Suffering is a necessary prelude to glory. Having stated in verse 17 this hard truth of the kingdom of God, Paul moves quickly to lift our eyes away from our present sufferings to the future glory. His word for sufferings runs the gamut from persecution to illnesses (mental and physical), poverty, and death. However painful they may be, our sufferings pale in comparison with the coming glory.
Douglas Moo suggests that glory—“the glory that is to be revealed to us”—is the overarching theme of verses 18–30. The word appears only three times, but it frames the section at beginning and end. Here in verse 18 we await the future revelation of glory. In verse 30 Paul’s perspective shifts to the future where glory has already been accomplished.
Future glory gives hope for the present. This may well be the primary theme of chapters 5–8, the major section of this epistle in which Paul presents his understanding of the gospel. Paul began chapter 5 saying that our justification has given us access to God, and for this reason we “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (verse 2).“I consider”
These two words astound us. A philosopher, a poet, a cloistered prelate could easily write verse 18 and we would think it a lofty aphorism. But this is Paul. Let us count his sufferings: multiple imprisonments, countless beatings, 195 lashes, three beatings with rods, stoned once, shipwrecked, bitten by a viper, exposed to dangers of all kinds, once left for dead, often hungry and dehydrated. Paul knew sufferings. (You can read about them in Acts 13–28 and 2 Corinthians 11.)
Seeing all that Paul went through, most people would think that anything he might gain in the by-and-by was hardly worth his scars. How wrong they would be, because Paul also knew something about glory. On one occasion God took him up to the third heaven, also known as paradise, where he heard things he could not tell others (2 Corinthians 12:1–4). Paul wrote verse 18 after years of intense suffering interrupted by just a momentary glimpse of glory.Paul’s firm conviction
We’ve seen that “I consider” is significant for who the author was. It is also significant for understanding Paul’s thought process. He used the familiar verb “to reckon” (Greek logizomai; ESV “consider”), which we encountered 11 times in chapter 4 and also in 6:11, the theme verse of my book. In the context of verse 18, the word has a meaning aptly defined by Charles Cranfield: “a firm conviction reached by rational thought on the basis of the gospel.”
Paul had thought through the consequences of the gospel. He had personally seen paradise, but his certitude about the coming glory rested foremost on God’s revelation of the full scope of the gospel, which includes the unfolding of salvation to its consummation. At that time God’s people will dwell with the Lord of glory and behold the glory God has given them.
R. C. Sproul alludes to the meaning of logizomai with this comment: “Our suffering is minute, virtually insignificant, compared to the deposit of glory that is established on our account in heaven.” Paul was reckoning on that deposit of glory, firmly convinced God had placed it in his account. (To learn more about the accounting term logizomai, you can go to the Reckoning section of my website.)Eyes of faith
In chapter 17 of my book I write about a parallel passage where Paul says our momentary, light affliction produces an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. There Paul places a condition on the benefit we gain from our afflictions: We must keep our eyes on the unseen things of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17–18).
We share Paul’s firm conviction. For Paul, and for us, suffering is merely the shadow under a grain of sand in the light of the glory of the noonday sun. Let’s not focus our attention on the shadow.