Romans Bible Guide – Day Twenty-One
March 6, 2016
Previously, in Romans: Paul’s exploring the beautiful life in the Spirit that all Jesus followers have access to, one that’s low on fear and death and high on connection and love and life.
18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Points of Interest:
- ‘the sufferings of the present time’ – This beautiful life isn’t without pain. Paul had a friend, for instance, who had been expelled from Rome when Emperor Claudius deported Jews from the city in 49 A.D. (Acts 18:2 tells that story.) So persecution, of Jews and of Jesus followers, may be in view here. Paul’s line of “suffering with Christ” is verse 17 might support this too. This line also might reflect Paul’s sympathy with the Roman underclass, who represented the majority of the city and the house church members. Rome’s propaganda proclaimed a golden age of peace and prosperity, but that wasn’t so for most people. And beyond these details, there’s an affirmation that suffering – physical and emotional – is a significant part of the human experience.
- ‘the glory about to be revealed to us’ – It’s as if Paul tells them to think of the worst suffering they know and without being at all glib about it, says that it can’t compare with the glory God is about to show us. Paul has already said that our human destiny, if we’re united with Jesus, is to be united in his resurrection life and to share in his glory. (5:2) This glory might include everything from the first deep resurrection breath we take in after death to the glow on our faces as we celebrate God’s presence and love together at our next worship gathering.
- ‘the creation waits with eager longing’ – What a cool image! Paul pictures the whole created order chained in a prison cell, just waiting for the children of God to release it and be restored to its beauty and freedom. Trees, rocks, ocean waves, endangered species – all creation – is decaying and waiting for God’s restoration to glory. God’s children – acting in freedom and glory – will take the lead in making this so. Paul’s cosmic vision of the earth’s suffering and renewal gets to the most beautiful vision of ecological renewal centuries before anyone might have expected it!
- ‘the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now’ – Paul moves from prison to childbirth. I have never seen anything quite so scary, intense, earthy, beautiful, and powerful as my wife in labor with our three children. This mix of pain and expectation and hope characterizes all creation as it waits to be restored by Jesus to its full glory. I hear a nod to the Adam and Eve story from Romans 5. The first children of God set in motion decay and bondage – their own and that of all creation. That’s an old story that continues in each generation. God’s new adopted family he’s pulling together in Jesus will turn all that around.
- ‘we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the spirit, groan inwardly’ – Life in the Spirit has not instantly removed all human vulnerability. To groan with suffering, or to groan with hope not yet fulfilled is a deeply honest human impulse, even for the child of God.
- ‘we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies’ – Just like state adoptions these days, God’s adoption process apparently takes a while. Yesterday we heard about all the benefits we have as adopted children of God, and today we’re reminded that the court’s still working on things. We feel that in the suffering of our bodies, which our new family hasn’t yet healed.
- ‘if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience’ – We could read this as an admonishment to patience, which it probably is. “Keep hope alive!” Paul tells us. Jesus will complete your renewal and that of all of creation. But I also read this today as an affirmation of whatever patience and hope are already there, however small. Jesus understands our pain and doubt, and appreciates that faith is requiring a lot of hope and patience.
Taking It Home:
For you – Lots of extraordinary imagery in this short passage. Choose one image – creation waiting for freedom, creation groaning in labor, our own groaning, our wait for our adoption to be finalized – and meditate upon it. Let your imagination ponder it for a few minutes, and talk to God about whatever comes of that.
For your earth – Identify one way that creation is in bondage and decay, some way you’re aware of the world as it was not meant to be. Be as local or global as you wish, but be specific. Pray that God will equip some of his children to bring this to renewal and change this situation to glory.