NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER TWELVE (Lesson XXXI)
The Apostle Paul told the Colossians something that has happened to all of us. He wrote: “You must not change from what you believe now. You must not leave the hope of the Good News you received. The Good News was preached to you and to all the world.”1 And what was that good news? Paul goes on to say: “The secret is this: Christ in you brings hope of all the great things to come.”2 And this is what he told the Thessalonians: “Our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father loves us. Through His loving-favor, He gives us comfort and hope that lasts forever.”3
Then, when he wrote to young Timothy he begins with these words: “This letter is from Paul, a missionary of Jesus Christ. I am sent by God, the One Who saves, and by our Lord Jesus Christ Who is our hope.”4 And to his protegé Titus, Paul wrote: “This letter is from Paul, a servant owned by God, and a missionary of Jesus Christ. I have been sent to those God has chosen for Himself. I am to teach them the truth that leads to God-like living. This truth also gives hope of life that lasts forever.”5
Origen says that the person who not content with what is already available but eagerly awaits what is yet to come is the one who rejoices in hope6.7 And Chrysostom preached that when all these things are fuel for the fire of the Holy Spirit, there is nothing which makes the soul more courageous and venturesome than unshakable hope.8 Also, Augustine agrees with Origen that we rejoice in hope in order to look forward to what’s yet to come so that we can conduct ourselves cheerfully in the midst of troubles and trials.9 Then Pelagius writes that if we have the joy of hope for things yet to come, it can help us bear up under everything because of the joy that hope gives.10
In speaking about the role hope plays in the believer’s life as they attempt with all their heart, mind, and strength to carry out God’s will for their lives, Martin Luther believes strongly that when we rejoice in hope, it must not be just for what is present, things we have already experienced and learned to appreciate. There is nothing wrong when we rejoice in what we see, but that joy may not last very long. On the other hand, there is also rejoicing in what we cannot see, things we only posses by faith. That is certainly true of our abiding joy in eternal life.11 Luther goes on to say that such joy can only come when we put aside those things we possess here on earth and any desire we may have to experience good fortune as the basis for our joy. As long as we are able to do that and remain steadfast, Luther says we can then experience hope, and through hope to rejoicing.
John Calvin also speaks about the difference between joy and happiness. For those who learn to get along with what they have here and now, but always strive to rededicate themselves in seeking more of the kingdom of God, they will get excited about what the end will bring as they patiently persevere through their present tribulations. Whichever way it may go, Paul cautions against basing our happiness on present blessings so that our joy is grounded only on earth and on earthly things. Instead, he bids believers, put their eyes on things above so that they may possess them by faith solid and full joy. If our joy is derived from the hope of a future life, then our patience will grow during adversities this life, for no amount of sorrow will be able to overwhelm this joy. Here we find two things closely connected together: joy in hope, and patience in adversities. No person can calmly and quietly submit to bearing their cross unless they seek true joy beyond this world. They will be able to carry that cross and bear its burden by the consolation of hope.12
John Bengel declares that true joy is not only an emotion of the mind and a privilege of the heart but also a Christian duty.13 It is God’s way of bringing us contentment. It’s His desire that we rejoice and live out our spiritual lives joyously.14 Bengel is not saying here that God is demanding that we be happy or else. Rather, that with everything God so graciously bestows on us at His own great expense, that we should actively and persistently look for those things in which we can rejoice instead of moaning and groaning over those things that do not please us. In fact, Adam Clarke states that not only should we rejoice in what we have already been given, but our rejoicing in hope involves the glory of God that to each faithful follower of Christ will shortly be revealed.15
Robert Haldane also notes that again and again believers are encouraged to rejoice in the Lord. We do that every time we contemplate the One we serve, His person, His office, His power, His love, and our being in union with Him. Here, in the middle of Paul’s exhortations that they attend to their various duties, he wants the Romans to do so as they rejoice in hope. Hope is founded on faith and faith in God’s promises. Hope, then, respects what God has declared in His Word. We are exhorted to exercise hope in things yet to come and rejoice in those future things that hope reminds us of. What greater reason do we have to rejoice down here than the hope of obtaining the blessings of that will be ours up there? As long as we keep this hope alive, it will help raise us above the fear of man and worries about any honors we may miss in this world. That way, any shame that may come because of the cross we bear, it will enable us to endure that shame with dignity.16
