We are closing in on the end of Paul’s letter to the Romans. It’s a long letter; in fact, it’s Paul’s longest letter in which he has had a lot to say. As he is drawing the letter to a close, he does so with much love and encouragement.
Romans 15:13 “I pray that the God who gives hope will fill you with much joy and peace while you trust in him. Then your hope will overflow by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Hope. When you hear the word “hope” what comes to mind? Wishful thinking? A chance?
“The modern idea of hope is ‘to wish for, to expect, but without certainty of the fulfillment; to desire very much, but with no real assurance of getting your desire.‘ In Scripture, according to the Hebrew and Greek words translated by the word “hope” and according to the biblical usage, hope is an indication of certainty. “Hope” in Scripture means “a strong and confident expectation”[i]
With that in mind, let me re-read the first part of verse 13 of Romans 15 once again. “I pray that the God who gives certainty and confident expectation will fill you with much joy and peace while you trust in Him. Then your certainty and confident expectation will overflow by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
It takes on new meaning to us when we use the bolder and more definite words, doesn’t it? When we use the word “hope” it is often used as means of expressing wishes or desires. “I hope so.” “I hope all goes well.” “I hope that we get snow today.” It is often used when we feel there is sufficient doubt that we will receive what we desire, but we still cling to that glimmer of hope that we could receive it.
But hope as we know it isn’t what God gives us. What He gives us is so much more definite and assured. For that reason, when we place our trust in Him and see that He offers us more than wishful thinking, we are then overflowing with peace and joy. It’s a natural by-product. With God and the certainty that He gives us, we can confidently expect that He will always do what’s best for us. Knowing that and having that guarantee produces peacefulness and joyfulness if we allow it.
We aren’t guaranteed a lot in this life, are we? We experience chances and risks every single day. From a promised package not being delivered on time to coming down with COVID despite wearing your mask and washing your hands. We live in a state of uncertainty when it comes to things in this world. But God. God gives us the certainty that we don’t get anywhere else. We can be certain of Who He is and His love for us. We can be certain and trust that He will fill our lives with peace and joy even when circumstances are not what we would choose for them to be as long as we place our trust in Him.
There’s a phrase that I hear often from brothers and sisters in Christ and that is “I don’t know how people go through life without Jesus.” That’s because when our world is crumbling all around us, when the news is dire, the diagnosis is bad, we still have hope. We still have the certainty of God and because of that, we are able to be filled with peace and joy. This isn’t limited to just what happens to us. We are affected by what goes on in each other’s lives. When we see someone who can still praise Him in the midst of a crisis, that gives us peace. When we witness others who glorify God despite tragic circumstances, that gives us joy. Our experiences and how we respond affect those around us.
Consider this analogy: You are holding a cup of coffee when someone bumps into you, causing the coffee to spill.
Why did the coffee spill?
Many of us would respond, “Because someone bumped into me.”
The answer is: Because there was coffee in your cup.
If there had been tea, water, milk, soda or any other liquid in the cup, that is what would have spilled out.
Whatever is inside the cup is what will overflow.
Whenever life comes along and bumps into you – accidentally or expectedly – whatever is inside of YOU will spill out.
It is easy to fake it, making it appear everything is okay, until you get bumped into.
Ask yourself: “What is in my cup?”
When life gets tough, serving up challenges and frustrations as it most certainly will, what will spill from your cup?[ii]
What spills out of your cup may have a drastic effect on others around you. If we are filled with entitlement, arrogance, pride, then when life slams into us, what overflows onto those around us is the selfishness and bitterness of our sinful nature that makes everything look dreary.
If we are filled with the Holy Spirit and we permit the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us as He is purposed to do, then when we get bumped by the hiccups of life, what overflows onto those around us is the hope or the certainty and confident expectation of God that assures us that everything’s going to be okay.
Paul, as he is closing his letter to the people of Rome, he is encouraged by what fills their cups.
Romans 15: 14 ICB “My brothers, I am sure that you are full of goodness. I know that you have all the knowledge you need and that you are able to teach each other.”
