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34. Christian hope is greater than you think

My life (put) alongside God's word. Letting the future affect us today.

Suppose you knew that my wife was critically ill in the hospital and you asked me, “Do you think she will get better?” When I reply, “I hope so”, my word “hope” carries with it the thoughts of desire, doubts and concern for her condition. I want my wife to get better but my hope is at best half-a-hope!

More than wishful thinking

“Hope” in our English language is a very weak word

compared to the ideas behind the New Testament Greek word for “hope”. There are at least eight different meanings for “hope” in English ranging from “a feeling of desire for something and confidence in the possibility of fulfilment” to merely “a thing, situation or event that is desired” and the rather vague “something that is wished for”. But the Greek word “hope”, elpis, means “favourable and confident expectation” in regard to “the unseen and the future”.

If you were to ask me if Jesus is coming again to set this world and its people to rights,

I would reply with a hope that is absolutely certain. I know He is definitely coming one day even though I don’t know precisely when that day will be. There is no doubt, no danger of it not happening. My desire for that day to come clearly influences what I believe now and how I live today and every day. Christian hope comes from reading and applying Scripture. “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”,

Romans 15:4.

Believing against the odds

Writing about Abraham’s unbelievable trust in God for a promised future inheritance of people from many nations, Paul wrote: “against all hope, Abraham believed”, Romans

4:18. It looked like Abraham was in a hopeless situation. But what Abraham trusted God for is happening now, just as God promised. Christians are the multi-racial, multilingual,

multi-national family of God in today’s world building toward a great host in heaven worshipping Almighty God saying, “To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever”, Revelation 5:13.

God’s glory restored

After writing about our justification from sin before a holy God and marvelling at God’s grace toward us, Paul writes: “And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God”, Romans

5:2. Forgiven of all sin and able to stand before the Holy, Almighty God, our Christian hope is considerably better than any worldly offer.

In Romans 3:23 we read that because of sin everyone who has ever lived fell short of the glory of God. But in Romans 5:2 the hope of the glory of God is given back to every

person who has peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Our oneness with God and our being the very image of God were both destroyed by our sin. But our Saviour, the

Lord Jesus Christ, died for our sin to bring us back to God, reconciling wayward children with the heavenly Father.

At times in ministry I have asked, “Why am I doing what I am doing?” Christian service can be exhausting and even demoralising. I looked at others and continued with the question: “Why, Lord, have You led me in a way that makes earning a living and planning retirement so difficult for my wife and for me? The gentle but firm answer from the Lord is: “You have trusted Me for over 42 years of ministry. Now continue to trust Me into your later years. I have never let you down and I never will.” There is a deep, overwhelming joy in people who know their glorious God has secured a great future for them. God’s promises are enough.

A fruit of Christian character building

When passing through challenging times as Christians, when things are against us rather than for us, when we wish the outcome were different, remember this: “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us”,

Romans 5:3-5. I have always learned more in my Christian life during the tough times than in easy days. A life without challenges is not a life God can use. Since being told that the

cancer I had would kill me in two months, I have focused more on matters of life and death than ever before. Being present at the funerals of some of my laryngectomy

(surgical removal of the voice box) friends, I have seen the sharp distinction between dying in your sin and dying with the Saviour. Those who die in their sin die with absolutely

no hope for the future. They face hell. Those who die with the Saviour die with every hope in the right person, the Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore the right place, heaven. Life’s challenges turn some people away from God while similar challenges help others to let God mould, strengthen and use their lives for His glory.

Beyond this present life

Five times the word “hope” appears in Romans 8:18-25 and every time it means believing with absolute certainty. One day creation will be free from the decaying tendency it has

now. The planet will be “brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God”, verses 20-21. This hope, given us at our conversion to Christ, keeps us going through all our

present troubles. Although we cannot see evidence such as a court may demand, we still have this hope and assurance that our Lord Jesus will be true to His word, verses 24-25.

We believe with absolute certainty that the One who made the promise will do exactly what He has said. “I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be

with me that you also will be with me where I am”, John 14:3.

