Romans 8: 18
I do not think Paul would belittle the sufferings of the present time at all in what he says here. This is set in the context that we suffer with Christ. It just struck me as I was thinking of this verse that there are two things, “this present time”, and what is coming. The present time is characterised by suffering, and what is coming is characterised by glory. I feel unqualified to speak of suffering. Paul was one who knew what suffering was in his life, in his journeys, in his activities in the work of the Lord. It all involved suffering. If we read the Acts of the Apostles we can read of some of the sufferings that it entailed. If you sit down with an atlas and read the Acts, and just think of the conditions of the day, you realise just how much the apostle must have borne as he journeyed to promote the testimony of our Lord. And we can turn to Scriptures such as in Corinthians and see what was involved for him, “the sufferings”, he says,” of this present time”. It involved, “in journeyings often, ... in perils of robbers, in perils from my own race, ... in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness” and so on; he lists a great catalogue, and then he says, “Besides those things that are without, the crowd of cares pressing on me daily, the burden of all the assemblies”, 2 Cor 11: 26-28. You might say, ’How much could one man bear?’ but the apostle was motivated by pure love for the Lord and a desire to serve Him, and would endure anything in his body. “The sufferings of this present time” are what the saints endure in their bodies, and in their souls and in their spirits. For him it involved persecution. He felt the persecution of the Jews, and I suppose towards the end of his life persecution from the authorities. That was for Paul part of “the sufferings of this present time”. We do not have persecution in this country from the authorities or from others. Young people, when they seek to be faithful to the Lord Jesus, may have to experience mockery. That is something which is very real. That enters into “the sufferings of this present time”. There are those who have experienced much in the way of sorrow on account of the testimony. There are those who have families that do not have anything to do with them. That is part of “the sufferings of this present time”, this present time, the day in which we are. It may be a different character of suffering, and of course there are the sufferings in the bodies of the saints and they affect us all. They affect every one of us. The affections of the saints are moved. We have our part in creation, that is to say in experiencing the things that afflict men and women and children. We have our part in that. We are not immune from that, but such sufferings are felt, felt by those who have their part in the body of Christ and that gives them a peculiar character, part of “the sufferings of this present time”, feeling with one another. “And if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it” (1 Cor 12: 26), and we feel for one another in the sufferings that there are in the bodies of the saints. ’Frailty and weakness’, you say, ’well, that is just part of humanity’. Yes, but there are feelings. There are feelings among the saints as entering into all these things, “the sufferings of this present time”. As the saints enter into them in a feeling way it increases the affections that there are among the saints. What a blessed thing it is to have part in such a circle where affections for one another are enhanced by the experiences that one and another are going through, “the sufferings of this present time”.
Ananias was told that the Lord would show Paul how much he must suffer (Acts 9: 16), and the sufferings that he endured in his experience were probably extreme compared with most of us, but then he was shown something else, was he not? He says, “I know a man in Christ”. He was caught up, he was shown the glory. He says he heard things and he says that there are some things that these bodies cannot contain. There are some things they are not suited for. He says “he ... heard unspeakable things said which it is not possible for man to utter”, 2 Cor 12: 2-4. These conditions in which suffering takes place are not sufficient for the glory. He suggests there is something which is so great that flesh and blood conditions cannot contain it, are not even suited to give expression to it, “the coming glory to be revealed to us”. I think that is greater than the Lord’s millennial glory which will shine out upon the universe. That will be magnificent. The whole earth will see it, the whole earth will be filled with His glory. What a wonderful day that will be when everyone will know Him and none shall say, “Know Jehovah”, Jer 31: 34. All shall know Him in themselves and He will be known from the river to the ends of the earth. What a blessed day is coming on the earth. But this is not just “the coming glory”, but it is “the coming glory to be revealed to us”. You think of what the assembly will enter into. The apostle in this epistle does not develop the thought of the assembly, but “to be revealed to us”. Think of the assembly as entering into that, the glory of divine purpose all being secured and all things being headed up in one blessed Man. Surely these conditions are not suited for it. This was shown to Paul. This was something that he had in his soul.
Well, beloved, that really is what has been impressing me. There is that which is going on today which is contained in the bodies of the saints and in the feelings of the saints, but there is that also which cannot be contained, and will never be contained, in flesh and blood conditions because it is entirely spiritual. It belongs to another world, the world where Christ is the Centre, where everything is headed up in Him and everything is glorious. Well, beloved, may we just be encouraged with these thoughts.
For His Name’s sake.
16th September 2008