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The suffering of the world… Romans 8:15-27

February 20, 2012

This week UK unemployment reached 2.67 million, as Greeks hit the streets enraged by even more savage cuts forced on them by the European Union. This week the charity Save the Children released a report which says that half a billion children, around the world, could grow up physically and mentally stunted over the next 15 years because they do not have enough to eat. Back in the UK the High Court banned public prayers before local council meetings, while Christian B&B owners lost their appeal to stop homosexual couples from staying in their property. Within our own church over the last year or so, many of us have faced various trials some of which many of us know about: we’ve had a little boy battle with cancer, one lady has lost her father, chronic arthritis affects another member, and one of our members, Barry, has died. Then of course many of us will struggle with issues which, most of the church no nothing about and when you are going through any one of these issues, let alone when we think about them together, don’t you just want to go AAAARGH and give up in despair!

We’ve heard over the last few weeks, the great news of Jesus’ death and how that has dealt with our sin, and we rightly rejoiced. We’ve come to understand how Christians have a battle against sin which will continue until they die and we’ve understood the surprising assurance which we can have through that battle. But sometimes as the world and its issues crowd in it is all to easy to loose heart to find that sin and your battle with it or the sufferings which go with living in this life, just all too much and our hearts sink, and we want to groan and say no more. Now it would be great if I could stand here, don’t worry its going to be okay as Christians we have no need to suffer, no need to feel depressed, if we just pray, perhaps give some money to the church OR to charity, then God will bless us and we’ll live happily ever after. How tempting that is, and how many ministers have given in to that temptations. But as we lookED at verse 17, we saw alongside the great truths that we are adopted to be sons of God, that we will get to inherit the world and everything in it, that this only comes:

…if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory!

In other words we found out that we have to go through the sufferings to get the glory. No shortcuts it seems for God’s children, no avoiding the negative side of living in this world, if Jesus had to suffer in order to get the glory, then we have to as well. But doesn’t it kind of make you wonder, is the Christian life with all of its additional sufferings, really worth it? Is it really worth battling day by day with sin, only to be ignored in the staff room or marginalised in society, or as it happens in some countries, to be imprisoned or even killed just for being a Christian.

And so God, speaking through Paul and anticipating this very question, gives us this great section, which we have before us today, and he starts off with a summary of the whole section in our first verse, verse 18:

I consider that our present sufferings are NOT worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Things may feel bad right now, you may often feel as if you can’t go on, but what is coming is so much better, so very much better that though the sufferings we feel now are quite awful, they are nothing in comparison to the glory that is to come. And to help us get our minds in the right gear, Paul first explains why the world is as it is, and then he tells us that God is going to get us through: the Holy Spirit will help us to hope, and the Holy Spirit will help us to pray.

THE STATE OF THE WORLD (v19-22)

Way back in the beginning, Adam chose to go his own way, do his own thing, and of course that could’ve been it. God could have ended the days of humans right then and given up on the lot us. But God wanted something better than just scrapping the world, He wanted a people for Himself, people who could share in the community of the Godhead, share in the life of Father, Son & Spirit, and so He brought about a plan. However, to do this people had to go on living and they couldn’t live in a prefect world, because they were no longer perfect, so God cursed the world saying to Adam:

Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.

It wasn’t what creation wanted as Paul tells us in verse 20 in our passage. God cursed it to use the language of Genesis 3 or frustrated it to use the language of Romans 8, so that people might come back to God. God had a more glorious plan, to see a people who loved  Him and honoured Him as God, who would be as we saw last week, adopted as His children, children who would inherit the world. To use the metaphor of verse 22 a woman who previously was happy and content, goes through childbirth which I’ve been told can be horrific, so that she might bear children. She was happy before having children, but now having been through labour pains, she is far happier with her child than previously without it and the pain and difficulty of the labour is less significant, given the result. In the same way says Paul, the creation is in a kind of labour, as the children of God are conceived and grow and at some point will finally be born, will finally be revealed and all the pain and suffering will have been worth it. The creation groans, just like a pregnant woman, who can’t wait for the baby to arrive. How often have you heard a pregnant woman say ‘I just want this baby to come, I don’t want to be pregnant anymore’. So it is with the creation as it longs for that day when it will be set free.

Now this is a slight aside but I think worth making the point. Sometimes Christians use language which seems as if our hope is to leave this world and go to heaven, whilst the earth is destroyed. On that day in the future, this creation will be cleaned up, this creation will be renewed, this creation will be perfect, this creation will be so much better than before and it will be this earth that we inherit, as sons of God. The hope for Christians is not some vague cloudy existence where we play harps, rather it will be this world made new, where we can explore and run, and travel. This creation, renewed, will be ours! Isn’t that just an amazing thought!

So the creation is groaning for this new day but says Paul, so are the children of God and this is where:

THE HOLY SPIRIT HELPS US TO HOPE (v23-25)

We’ve already seen that this world and all the negative things which are going on, are enough to make us despair enough to make us scream out, enough to make us groan. And to be honest if we left it there this wouldn’t be too different to everyone else in the world. A broken world a frustrated creation, effects every person, every human regardless of their beliefs, even if they don’t understand why, how could it not! But the difference is that when Christians get down-hearted and depressed, we have something to look forward to, something to keep going for and someone to help us keep going and that someone is God the Holy Spirit.