Affecting more than just people

Christians wait “eagerly” and “patiently”, Romans 8:23 and 25, for God’s promise to be fulfilled. While our full salvation will be when Jesus returns and takes us home to heaven,

our present salvation gives us this concrete hope. We may lose everything on this earth but we can lose nothing that is ours in the heavenly home to come. I must examine my life to see if I am expectantly and avidly desiring my Lord’s return. We may ask ourselves, “Do I look expectantly heavenward or are my eyes glued to things of this world?”

Around eight years ago I lost my voice box to cancer. God took back the voice He had lent to me for 57 years. I get very frustrated some days when I cannot talk. I get deeply depressed when I think of what I could have been doing in Africa now if I still had my voice. However the answer to my frustration and depression is clear. I hope with quiet, confident assurance to be in that heavenly crowd crying out in a loud voice (yes, even a laryngectomy like me will have a new voice then): “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb”, Revelation 7:10. If I could write those words loudly I would! I will be able to shout loudly then! My friends and family sometimes say that I am gloomy looking forward to my life beyond death, but I disagree with them. For me, like Paul, that will be far, far better than anything have now, Philippians 1:20-23. Perhaps I should thank God for my disability more than I do, as it has lifted my focus towards heaven?

Surprising joy in adversity

Paul urges Christ’s followers to “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer”, Romans 12:12. We can continually commit our circumstances to God, trusting Him to make our patience strong. He chooses to send us stiff examinations so that our patience can be refined and strengthened more and more. The Greek “patience” is

hupomone, meaning “living under”. Christian patience often only grows by persevering through trials. James wrote these words of encouragement: “Consider it pure joy, my

brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” and “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him”, James 1:2-4,12.

Hope is in God Himself

It is noteworthy that Paul ends his Roman letter “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the

Holy Spirit”, Romans 15:13. “The God of hope” – what a magnificent phrase! It is the exact opposite of those tragic and devastating words that we sometimes hear: “There is no hope”. The first phrase is delivering! I thank God for the definite hope He has given me.

Spills over to others

Having told us, “Through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope”, Romans 15:4, Paul says believers may “overflow with hope” as we trust in Him. The more we place our confidence in God the more He cements our hope for the future – especially our eternal future. The God of hope fills us with joy and peace in whatever experiences we are going through, verse 13. We are so full of hope that drops of joy

and peace splash over from us on to others we meet in our daily lives. We may even be able to introduce them to our God of hope as this happens.

A guarantee

Christian hope is the expectation and absolute confidence that what the Lord has done guarantees our participation in God’s future plans. The power of this braces our lives

against the temptations to despair or surrender to overwhelming events. God will never disappoint us. Everything we need to experience this hope is found in knowing our Lord Jesus better. May each one of us be committed to the God of hope. As we trust Him He will help us to spill over our Christian joy, peace and hope into daily life affecting all those around. Then together we can look forward to a really great future!

Suggested study

I have limited this study to Paul’s letter to the Romans. With the help of a Bible concordance it is beneficial to look up “hope” in the rest of the Bible.

In the Old Testament, Job, Psalms and Proverbs have multiple occurrences. There are 31 in Psalms alone such as this fine prayer: “May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you”, Psalm 33:22. If a concordance is not available start your study by looking at Psalms 25, 33, 42 and 119.

Interestingly, the only reference containing the word “hope” in the four Gospels, depending on your translation, is a quotation from Isaiah 42 found in Matthew 12:21.

Later in the New Testament, Acts contains several references to “hope” as Paul is giving his own testimony, Acts 23:6, 24:15, 26:6-7, 28:20. The “hope” we have seen written in Romans was also prominent in Paul’s speeches. Colossians 1 has three references while Timothy together with Titus have nine in my New International Version, including the lovely, collective phrase “Christ Jesus our hope”, 1 Timothy 1:1. The writer of Hebrews gives us seven more references and Peter gives five.

We will give the last word to John. He writes about God’s love in making us His children and in promising that we will ultimately become like Jesus when He comes a second

time. 1st John 3:3 says, “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” Surely there can be no clearer statement of the value of this hope to every true

Christian disciple? Hope always looks forward; it never looks back. For the Christian, “hope-full” lives are holy lives. I want my life to be so. How about you? The more we purify

ourselves, the more “holy hope” we will have in our lives.

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