Read: Romans 15:7-13
Do you know what the rarest and most precious commodity on earth is? No, it’s not gold or diamonds, not oil or uranium; it’s hope.
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope . . . For I tell you that Christ has become the servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: . . . “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to him, all you peoples.” And again, Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.” May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:4-13 NIV)
Rejoice, O Gentiles
The apostle Paul was a keen student of his Bible, the Old Testament. In writing to the mostly non-Jewish Christians of Rome, he presumes that those scriptures were theirs too, since believers in Jesus were now the new people of God. Everything in that ancient Hebrew Bible, whose composition spanned a thousand years and whose completion had taken place centuries before, “was written,” says Paul, “to teach us.”
The Bible can and does teach us many things. It teaches us about God, the one true God of heaven and earth. We learn things about the nature and character and “personality” of the living God in the Bible that can’t be learned anyplace else. It teaches us about the creation of the world; from the Bible we understand that the universe and everything in it (including ourselves) did not come from nothing, or didn’t simply evolve from pre-existing matter, but was created by God. But the lesson Paul is especially interested in here in Romans 15 is the one where the Bible teaches us how to have hope.
The single greatest source of hope in the Bible is the promises of God. Jesus Christ, God’s Son, came into the world “to confirm the promises” made to the ancient patriarchs of Israel (v. 8). God had appeared long before to Abraham and promised that he would be his God, and would bless him, making of him a great nation, giving to him a land and numberless descendants. But what really made these promises of God to Abraham special is that they were not only for him and his offspring, the Jewish people—they were for all people everywhere.
So the Old Testament is full of promises for the non-Jewish peoples of the world, and Paul quotes a number of them in Romans 15:
Rejoice, O gentiles, with [God’s] people. . . Praise the Lord . . . all you peoples. . . The root of Jesse [the promised Savior] will . . . arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.
One of the commonest characteristics of nations is the kind of self-centeredness that values only the members of one’s own group and judges all others to be inferior. The Old Testament people of God were often that way in practice, but their Bible was very different. It was neither self-centered, nor chauvinistic, nor exclusionary. Its promises were for all nations and peoples. The God it revealed embraced everyone. The Messiah it spoke of would come to be the Savior of gentiles as well as Jews, the light of the whole world. The hope one can find by believing in him is available to all.
Overflowing with Hope
Wherever you look today, hope is in short supply. Our world is unstable (witness the former Soviet Union or the former Yugoslavia), our economic problems seem insoluble, our internal conflicts and disagreements unmanageable, and our future looks doubtful. All that translates to loss of hope. J. B. Phillips summed up the mood of what has been called the “post-modern” world in a passage written a generation ago that still applies today:
. . . the constant assault of world tensions . . . makes people feel that the present set-up is so radically different that the old rules no longer apply. Without realizing it, many of us are beginning to consent in our inmost hearts to the conclusion that we live in a hopeless situation.J. B. Phillips, New Testament Christianity
What a contrast that is to the New Testament, where every page glows with hope, and every person lives secure in the confidence that God is in control. These Christians had none of the benefits of modern life that we so depend on. They had very little protection from diseases, few creature comforts or labor-saving devices, no social security programs or retirement funds, no benevolent government responsive to their concerns, and yet as they faced the uncertain future they were serene. What was their secret? What did they have that so many lack in our time? The answer is summed up in the apostle’s prayer:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (v. 13).
These men and women overflowed with hope because they trusted in the God of hope. So can you!
Where does hope come from? Not from ourselves. There is a difference between hope and optimism. Optimism is the belief that somehow things will get better and everything will turn out all right in the end. It’s the attitude exemplified by Charles Dickens’ Mr. Micawber, who met one disaster after another with the cheerful assertion that “Something will turn up!” Now there is nothing wrong with being optimistic. It is psychologically healthier and more attractive than its alternative, but it is not real hope in the Christian sense. Optimism is often just wishful thinking. Christian hope is different. It is not optimistic but realistic, because it’s grounded in the reality of God’s promises. It is not a feeling based only on the wish that the future will be good; it is a conviction based on the God who shapes the future, and who also loves us and has promised good to us.
