NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER EIGHT (Lesson XXXIII)
Early church Patriarch Cyril imagines our corruptible mortal body as a heavy weight upon the immortal soul. That’s why our earthly body sometimes drags our mind through the valley of despair. But as soon as the Spirit comes to dwell in our scarred and burdened body, it releases the mind to explore the mountaintop of spiritual virtues. But that’s when our sinful tendencies jump up to try and pull us back down into the valley of immoral passions. Even our conscious knowledge of right and wrong fights to prevent our old bodily habits from regaining control because they are prone to silly degenerate desires. This begins a bitter struggle. Bishop Cyril feels that is another reason why we groan waiting for the liberation of our bodies as a benefit of being adopted as children of God.1
But Paul makes it clear that even though we sail on rough seas, we have a lifesaver called hope. So no matter what happens, hope will keep us afloat until we reach our goal. The problem for many, however, is that this lifesaver is invisible. You have to hold on to it by faith and trust it to work even though you can’t see it. Several early church scholars have insights to share on this message. For instance, Ambrosiaster notes that by hoping and praying for what God has promised to us through Christ, we are freely offered ourselves up for deliverance. Ambrosiaster concludes that since we have been set free, we should look forward in the hope that what is coming in the future will confirm everything we believe in the present.2
Chrysostom also preached that what Paul means here is that we are not to expect everything to be given to us in this life, but we are also to have hope for what awaits us in the future. The only thing we brought to God was our faith in the promises of what was to come, and it is by keeping that faith that we are saved. If we lose this hope, we lose a critical element that contributes to our final salvation.3 Then Pelagius reminds us that none of us have seen all the things promised to those who believe and endure, but we still live by faith in the hope that they are real. After all, what do we have to hope for if we already own what belongs to us? That’s why believers put no hope in what they currently possess. It’s that which has been promised and is yet to come.4 Then we have Patriarch Cyril’s exhortation that since we believe that one day our bodies will also overcome corruption and death, we must hold on to that hope for the time being because even though it is not yet present, it is a future certainty.5
So along with hope and faith, Paul says that another necessary ingredient is patience. One early church Bishop, who gave his life for the Gospel, found out that waiting patiently is required if we want to end up being all that we can be with God’s help. By doing so, we will one day get what we hoped for and believed was already ours.6 Then Ambrosiaster is sure that God approves of exercising our patience. By daily vigilance in hope, our desire grows to see the coming of our Lord and Savior in His kingdom. Such hope does not allow us to doubt and become weary because it is not here yet.7 And the great preacher Chrysostom makes the point that hope is feeling confidence in things to come. That’s why patience is the keyword to maintaining that confidence with much endurance. Furthermore, Paul clearly states that God only grants this to the ones who hope in order to comfort their weary soul.8
Augustine says that patience strengthens our longing. If God can wait, certainly we can wait. So walk on with confidence that you will one day safely reach your goal. And when you get there, you will find that He has not left the finish line you are destined to reach. He will be there to say: “Well done, you good and faithful servant.9”10 And Pelagius also gives us something to think about. He points out that our reward for having faith and being patience will be worth the wait because we believe it’s ready for us even though we’ve never seen it. And we can be sure that one day we will hold what is waiting for us so we can keep walking as though it’s already in our hands. As the writer of Hebrews says: “You have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised.”11
And early church scholar Bede uses an egg to illustrate that no chick is as yet discernible in a freshly laid egg. But the mother hen sits on that egg anticipating that the birth of the chick will come as hoped for. Likewise, it has not yet been shown to us what we are going to be. But we know that when He comes again, we will be like Him because we will see Him as He is.12 That’s why even though the faithful cannot yet get a glimpse of heaven, they know it’s coming and wait on tiptoes for the day it will appear.13
Martin Luther focuses on the fact that an expectation must remain unseen in order for it to be hope. He makes the interesting point that since hope grows out of the burning longing for that which is greatly desired, it makes love ever greater by the very distance that separates it.14 Luther goes on to say that because of such high tension, hope exists. This creates, so to speak, a unity between the one who hopes and that which they hope for. That certainly should translate into a truism that the longer one waits for something they desire, and hope for, the more they feel less than fulfilled without it. Unfortunately, in some Christian circles today people are having so much fun and are so satisfied with what they have now that preaching on our Lord’s return is more of an annoyance than an exciting expectation.
