a groan. Maybe it’s when a friend or a child or a parent or someone we love does something we wish they wouldn’t have or we know they shouldn’t have. And out of frustration we groan. Maybe it’s when circumstances arise that cause pain to us or someone we love. And out of pity we groan.
But Paul says that groaning is a sign of our hope. We are longing for something better. And if we are in Christ, we have the promise that there is something better. So as we groan, we remember our hope. Someday things will be better.
Paul uses the image of a woman in labor. A woman in labor groans. In fact, she may groan very loudly! Because she is anxious for the baby to come. Groaning comes during the pain, but there is hope that things will be better soon. And you don’t focus on the suffering. No husband in his right mind would record his wife while she’s in labor. Wouldn’t that make a great clip for your Facebook page? “And here in this scene you can see my wife screaming and threatening the doctors and nurses!” No, you don’t record the suffering; you take pictures of the child that’s born.
Hope is finally seen. But the suffering is necessary. It’s not pleasant, but it’s necessary. When life gets tough and is downright painful, we tend to focus on the labor – we focus on the suffering – and we cry out for the pain to be over with, but we need to look ahead to the delivery.
Taking a Biblical worldview points us to a hope that is greater than the world we live in. Paul reminds us in these verses that we need to be in touch with an eternal perspective on life that is greater than this world. And for a Christian, there is no such thing as a hopeless situation.
“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 8:24-25)
Paul expands on this idea a little more in 2 Corinthians 4:
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
Make sure you understand what God is saying here. He is not saying that we should just deny the reality of pain and trouble in this world because it’s not real. That’s not it at all. This world does hurt, it is frustrating, it is painful, and we shouldn’t deny the pain. But just as the pain of being pregnant with a child prepares a woman for something beautiful in the future, so the struggles of this life prepare us for something beautiful that lies ahead. We cannot let the hopelessness of this creation get us down.
Now, given the eternal perspective that there is more to life than just the physical world, let me show you two ways that a Christian’s hope for the future will change our present.
1. Our hope keeps us from settling for the things of this world
We live in a society that has bought into the lie that “stuff” will provide happiness. Even in our current crisis, we live in unprecedented prosperity here in the United States. And there is this idea floating around that if you can just gather enough stuff, you will experience fulfillment. That stuff might be power, or prestige, or possessions. But if you take a look at the people that have all those things, you’ll notice a trend. You’ll see a lot of unhappy people, because fulfillment doesn’t come from that stuff.
Scott Dudley put it this way: “Never in history have so many had so much for so long and been so depressed about it.”
But when we adopt an eternal mindset, stuff loses its significance. When we recognize that the things of this world aren’t going to last forever, we realize that there is no fulfillment in collecting it. We come to recognize what Solomon said in Ecclesiastes, “Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure…Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled; and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11)
When we place our hope in God, we don’t try to satisfy our groanings with the things of this world. Rather, in hope, we anticipate that God will satisfy us in ways that cannot be understood in this lifetime.
2. Our hope turns our eyes away from our pain to God’s glory.
Whenever bad things happen to us, it is important that we ask the right question. Because most people in this world are going to ask the wrong question. The question most people want to ask is, “Why? Why did this have to happen to me?” And it’s not just people in the world. We as Christians are often tempted to ask that question – “Why?”
The problem with that question is that most of the time the answer is “I don’t know. I don’t know why people die in hurricanes and earthquakes. I don’t know why I’ve got cancer. I don’t know why my child had to die before he could even learn to speak.”
For a Christian, the more important question is not, “Why?” but “How?” How can what has happened result in the glory of God?” And “How can God use this to prepare me for his glory?” And if we ask ourselves those questions and give it some serious thought, then we can come up with some good answers.
“I don’t know why people die in hurricanes and earthquakes, but I do know a way that God can work through us to help relieve suffering and bring glory to God’s name.” “I don’t know why I’ve got cancer, but I do know that God can use that to shape and refine my life, and I can live my life responding to cancer in a way that makes others around me say, ‘I see God working in your life.’”
Let me give you a good personal example of this. Several years ago, one of our members at Helen Street, Lon Miller, went through an extremely difficult time. Lon’s father, who lived with them, passed away. Then just a few days later, his stepfather in Texas passed away. As you can imagine, that was a very difficult week for Lon. Part of what made it so difficult was the fact that Lon had to make all the arrangements for his father and without having done anything like that before, it was hard to even know where to start.
But here’s what I love. Several months later, Lon made the statement to me, “I think that we need a ministry in the church where we can help people who are going through this” and he indicated that that was something he’d like to do. I love that attitude and I think it’s exactly what God had in mind.
Listen to what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 1, “Blessedbethe God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
God blesses us through the comfort of others and then we find ourselves in situations where we can, in turn, comfort others. If you’ve ever experienced the death of a child, you are able to provide comfort to another family going through that experience in a way that nobody else can. If you have been through radiation treatment or chemotherapy in dealing with cancer, you can provide comfort to another individual who is going through that experience in a way that nobody else can. If your spouse has walked out on you and called your marriage quits, then you can provide comfort to someone else who is going through that experience in a way that nobody else can.
We face our suffering with hope and that hope gives us the ability to turn our eyes away from our pain to God’s glory. And we seek to use whatever we’re going through to God’s glory right here, right now. “Where there is no faith in the future, there is no power in the present.” But the opposite is also true. “Where there is faith and hope in the future, there is great power in the present.”
And the good news for those of us who are in Christ Jesus is that we have great reason to hope!
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (I Peter 1:3, NIV)
It is our belief in the resurrection of Jesus that makes all the difference in the world! In a world that has no hope, it is the one thing that gives us all great hope.