What’s interesting is that he states that he is sure they are full of goodness. Other translations use different phrases. “I am confident.”, “I am convinced”, “I am persuaded” that you are full of goodness. I couldn’t help but think – What a nice thing to say about someone! Wouldn’t you love to have someone tell you that they are confident that you are full of goodness? But if you recall, just a few chapters back, Paul refers to himself as he writes in Romans 7:18 CSB “For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh.” If we fail to emphasize those last three words, it may sound as if Paul is hosting a pity party in which he is comparing the level of goodness in the Romans to the goodness in himself. He states that he is sure all of his readers are full of goodness when just a short time back he stated that he was sure that nothing good lived within himself. But he’s referring to the flesh, the sinful nature that all of us are born into. The goodness that fills us comes from the Holy Spirit. How full of the Holy Spirit our lives are, though, depends on us and how much control we relinquish.
Paul also says that he knows that they have all of the knowledge they need. Do we ever feel as if we have all of the knowledge we need? It seems to me that we never stop learning. Paul, however, seems to be convinced that the readers of his letter already know what they need to know. But just a short time earlier, back in Romans 11:33, Paul writes, “How deep are his wisdom and knowledge! Who can explain his decisions? Who can understand his ways? 34 As the scripture says, “Who knows the mind of the Lord? Who is able to give him advice?”
Let’s recap. So far, Paul writes in his closing that he is convinced they are full of goodness and have all of the knowledge they need although this seems to contradict what he wrote earlier on in this same letter. But the end of verse 14 is the qualifier. This, I believe, is what makes the difference. He writes that he knows that “You are able to teach one another.”
On our own, individually, the battle of goodness vs. evil is difficult. On our own, we lack all of the knowledge we need. But together, as we worship and grow in the Lord together, we, collectively, are full of goodness and we, collectively, do possess all of the knowledge we need BECAUSE we are able to teach one another. The Holy Spirit works among us so that we are able to witness each other as we encounter difficult times, challenges and draw strength and encouragement from that. The Holy Spirit uses us to speak truths to one another, to love on each other, and support one another. The Holy Spirit utilizes each of us to learn from each other and to help the growth of others. Hebrews 10 tells us that we should be concerned about one another, and we should gather together and encourage one another so as to promote love and good works. Hillary Clinton once said, “It takes a village to raise a child.” It also takes a village, a community of believers, a congregation to raise a child of God. I’m not finished growing and learning and neither are you. We need each other.
We have a contract with an exterminating company and they come out a few times each year to spray. It seems like every house I’ve ever lived in, with the exception of our current home, has been built on an ant mound. Ants drive me crazy because they are so difficult to get rid of. They are so numerous and so resilient.
There are some fascinating facts about ants, though. Things that we as Christians should consider.
Every ant in the colony has a job to do and every ant is necessary. The work they do as individuals may be small and seem insignificant but collectively ants have a huge workforce which enables them to get things done.
The different ants in the colony are specialists in their fields. This can range from ants which take care of recently hatched eggs, ants that take care of the queen and her brood. Other ants which are responsible for finding food and bringing it back to the nest for the others and ants that are responsible for defending the nest against predators and enemies. And finally, the queen who is responsible for laying eggs and increasing the population of ants. In fact, queens are capable of laying 1,000 eggs per day! And, there is only one queen in each colony.
Ants leave behind invisible chemical trails which other ants use to get to sources of food. We as humans see this as ants walking in the same lines towards the food in our pantry.
When they go out to look for food they leave behind traces of pheromones to guide other ants to the food using the easiest possible route. As more ants follow the trail more pheromones are left on the trail. This makes it easier for new ants to know how to get to food sources.
It is a well-known fact that ants are able to carry 50 times their body weight. When ants decide to work together they are even stronger than they are alone.
They work together as a team because they know that working together will give better results than working as individuals.[iii]
Now, keeping that in mind, let me read a portion of the letter Paul wrote to the Ephesians in chapter 4 TLB. “3 Try always to be led along together by the Holy Spirit and so be at peace with one another.
