To the Word

Reflections on the call to live by the Word of God

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Monday, December 06, 2004

The Glory of Our Weakness

Romans 8:26-30
Preached Sunday Morning, December 5, 2004
New York Avenue Church of Christ

May I see a show of hands—how many of us here are proud of our weakness? How many like to talk about our shortcomings?

If we really face up to the tasks before us, particularly as Christians, we can easily be overwhelmed by a sense of our own weakness: more sick brothers and sisters than we can visit and pray for, more needy people than we have time to help, too many lost souls to reach in one lifetime, more worthy causes than dollars to fund them. In fact, many Christians find that the harder we try to live godly, Christian lives, the more weak and ineffectual we find ourselves to be.

That’s where we begin today in our lesson text—with our weakness as Christians. It’s not always easy to face our frailty, but when we do we can receive a blessing from God. After beginning with weakness, this passage ends on a much more powerful note. As we’ll see, there is joy, power, and glory arising from our frailty, because in our weakness comes the very strength of God.

We see here, first, that the Spirit helps us in our weakness. That weakness can take a couple of different forms, as we’ve already seen in Romans. For non-Christians it manifests itself in slavery to sin in all its forms (Rom. 1-6). For Christians, our weakness shows itself in a failure in the flesh to live up to our calling as righteous children of God (Rom. 7). We’ve all heard people, usually outside or on the fringes of church, criticize men and women in the church for their failures to live godly lives. Well, it certainly is a serious and sad event when Christians sin, but it also happens to be why we need the church—to build one another up, to encourage one another and help one another be conformed to the image of Christ. Let’s praise God that the church accepts us—and more importantly, that God accepts us—as weak and sinful as we are.

Specifically here in Rom. 8:26, Paul is talking about our weakness in not knowing how we ought to pray. There are two possible meanings here: either we don’t know how to go about praying, or we don’t know what to ask for when we do pray. Both are probably true for all of us. For one thing, God wants us to come to him in prayer with faith and not doubt (Mk 11:24). He also wants us to pray according to his will (1 Jn 5:14). In both of those areas Christians often fall short—at least I know I do. I suspect that’s why we don’t see a lot of mountains splashing into the ocean (Mk. 11:23). It’s too easy, even for Christians, to pray in feeble hope rather than rock-solid faith. It’s also easy to pray simply for what we want rather than what God wants for us; we know that even Paul and Jesus himself didn’t receive what they asked for when they prayed that way.

So Christians are weak in our prayers. Yet here we see the source of our strength: “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Interceding—that means serving as our go-between to reconcile us with the Father. Have you ever had a serious situation—an illness, an injury, perhaps someone in your family was near death—and you asked every Christian you knew to pray for your loved one? We do that all the time with our prayer list, and that’s a very good, very powerful force when God’s people join their souls in bringing common prayers to the Father. But think of this: for Christians, the Holy Spirit sees the “prayer lists” of our hearts, and takes our petitions directly to the Father in language too deep and holy for us to understand.

Now that’s power! That’s the kind of prayer partner for me. Because we are loved and gifted by God with the Holy Spirit, our prayers become prayers not of weakness but of power.

Notice that the Spirit intercedes in groanings too deep for words. There’s a lot of power in words. God has spoken to us through the words of the prophets and the writers of the Scriptures. It’s no coincidence that both God’s oracles to us and God’s own Son are called the Word. But some truths are too deep for words, some messages too profound for language. Have you ever been sick or troubled and someone you loved just stayed there with you, without saying a word? There are times when the help we need is so great that it goes beyond anything language can do for us. That’s precisely the kind of help we get from God through the Holy Spirit’s intercession.

That’s also a clue to the secret of a right relationship with God. We benefit from the Spirit’s power, not our own. In other words, we don’t come to God the Father alone. We come with the help of the Spirit through the grace of Jesus Christ. All through this section of Romans we see the theme of intimate dependence on God. God wants a relationship beyond words—a relationship deep down in the heart. The Father searches our hearts—and Christians can rejoice that he sees the righteousness that comes through faith in Jesus Christ, who died and rose again to make us right with God.

In verse 28 we see another manifestation of God’s loving relationship with Christians: in everything God works for good for his people. There are a couple of different ways to translate this verse. The King James version has “all things” as the subject: “all things work together for good to them that love God.” The New International Version has God as the subject: “in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” Both are correct, but I think the second is better, because it makes it very clear where the credit goes. The point here is the sovereignty of God, and his loving care for his people. God is in control, and he’s taking good care of us. That’s important to remember, because most of the time when we look around us we simply don’t see it. The world around us is full of sin and chaos, and judging by our own best efforts, things often look very bad.

Still, it’s of utmost importance for Christians to trust God on this one. The Scriptures tell us, over and over again, that God is in control, whatever our eyes and our minds say. If we believe only what our own experience tells us, we will miss out on the sanctifying blessings God has in store for us. Christians are called to be conformed to the image of Christ, and we simply can’t do that if we don’t trust God to do what he has promised. We have to make up our minds that, whatever our own perception tells us, God is somehow in control to bring about good in our lives.

