The faithfulness of God to do what he said he would do, and be who he said he would be, is the great source of deep and durable hope. “I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised,” Romans 15:8–9 says, “to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.”
A beloved hymn has given us words to cling to in the hardest seasons of life:
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
These words are perennially sung, and with such resonance, because in dry and weary lands like ours, hope can often be hard to come by. Have you consistently felt bright hope for tomorrow over the last year?
The pandemic seemed to knock hope out of many, not because there wasn’t an expectation that a vaccine would come and the virus would pass, but because of the way Christians acted toward one another, even within the same local body. Deepening tensions seem to have dashed our hopes of multiethnic gospel communities against the rocks of debates over race and justice. Political idolatry with the smell of both a donkey and an elephant seemed to have overpowered the fragrance of hope that should characterize Christ’s people. Poisonous bogs from the jungles of social media appeared to have suffocated the refreshing air of hope we once shared. We could go on and on — impossible marriages, wayward children, lingering sickness, chronic pain, unexpected loss, disappointments and failures, pain and suffering, and so many more shadows in our stories. Can hope be found here?
As Job said of wisdom, so we might say of hope: “God understands the way to it, and he knows its place” (Job 28:23) — because he is its place. He is the God of hope (Romans 15:13), and as Paul tells us, his word is the wellspring of our encouragement. And the particular word Paul had in mind, at least here, was the Old Testament.
Surprising Source of Hope
The book of Romans drips with hope. We are told to rejoice in hope (Romans 12:12). More specifically, we are to rejoice and boast in the hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:2). Enduring suffering well, we are told, builds godly character, and that character produces hope (Romans 5:3–5). We are saved in the hope of being adopted as sons, and receiving redeemed bodies like our risen and ascended Lord (Romans 8:24). Even creation itself was subjected to futility in hope (Romans 8:20).
“The entire Old Testament shows and instructs us that God will do what he says he will do.”
God, through the apostle Paul, treats the reader to a flurry of hope as the letter nears the end in Romans 15. In the context of difficult relationships, where hope can be especially hard to find, he instructs those who are strong in the faith to humble themselves and love the weak, imitating Christ, who sought the good of his neighbor and did not seek to please himself.
The apostle grounds this love by going back to the Old Testament, saying, “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). He says this of the Old Testament. When trials have risen and hope has dwindled, how often have you turned to Genesis or Leviticus, Psalms or Proverbs, Isaiah or Ezekiel?