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“Two Unbearable Words” -- The Nature of Christian Hope

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Two small words. When heard on the battlefield, in the hospital waiting room, or in our darkest thoughts, they bring despair. Two words that carry such anguish that no one can withstand their power. What, then, are these two unbearable words?

“No hope.”

Proverbs 18:14 tells us, “The spirit of a man can endure his sickness, but a broken spirit who can bear?” A broken spirit is a spirit without hope. The loss of hope is a terrible thing. Without hope, life’s troubles bring discouragement, depre ssion, despair, and even death. We can bear the doctor’s frightful diagnosis with hope for a cure. We can endure the separation from a loved one with hope for a reunion. We can endure certain death with the hope of eternal life and infinite joy in the presence of God forever. But where no hope exists—we are undone.

The Nature of Hope

The word “hope” generally expresses two different ideas. The more common meaning, especially outside of the Christian context, entails wishful thinking, the desire for something we might not receive. For instance, we may hope for a new job, or pray and hope for good health, while not knowing if we will receive them. We may hope for a better day but not know what a day may bring.

Hope also refers to a desire for something we are certain to receive, an assurance concerning the future. This is Christian hope. However uncertain our circumstances, or however God may answer our prayers, we know for certain He will work all things together for our good (Romans 8:28). As believers, we often have uncertain and certain hope at the same time. For instance, we may pray and hope for deliverance from a present trouble and not know if, when, or how God will answer our prayer (uncertain hope), while knowing He will ultimately deliver us and that our eternal destiny remains secure in Christ (certain hope). “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever” (Deuteronomy 29:29). Uncertain hope involves the “secret things,” while our sure hope rests on the “things revealed.”

The Object of Hope

Like faith, hope depends on its object. Hope can be false when we look to something or someone that cannot fulfill it: “A horse is a false hope for victory; nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength” (Psalm 33:17). Hope can be uncertain when it stands on something or someone that may not be able or willing to fulfill it. And hope is sure when it rests in something or someone absolutely able and willing to fulfill it (Christian hope). Like faith, the object of our hope is Christ: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1).

Christian Hope Stands on the Excellence of God the Father

God the Father began our hope by creating the plan for our eternal happiness and by sending Christ to accomplish it. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son…” (John 3:16). “For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you, who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:20-21).

Christian Hope Stands on the Excellence of God the Son

From a heart of love for His future bride, God the Son freely volunteered to become a man and purchase our hope according to the will of the Father. In so doing, His character and work would display the infinite excellence of God, the ultimate foundation of our faith and hope. Christ purchased us and qualified us to be His bride and God’s children, fitting us for heaven by satisfying God’s justice by perfect obedience unto death on the cross. By saving unworthy sinners, Christ satisfied God’s ultimate purpose to display His infinite excellence. In Christ we see God’s perfect power and faithfulness to fulfill His promises, His righteousness in satisfying His justice on our behalf, and His infinite love in suffering and dying to save us. “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).

Christian Hope Stands on the Excellence of God the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit guarantees our hope. He unites us to Christ, gives us spiritual eyes to see God’s excellence and the truth of His promises, and dwells in us to produce hope, faith, and love toward God in our hearts. “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). “For as many as may be the promises of God, in Him they are yes; wherefore also by Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us. Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge” (2 Corinthians 1:20-22).

Thus our hope stands on the infinite excellence of God, who will fulfill the hope He started, purchased, and produces in us. In the display of His glory in the person and work of Christ, He so exhibits His perfect character that He guarantees that He is able, willing, and certain to fulfill our hope in Him.

The Command to Hope

Like Faith, God tells us to have hope, while a lack of hope may stem from ignorance, a lack of attention to God and His promises, or unbelief. “O Israel, hope in the LORD, from this time forth and forever” (Psalm 131:3). “My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him” (Psalm 62:5). “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). “Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13).

The Nurture of Hope

As believers, we can easily fall prey to discouragement in a world of bad news and blasphemy of the excellence of Christ and the Gospel. But, despite our difficulties and bouts of gloom, we can’t afford to neglect Scripture, prayer, worship, fellowship, and ministry to others, because hope grows by an active love and pursuit of God in these things. Like faith and assurance, hope must be cultivated: “And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end” (Hebrews 6:11). Perseverance and Bible study strengthen hope, “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

“Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5: 1-5).

The more we know and love the infinite excellence of God in Christ, the more we long to be with Him where the beauty of His holiness shines the brightest. And the more we hope for heaven and His appearing, the more we will honor and obey Him, for a healthy hope not only produces comfort, joy, service, and prayer, it motivates faithfulness and purity. “The hope of the righteous is gladness” (Proverbs 10:28). “Give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer” (Romans 12:12). “We know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is. Everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2b-3). And as our hope encourages these things, so our diligence in them increases our hope.

“For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, "I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply you." And thus, having patiently waited, he obtained the promise. For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute. In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us” (Hebrews 6:10-20).

Therefore, as the storm clouds gather we need not despair, for our hope will soon be realized by eternal joy in the presence of Christ. Until then, we serve Christ and His body and seek that others may know Him, even as we grow in the comfort of His promises, the joy of His soon appearing, and the infinite bliss of being with Him forever. Amen.

Related Topics: Christian Life

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