And here’s an important clarification. Just because we believe God is in control doesn’t mean we shut up asking questions. Every one of us has wondered—may be wondering now—why God allowed some particularly bad thing to happen. No matter how much we believe in God’s love for us, some things just don’t make sense. Some experiences are so hurtful, so damaging, leave us so scarred, that we wonder: How could God let that happen? How could any good possibly come out of that situation? Those are the very questions we ought to keep asking God, in faith. We know that he will eventually answer us (Lk 11:9), and in that answer we will find a blessing.

The rock bottom truth, then, is that God is working things out for his people. It doesn’t mean everything that happens is good. We live in a fallen world. Some things really are bad, and God does not want them to happen. God is not the author of evil (Jas. 1:13), but he can use even the evil of this fallen world to bring about good results. God is capable of turning any bad event into something good, from a godless Babylonian army, to the murder of an innocent man, through our own sins and falling away. God sometimes brings good into our lives through suffering. That doesn’t mean God wanted us to suffer. God may or may not want us to suffer in a particular situation. Sometimes we suffer not because God wants us to, but because there is evil and sin in the world. But God does turn even bad events into something good, and we can be blessed if we remember that.

Notice something else. Paul doesn’t say that God is working everything for good for every human being. God’s blessed work is for those “who love him, who are called according to his purposes.” I much prefer preaching joy and love to wrath and judgement. But if we look at this passage, the encouragement is one hundred percent to Christians and Christians only. There are no promises here for those who insist on resisting God. God may well be working things for the good of the lost, but if they’re running from God, they certainly shouldn’t expect to see it as something good. Tonight we’ll address this issue of calling and predestination—why some are saved and not others.

The picture here is of the wonderful blessings of God to Christians. We see the whole cycle of God’s love for us—the ones he foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified. That covers God’s love for us from before the beginning of time till after time itself has passed away. God “chose us in him before the foundation of the earth to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Eph. 1:4). It boggles the mind when we try to think about the hugeness of God’s eternal love for us. Our minds fall short of grasping the size of eternity.

And that’s a good thing, because it’s one more reminder of how much greater God is than we are. I take pride (maybe not all of it godly!) in being a member of the Church of Christ, because for generations members of the church have committed themselves to a deep, logical study of God’s Word. We take pride in our rational approach to Scripture and simply doing what it tells us. Yet we can’t understand the greatness of God’s eternal love with our minds. Here again we must depend on God, trust him that he has been working for our good from before the foundation of the world. And once again, that trust comes down to choosing to believe.

God chose us. What did he choose us for? For salvation, yes. For sanctification, yes. For joy, yes. Those are great gifts. But he chose us for something even greater: to be conformed to the image of his Son. In short, he chose us to be like Jesus. He wants us to be faithful, obedient, holy, powerful, glorified. In practice, of course, we fall short of our calling. We may struggle, we may pray, we may fully intend to live Christ-like lives, but we often don’t. But if we believe God’s Word, we know that one day we will be like Jesus. One day we will share in his glory. It’s such a sure thing that Paul describes it here like it’s already happened. That’s why God is working good in our lives right now, to prepare us for our new lives with him.

God has so much in store for his children. Earthly parents want good things for our own children. We feed our children well and give them safe places to live. We buy them clothes and give them opportunities to grow physically and mentally. We plan for their future and lay a little money aside if we can for college. Now sure, little children can drive their parents crazy at times. But have you ever just looked at a little child, especially your own, and been filled with warmth and love? Parents usually do this when their children are asleep, I think, because sleepy children aren’t as likely to be acting in ways that tempt their parents to want to strangle them. But it’s that warmth at our better moments, when we look at a little child and feel nothing but love and a desire to do anything to protect and nurture that little boy or little girl, that we come closest to God’s love for us. God wants good things for us, and if God is for us, who can be against us?

Knowing that God loves us—better than any mother or father on earth has ever loved their own child—has the power to transform us. I know that for me, most of my trouble comes from not believing, moment by moment, that God loves me and is working things out for my own good. We’re trained to believe what we see—all the chaos and hurry and worry around us. But in the midst of all the billions of troubles that surround and intersect our lives, Christians have a promise. We have the assurance that God is in control and working things out for us in ways we cannot possibly understand. When we live day-by-day, moment-by-moment in the knowledge of God’s love, we will be blessed.

Finding that blessed condition comes down to a choice. Will we decide to believe that God really is looking after us, or will we continue to blunder along on our own as if God didn’t even exist? Do we acknowledge our weakness and God’s loving strength, or do we try to pretend that on our own we have all the strength it takes to navigate the churning waves of a fallen world? It depends on what we choose.

From the weakness at the beginning of this passage, we end up here, with a choice. Do we choose to believe that God really is smarter than we are? Better than we are? That God loves us and wants us to be with him? If you’re not a Christian, the blessed choice is to believe and be saved. If we are Christians, the blessing comes when we stop trying to be smart enough, good enough, holy and devout enough on our own. We are called to stand before God in recognition of our weakness!

When we do, a wonderful thing happens. We move from weakness to glory. We are blessed with God’s own glory and power. With that power we can overcome the world and its temptations, the Devil and his powers, the frustration and despair and hopelessness that come from trying to make it through life without God’s power. When in our weakness we lean upon God and trust in him for our strength, we find that “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom 8:38).

Copyright 2004, New York Avenue Church of Christ


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