A Commentary by John Stott
Paul now moves on from the present ministry of God’s Spirit to the future glory of God’s children, of which indeed the Holy Spirit is the *firstfruits* (23). What prompted this development was clearly his allusion to our sharing in the sufferings and glory of Christ (17). For ‘suffering and glory’ is the theme throughout this section, first the sufferings and glory of God’s creation (19-22) and then the sufferings and glory of God’s children (23-27). Four general, introductory points about them need to be made.
First, the sufferings and the glory belong together indissolubly. They did in the experience of Christ; they do in the experience of his people also (17). It is only after we ‘have suffered a little while’ that we will enter God’s ‘eternal glory in Christ’, to which he has called us (1 Pet. 5:10). So the sufferings and the glory are married; they cannot be divorced. They are welded; they cannot be broken apart.
Secondly, the sufferings and the glory characterize the two ages or aeons. The contrast between this age and the age to come, and so between the present and the future, between the already and the not yet, is neatly summed up in the two terms *pathemata* (sufferings) and *doxa* (glory). Moreover, the ‘sufferings’ include not only the opposition of the world, but all our human frailty as well, both physical and moral, which is due to our provisional, half-saved condition. The ‘glory’, however, is the unutterable splendour of God, eternal, immortal and incorruptible. One day it *will be revealed* (18). This end-time disclosure will be made ‘to us’ (RSV), because we will see it, and *in us* (NIV), because we will share in it and be changed by it (2 Thess.1:10). It is also ‘in store for us’ (REB), although the precise nature of ‘what we will be has not yet been made known’ (1 Jn.3:2)
Thirdly, the sufferings and the glory cannot be compared. *I consider*, writes Paul, expressing ‘a firm conviction reached by rational thought on the basis of the gospel’, *that our present sufferings*, or literally ‘the sufferings of the now time’, of this continuing age, painful though they are (as Paul knows well from experience), *are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us* (18). ‘Suffering’ and ‘glory’ are inseparable, since suffering is the way to glory (see verse 17), but they are not comparable. They need to be contrasted, not compared. In an earlier letter Paul has evaluated them in terms of their ‘weight’. Our present troubles, he declared, are ‘light and momentary’, but the glory to come is ‘eternal’ and ‘far outweighs them all’ (2 Cor. 4:17. Note that the Hebrew word for ‘glory’ is *kabod*, which means ‘heaviness’ or ‘weight’). The magnificence of God’s revealed glory will greatly surpass the unpleasantness of our sufferings.
Fourthly, the sufferings and the glory concern both God’s creation and God’s children. Paul now writes from a cosmic perspective. The sufferings and the glory of the old creation (the material order) and of the new (the people of God) are integrally related to each other. Both creations are suffering and groaning now; both are going to be set free together. As nature shared in the curse (Gn. 3:17ff.) and now shares in the pain, so it will also share in the glory. Hence *the creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed* (19). The word for ‘eager expectation’ is *apokaradokia*, which is derived from *kara*, the head. It means ‘to wait with the head raised, and the eye fixed on that point of the horizon from which the expected object is to come’. It depicts somebody standing ‘on tiptoe’ (JBP) or ‘stretching the neck, craning forward’ in order to be able to see. And what the creation is looking for is the revelation of God’s children, that is, the disclosure of their identity on the one hand and their investiture with glory on the other. This will be the signal for the renewal of the whole creation.
But what is meant by *the creation (he ktisis)*, an expression which occurs four times in verses 19-22, once in each verse? The REB translation ‘the created universe’ is something of an anachronism, since Paul had no knowledge of the galaxies. His focus will have been on the earth, as the stage on which the drama of fall and redemption is being played. By *the creation*, then, he will have intended ‘the earth, with all it contains, animate and inanimate, man excepted’, or ‘the sum-total of subhuman nature.