The word of the day is ”hope.” We live in an age whose cynicism borders on hopelessness. Many are skeptical of everything. They question everything but their own opinions, notions based on their own self-interest. In this ocean of doubt, some treat our hope in Christ as a wish that we cast into the future like a message-in-a-bottle is thrown into the sea.
But in today’s reading of Romans 15:7-16, Paul closes the body of his letter with a benediction. In this beautiful sentence, Paul prays for the greatest of blessings—that the believers in Rome would “abound in peace.” He writes, “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). Our study today will show that our hope in Christ is not an empty wish or a hollow fantasy. It has its basis in belief in Christ. It is grounded in our relationship to Christ and confirmed and strengthened by the peace and joy that are the fruit of faith.
Hope Is the Expectation of Future Goodness
Paul ends his blessing of the Romans congregation with the prayer that they “abound,” that is, they prosper, in hope. Indeed, that flourishing in the expectation of the fulfillment of God’s promises is a fitting goal for the flock. To translate literally, all that Paul prays for is “unto hope.” The thought of expectation is the root of the Greek word for hope (Strong’s #1679, 85). Thus, hope is the confident anticipation of the future, an entirely good outcome. Hopefulness looks forward to the final completion of all that God is doing in the church and the lives of the congregation. Thus, it is the consummation of everything that Paul has proclaimed and advised in His letter.
The apostles write to the Hebrews, saying, “Hope that is seen is not hope” (Romans 8:27). But that does not mean it has no basis. Our reading teaches that the essential foundation of hope is belief that produces joy and peace.
Believing is the Foundation of Hope
The word that Paul uses for believing has the same derivation as faith. Both believing and faith stem from the thoughts of persuasion and conviction (Strong’s #4100, 202). The apostle teaches in Hebrews, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The word “substance” has the literal meaning of “what stands under” (Strong’s #5287, 260). That is, believing and its associated term, faith, refer to the foundation of our looking forward to the future.
Hope, therefore, is not empty. It is not desperate longings thrown into the unknown future. Hope must have something or someone to believe in, a trusted supplier that will bring about the goodness it expects. That confidence in the source of hope is built from the experience of trust. That means for believers our relationship with Jesus Christ is the foundation of our hope. We have our hope “in Him,” just as the apostle says, “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11). The closer we are to Christ, and the more we abide in Him, the stronger our hope will be.
Hope is the Root of Happiness, Joy, and Peace
Yet, Paul says that we have “joy and peace in believing” (OSB vs. 15). Because of these blessings, we “abound” in hope. Augustine wrote, “Though human life is compelled to be wretched by all the grievous evils of this world, it is happy in the expectation of the world to come”—that is to say, in eternity” (Augustine. City of God. 19.4 quoted in Metcalfe 2012, 240). In Augustine’s view, despite the corruption and death of this world, the hope for eternity is the foundation of all human happiness.
It is also the root of joy and peace. How can we have lasting joy without the hope of the resurrection beyond death? And who can have peace of mind, heart, and soul without the expectation that all our troubles and sorrows will reach their end in the blessed life of eternity?
Paul wrote, “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking but righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit” (OSB Romans 14:17). Along with righteousness, the peace and joy that come from believing in Christ are characteristics of the kingdom of God. Given by the Holy Spirit, these emotions confirm our faith, for they are the fruit of faith. Moreover, the peace and joy that we have now in this world give evidence of the coming fulfillment of the kingdom when we experience these blessings forever. Therefore, we do not have a desperate and impossible hope as if we were hopelessly lost in a raging sea. But the apostle writes in Hebrews, “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast (OSB Hebrews 6:19).
Metcalfe, Jeffrey S. 2012. “Hoping Without a Future: Augustine’s Theological Virtues Beyond Melancholia.” Anglican Theological Review.