Verse 23:

we… who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.

As we put our trust in Jesus, God sends the Holy Spirit to live in us as a down payment, like putting down a deposit on a house. The Spirit is a deposit to show who belongs to God, this is what is meant by the ‘firstfruits’, but the Holy Spirit is not only the down payment by God, not only the marker that we are his, He is also the ‘helper’, the ‘comforter’ and our ‘counsellor’. His job is to make us more like Jesus and to keep us moving in the right direction. And He does this by reminding us of the glory that is to come, that is He keeps pointing us to our hope. Like the expectant mum, who gets through the morning sickness the swollen ankles and the tiredness because of the hope she has to see her baby arrive so we are helped to see the hope we have. The Holy Spirit as He reminded Paul of what we have to look forward to as we can see in verse 18, so He keeps reminding us, of what we have in store:

 …for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?

We have a great hope that we will live in a remade world we will live with a new body that doesn’t sin, doesn’t break or ache or die. Our hope is that we will get to see God and live with Him forever as His children who have inherited His world. That is the great Christian hope which we need to keep before us, which will keep us going and which the Holy Spirit reminds us of. And so when we get downhearted, when we groan, when we feel like we can’t go on the Holy Spirit will work through His Scriptures and through His people to remind us that our groaning is natural and that it is if you like a birth pain, pointing us towards the birth of the new world, of which we will be a part and which will be far better than this one. When we struggle with disease or our sin, or our finances, or our families, or our jobs, or anything else, He will remind us of the hope we have, of the glory that will be ours one day and He will help us to keep going and help us to wait patiently.

But that is not all, not only does the Holy Spirit point us to our hope but also:

THE HOLY SPIRIT HELPS US TO PRAY (v26-27)

Have a look down at verse 26:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

God helps us to pray. When all is going wrong all is falling short and we don’t know what to say let alone what to pray the Holy Spirit will speak on our behalf. Do you ever worry when you pray and think: I don’t know the right words, I don’t know if what I’m saying is theologically correct, I don’t know what to pray, it’s all too much. Don’t worry just pray. Give your thoughts to God, give Him your fears and your doubts, your worries and your joys, and the Holy Spirit will intercede for you.

God just wants you to pray and He will ensure it fits into His plan verse 27:

the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

A member of our church died this week. Whilst he was still alive, I prayed for him though I was worried. Do I pray for healing, do I pray for strength to endure, do I pray for God to take him home as he was clearly struggling. How do I know what to pray, how do I know what is in accordance with God’s will? I wish I had remembered and studied these words a few weeks ago. God basically says don’t worry, don’t worry just pray and I’ll work it out. Healing, strength to endure, and be taken to be with God, all of them are good prayers, all can and should be prayed, all of them God will happily hear, and God the Holy Spirit will sort them out. You see prayer isn’t something which is just for professionals. You don’t have to go on a course, take a test, or spend weeks in a cave to pray. God is not checking your spelling and punctuation, He just wants you to pray. When we don’t know what to say, when all we can do is bow our head and sit quietly, God the Holy Spirit will pray on our behalf, when we can speak He will interpret!

This should make us relax when we think about prayer. Perhaps it is something you have held back from, or have worried about, well can I just say to you – don’t! Don’t worry, don’t hold back, there is nothing to fear and everything to gain. But you say, when I pray I can’t concentrate my mind wanders off and I end up thinking about the shopping or the kids or the TV. Don’t worry the Holy Spirit will interpret it for you, just pray! Perhaps you haven’t prayed for a while and now you feel you can’t! Ever felt like that? Don’t worry, begin again, God just wants to hear from you and He will make sense of what you say. Prayer is a gift of God to His children, don’t be without it any longer.

CONCLUSION

As we look at the world around us, as we turn on our TV’s and as we spend time with people, we will see suffering and decay. The world’s answer is to harden their hearts and pretend it isn’t happening, or else run around trying to fix the unfixable. No wonder in many countries the suicide rate is high, the number of people being treated for stress is rising and depression affects 1 in 5 people in this country! The world is broken and not how it ought to be. Amoungst all this however, the Christian is the one person who can keep going. For God has not abandoned us, nor does He want us to toughen up and get on with it. No God Himself points us towards a great hope, of a world restored, of a new body, without sickness or death, where there will be no more sin or pain. God gives us something to keep moving towards and not only that, God also helps us to keep talking to Him, whilst we battle through each day.

I hope that after reading these verses, you too will have been reminded of that hope, that you too will recommit yourself to prayer and that you will not be overcome by the world. We know the end of the story, God wins, we will be rescued, along with the creation and we will reign over the earth with Christ. So let’s keep looking to Him, let’s keep encouraging one another, let’s keep reminding one another of the glorious future which awaits us and let’s keep praying for God to guide us between then and now!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 20, 2012 9:41 pm

    A truly triumphant essay, Mike! Reading this has certainly left me feeling hopeful, inspired, comforted, and blessed.
    And, the timing of this is perfect for Lent!
    Blessings to you!

  2. February 21, 2012 3:14 pm

    Mike, no matter what we endure in this life, it will never amount to what Jesus went through when He died on the cross for us.

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