Summary: The believer’s future is connected with Christ’s. Christ is the faithful Son and is the Father’s rightful heir. The Christian by means of his adoption is a joint heir with Christ and may look forward to eternal glory in the presence of the Son (cp. John 1
For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too (2 Corinthians 1.5).
Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God; they have received the Spirit of adoption whereby they approach God as “Abba! Father!” Their adoption is sealed by the reception of the Holy Spirit who guarantees their filial relationship with God: In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1.13-14). The believer’s future is connected with Christ’s. Christ is the faithful Son and is the Father’s rightful heir. The Christian by means of his adoption is a joint heir with Christ and may look forward to eternal glory in the presence of the Son (cp. John 14.3). However, Paul links this future glory with a present suffering.
The theme of suffering is not a tangential issue for Paul. It is connected to his gospel at several points. First, the passion of Christ (Christ’s suffering on the cross and the events that led up to it) is at the heart of the good news: For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5.6); also, For our sake he [God] made him [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him [Christ] we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5.21; Philippians 2.8; cp. Luke 9.22; 22.15; 24.26). Second, Paul recognized that Jesus’ message about the kingdom included the willingness to suffer: And he [Jesus] said to all, “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; cp. 9.57-62; Matthew 5.11-12). Accordingly, Paul’s letters frequently refer to the believer’s suffering: For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have (Philippians 1.29-30; cp. 2 Timothy 1.8-12). Finally, Paul’s appointment to the apostolic ministry was included the destiny of personal suffering. As you may recall from Luke’s account of Paul’s conversion, Ananias initially resisted the Spirit’s prompting to pray for the restoration of Paul’s eyesight because Paul had a reputation for persecuting Christians. However, the Lord persisted and said to him: “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name (Acts 9.15-16). Paul came to understand that a willingness to suffer for the gospel was central to its proclamation (cp. Colossians 1.24-29).
Suffering was not a side effect of the Pauline mission; rather it was at the very center of his apostolic evangelism. His distress validated and legitimated his message, demonstrating the truth of the gospel. This is not to say that sufferings in and of themselves ratify the truth of the Pauline gospel. Rather, Paul’s sufferings provide evidence of the truth of his gospel. Indeed, his sufferings are a corollary of the sufferings of Jesus. (Thomas Schreiner, Paul Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ, p. 87)
It is impossible to disassociate Paul’s gospel from his suffering without radically altering the context of his gospel. The comparison between the life of Paul and the lives of the great suffering prophets of the Old Testament is immediately obvious to the observant reader. Men, who for the sake of God’s Word, had been exiled, beaten, stoned, sawed in half, imprisoned, thrown to the lions, cast into fires, and excluded from the company of “acceptable society” comprised a fellowship of suffering to whose ranks Paul would have been an honored member. The list of Paul’s sufferings and persecutions may be found in 2 Corinthians 11.23-12.10. For those who knew something of his exploits, his passing comment, I consider that the suffering of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us, must have seemed to be something of an understatement. Indeed, while Paul’s sufferings were secondary to the gospel, he understood that the progress of the gospel was served by his suffering: I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the believers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear (Philippians 1.12-14). Suffering for the gospel was a way of life for Paul, a way of life that he encouraged others to join: Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which has now been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the God, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me (2 Timothy 1.8-12). As with Paul, so too every Christian may expect to be excoriated for his unwavering faith in Christ. To identify with the cross is to identify with Christ (1 Peter 4.12-16). The shame suffered by Jesus (Hebrews 12.2, for the joy set before him he endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God) is an example for the believer, Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted (Hebrews 12.3).