From the outset I would like to put forward two reasons I feel compelled to write a series about the nature and purpose of biblical hope. I’m sure many of us are familiar with the ending of the famous “love” passage in 1 Corinthians 13 “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three: but the greatest of these is love” (ESV).
Here we have three distilled pillars of the Christian life. I’m not sure about you, but I have read, or at least know of, countless volumes that have been written about love and about faith, but I am strained when considering just how much apparently little ink has been spilt on the subject of hope by Christian authors.
The reasons that hope is such a vital subject for our consideration are at least twofold – and working through both reasons are admittedly fairly selfish. The first is found in Romans 5:2b-5. Consider the vastness of the progression that Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is placing before us here.
“…and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, KNOWING that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, BECAUSE God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (ESV)
I write as a man who has and is suffering, though very little compared to most who can claim that title. More than that, I write as a man, who, in the midst of this had nearly given up hope. So please believe me, that I am not trying to make an academic argument, or produce some clever prose, but I am writing and studying as I am able to seek the benefit of my own soul, and by God’s will perhaps my own quest will be a benefit to others as they travel along with me.
My soul desperately needs hope, and it desperately needs to be able to rejoice in even the most painful circumstances.. These are dangerous things to desire because we have just read of how they are acquired. Paul tells the Roman church that to the degree that they have a bedrock, biblical hope, they will be able to rejoice in their sufferings and persecutions. Their suffering will not end quickly, thus it produces “endurance”. This endurance effects a change in their very makeup called “character”, and the ultimate result of this is a hope that cannot ever disappoint or be found lacking. Note that they KNOW this, and are about to hold to it because they have a real, internal, constantly flowing knowledge of the love of God for them in their hearts.
The first thing I need to know (and there is much more in here) is that if I want a hope that can survive anything in life, suffering will have to come, and if I want to be able to rejoice and glorify God in my suffering, I had better have a good grasp of the hope that is being held up in Romans 5. This is the first selfish reason for my study.
What is Hope
Before we go farther, we need to have an agreement of what the word “hope” means. “Hope” is a word we use frequently in English today, and the majority of it’s usage is totally disconnected from the intent of the original writers of scripture as we read it.
We mainly use hope in the context that would be better fitting for the word “wish”. I hope it’s sunny tomorrow so I can go fishing; I hope my steak is done medium rare; I hope my kids get good grades in school, etc. This is the expression of desire without certainty. I want something, but I’m not really sure I’ll get it.
When the New Testament speaks of hope, it means some quite different and absolutely crucial to understand if we can go forward in seeking to bolster our hope. There are too many passages to go through, but I think a few would serve us well in understanding what the Bible means when it speaks of hope.
First, please consider the statements from Hebrews. 10:18b-19a “We who have fled for refuge must have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone…” (all references will be from the ESV)
Living most of my life surrounded by great fishing lakes, it has been my pleasure frequently to get out with a few friends and catch the great white whales of Northern Ontario. About three years ago, we were all set to go. We had our boat, motor, tackle, bait, everything – including a great spot where we knew we would have success. The only major problem was that we forgot to bring an anchor, and our fishing “hole” was only a few feet from some rather large rocks, and with the weather conditions, it was impossible for us to hold the boat in one place. The result was always one of two things: we would with come too close to the rocks and risk serious harm, or we would drift away from where the fish were. All for lack of an anchor.
Now, let’s pretend for a moment that we had an anchor but not enough rope to get it to the bottom. That might have stabilized us a bit, but when the currents and waves hit, we still would have drifted into peril or away from fruitful fishing. What we needed was an anchor that would go all the way to the bottom and stay there, firm, fixed, secure. We needed an anchor that we could depend on when the waves got higher or the wind picked up.
This is what the author to the Hebrews has in mind when he speaks of Jesus as the anchor of our hope. He is an anchor that has gone all the way into heaven. That has presented the perfect sacrifice there on behalf of his people, and who is now seated securely in Heaven, pleading for the good of His people. It is Jesus’ finished work on the cross, resurrection, ascension , and intercession for His people that is the anchor – the hope – that we must cling to, to have an assurance that we will not drift away or be wrecked on the rocks as we navigate in this life.
I will attempt to demonstrate this later, but my main second reason for wanting to spend time thinking and writing about “hope” is that I believe I can show that it is one of the strongest motivating factors offered to believers to live the Christian life. Hope, as we’ve seen, is what makes triumph out of suffering, it makes all of the great promises of God to believers into absolute guarantees. It sustains, strengthens, brings joy, calls to obedience, changes the priorities of this life, and ultimately is our anchor when we leave this world. This is something I need to be strong and thriving