Verse of the Day - Romans 15:13 - iDisciple

A sermon on Romans 15:1-13 by Richard Keith on Sunday 19 February 2023

Today we are looking at Paul’s prayer for hope.

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.

So on Friday I gave myself the task of coming up with a good definition of hope. I gave myself 5 minutes to do it, since I figured that if it took me any longer then I didn’t really understand it. And if I don’t really understand hope, then how can explain I explain it to others. And in 5 minutes I came up with these 3 definitions for hope. They aren’t 3 different definitions. Just more or less specific.

Number 1. Hope is a positive expectation, looking forward to a future event.

Number 2. Hope is a sense of purpose that inspires our choices and actions towards a clear and achievable goal. Whether that goal is achievable or not in practice is less important. But the hopeful person at least perceives it as achievable. Anything else is just wishing.

Number 3. Christian hope is a confident expectation of God’s ultimate victory, grounded in the resurrection of Jesus.

Hope looks forward, not back. Nostalgia looks back. Regret looks back. Sufferers of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are trapped in a memory of suffering and they can’t look forward. But hope can look forward and does look forward.

Hope is a positive expectation about the future. Dread looks forward with fear. It is paralysed by indecision and reluctance. Despair looks forward too but can’t see any reason to keep going or why any choice matters. It just gives up. But hope is excited about the future. It is energised. It feels good. It makes plans. It makes decisions. Because of hope, expecting parents get the baby’s room ready. Because of hope, athletes keep going when others stop. Because of hope, people work together for a better future.

Of course, sometimes people have false hopes. They put their faith in material possessions or in the dream of retirement or in doctors and medicines. Which sometimes let them down. But Christian hope is in God. In his purposes and in his final victory over sin and death and hell and condemnation that is revealed in his son Jesus. Because of hope in God we have an abiding joy in times of trouble. Because of hope we are not tempted by fleeting pleasures. Because of hope we remain faithful when others fall by the wayside.

I believe that our country, our world is suffering an epidemic of despair. There is a famine of hope. People read the news and only see bad things that they can’t do anything about. They are told that things aren’t going to get better. That they are only going to get worse. And young people feel like they have no chance to get meaningful work. People are living longer but have lost the reason to live. We all need hope. I know I do and you do too.

The apostle Paul mentions hope four times in Romans chapter 15.

Each of us should please his neighbour for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” 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.

Paul is describing love. Love does what is good for its neighbour. Not to impress him. Not to feel good about ourselves. But for his good. To build him up. To make him stronger. To help him get through.

This kind of love is inspired by the example of Jesus. He didn’t please himself, but he treated us like a neighbour. When we needed him, he came to our help. On the cross he suffered the consequences of our bad choices and wrong actions. As Psalm 69 says,

The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.

It’s a quote from the Old Testament that Paul applies to Jesus. It’s been a while since I said this last time. But Psalm 69 is a Psalm of David. And the New Testament writers like Paul often take the psalms of David and apply them to the life of Jesus, the great Son of David.

The New Testament writers are reminding us that the Old Testament is still very relevant for Christians today. And about half of today’s reading from Romans chapter 15 is Paul quoting from the Old Testament. From the Psalms. From 2 Samuel. From Deuteronomy. From Isaiah.

They are still useful for teaching us. Because we can learn from the lessons of those who trusted God in the past so that by following their example we may experience the same blessings that they did. They teach us endurance, the ability to keep going despite trouble. They give us encouragement, so that we don’t hang our heads, but hold them up. They give us hope. Because if we follow the example of Abraham and David and Daniel then we will end up where they are today. Safe in the hands of the true and living God.

Paul next mentions hope in verse 12. Isaiah says,

The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.

In Romans chapter 15 Paul is trying to convince Jewish Christians and non-Jewish Christians to get along. To accept each other just as Christ accepted them. Our faith began with the Jews. Jesus was a Jew. He is their Messiah. All the first disciples, all the apostles were Jews. But the good news of Jesus broke out of the borders of Israel and went out into the world. Non-Jews became Christians, followers of Christ, because Jesus is not just Israel’s Messiah. He is Lord of all the earth, both of the living and the dead. To Jesus every knee shall bow. In Jesus people of all nations will put their hope.

As Isaiah said long ago about the Messiah, 800 years before Jesus:

The Gentiles will hope in him.

So Jews and Gentiles, non-Jews, have to get along. Despite their differences. Despite the different customs and values they grew up with, the only values that count in Jesus’ church are love and peace. He is not just Israel’s hope. He is the only valid and true hope for every single person in the world. And so all Christians, whatever their backgrounds, have to get along. Because they are going to share eternity together. So they might as well start practicing now.

