The Nature, Role and
Importance of Hope
A conference address
Romans 15:13 is a wonderful verse of Scripture - "Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost" (KJV).
The word "Ghost" is translated from the Greek "pneuma" which means "air, wind or spirit", and so the last phrase of Romans 15:13 is better translated "through the power of the Holy Spirit".
Returning to the first part of verse 13 we read "Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing". Those words describe a wonderfully blessed condition.
To be "filled with all joy" means never to have a moment of sadness, never a moment of sorrow, never to shed a tear. And to be "filled with all peace" means ever to have a moment of anxiety, never to have a moment of apprehension, never to feel angry, or have a feeling of animosity, because when we are angry or have a feeling of animosity, we are not at peace with our circumstance or situation. So to be filled with all joy and peace describes a wonderfully blessed condition. Such a condition could be deemed to be the pinnacle of Christian character development. But it's not. The Apostle Paul goes onto say "that we may abound in hope". In other words his prayer was that they might be filled with all joy and peace so that they might abound in hope. The Apostle establishes a hierarchy in which being filled with joy and peace is prerequisite to abounding in hope.
We may reflect on three aspects of hope - its nature, its role in our Christian pilgrimage, and its importance.
The Nature of Hope
We don't need to speculate about the nature of hope. The Apostle Paul defines it precisely in Romans 8:24-25: "For we are saved by hope, but hope that is seen is not hope, for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it". (KJV) The Apostle makes two important points about the nature of hope. Firstly, hope relates to that which is not seen - "for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?" For us to "see" anything, be it a material object or a situation or condition, it has to be realised; we have to "have it" already. Consequently hope relates to things that are unseen; to things that we do not yet possess. Secondly, hope relates to things that are future - "if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it". We only wait for things that we expect will eventuate in the future. So hope relates to things that are currently unseen but which we believe will come - things that are future.
It is very important for us today to realise those two aspects of hope. In 2 Peter 3 the Apostle describes our days: "This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you, in which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance. That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour; knowing this first that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts and saying, "Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation'. For this they willingly are ignorant of that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water whereby the world that then was being overflowed with water perished." The scoffers do not believe that the flood of Noah's day actually happened. Many of the other stories recorded in the Old Testament are also dismissed. Today the scoffing is occurring not only in secular circles but in some Christian circles as well. Recently a Christian church minister declared that the first six chapters of Genesis were a myth. It is very important for us today to realise that our hope relates to things as yet unseen; things that are still future. The bombardment of our hope that we are experiencing today is simply the fulfillment of this prophecy in 2 Peter 3.
The Apostle Paul uses a powerful analogy in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-5: "But of the times and seasons brethren ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye brethren are not in darkness that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day; we are not of the night nor of darkness". That is a wonderfully comprehensive explanation. The apostle uses the analogy of being in darkness and being in light. In the natural world if one is in a completely darkened room they can't see anything regardless of how good their eyesight. Likewise with spiritual things. Spiritually we are in the light, those outside are in darkness. So it doesn't matter how intellectual our opposer might be, what their academic standard is, or how well they have their mental eyesight tuned to temporal things, if they are in spiritual darkness they can't see spiritual things. Of course we only see them because God has shown them to us: we do not see anything by our own intellectual ability. Let us never forget what Paul wrote to the Corinthians - "The natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God, … neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned" "But God has revealed them unto us by His spirit". (1 Cor. 2:14, 10) What a privilege it is that God has touched our hearts and opened our eyes so that we can see spiritual things.
However we do not yet see the fruition of our hopes. In 2 Peter 3: 13 we read "Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness". That is what Christians are praying for when they pray "thy kingdom come"; "the new heavens and new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness" is the same as "the kingdom."
