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Trinity 4 Epistle, Rom. 8:18-23, CPH chapel sermon

by Rev. Dr. Benjamin T. G. Mayes ~ July 7th, 2010

Wednesday after Trinity 4
June 30, 2010 A+D
Rev. Dr. Benjamin T. G. Mayes
Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, Mo.

+Jesu juva!+

Romans 8:18–23
Creation’s groaning

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Dearly Beloved:

Creation is groaning. That is the striking part of today’s Epistle reading. But there is too much in this Epistle reading for me to cover it all in one short chapel sermon. It deals with the new life of the Spirit, adoption into God’s family, the resurrection, suffering persecution, and crosses in our life. It also speaks to the question, “What will happen to this earth on the Last Day?” Now is not the time for me to tell you why this world will be destroyed, and then God will create a new heaven and a new earth. Instead, today we will try to answer questions like these: “How does creation earnestly expect and wait? How can it be not willing? How can it hope to be set free? How can it groan and labor in pain? What does all this mean?

Creation’s groaning and laboring in pain are not due to pollution. Paul does not belong to the green party. Paul wrote this about two millenia ago, before there was much pollution, and listen to what he says: “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together and laboring in pain together until now.” So creation’s groaning and hoping for freedom is not new. It is not due to physical pollution. If anything, it is due to moral pollution. It has been going on for a long, long time.

So if that’s not it, why is creation groaning? To understand, look at the context. Look at the flow of Paul’s argument in Romans. Here in chapter 8, Paul’s point is that, because of Jesus’ death for you on the cross, you Christians have the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of adoption makes us like Christ in His sufferings and glory. That is the point. The Spirit’s work in us is different from the works of the flesh. For example, the Spirit makes us to say no to temptations and He makes us endure sufferings with patience. But the flesh tempts us to sin and give up hope and despair whenever we have to suffer. That is the general argument in this chapter of Romans.

So then, midway through the chapter, Paul starts talking about creation’s groaning, hoping, eager expectation, etc. Why? How does that fit? What is Paul doing here? He is making an argument from lesser to greater. That is, if something insignificant is done correctly, shouldn’t something important be done correctly, too? Paul speaks about how creation longs for things that are right and good: being free of slavery to corruption. So if inanimate creation (which is the lesser, or less important) wants to be free, shouldn’t we Christians (which are the greater, or more important) want to be free from slavery to corruption and sin?

Paul is using personification. Personification is a figure of speech in which an imaginary or absent person is represented as speaking or acting. Here the imaginary person is the whole physical world, aside from human beings. Paul says that creation has “earnest expectation”; it “waits”; it was “not willing” to be subjected to futility; it “hopes” that it will be set free; it “groans together” and “labors in pain together.” These are things that we human beings do, not things that rocks, air, cows, sun, and moon do. Paul is giving them a human soul with a will. Rocks, air, sun, and moon now act as if they have willpower, desire, and intention.

Is this just a game? In what way can inanimate creatures be said to will anything? Any time there is personification, there has to be a point of comparison, or else that personification is nothing but a lie or a joke. In order for personification to communicate anything true, there has to be a point of comparison. For example, if I say, “The fire engine screamed as it went by,” that means that the noice of the siren sounded like a scream.” If I talk about the moon’s “face,” I am doing that because it sort of looks like a human face, with two eyes and mouth. But if I say, “the moon is dining at a three-star restaurant,” where is the point of comparison?

Now look at inanimate creatures: air, plants, photosynthesis, rocks, mindless insects, animals. Some animals do have a kind of a will, in that they want to feed, reproduce, and avoid pain. But they don’t hope or plan for the future. And most of creation has no mind, no more than dirt or air or the stars have a mind. In what way are inanimate creatures similar to the will of humans, angels, and God? In what way can they will, hope, or groan? Think of what a wonderful gift our will is. Our will directs our actions. It makes our muscle movements to have a purpose and direction. With our will we make plans and carry them out for a purpose and we hope for success. Likewise, all of this created world has order and purpose. God created with natural law. He made everything to have its own function. He created photosynthesis, food chains, enzymes, the orderly movement of the sun and moon and stars, and even morality. Everthing is ordered by God in creation; it has a direction, it works for a purpose, even though it has no mind. And the main purpose of physical creation was and is to serve human beings. God created all of these things so that human beings would have a home in which to live, so that our bodies could live and we could worship God. That is what creation was created for, to support God’s children. When creation was serving Adam and Eve before they fell into sin, it was operating according to how God had created it. But after the fall, it is cursed and it serves to support not just God’s children, but mostly sinful people; thus creation now actively supports rebellion against God, which is not what it was created to do, that is, this is not its created direction, function, and purpose. Thus, the creation is “unwilling” to be subjected to futility, because that is not the “very good” in which God created it to operate. It is unnatural. Since God did not create the world to serve rebels against Him, Paul can speak of the creation as “not being willing” to act against how it was created. Or he can say it is “eagerly waiting” for a time when it does not have to support rebellion against God, or it is “hoping” that one day God’s children will be revealed, since it was created only to serve God’s children. Creation does not have a human will, but it’s almost like it does, because God created everything with order, direction, and purpose, to serve and support His children. That is God’s natural law woven into the fabric of creation.

Dearly beloved, think of what this means. Creation longs not for its own pleasure but for our glory as adopted children of God. If dirt and rocks and bugs and air long for this, shouldn’t we humans, a much greater creation, long for this too? Creation hopes to be freed from its bondage to serve rebels. Shouldn’t our attitude be not to serve our own pleasures but to serve God and obey His laws, including the natural law that he wove into the fabric of the universe and revealed more clearly in His Word? Instead we see people abusing and misusing God’s creation for sinful purposes. I’m not talking about pollution. I’m talking about people who love things of this world more than anything else. Money is their god, or drugs or sex or greed. And are your hearts completely free of these desires? That is not how God’s creation was designed. But our comfort, whenever we see God’s good creatures serving the misuse and evil of godless people, is this: we know creation is “groaning,” so to speak. And we know for certain that God will free creation from having to serve the godless. When? At His time. On the last day, when He will remove the godless from the earth, and finish removing the godlessness from our hearts, this old tired earth won’t have to serve rebels any longer. Then we Christians, redeemed by the death of God’s Son, will serve God with a pure heart, and everything will be as God willed and intended it in the beginning. Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

1 Response to Trinity 4 Epistle, Rom. 8:18-23, CPH chapel sermon

  1. Pastor Andrew M

    that was a good sermon. it has helped my sermon preparation.
    Thank you

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