What makes people petty and divisive? I’m sure there are a lot of potential answers to that question, but I’m also sure that one thing that will almost certainly cause division is an inordinate attachment to the things of this world. When the things of this world become too important, we will start putting the things of this world – possessions, time, money, comfort, leisure, etc. – before people and their needs. And therefore when people get between us and our things we get upset and lose the ability to love people as we ought. You see this on display in the church at Corinth. Things had gotten so bad there that believers were taking each other to court. This is how the apostle Paul responds: “Are you,” he asks, “incompetent to try trivial cases?” (1 Cor. 6:2). Basically, what the apostle is saying is that their disagreements which they thought were serious enough to take to court were really trivial. Seen in the light of eternity they were trivial. It is when we stop seeing them as the trivial things that they are that we start doing things like bringing a lawsuit against a fellow brother. At the end of the day it was a matter of misplaced priorities and upended affections.
But how do we change that? How do we kill those attitudes and ways of thinking that turn earthly possessions into things more important than our brothers and sisters in Christ? It is a matter of perspective and therefore we need to change that perspective. In particular, we need to lift up our eyes from the present and cast them towards the future and the promises that are ours in Christ. And that means that hope – hope that is given to us in Christ and in the Scriptures – is an essential and key element in bringing brethren together that had been at each other’s throats.
This is one reason I think that the apostle Paul does what he does in these verses. Notice that they are all about hope. Back in verse 4, he had said, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (15:4). Then he says in verse 12 that Jesus came so that “in him will the Gentiles hope.” Finally, in verse 13: “May the God of hope fill you will all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Hope pervades these verses. In between verses 4 and 13 you have a lot of singing and praising – the kinds of things you cannot do when you are in despair. Hope is in the air, as they say.
But it is not just any hope. It is not hope that our worldly comforts will be protected or increased. Rather, it is hope in the glory of God (15:7, 9; cf. 5:2-3). It is hope in the plan of God which saves both Jews and Gentiles. It is the kind of hope which transcends our petty differences and helps us to see life in the present from the perspective of eternity. In particular, the apostle points Jews and Gentiles who eyed each other with suspicion to hope in God’s purpose and love which embraced them both. How could they not, in light of this hope, welcome each other to the glory of God?
So we need to be people of hope. Not people who hope in a political party or in a particular politician. Not people who hope in programs and policies whose horizons cannot reach beyond this earthly existence. Rather, we need to be people who hope in the age to come, in which God’s kingdom will have come and Christ will reign supreme.
By the way, that doesn’t mean that people of hope don’t care about the things of this world. It doesn’t mean that you become stoical about life and stop noticing or enjoying the beauty of God’s creation. In some ways, the best way to become the kind of person who can truly enjoy the present is only by being the kind of person whose heart is captured by the promise of future hope. In a recent interview, Tim Keller explained that his diagnosis of cancer forced him to focus on heaven far more intensely than he had in the past and to let go of his obsession with the goods of this world. But he also revealed that he was surprised to find that having let go, he was able to enjoy the gifts of this life more than he had in the past. It is like the miser who loves money so much he makes himself miserable by it. It is only by ceasing to be a miser that a person can actually enjoy their wealth. And it is only by ceasing to have our hearts entrapped by this world that we can truly experience the blessings it offers as God’s good gifts in the present. But the only way to get there is to become a person of hope.
So how do these verses encourage us to hope? They do so by showing us what is the focus of our hope, the foundation of our hope and the features of our hope.
The focus of our hope
What do these verses tell us to put our hopes in? I think the apostle Paul wants us to hope in God’s triumphant rule over the world which will come to its fullest expression when Christ returns and in the saints reigning with him. Why do I think this? Consider the following verses.
First, in verse 8, the apostle says that, “For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs.” The patriarchs are a reference to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the promises are the promises given to them. Paul sums up the content of those promises in Romans 4:13 when he says that in them God promised Abraham and his heirs that they would be the heirs of the world. This obviously does not mean that we are to inherit this present world – Abraham certainly did not! He was a stranger and a pilgrim in this world and so are we. Rather, it is a reference to the world to come, to the new heavens and new earth. The meek shall inherit the earth – but not this earth, the renewed earth which will coincide with our Lord’s return.