However, to the man in the street it is an unrealistic hope. Cain slew Abel at the beginning of human history and human history has been plagued with war, strife and dissension ever since. Man has suffered the consequences of evil for a very long time, so long in fact that mankind generally is justified in assuming that it will always be the same. For Christians to have a hope of a new heaven and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness is unrealistic to those who do not enjoy insight into God's plan. Indeed we need to ask ourselves "is it an unrealistic hope? Is it a fantasy?" It certainly is not. The Apostle Paul made sure the Christians at Rome realized it was not an unrealistic hope when he wrote in Romans 15:4 - "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope". In the 21st century, the expression "things written aforetime" could be applied to the whole Bible. However when the Apostle wrote to the Romans, the "things written aforetime" were the things written in the Old Testament. Paul also explains God's reason for having them written. The reason was not so that they could be knowledgeable about the history and kings of Israel, or that they would be able to quote the numbers in the book of Numbers. The things were written aforetime "for our learning that we, through the patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope". Our hope is not a fantasy - it is not founded on scientific theories. Our hope is based on the promises of God, promises like the promise given in Isaiah 2:1-4: "The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. And it shall come to pass in the last days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills and all nations shall flow unto it." (What a remarkable statement that is concerning Judah and Jerusalem - all nations shall flow unto it.) "And many people shall go and say 'Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of his ways and we will walk in his paths', for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people, and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more". This is one of the precious promises of God upon which our hope is based, and is one to which the apostle Peter refers in 2 Peter 3:13: "Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness".
However to stop there would be quite discouraging. The concept of nations beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks is the direct opposite to what we see today. Currently North Korea is concerning the world with its aspirations of becoming a nuclear power. There is also some concern about Iran not being dissuaded from nuclear aspirations. And so there is no evidence at the present time of the nations beating their swords into plowshares. However even the present situation is prophesied. Joel 3:9-10 says: "Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles; Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near, let them come up: 'Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears', let the weak say 'I am strong'". The world today is fulfilling that prophecy. And so when we read in Peter's epistle that we are to look for "a new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness" it is important for us to realise that time is a critical element in God's plan, and that the hope set forth by Peter is still future.
And now let us consider the intervening verses in 2 Peter 3:7-12 "But the heavens and the earth which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgement and perdition of ungodly men. But beloved be not ignorant of this one thing that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise and the elements shall melt with fervent heat; the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation (conduct) and godliness. Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat". "Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God" - we look for and haste unto that day because we see beyond it and see the new heavens and new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness as promised in verse 13.
Our faith in the promises of God is strengthened by the many other prophecies that have been fulfilled. One of them is the prophecy that was fulfilled at Jesus' first advent. In Matthew 1:19-23 we have a record of the circumstances that surrounded Jesus' birth: "Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things behold the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying 'Joseph thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she shall bring forth a son and thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet saying 'Behold a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, 'God with us'." To the natural person it was incomprehensible that a virgin could conceive. However it was prophesied in the Old Testament (Isaiah 7:14). So Jesus' birth was an amazing fulfillment of one verse of Scripture written aforetime, and that gives us great confidence in the other promises recorded in the Old Testament.
The prophecies relating to Jesus' first advent extended beyond the circumstances of his birth. We read how, as they walked by the way, did their "hearts burn within them" as He "opened to them the Scriptures" (Luke 24:32). "And beginning at Moses and all the prophets he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself". (Luke 24:27) We can have great faith in the prophecies of the Old Testament!
So we've seen so far that hope relates to things that are not seen, things that are yet future, and that our hope is not fantasy but is based on the promises of God.
A further aspect of the nature of our hope is that it should grow. Romans 5:1-5 reads: "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulation also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope. And hope maketh not ashamed because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us". That's life's experience. When we were young we were inclined to think that there was nothing wrong with the world - especially if we were fit and healthy. If there was anything that needed to be fixed we would fix it. There was no need for hope. But as time went on we began to realise that it takes a little longer than we had first imagined to rectify some faults. We started to need some patience. "Tribulation works patience". Later on again, with more experience, we started to realise that we were unable to fix some things. So we started to hope that someone else would fix them. Eventually we realised that the only hope for solving the world's problems is the hope set forth for us in the word of God. And the longer we live, the more we realise that the only hope for the world are the promises of God, and so our hope increases (that is, grows) day by day.