10 June 2017

Romans 8:22-27

“For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (vv. 24-25)

Psalm: Psalm 139


Maternal images crop up in a number of places in Paul's writings. As well as alluding to Old Testament female personifications of divine wisdom in his Christology (eg 1 Corinthians 1:24, 30; 2:6-8; Ephesians 3:9-11), the apostle also uses birth imagery to describe his call (Galatians 1:15; 1 Corinthians 15:8). Here in his letter to the Romans though, Paul's use of the imagery of labour is his most startling and vivid.

Paul uses an illustration of pain through childbirth (verse 22), which even now only female hearers or readers of his letter can fully appreciate, to describe the anguish of the wait of creation for the end of sin's control which commenced with the Fall. In verse 23 he widens the use of that image to include Christian believers. To fully comprehend Paul's argument here it is necessary to understand the nature of the process of adoption in Roman times. Firstly there was a private transaction which altered the status of the child of new parents; then there was a public proclamation which announced the fact to the wider world. For followers of Jesus then, the 'private transaction' of reception of the first fruits of the Holy Spirit in earthly life commences a wait for the 'public proclamation' of resurrection on the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30). That believers do not understand what this will entail is why their wait is sustained by a hope based not upon knowledge but upon faith (verses 24-25).

Believers wait, though, not alone but in the company of the Holy Spirit who both helps them in their prayers when words fail them (verse 26) but also intercedes for them (verse 27). Here the unity of purpose of Father and Spirit sustains believers as they wait for their promised inheritance in the Son.

To Ponder

  • Is the image of Christian life as one where we 'groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies' a helpful one? Why/why not?
  • How does Paul's description in verses 26-27 resonate with your experience of the Holy Spirit's role in your personal prayers?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Tim Woolley

The Revd Dr Tim Woolley is superintendent minister of the Hinckley Circuit in Leicestershire and an adjunct faculty member at Cliff College. Tim has a passion for Wesleyan theology and for fresh ways of being church and doing evangelism, and he is a vice chair of Methodist Evangelicals Together.