The road to the promised land travels through a wilderness of suffering. And theres no getting away from that reality. We arent in heaven yet. This planet is still cursed and our bodies are still dying, so indeed suffering in one form or another comes to all of usnot because weve done something wrong, or because God has failed to protect us, but simply because we arent home yet. Were travelers, sojourners, strangers dwelling for a season in a harsh land and enduring along with everyone else the sufferings of that troubled place. Yes, God provides much protection, but He gives us no promise we wont suffer, in fact were assured we will.
In these last few chapters of Romans (6-8) Paul has been teaching on the spiritual realities that take place inside a person, but here at the end of this discussion he turns our attention outward and shows us the fallen world in which we live. He wants us to face reality boldly. Though glorious changes take place inside every believer and an amazing future is waiting for us all, we still wake up day after day in the wilderness of this present age, so he needs to teach us some foundational truths so we can walk this path victoriously.
Review chapter 8
v3: Christ cleansed the sin in our flesh so the Holy Spirit can dwell in us.
v4: The Spirit dwells in us so the flesh can no longer dominate us and we can realize Gods will for our lives.
v5: The mind of the Spirit will lead us to fulfill the moral requirements of the Law which can be summarized by the two central commandments to love God and our neighbor.
v6: Having been set free we exercise our freedom of moral choice to obey the Spirits leadership so now our decisions and actions produce life (people drawn closer to God) and peace (shalom). When we obey our flesh things die.
vs7-8: Our flesh does not improve with time. Our spirit must learn to govern over it by habitually drawing on the power of God to subdue it. We draw near to Him through worship and then listen to His voice and let His presence transform us. This simple pattern is not hard. It is doable and repeatable as often as necessary. In this way old destructive habits are broken and new healthy habits are formed.
vs14-17: Learning to follow the Spirit is essential in our preparation for the age to come. We are destined for the throne. Gods goal for us is to become like Christ in character (holy) and body (resurrected). When we put our faith in Christ we become adopted children of Godnot divine, but fully accepted now, and someday in the future, truly glorious in appearance and endowed with authority to extend Christs rulership.
This present time (v18)
The Holy Spirit tells our spirit this is so, but He also warns us that we must suffer before that day comes. Paul says that this now season (literal) is full of sufferings. To live successfully in this already-but-not-yet condition we must maintain clear perspective. Hope must continue to burn brightly in our hearts, while at the same time we boldly face the reality of living in a fallen world.
Human sin has ruined not only our own lives, but creation itself which God placed under our authority before Adam and Eve sinned. When we fell creation fell too. It was cursed, but even as God did this He knew the curse would only last for a season. He looked forward through many millennia of years and saw the day when it would end, when at last He would restore His original plan for creation. He intended it to be ruled by immortal, righteous humans, men and women who love Him and earnestly obey Him.
In the meantime (vs 19-22)
In this now season creation groans. It suffers greatly because of the curse and the human masters who rule over it. We have become cruel, selfish taskmasters who exploit, abuse and pollute the earth and freely slaughter its animals. They suffer and sorrow far more than we have any idea. They too wait for a great destiny (Isa 11:6-9). They have become vicious with each other and like us are subject to aging, death and sorrow (Ge 8:1; 9:1-17).
The earth was given to us as a stewardship, not a gift (Ge 1:25-30; Psa 8:3-8).
Weve invited the demonic, weve polluted it, weve torn it apart to take its treasures, weve slaughtered its animals and destroyed its vegetation until some species have gone extinct.
This situation is growing worse and worse and will continue to do so until Jesus returns to deliver it. Knowing this should not make us indifferent to our stewardship to care wisely and compassionately for what has been put under our care.
Yes, we can still eat meat, but not with complete indifference to the life of the animal (Ge 1:29, 30; 9:1-4).
We dont worship the earth. Its not our mother.
We dont hope to save the human race by saving the planet.
We know the groaning will continue, but we personally will do our best not to contribute to it. Were confident the Lord will return before the earth is destroyed.
Please note: Population growth is not the problem. It is a joy to the Lord. Poverty is the result of selfishness and corruption, not the lack of resource.
God wants many people (be fruitful and multiply) and Hes created an earth capable of supporting them all. Neither the earth nor the number of people is the problem.
God would happily reveal ways to feed and house more (drip irrigation, kelp, desalinization).
Believers groan (v23)
Creation groans, but so do believers. We groan within ourselves longing to be free from the torment of our flesh, from temptations and from the rebellion and misery of the world around us.
We groan, longing to be glorified adopted as sons, meaning brought into full face to face relationship with God and having our bodies transformed into that new eternal flesh (1Co 15:38-44) which will never again experience sorrow, sickness or death (1Co 15:51-57). The Holy Spirit keeps stirring this hope inside us. He makes us groan: hungry to be with Jesus, to step into the next chapter of Gods plan.
How does Pauls perspective on this now season change us? How does it help us to live and suffer victoriously?
1) I can stop blaming God (and usually myself) when suffering comes. Im living in a world in which terrible forces have been unleashed.
Lifes a battlefield, not a stage
Bad things happen to good people
All suffer, usually unfairly
This requires humility: some people seem compelled to affix blame, to announce why something bad happened. This is a symptom of the flesh, not a discernment of the Spirit.
Beware of teachers that offer fear-driven formulas guaranteeing suffering-free lives.
2) I realize His protection does not mean Ill never suffer.
Obedience reduces self-generated suffering.
Prayer brings much protection. Were defended by angels.
Trusting His promises releases great blessings (healing, deliverance, protection
But some suffering is unavoidable. We live in a world full of disease, pollution and violence, spiritual opposition arises because of our faith. We are exposed to physical persecution when a culture turns hostile to Christ. The natural aging of our bodies and inherited genetic vulnerabilities trouble us. Human ignorance, whether our own or others (diet, medicine, lifestyle
) can harm us.
3) I discover prayer really matters. Everything that happens isnt sent as a gift from my Heavenly Fathers hand. Some things are just cold, brutal assaults on that which is good. And God has empowered me and expects me to do battle using His weapons.
4) No matter what happens I know I am to keep hope burning brightly (vs24-25), remember the Holy Spirit is interceding for me (v26), and trust that God will use it to grow, heal or strengthen me to become like His Son (v28).
5) I choose to walk through this world with a light footprint. I dont abuse it or consume more than I need. Animals, plants and even the earth itself deserve my kindness and care.
6) I dont take the days Ive been given for granted or assume I know how long Ill live, so I get right with God now and use the days I have left to take people with me into the glory thats ahead.
1) Why do people tend to blame God whenever suffering comes? Do they usually give God credit when good things happen?
2) Has God ever rescued you from trouble? What role did prayer play in that process?
3) When you get sick do you wonder to yourself, Why is God angry at me? What did I do wrong? What part of this message will help you the most?