Groaning, hoping, waiting

We groan . . . we hope . . . we wait. Rom. 8:23-25

In these verses, the apostle Paul is essentially saying to us, “If even the earth cries out for the second coming, how much more should we?”  Our glorification does not happen now, so we should not look for it now.  We should expect sufferings in “this present time” (18).  The groanings are groanings “until now” (22).  But they are only for this present time.  One day they will pass away.  We ought to join the creation in groaning for the glory that we will enjoy in the age to come.  There is a sadness in this world, a sadness which is common to this present order.  Right now we mourn; but blessed are the mourners for they shall be comforted (Mt. 5:4).  

There is something wrong with us if we are content with the world as it is.  There is something wrong if we are looking for our ultimate fulfillment in this world.  If we are thinking Biblically, we will look at this world as something which is passing away (1 Jn. 2:17).  We will not look for our best life now.  Our best life is yet to come.  So that being the case, what ought to characterize us in the here and now?  Three things.

Groaning (23)

“And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”  We groan because we are strangers and sojourners in the world (cf. 1 Pet 1).  This world as it is, is not our home.  Like a traveler who longs for his home, we long for ours.  And so we groan.  Now that doesn’t mean we groan out of bitterness, but out of a proper dissatisfaction with this present world, like Paul in 2 Co. 5:1-5 and Phil. 1:21,23.  That is not a mark of imperfection but a mark of faith.  It means we have a Biblical estimation of the corruption of this present age and of the glory of the age to come.  Like the aged men who wept when they saw the temple that was being erected in the place of Solomon’s temple, we weep when we consider the difference between the corruption of the present age and the glory of the age to come.  John Stott said in his commentary on this passage that many Christians grin too much and groan too little.  I agree.  Beware of Christians who live with little grins on their face as they enjoy this world with no thought of the world to come, and only think of it when they are faced from time to time with the inevitability of their death.  Is this world our home, or do we look for another? (Heb. 11:9,ff).

However, be careful what you find yourself groaning over!  Too often we groan over the wrong things – a failure to find comfort in this world instead of groaning because of our desire for the world to come.  It is wrong to find the satisfaction of our souls in this world as it is, and like Demas to forsake the cause of Christ because you love this present world.  But it is wrong also to groan over this world because you want it and don’t have its offerings – power, prestige, and possessions.  We groan in this sense of this verse, not because we don’t have what the world has to offer, but because we don’t yet have what God has promised us in the world that is to come.  

Hope (24-25)

The apostle goes on to say, “For in this hope we were saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

In other words, our groaning is not a groaning in despair, but out of a confident expectation in the sure fulfillment of God’s promises (Tit. 1:2).  Not only God’s promises, but God’s Spirit within us calls us to look in hope to the future.  This is the significance of the “firstfruits of the Spirit” (23), which is not only a foretaste of future blessings but also a guarantee of them (Eph. 1:13-14).  We don’t groan like a prisoner who has given up hope of ever being rescued.  Rather, we groan in hope knowing that we will surely be rescued.  There is coming a day when we will shed these prison clothes for a robe of glory.

It is important that we not only groan, but that we hope.  We need both.  The groaning will become unbearable without the hope.  But the hope will be thin and diminished apart from the groaning.  The groaning gives form and substance to our hope.  We groan because we hope and hope because we groan.

It is important to underline the fact that our hope is in things unseen.  We hope for what we do not see.  Our hope is therefore not in the present order of things or in a rearrangement of society, but in a new heavens and new earth which Christ will bring when he comes again.  Now that doesn’t mean we don’t shine our light and work for the advancement of God’s kingdom in this world.  Of course we do.  But we don’t do so with unrealistic and unbiblical expectations.  With respect to this world, men, governments, treaties, etc., will never completely stop the violence, the poverty, and the corruption.  Only the return of Christ will do it, and that is our hope (Rev. 14:12).  If we really want to see the end of injustice, we are not going to be fully invested in purely temporal schemes to end it.  Rather, our hope will be in the Second Coming of our Lord who will put a stop to all injustice and corruption and wickedness, and to live in light of that hope.

And I would argue that hope in the age to come doesn’t put a damper on our efforts to improve our world through the influence of the gospel.  It inspires it because we realize that we are not laboring for something that will pass away; we are not laboring so much to put people right with this world but to bring men and women into an eternal relationship with God.  But it also keeps us from becoming overwhelmed with the disappointments which we will inevitably meet with in this world – because, again, our hopes are not ultimately anchored in a utopia now, but in a redeemed world to come that will endure under the eternal Lordship of Christ.

Patient Waiting (25)

“…we wait for it with patience.”  

The word “patience” there indicates endurance.  What is hope anyway?  If we really believe these things, it should cause us to continue faithful to Christ, no matter what the cost.  Because what is promised us in Christ is worth far more (18) than whatever we might lose in our faithfulness to him.    It means that we don’t let discouragement keep us from serving the Lord and loving for him, knowing that our labor is not in vain (cf. 1 Cor. 15:57-58).  

Our groaning feeds our hope.  But then our hope grows into patient endurance.  It teaches us to persevere in spite of all the disappointments we meet along the way, because again this world is not all there is to reality.  The present order is not the eternal order.  We may face many trials and discouragements in this world, but we know that we have something far better coming.  And so we keep on keeping on. 

By: Jeremiah Bass