John Calvin put the emphasis on the fact that since hope looks at the future and not the present, it can never be connected with what we have in our possession. Calvin goes on to say, if it seems too heartbreaking for someone to groan, they may not realize it but they sabotage the method God put into effect whereby He does not send His people out to victory before He trains them in the warfare of patience. Calvin also says that since it pleased the Father to store the gem of our salvation in the heart of His Son Jesus, it is only right that we openly confess our faith and trust in Him as we labor here on earth. That will sometimes cause us to be oppressed, to mourn, to feel dejected. Yes, to push us until we reach the end of our rope, so to speak. Yet there are some who wish for eternal salvation to be given to them early so they no longer have to hope and endure persecution. But what they don’t realize is that the guardian of their eternal salvation is hope.15 When put that way, he is basically saying that our salvation can only be completed when we are transformed from this earthly sphere into the heavenly realm by our never-failing hope in the resurrection. In that case, while we are called, redeemed, sanctified, empowered, and glorified as children of God, our ultimate salvation still lies ahead. Then our hope will be realized when we are forever removed from the very presence and power of sin to a place where it can neither touch nor tempt us again.
Adam Clarke feels that Paul’s effort here is to show that not just believers are having a hard time coping with sin in this world, but that all of creation is suffering because of the disobedience of one man, Adam. This rebelliousness brought discomfit, disease, and death into the world as a curse. But God, in His mercy, quickly offered a plan of deliverance and thereby infused into every heart a hope that a more promising time would come, and because of the influence of such hope in everyone who possesses it, they will be more prepared and patient in coping with and enduring all the vanities that Adam’s sin spawned. Unfortunately, when that day came and the Messiah appeared, many of the Jews rejected Him, but to as many as did accept Him they received the right to become the children of God. As a result, those whom He has freed from the bondage of their sinful corruption, and brought them into the glorious liberty of the sons of God, they can now look forward with joyous expectation, waiting for the general resurrection, when their bodies also shall be redeemed from corruption, and the whole person, body and soul, are adopted into the family of heaven.16
On the subject of hope and salvation, Robert Haldane notes that here in verse 23 the Apostle Paul said: “We wait eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” By so doing, Paul gives all of us a reason for waiting. Because up until it is all said and done, we are saved only in hope. When it comes to our redemption, we need not wait because the ransom has already been delivered for our salvation. However, with respect to the power needed to put into our possession the salvation for which the price has been paid, namely, our deliverance from the remnants of sin under which we groan, we await the resurrection of our bodies that ushers us into the joy of our eternal inheritance. That’s why our ultimate salvation is kept alive and in effect, only by hope. That hope is already present within us. But to fully enjoy what that hope will bring, we must wait for the future resurrection day.
Then Haldane comments on Paul’s statement in verse 24 that, “Hope that is seen is no hope at all.” If someone asked Paul what he meant by that, he already provides the answer: “Who hopes for what they already have?” If you are holding something in your hand, or wearing it on your head, or see it sitting on a glass shelf, it is impossible then to hope for it. It is quite simple. Hope and Having are two ideas that are incompatible and inconsistent. However, even though believers are asked to carry on in hope, they are not left with empty hands. Paul said they have received a down payment and foretaste of their coming salvation.17 And even though they feel weighed down and under great pressure, because they know their bodies are still subject to death they do not get discouraged. It goes without saying that if they were already in the full possession of their salvation, faith would no longer be needed as assurance of things hoped for. This corresponds to what the Apostle says elsewhere when he exhorts believers to let their salvation be worked out.18 That’s because he will tell the Romans later that our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.19 So for Haldane, when it is said that we are saved in hope, it means that our complete joy is still dependent on the future. Therefore, any assurance that we enjoy now comes from the hope we have for what is yet to come. As a consequence, if we don’t have hope for it now, we will lose all the encouragement we have based on the prospect of its appearance.20
1 Cyril of Alexandria: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Ambrosiaster: on Paul’s Epistles, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 14
4 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 Cyril of Alexandria: Explanation of Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Cyprian: The Good of Patience 13
7 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 14
9 Matthew 25:21
10 Augustine: Homilies on 1 John 4.7
11 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 1 John 3:2
13 Bede: Homilies on the Gospels 11.14
14 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 126
15 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
16 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
17 2 Corinthians 8:16; Ephesians 1:14
18 Philippians 2:12
19 Romans 13:11
20 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 384