Hope - An Essential Christian Ingredient
By Steve Stillman
1) Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: (2) By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (3) And not only [so], but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; (4) And patience, experience; and experience, hope: (5) And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. Romans 5:1-5.
There are many essential ingredients of the Christian faith that are important to us. The apostle Paul mentions three of these in the thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians; faith, hope and love. Paul also mentions that love is the greatest of all three essentials. I totally agree with Paul because without love we cannot fulfill the great commandment that Jesus laid out to the Pharisee lawyer who questioned Jesus. In other words, we cannot begin to be a Christian without loving God first and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. Love is talked about more than any of the essential ingredients of being a Christian. I want to deviate from the most discussed ingredient and address the ingredient of hope.
Do we need hope in these days? Most definitely we need hope! The symbol that has long stood before the U.S. Naval Academy chapel is an anchor which also bears the form of a cross. This anchor with the cross is the abiding symbol of hope. In the scripture above, the apostle Paul mentions hope. Paul says that we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, and hope maketh not ashamed. We need this hope that Paul writes about because of our daily disappointments and frustrations. When life becomes a mess, hope offers a way through. When occasional crises arise, such as illness, failure, difficulty, and sadness, hope enables us to survive these tremors that shake the foundations of our existence.
What can we say about hope that signifies it's importance in the Christian life and makes it so essential?
First, Paul is trying to tell us that hope is ours. "We rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God". We must realize the hope that we possess comes in different levels and means different things according to how we use the word. One kind of hope may only mean wishful thinking. Some people live their lives by daily hoping through luck things will change and become better. They hope that each day might be the day their ship comes in; that they may win a lottery or some fortune will fall upon them. For most people with this level of hope they live with a main problem that they never under gird their hopes with honest work. This level of hope, "wishful thinking", is just a substitute for work. Josh Billings, an American humorist once said, "I never knew a man who lived on hope but what spent his old age at somebody else's expense." Everyone does possess their own hopes. But the hopes a person possess which never rise above the level of just wishful thinking, don't just hurt the person who possesses the hopes, but effects others who are living under the umbrella of that person's hope as well.
A second kind of hope is reasonable expectation. A person may become seriously ill or injured in a terrible accident. His family and friends are filled with anxiety about his recovery. After receiving the best medical care available, his doctors may say to the patient and his family they have every reason to hope for the best. Having knowledge of similar cases they find it possible to have hope, for someone has just given them reasonable expectation of recovery.
The third level of hope is confident assurance. This is the hope the Apostle Paul is speaking of. It is a hope which is more than wishful thinking or reasonable expectation. It is the assurance of sharing the glory of God. Through our faith in Jesus, we have the confident assurance that we will partake in God's triumph over sin and death. Regardless of what is happening around us or directly to us; regardless of our crises', our discouragements, and the grim fact of death, we rejoice in what we are going to have. We can rejoice in the confident assurance that we shall share the glory of God. This confident assurance is free and ours for the taking.
Although hope is free it is hard taking. Paul says, "suffering (tribulations) produce patience (endurance), and patience (endurance) produces experience (character) and experience (character) produces hope. Hope begins in suffering. When a person suffers, hope may seem and may be far away. Hope follows hard on the heels of failure, illness, and discouragement. On the way to hope, suffering produces endurance. When an athlete trains for the big challenges, it is pain and suffering that produces the endurance necessary for the performance and to win the challenges that take place. Endurance produces character and brings God's approval. As we endure our value systems change. Little by little we learn what is important in life and what is unimportant. We learn what is worth striving for and what has empty meaning. As we endure we learn what God expects of us and what His plans for us are. In other words, what we work for and what we expect gradually come into line with what God wants for us. The poet Keats wrote: "The world is the vale of soul-making." God must look at the souls of men and women who have endured all kinds of suffering and achieved unusual depths of character and integrity.
God's approval creates "hope". When we become sure God has accepted us and affirmed us, we have reason to hope. When we begin to understand that God is on our side, though He may sometimes punish us, we never have to give up hoping.
The final thing to say about hope is that hope is reliable. The apostle Paul writes, "And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us." This hope that Paul writes about is reliable because it rests on God alone. True hope is not built on our intelligence, our character, or our connections. All of these fall short of the glory of God. Although we are created in God's image, our humanity continually shows through and in some ways dishonor God and brings shame to us. The future in which God is leading us can never be built on the foundations of human achievement. Our character apart from the grace of God cannot determine the Christian's hope. Hope is also reliable because it is certified by the Holy Spirit within us. As we enjoy the knowledge that the Holy Spirit is in us, He is transforming us and making us into new and different and better people.
The ingredient of hope in the Christian's life can help face life today and everyday. The ultimate enemy, death, cannot destroy our confident assurance that God will create new heavens and a new earth. Christians can have confident assurance that the crises that burst into their lives, whether they be in relationships, business, or health, cannot destroy the bright confidence that God is doing great things in their lives even in the hour of suffering. The little difficulties of everyday living are not too much for God. God has promised they will all be bearable and will shame us for becoming preoccupied with trivialities while He is offering us His glory.
We need to accept our daily and present suffering and look at it as a token of God's acceptance. Let us all continually renew our hope with each trial we suffer.
Stephen Stillman, husband, father of 2, grandfather of 4, and Hospice Chaplain.