Sermon Commentary for Sunday, June 5, 2022
Romans 8:14-17 Commentary
My last surviving parent’s death last year reminded me that inheritance can be complicated. My mom and dad, while never materially wealthy by North American standards, did what they could to ensure that their children as well as worthy causes would inherit something from them. But, of course, so many others also wanted a “piece” of their estate. As a result, my parents’ estate’s executor needed to learn just who wanted something and how much of our inheritance they claimed.
Paul spends most of this Pentecost’s Epistolary Lesson talking about the work of the Holy Spirit. However, he also talks a bit about the inheritance God has graciously and generously promised God’s adopted sons and daughters.
While God historically gifted some of God’s Old Testament people with God’s Spirit, particularly to equip them for specific tasks, on Pentecost God generously gifted the Holy Spirit to all of God’s adopted children. That outpouring forms the background of Paul’s extensive discussion of the impact of the presence of that Spirit on God’s people.
Reformed Christians profess that “Christ alone is the eternal, natural Son of God.” However, they also go on to profess that “we … are adopted children of God – adopted by grace through Christ.” Paul, perhaps in an effort to maintain a parallel between God’s natural Son and God’s adopted children, refers to God’s adopted children as “sons of God” (14). However, God makes no distinction between God’s adopted sons and daughters.
In verse 16, Paul insists that “the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” In other words, God doesn’t just graciously adopt Christians into God’s family. The Spirit also works with God’s dearly beloved people’s spirits to convince and perhaps remind us that we are God’s adopted children.
Because God graciously chose to adopt sons and daughters, we stand to receive an enormous inheritance. We are, writes Paul, “heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (16b-17).
It’s an inheritance for whose description I owe a great deal to my colleague Stan Mast’s commentary on this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson . He points out that Paul describes God’s adopted children’s inheritance by using three words that English translations render as some form of the word, “with.” Two of those Greek words have a sum prefix. One of them has a syn prefix.
In the first instance, Mast notes, Paul refers to God’s adopted sons and daughters as synkleronomoi, which the NIV translates as “co-heirs” with Christ. If Christians weren’t relatively familiar with this claim, it would be utterly shocking. Eugene Peterson’s Message paraphrases it is “an unbelievable inheritance.” After all, Paul isn’t just claiming that God has already “willed” to God’s adopted children not only the Holy Spirit, but also a relationship with God that allows us to say, with Christ our Big Brother “Abba, Father.”
The apostle is also insisting that God will give to God’s adopted sons and daughters everything that God will give to God’s natural Son, Jesus Christ. While God’s people may now experience great deprivation, everything that the Son has already received and will ever receive from the Father will also one day be God’s adopted sons and daughters’. Mast calls it “a guaranteed future [that’s] so glorious that we can’t even imagine it.”
Paul goes on to describe that inheritance with two more words that have a “with” prefix. However, part of that inheritance, may not seem particularly glorious. After all, God’s adopted children’s inheritance includes what the apostle calls our sympaschomen that the NIV translates as our sharing “in” Christ’s “sufferings.”
It’s a phrase that’s nearly as mysterious as it is sobering and chilling. Part of God’s adopted children’s inheritance is a share in God’s natural Son Jesus’ sufferings. To be a daughter or son of God – whether “natural” or adopted — is to suffer for God’s sake.
It’s something most of Christ Jesus’ friends would prefer not to inherit. Yet biblical scholar Mark Travnik suggests that people whom God graciously links to Jesus Christ shouldn’t be surprised that it leads to “conflict, struggle and trouble.” After all, the Spirit didn’t just Jesus into the desert to be tempted by Satan. The Spirit also gave him a ministry whose suffering would ultimately culminate in a cross.
Suffering with and for Jesus’ sake, however, is a concept with which most North Americans are familiar only through what we hear or read about. Some North American Christians claim that our government, organizations, groups, or individuals are making us suffer for Jesus’ sake. But such claims make me wonder whether those who make them fully understand such suffering.
Few of us have, after all, suffered with Christ by losing spouses, children, friends, or jobs because we follow him. Perhaps even fewer people we know have suffered with Christ by losing their lives because they received God’s adoption of them with their faith.
Yet such suffering and more are daily threats if not realities for millions of God’s adopted children across the world. Those who proclaim this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson might consult something like the International Christian Concern’s website for examples of Christians who are currently sharing in Christ’s suffering.
Yet some of God’s adopted sons and daughters’ apparently small inheritance of suffering with Christ might also provide this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson’s proclaimers an opportunity to explore why we haven’t inherited more of it. Might some of Jesus’ adopted siblings suffer with him more if we more clearly, consistently, and publicly identified with our Elder Brother, as well as those with whom he most closely identifies?
The New Testament scholar Beverly Gaventa notes how Paul’s ominous talk about sharing in Christ’s suffering also anticipates the second part of Romans 8. There, after all, the apostle laments how the whole creation is suffering so deeply that it cries out for God to defeat the powers and principalities that are causing it to suffer.
Paul ends his description of God’s adopted children’s inheritance by referring to syndoxasthomen, what the NIV translates as sharing in Christ’s “glory.” It’s another shocking as well as slightly mysterious promise. By God’s grace alone, the apostle promises, God’s adopted sons and daughters will share in our adopted Big Brother Jesus’ glory.
Eugene Peterson’s The Message’s lyrical paraphrase of Paul’s promises in verse 17 is both helpful and encouraging: “We go through exactly what Christ goes through! If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!”
Of course, one of the Father’s children, Jesus Christ, is no longer an “heir.” He has, after all, already received his inheritance from the Father that is his rule over creation. God’s adopted sons and daughters haven’t, by contrast, yet received our inheritance. God’s dearly beloved people will only claim our full inheritance in the future. Yet those who somehow share in our Elder Brother Jesus’ suffering now know that we too will, by God’s amazing grace, someday soon inherit the free and unrestricted enjoyment of God’s glory in the new earth and heaven.
When the reclusive millionaire Huguette Clark died in 2011, she left more than $30 million of her estate to her private nurse, as well as $500,000 to both her attorney and accountant. That sent her relatives scurrying to court to challenge her last will and testament. They claimed that Miss Clark’s attorney, accountant and nurse had committed fraud.
The family members’ attorney claimed that Miss Clark wasn’t “competent” to make a will. They insisted that because she knew neither the nature nor value of her assets, she wasn’t mentally capable of making a will. As a result, her accountant, attorney, and nurse were able to coerce her into leaving them her estate.
God is prepared to give God’s children an inheritance that’s immeasurably more valuable than millions of dollars. Yet God’s children have no need to fight over that incredible inheritance. God, after all, doesn’t treat God’s only natural Son, Jesus Christ, better than God treats God’s adopted sons and daughter.
Nor does Christ, our adoptive brother, begrudge us our share in our amazing inheritance. In fact, he graciously gave his adopted brothers and sisters our share of our immeasurable inheritance by living, dying, and rising again from the dead for us.
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