Second, in verse 9, we read, “and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, ‘Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.’” This is a quotation of Psalm 18:49, as a proof that the Gentiles will glorify God for his mercy, which is strange because this verse speaks of King David’s triumph over the Gentiles in subduing them. So why does Paul quote it this way? He does so, does he not, because the apostle saw David (as the apostle Peter did) as a prototype of Christ, and he will subdue all nations under his feet, including many Gentiles, by causing them to turn to him as their Lord. Paul therefore looks forward to the universal dominion of Christ and sees many Gentiles as his loyal servants who will praise him for his mercy.
Third in verse 10, the apostle quotes Deut. 32:43: “And again it is said, ‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.’” In the passage in Deuteronomy, it goes on to say, “for his will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries, and will be merciful to his land and to his people” (KJV). This is a verse which will have its ultimate fulfillment, not in any earthly king like David or Solomon, but in the Messiah, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who will bring complete justice to the world in the judgment at the last day.
Fourth, in verse 12, we read a quotation from Isaiah 11:10: “And again, Isaiah says, ‘The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles, in him will the Gentiles hope.’” Christ truly reigns now; but his kingdom in its fullness is yet to come. This is the same chapter which reads: “The wolf shall lie down with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:6-9). This is certainly not a description of any point since the fall of man in the Garden; it is a description of a regenerated and redeemed world. The one who rules of the Gentiles is the one who will bring peace and harmony to a world groaning under the burden of sin and death. This is the One in whom the Gentiles will hope.
In other words, all these verses indicate that the context of the believer’s hope includes the fullness of the kingdom of God, when Christ returns and when the present order passes away and makes place for a new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness. Paul is calling us to do what the apostle Peter exhorts his readers to do: to wait for and hasten the coming of the day of God (2 Pet. 3:11).
Is this where our hope is at? What am I hoping for? Do we live with the daily awareness that we are living in a world which will all pass away and are moving towards a world which will not pass away? Where is our heart? Is it on mammon or is it in heaven? I think that too often we don’t live by this hope. We too often live with this Biblical hope tucked away somewhere in our minds where it doesn’t have much of an influence or effect upon our lives or attitudes and affections. But this is not how we are supposed to live. We are supposed to be people of hope: in fact, we are saved by it (Rom. 8:224-25)
Now I don’t think it’s possible for us to live without hope. I know some people claim to bravely face the despair they say represents reality, but I don’t believe it. People who live without hope end up committing suicide. So Paul is not just calling us to be hopeful people. We are that, whatever we are. He is calling us to put our hopes not in this world but in the world to come, not in a world that we can bring in but in a salvation that only Jesus Christ can bring. Any other hope is not lasting. So let us take the mind that the apostle elsewhere exhorts us to take: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col. 3:1-4).
These verses encourage us to hope because they encourage to put our hopes in what cannot be moved (Heb. 12:28). Nothing in this world is sure, but a hope which has its object that which is eternally and blessedly sure.
The foundation of our hope
One way that you can tell that the hope to which the apostle points us is not a worldly hope is the basis for it. The basis and foundation of our hope is not in ourselves or our abilities; it is based on the Lord Jesus Christ and what he has done for us. Jesus is the one who confirms the promises made to the fathers and it is through him that the Gentiles glorify God for his mercy (ver. 8-9). It is in Jesus that are the promises of God are fulfilled (cf. 2 Cor. 1:20). He is the foundation of our hope and without him we have no real hope (cf. Eph. 2:12).
Why do we need hope? We only hope for something that is better. We need hope because our present circumstances are cause for grief and sadness, and because we are vulnerable to fear and tragedy. We need hope because we live in a broken world. We need hope because we live in a world scarred by sin, because of our treason against God. And that means that there is no hope unless our sin is dealt with; anything else will but treat the symptoms of our maimed and broken condition. If we want to have a hope worth having, we need to deal with our sin. But we cannot do this. Sin pervades us; anything that we could offer the Lord is tainted by our sin, the very thing that separates us from God. We cannot atone for our sin. Jesus is the only one who can and who has done this. He is the only one worthy (Rev. 5). There is no other name under heaven given among me whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12). He alone is the way, the truth, and the life (Jn. 14:6). If you want hope, you must find it in Christ. But praise God, that is the kind of hope that is offered us in Scripture. Our sin has separated us from God, but in Christ alone we are welcomed back (Rom. 15:7).
