Suffering and Glory

Founders Journal 80 · Spring 2010 · pp. 1-3

Suffering and Glory

Tom Ascol

One of the biblical promises that few people like to claim is one that the Lord Jesus Himself gave to His disciples the night He was betrayed. “In the world,” He said, “you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). Whether claimed or not that is one promise that will be inevitably kept for every person. All you have to do to see it fulfilled is to keep living.

The Fall brought disorder into the world and with that comes inevitable hardship and suffering. “Man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). Christians are not exempt and, therefore, we should not be surprised when a “fiery trial” comes our way, thinking that something strange or unusual is happening to us (1 Peter 4:12).

The Bible says a great deal about suffering and when its teaching is taken seriously believers will be equipped to face the inescapable pain that comes from living in a fallen world. Paul’s words in Romans 8:18 provide a redemptive perspective that helps prepare us to think rightly about and persevere confidently through the trials and hardships of life.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

Paul takes an eternal perspective on suffering by thinking of it in terms of glory. He speaks of all Christian suffering and not just that which comes because a person is a Christian. Not all Christians significantly suffer for Christ but all will suffer in Christ. In the final analysis the distinction between the two is not critical. You bleed just as much if your hand is cut off in an accident as you would if it were cut off by an angry mob because of your devotion to Jesus.

There are four connections between suffering and glory that can be seen in this verse. The first is that they go together. The fact that suffering and glory would be connected at all is counterintuitive. Suffering speaks of trials, difficulties and sorrows while glory speaks of joy, bliss and delight. Yet, they are regularly linked together in the New Testament (e.g. Romans 8:17; Colossians 1:24-27; 2 Corinthians 4:17; 2 Timothy 2:12; 1 Peter 5:10).

Glory and suffering are both integral to Christian discipleship. Recognizing this provides a solid foundation for standing firm through all the vicissitudes of life. By keeping both in view Paul cultivated a healthy emotional life that enabled him to be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” at the same time (2 Corinthians 6:10).

The second connection between suffering and glory is that each characterizes a different age. Paul speaks of both the present and the future in Romans 8:18. Because of sin “this present time” is marked by suffering but the age to come is when glory “shall be revealed.” Though a foretaste of this glory belongs to all who are in Christ now the full revelation of it is reserved for the age to come. Only then, in the new heavens and new earth, will the full weight of glory be revealed in those who believe.

A third connection between suffering and glory is made by way of comparison. More accurately, the connection is that they cannot be compared with any equity. Our present sufferings are not worth comparing to our future glory. The reason for this is not because Christians suffer less than others or that somehow our suffering is of a lesser quality than others. Rather, the reason Paul makes this comparative analysis is due to the fact that the glory that awaits believers is incredibly great.

The Christian’s future glory includes a transformed body (Philippians 3:20-21), a transformed mind (1 Corinthians 13:12) and perfect holiness (1 John 3:2). When placed on one side of the scale opposite the real sufferings of this present age, there is no comparison. Future glory greatly outweighs present sufferings.

The final connection to be noticed between glory and suffering is that future glory transforms present sufferings. The certainty of glory later makes the burdens of today bearable. Paul elaborates this point in 2 Corinthians. In chapter one he writes of his trials being so great that he “despaired even of life” (8, 9). In chapter four, however, he can speak of his trials as “light” and comparatively insignificant.

He writes, “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 4:17-18). It is as Paul looks at the unseen, eternal realities with confidence that his present sufferings are working to make his future glory even more glorious that he is able to see those sufferings as “light” and only “for a moment.” The promise of future glory is so certain and the character of that glory is so overwhelming that present trials are transformed by it.

In this world we will have tribulations, but those tribulations will not have the final say. The suffering that they bring will not destroy us nor do they have to define us. Our Lord endured suffering on the pathway to glory and He enables His followers to do the same. Christians are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:17).

That future hope gives us present strength to continue the life of faith with joy.