KEY THOT: The NT church was a persecuted and suffering church. They were arrested, thrown in prisons and fed to lions for entertainment. In those days, Jesus' word was understood literally, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it" (Luke 9:23-24). So, when Paul writes: "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (v.18), he was not referring to figurative sufferings, but to real physical sufferings.
- 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
It is interesting that Paul, in describing creation in travail, uses the expression: "pains of childbirth until now" (v.22). And the curse placed on Eve after she and Adam sinned is described in similar terms: "I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children" (Genesis 3:16). And Jesus in speaking of the final convulsions of this planet said: "For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains" (Matthew 24:7-8). So, in comparing our present sufferings to birth pains, both Jesus and Paul are pointing us beyond this present experience of suffering in child-bearing towards to the hope of a new birth--the arrival of the new heaven and new earth when believers will all be retrofitted with new bodies that are spiritual and eternal. And this eternity-future is the reason for our present hope despite current troubles and tribulations we may be facing.
True faith in Christ is future-oriented, not present-oriented. While we live in the present, our real hope lies in the future. We must not allow the present pains (or pleasures) to cause us to lose sight of the eternity-future. Our life here on earth is just a blip in the eternity timeline. Instead of focusing all our life's resources and energies on this blip--whether it is pain or pleasure--we should be channeling all our spiritual and physical energies to prepare for the eternity-future wherein we will live forever: "And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (Romans 8:23).
For many of my generation, this blip is soon coming to an end, and then there will be that flatline on all our LCD monitors that will suddenly break into an exponential curve that rises up into eternity-future. As believers, we should be living our lives in preparation for that glorious moment when our lifeline lifts off from our blips of oscillating pains or pleasures into eternity-future.
Abba-Father, help us become future-oriented people. While still alive in this blip, help us prepare for the eternal time-line that never ends. Amen.