So many people put their hopes in people that are fallen, or programs created by fallen people. They put their trust in human systems that are administered by fallen people. They of course do so because they have no other option. They don’t believe in sin and they don’t believe in a God who rescues men from sin. And so they put their trust in human institutions which can only try to ameliorate the symptoms caused by sin without actually dealing with the sin. Yet it amazes me that people have fallen into the trap of thinking that if we replace one broken system with another, things will be better. But any system created by man, no matter how good it might be, it still created and administered by sinful and fallen men. No human form of government will ever be free of injustice. Now please understand that I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t care about issues of justice! Of course we should be. The point is that if we are putting our hopes in human institutions, we are setting ourselves up for shattered dreams and broken promises.
But Jesus Christ is not just another person. He is the divine and sinless Son of God. He claimed to be so and vindicated his claims by rising from the dead (Rom. 1:2). And because the Son of God is the ground of our hopes, we can be sure that our hope is both sure and steadfast (Heb. 6:19-20). He is actually not only the ground of our hope; he is our hope (1 Tim. 1:1). Our hope is not that he has done something so that we can save ourselves; our hope is in Christ alone and what he has done to save us from ourselves. And thank God, he does exactly that for all who put their trust in him.
These verses encourage us to hope because they encourage us to put our hope in the only one who can deliver on his promises: Jesus Christ.
The features of our hope
How should we respond to this hope? How do we nourish this hope? We do so by reminding ourselves of the features of the hope presented to us in Scripture and by modeling our hopes after that. We are tempted continuously to hope in things we ought not. We hope rightly when our hope is the kind of hope presented to us in God’s word. What kind of hope is that?
It is a God-centered hope.
The object of our hope is God and what he has done, is doing, and will do through his Son and Spirit. That is why the apostle calls him “the God of hope” (15:13). He is the God who gives hope and who is himself the one in whom we should hope. Our hope is not to be set upon ourselves, our goodness or righteousness, or our performance. Nowhere in the Scriptures are we ever told to look to ourselves. That is what the world does. There is no hope there – the only sure path to hope is when we look away from ourselves to Christ.
We need to remind ourselves that the gospel is the good news of what God has done for us in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. We are not called to believe in ourselves; we are called to put our trust in Jesus. This is the only way we will attain “joy and peace in believing” – not by looking to ourselves and our works but by looking to Christ and his work (15:13).
It is Scripture and promised-based.
The hope we are called to have is not something based on dreams or illusions. It is not something based on the musings of some so-called wise man. Rather, it is based on the very words of God. Our hopes are to be informed by the Bible. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (15:4).
In other words, we need to believe the promises that God has made to us in the Scriptures. This is the way joy and peace come. Faith is the means through which God ministers these things to us. Note how Jacob does this in Gen. 32:9-12. Note how Paul does this in this very text (ver. 9-12)!
It is Holy Spirit empowered.
Paul says that it is the Holy Spirit that enables us to abound in hope. We need the Holy Spirit – there can be no real joy or peace or hope without him (Gal. 5:22). Without him we are dead spiritually (Eph. 2). We cannot even take one step in the Christian walk unless we have been born again (Jn. 3:3-8). Now, we cannot coerce the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30); the idea is that if we grieve the he will withdraw his gracious influences of love, joy, and peace. We need to be led by the Spirit of God in holiness (Rom. 8:13, 18).
So if we set our hope in God, believe in his word, and live in such a way as to put ourselves under the blessings of the Holy Spirit, then Paul says we will abound in hope. God wants us to abound in hope. And it is possible – we should seek to grow in all the graces. The fact that our hope has its fulfillment in the return of Christ shows us that we need to let that great future event cast its rays of hope on us more in the present. We need to be those who hasten unto the coming of the day of God. It important for the running of the Christian race (Rom. 8:25) and for our witness (1 Pet. 3:15). May the Lord make us more and more people of hope.