Sermon Commentary for Sunday, May 19, 2024

Romans 8:22-27 Commentary

It is a grace that patience is one of the Holy Spirit’s fruits. Otherwise patience would be in far shorter supply, if not non-existent in 21st century society. After all, in an age of things like high speed internet and microwave ovens, we just don’t get much practice at being patient.

Is that a reason why it can be so hard to be patient when we need to be? When wars and famine take so many lives and threaten countless others. When friends and family members suffer deeply from mental and physical illness. When the Spirit seems to take so long to conform us more and more to the likeness of Jesus Christ.

John’s 21st century readers’ struggles to be patient may strengthen this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson’s attraction for us. After all, in verse 25 the apostle writes, “If we hope [elpizomen]* for what we do not yet have [blepomen], we wait for it [apekdechometha] patiently [di’ hypomones].”

The Greek word that we translate as “patient” suggests that our waiting is not necessarily an easy waiting, but one that requires a healthy dose of grit and tenacity. Hypomones (“patience”) can also, after all, be translated as “steadfastness” or “endurance.”

A colleague recently completed treatment for an aggressive type of cancer. The medication she received to treat it caused her great misery. But part of the reason she could endure her suffering was that she looks forward to what she does not yet see, but hopes will be God’s timely and complete healing of her cancer.

Just outside of this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson’s pericope John explains what God’s dearly beloved people hope for but don’t yet see. (While the NIV translates verse 25’s blepomen as “have,” the word is more commonly translated as a form of to “see”). In verses 20ff. the apostle says that the creation exists “in hope [eph’ elpidi] that [it] will be liberated [eleutherothesetai] from its bondage [douleias] to decay [phthoras] and brought into the glorious [doxes] freedom [eleutherian] of the children of God.”

The whole creation is, in fact, John goes on to write in 22, “groaning [systenezai] as in the pains of childbirth [synodenei].” God’s creation is suffering because it does not yet experience the liberation from its misery that God has in store for it. Yet while the creation is suffering deeply, John doesn’t claim that it’s patiently awaiting the glorious freedom that God has planned for it. That may be because while God’s creation somehow experiences misery, it doesn’t yet know what or Who will graciously alleviate that misery.

“We ourselves,” the apostle adds in verse 23, “who have the firstfruits [aparchen] of the Spirit, groan [stenazomen] inwardly [autoi en] as we wait eagerly [apekdechomenoi] for our adoption as sons [huiothesian], the redemption [apolutrosin] of our bodies.” Humans share some of the creation’s pain and suffering. But on this Pentecost Sunday, God’s dearly beloved people remember how God’s Spirit has graced God’s Spirit’s residences with an advantage over the creation. Because we know the antidote for our great misery, we can patiently wait for it.

That cure for which we patiently wait has two components: our knowledge that God will both adopt us as God’s children and redeem our whole persons. God has already graciously declared God’s beloved people to be God’s sons and daughters. However, we still await that adoption’s completion in the new earth and heaven. After all, while God has declared us to be adopted, we don’t yet always act like God’s adopted children. Nor do Christians always feel like God’s adopted sons and daughters. That will only happen in the new creation.

What’s more, God has redeemed our “bodies.” Yet our bodies still suffer from the effects of both our sin and which is committed against us. So our experience of our full rescue awaits Christ’s return at the end of measured time. Yet Jesus’ friends can patiently wait for our full adoption and redemption because we know it’s coming, by God’s amazing grace.

In this “hope” [elpidi], Paul adds somewhat mysteriously in verse 24a, “we are saved [esothemen].” It isn’t, of course, God’s dearly beloved people’s hope that rescues us. We are saved, instead, by God’s grace alone that we can only receive with our faith. So Paul may mean little more than this: in the midst of our hope of our full adoption, we already experience God’s salvation. Even in the midst of our suffering, Jesus’ redeemed friends can wait patiently for that for which we hope.

Of course, God’s living adopted children don’t yet “see [blepomene] (24b)” or “have” that for which we hope. If, after all, as the apostle intimates, we had or saw it we could no longer call it “hope.” Then our hope would be something like Christians’ “possession.”

At this point preachers may want to let the Spirit help us explore with our hearers the kind of “hope” to which the apostle refers. After all, we sometimes confuse our hopes with our wishes. I may, for example, hope that the Detroit Tigers win the World Series this year or that it will finally rain on our thirsty part of God’s creation tomorrow. But I have no guarantee either of those hopes will be fulfilled.

Christian hope is something entirely different. While Jesus’ friends don’t yet see either our full adoption or salvation, by God’s grace our hopes for them are far more than mere wishes or desires. God guarantees our adoption and redemption. So God’s dearly beloved people can wait for them patiently. The Spirit convinces us that they are still coming.

When John goes on to write in verse 26 that “the Spirit helps us [synantilambanetai] in our weakness [astheneia],” we easily assume he’s referring to our spiritual or physical weakness. But what if the apostle is also referring to the weakness of our patience? The Message’s paraphrase may even leave room for that interpretation of verse 26: “Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along.” When, in other words, we lose patience with God’s plans and purposes, the Spirit graciously strengthens our patience.

In fact, John continues in verse 26, “We do not know [oidamen] what we ought to pray for [proseuxometha], but the Spirit himself intercedes for us [hyperentychanei] with groans [stenagmois] that words cannot express [alaletois].” If that for which we don’t know exactly how to pray is patience in our wait for our redemption and adoption, the Spirit acts to help us pray for more patience. The Spirit, The Message paraphrases verse 26 as claiming, “Does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.”

It is sometimes very hard to wait patiently for God to finish God’s rescue of the creation, as well God’s full redemption and adoption of God’s dearly beloved people. Thankfully, then, God doesn’t just rescue us and make us part of God’s family. God also actively works to strengthen our patience with God, as well as God’s plans and purposes.

*I have here and elsewhere added in brackets the Greek words for the English words the NIV translation uses.


The Ungrateful Refugee’s author Dina Nayeri was an Iranian refugee as a child. She struggled to be patient. In her book she writes: “People think of the refugee camp as a purgatory, a liminal shale without shape or color … Journalists and aid workers who visit camps often comment on this aspect of the psyche … How can they endure the limbo?

“Since Hotel Barba [where Nayeri was a refugee in Italy], all waiting has been agony for me, and I’ve been obsessed with the idea of it. Why does it feel like an insult to wait for anything? Why does patience seem like one of those manipulative, sinister virtues invented to debase and subdue like chastity or poverty. Who waits least in the world?

“In A Lover’s Discourse … Roland Barthes says that waiting robs you of your sense of proportion … It is the ultimate indignity, to be made to wait; and power is to impose it.”


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