When Paul writes of the “God of hope,” he means that God is the source of all real hope. Hope originates with him, coming from him as a gift, a by-product of a personal relationship with him. Hope is the result of knowing God. It means having confidence for the future based on his protection, help, and care in the past. Real hope, Christian hope, is set apart from every form of merely hopeful expectation because it is founded upon the trustworthiness of God. Our hope is actually our faith, projected forward into the future. Like faith, hope is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
Paul’s benediction is that we “may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” When the Lord indwells us through the power and in the person of the Holy Spirit, he brings hope, in addition to peace, joy, faith and love. And he brings it in abundance. God isn’t stingy about it; he has plenty of hope and he spreads it around liberally. The phrase translated “overflow with hope” literally is “to have an abundance of”; the same word is used in Luke 9:17 to describe the mountain of leftovers after Jesus’ miracle of feeding 5000 people. Those who have the Spirit of God can also have hope and have it in abundance.
The Means of Hope
Hope is a gift of the Holy Spirit. How, then, is it given? Does it sweep over us mysteriously, unexplainably and without warning? It might. Sometimes hope comes wonderfully flooding over us in a time and place where we would least expect it and could least account for it. But there are also means that the Lord has ordained for us to use in order to be uplifted and given hope. Two of them are mentioned in verse 4:
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.
The first key to hope is endurance, or steadfastness in faith. We grow in hope as we persevere in believing. Hope comes from trusting God over the long haul. During the sixteenth century William, Prince of Orange, led the Dutch in their fight for independence against Spain. The cause seemed forlorn. Spain, enriched by her conquests in the New World, was the greatest power on earth. Little Holland fought for her freedom against the might of the Spanish Empire for seventy years. During the darkest days of the rebellion it was suggested to William that it was hopeless to continue to fight against such overwhelming odds. “It is not necessary to hope in order to persevere,” he replied—an answer that reveals the iron in the Dutch leader’s will, and shows why victory ultimately came to him.
But with respect to biblical hope, we could turn William’s phrase around: it is necessary to persevere in order to hope. Hope is the reward of patient endurance. God gives hope to those who don’t give up but go on trusting him no matter what. And the same God who gives us hope will give us the strength to persevere, for he is “the God who gives endurance and encouragement” (v. 5).
The second thing God uses as a means to building our hope is the encouragement of the Scriptures. Hope is grounded in the promises of God written in the Word of God. Hope comes into our hearts when we remember the truth of all that the Lord has said in the Bible. One of the major purposes of Scripture is to encourage us by reminding us what God has already done, and promises still to do, for us, through us, with us, and in us. The promises that encourage us to hope are nowhere stated more clearly than in this very letter to the Romans, particularly in its monumental 8th chapter. Here we are reminded that God remains in control:
All things work together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose . . . Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
We are reminded that God’s purposes for us are good: “God is for us; who can be against us?” We are reminded that God is bringing history, including our own personal histories, to its intended fulfillment of glory for all who belong to Christ:
We are children of God, joint heirs with Christ—if we suffer with him so that we will also be glorified with him.
Do you have hope, real hope? You could. God gives it to those who trust him and believe in his written Word. It has nothing to do with whether or not you are optimistic by nature or your thinking is positive. The closing words of this section are actually a prayer:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope. . . .
I’m convinced that’s a prayer that will always be granted to those who ask it. Do you overflow with hope? Do you have such an abundance of it, because you know God and believe his promises, that you have enough hope for yourself, and even some extra that spills over the rim of your life into the lives of hopeless people around you? You should, not just for your sake, but for theirs.
Prayer: O God, our hope and trust are in you. Fill us with such joy and peace as we believe, that our lives will overflow with hope, and this quality will attract hopeless people around us to you, the source of true hope. Amen.