Charles Hodge notes that Christians are encouraged to be joyful, patient, and prayerful. It doesn’t matter how tough the going may be, hope, patience, and prayer are not just duties, but the richest sources of comfort and support. Furthermore, the hope of our salvation is the most effective means of producing patience under present afflictions. That is especially true when we are convinced that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which will soon be revealed in us.17 That helps us keep our heads held up high as we await His coming and our eternal reward for being faithful and true.18
In his sermon on this text, Charles Spurgeon wondered how can anyone “rejoice in hope” if they know nothing about prayer and communion with the God of hope. Whenever our hope seems to fail us and our joy begins to fade away, the shortest way to get them back up and shining is to fall on our knees. As we pray, the Spirit reminds us of the promises we have and the hope that they are already ours by faith. That realization can cause joy to spring up from within. As far as “patience” is concerned, Spurgeon wonders how anyone can be patient if they don’t know how to pray? Have not holy men and women of old sustained themselves in their worst times of grief and depression by going to God in prayer? Jesus did it, the Apostles did it, the saints who came before us did it, so why can’t we do the same?19
Frédéric Godet tells us that the passion of our devotion, referred to in Romans 12:11, has no more powerful side effect than joy. That’s because joy has the effect of causing kindness to flow even to the point of self-sacrifice. But this applies only to Christian joy, to that which is kept alive in the heart by the glorious hope of faith. As Godet sees it, the passage in Romans 5:3-4, shows the intimate bond which unites this joy of hope with the patient endurance which the believer should display in the midst of their trials.20 And what better way to keep the heart beating with the joyful spring of hope than to remain prayerful. The Apostle says keep praying, it is one of a Christian’s more admirable and powerful characteristics.21
Karl Barth explains rejoicing in hope as, ethical behavior. The great hope which God sets before believers urges them to stay on the highway of holiness, not to get detoured onto the side-streets of this world. But is there anyone who does not want hope? And what is it that makes our hope an ethical action? Without a doubt, it is our rejoicing because our rejoicing means that hope is present. Too many want to everything now in this present world, they don’t want to wait for what has been promised in the world-to-come. This is the opposite of hope. To rejoice in hope means to know God in hope without seeing Him, and to be satisfied that it is so. This is what makes hope an ethical decision. For to hope in God turns hope into a joyful act which cannot be bought.22
Verse 12b: Be patient when you have troubles.
Not only should those who give themselves wholeheartedly to the ministry keep an open and positive outlook, but they must always be prepared for opposition and persecution. The Greek verb hypomenō that Paul uses here can be understood to denote remaining steadfast where you are. It can also mean to bravely and calmly persevere under adverse circumstances and do not retreat or flee because of ill-treatment. As we can see from the context, it would be this second meaning that Paul had in mind.
This call for patience was initiated by King David when he wrote: “Remain calm before the Lord and be willing to wait for Him [to act]. Don’t get upset when all goes well with those who succeed with their sinful ideas.”23 And to show that he was willing to follow his own device, David says that when he found himself in what he describes as a deep hole filled is muddy ooze, “I did not give up waiting for the Lord. And He turned toward me and heard my cry.”24 To extrapolate from what David says here, we can also project that when believers find themselves in situations that seem to have no “I’m okay, you’re okay” solution, the harder they try to do things on their own without God’s help the worse things become. This has proven true, especially for those in leadership positions. They just don’t want to besmirch their reputations or lessen the brightness of their halo.
1 Colossians 1:23
2 Ibid. 1:27
3 2 Thessalonians 2:16
4 1 Timothy 1:1
5 Titus 1:1-2a
6 See Romans 5:2
7 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 21
9 Augustine: Letter 55
10 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 175-176
12 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
13 See Romans 8:15
14 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 343
15 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 244
16 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 565
17 Romans 8:18
18 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
19 Charles Spurgeon: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Sermon (No. 1480) Delivered on Sunday Morning, June 22, 1879
20 Cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:3
21 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
22 Karl Barth: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
23 Psalm 37:7
24 Ibid. 40:1