Jesus is your hope. Jesus is the only hope for the person sitting next to you. Jesus is the hope of the person sitting in front of you. And he is my hope too. Accept each other as Christ has accepted you.

The third and fourth time that Paul mentions hope in this passage is in his prayer in verse 13.

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.

He prays to the God of hope. These ways of describing God are always good reminders. Because we often get fixated on one idea about God. Whether we imagine him as the big old man in the sky with the flowing beard. Whether we think of him as the stormbringer who throws down lightning bolts. These are very pagan ideas about God. So the Bible often helps us focus our thoughts on the true and living God.

For example, a passage will call him the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Reminding us that Jesus trusted God and so we can too. Another passage will call him the God of peace. Reminding us that in Jesus God has made peace with us so we can make peace with each other.

Here in Romans chapter 15 Paul prays to the God of hope. Reminding us that the whole universe, all reality, from the biggest galaxy to the smallest sub atomic particle is moving towards God’s ultimate victory in the future. Over every single force of evil that tries to ruin what he has made good. And that victory is revealed in the resurrection of Jesus. When sin died with him but he rose to life. The world’s rulers judged him but his heavenly Father overruled it. He was cursed under the law to death, but by the power of the Spirit Jesus was blessed with life. He was rejected as Messiah by his own people, but his Father has crowned him king of kings.

Before a movie appears in cinemas the studio will often release a trailer. It’s an ad for the movie, trying to create interest so people want to see it. A good trailer captures the essence of the movie in a few brief highlights. When we watch a good trailer we get a sense of what the movie is about and whether it will be any good. It’s a sample, promising the good things to come.

The first Easter Day, when Jesus rose from the dead, is a trailer for the upcoming victory of God. In Jesus we see a sample of God’s purpose for us revealed. Free from sin, free from sin’s penalty, its power and presence. Free from death. Free from condemnation. In this life we are a work in progress. God hasn’t finished with us yet. But his purpose for me is my complete salvation in Christ full of joy and peace and life.

He is the God of hope. The God who made all things good, the God who will make all things good, when he redeems his world from all that has gone bad. Paul prays to this God, the God of hope, because the God of hope wants us to have what Paul prays for.

Paul prays that this God “will fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him”. All joy and peace is just another way of saying every kind of joy and peace. Because there is the kind of joy that makes us feel like we are floating on air. And there is the kind of peace that makes us feel like we are soaking up the sun at the beach. But sometimes we need the kind of joy that helps us smile through our tears. And sometimes we need the peace that creates a centre of calm while the rest of the world is raging like a cyclone around us. We need every single kind of joy and peace for each and every moment in our journey with Christ “as we trust in him”, the God of hope.

Because none of these blessings will be ours without faith. Without trust in God we do not want the good things he has or the good things he promises. Without faith I’m happy to acquire my own scraps of joy and peace, thank you very much. And if they aren’t enough, then I’ll be happy to be perfectly miserable, as long as my creator leaves me alone. Without faith, without trust in the God of hope, there is no filling with every kind of joy and peace. There is only misery and the useless entertainments we use to distract ourselves from it.

On the other hand, joy and peace are like faith’s younger brother and sister. When you trust in Christ, when you are married to faith, you become a member of faith’s whole family. So that with faith, with trust in the God of hope, the joy and peace that are his purpose for us become ours.

So that we may overflow with hope.

Like a cup filled to the top and running over as the blessing doesn’t stop. So that there is more than enough hope for us. So that we may become a source of hope for others. Hope in the ultimate victory of God revealed in the resurrection of Jesus. Hope that excites and energises. Hope that eradicates dread and despair. Hope that inspires our choices and actions. Hope that leads us to work and fight for what is good and right despite setbacks and disappointments because God’s final goal is to make all things good.

All this is “by the power of the Holy Spirit”. It doesn’t happen because of our strength of will. It doesn’t happen because of our determination or natural goodness. It doesn’t just happen because we throw enough money in its direction. It happens as a gift from the God of hope by the power of his Holy Spirit at work in us and through us and sometimes despite us. It must be God’s gift because otherwise it would be stupid for the apostle Paul to pray for it.

I believe our world is suffering an epidemic of despair. A famine of hope. If you want a hammer you need to go to the hardware store. If you want bread you need to go to the bakery. If you want hope you need to go to the God of hope with faith. His gift to you is every kind of joy and peace so that you may have hope. So that you may overflow with hope. So you may have more hope than you need. So you may be a source of hope to others.