4 We are all parts of one body, we have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future. 5 For us there is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 and we all have the same God and Father who is over us all and in us all, and living through every part of us. 7 However, Christ has given each of us special abilities—whatever he wants us to have out of his rich storehouse of gifts.” 16” Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly, and each part in its own special way helps the other parts, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”
As members of the body of Christ, we all have responsibilities just like the ants. The Holy Spirit has gifted each of us so that we can contribute to the glory of God with our lives. Our gifts are unique and specialized for each of us. No two are alike because each of us is necessary. One gift isn’t any more important than another gift and so, therefore, no one of us is more important than another. What you have is something that someone else lacks. Substitutions are just not as good. We are meant to pray together, celebrate together, mourn together, praise together, do life together, worship together. Much like the ants, we each have a purpose. Are you fulfilling your specialized purpose?
As the ants search for food, they leave behind a trail so that others can follow. In other words, the ants are just as concerned that their fellow ants are being fed as much as they are concerned with feeding themselves. Are you concerned that your Christian sisters and brothers are being fed? With your life and the overflow of your cup, are you leaving a trail that leads others to the One Who sustains us, nourishes us, and grows us?
We’ve all encountered times when we felt the weight of the world on our shoulders. Times in which the darkness enveloped us. Moments when we just felt the hope, the certainty that God promises was just too slippery to hold onto. The load was heavy, weighing us down, too much to carry on our own. But hopefully, we think like ants. We realize if we share that load with others, asking for prayer, and having others lifting us; that enables us to bear it. If you’re like me looking back on some of the toughest times in life, you can see the clear evidence of the Holy Spirit working in those around you that provided encouragement and support that carried you through. Are you alert to the needs of those around you? Are you sensitive to the struggles that others are going through?
Is any of this new? No! We all know these things, but it helps to be reminded. In fact, Paul says just that in verse 15 of Romans 15. NASB “15 But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given to me from God”
I am a list person. I start my days off by making a list of things to accomplish on that day. I keep track of appointments, bills that are due, birthdays, goals, etc. on my phone in order to keep me reminded. So to be fair, if I need to be reminded to pay the mortgage by the first of the month or that I need to get lab work done at the doctor’s office, doesn’t it seem reasonable that I need spiritual reminders too?
I am on this eating program in which I eat or technically “fuel” my body every two and a half to every three hours. It’s been a most effective program in a lot of ways. I have an app on my phone that reminds me when it’s time to fuel my body. Sometimes the reminder isn’t necessary; I’ll find myself feeling a little hungry at the two and half-hour mark. But other times when I’m really busy and my mind is focused on doing something, that app is a great reminder that it’s time for fueling. Likewise, we need reminders to be spiritually fed and to see that others are spiritually fed on a regular basis in order to keep our lives fueled. When crisis hits or those hiccups in life come along, we may find ourselves spiritually hungry and we go the Word of God, we come to church, we get on our knees in order to satisfy that hunger. But when things are going smoothly and we find ourselves busy with life, we need to be reminded that regular fueling of God is critical. “Without you, God is still God. Without God, you are nothing.” (Author Unknown)
Romans 15:17 HCSB 17 “Therefore I have reason to boast in Christ Jesus regarding what pertains to God. 18 For I would not dare say anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to make the Gentiles obedient by word and deed, 19 by the power of miraculous signs and wonders, and by the power of God’s Spirit.”
Generally speaking, people love to brag. Ask about someone’s children, grandchildren, pets, favorite sports team; you’ll see some serious boasting take place. We all have something in our lives that we love to talk about. Paul did. In those three verses, (Romans 15:17-19) Paul brags on Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit. He saw the need to brag on Jesus. He found value in glorifying God. He delighted in acknowledging the power of the Holy Spirit in his own life. If Paul had been asked to write his autobiography, I can just imagine he could have summed it up in five short words: “To God be the Glory.”
Hasn’t God done some brag-worthy things in your life? Are you taking advantage of opportunities to boast about Him? Sometimes we just need each other to keep us reminded of that. We need to remember the words of Casting Crowns:
“Not because of who I am,
But because of what You’ve done.
Not because of what I’ve done,
But because of who You are.”[iv]
Galatians 6:14 NLT “As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died.”
[iv] Who Am I by Casting Crowns