One Motive for Caring for the Environment (Romans 8:21)

In this past Sunday’s sermon, time did not allow me to develop the following point. The fact that creation will be restored in the New Heavens and the New Earth is motivation for Christians to care wisely for plants and animals, to be good stewards of the environment, to oppose pollutants that defile creation, and to promote the beauty and fruitfulness of nature.

Regarding the future restoration of creation, here are Douglas J. Moo’s comments on Romans 8:21:

Creation, helplessly enslaved to the decay that rules this world after the Fall, exists in the hope that it will be set free to participate in the eschatological glory to be enjoyed by God’s children. Paul describes this glory in terms of freedom; we might paraphrase: “the freedom that is associated with the state of glory to which the children of God are destined”…. The idea of creation “being set free” strongly suggests that the ultimate destiny of creation is not annihilation but transformation. The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT (Eerdmans, 1996), p. 517.

And then, here is Francis Schaeffer on how future restoration should impact our behavior in the present:

On the basis of the fact that there is going to be total redemption in the future, not only of man but of all creation, the Christian who believes the Bible should be the man who — with God’s help and in the power of the Holy Spirit — is treating nature now in the direction of the way nature will be then. It will not now be perfect, but there should be something substantial or we have missed our calling. God’s calling to the Christian now, and to the Christian community, in the area of nature (just as it is in the area of personal Christian living in true spirituality) is that we should exhibit a substantial healing here and now, between man and nature, and nature and itself, as far as Christians can bring it to pass. Pollution and the Death of Man in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer (Crossway, 1982), vol. 5, pp. 39-40.


How Should We Translate and Interpret Romans 8:26-27?

Romans 8:26-27 challenges translators and interpreters at numerous points. Come explore some of these with me in a Q & A format.

How do these verses relate to the context?
There are two connections: the Holy Spirit and Suffering. The believer’s life in the Holy Spirit is the main topic of verses 2-16. Within these verses, note that verse 15 describes something similar to verses 26-27 — Spirit-aided prayer. The next major block within chapter 8 is verses 17-25, and here the focus is on suffering. Within this section, verse 23 is noteworthy for its pairing of the Spirit and suffering — the Spirit gives suffering believers a preliminary experience future glory. Verse 26 extends the suffering theme with references to the believers’ weakness, ignorance as to what to pray for, and groanings (“groaning” also appears in verses 22 and 23). In this context of suffering, then, verses 26-27 focus on the Spirit’s ministry of intercession.

How should we understand the word “Likewise” (NIV: “In the same way”) at the head of verse 26?
Verses 18-25 speak of God’s gracious provision for our suffering — the promise of glory on the far side of suffering. Verses 26-27 present another gracious provision — the gift of the Holy Spirit who helps us pray when suffering.

Are the groanings of verse 26 “too deep for words” (ESV) or “wordless” (NIV)?
To restate the question, the groans could consist of (a) thoughts so profound that human language is incapable of expressing them, or (b) sounds that do not include any recognizable words. See under the next heading for why I prefer the second option.

Who is uttering the groans of verse 26, the believer or the Holy Spirit?
The Greek text is ambiguous as to the answer to this question. Perhaps Paul left this ambiguous because both the believer and the Spirit are groaning. But I think the better option is to take the Greek phrase for “wordless groans” as a dative of reference: “The Spirit intercedes in regard to the wordless groans.” Paul expects his readers to understand that the groans are the same groans that he described in verse 23 (the groans of believers), and that these groans are wordless because, as he has just stated, the believers do not know what to pray for. We suffer, we don’t know what God’s will is in our suffering, and we groan without making a specific request. The Spirit carries our groaning to the Father on our behalf. Verse 27 will expand upon this.

Is “he who searches hearts” in verse 27 the Father or the Spirit?
Given the context (the believer groaning and the Spirit carrying that groaned prayer to the Father), it would make most sense if this is a reference to the Holy Spirit who searches the hearts of believers. What we are about to see is that the Spirit not only hears the groans, but also understands the heart behind the groans. It is also worth noting that the only other place that Paul uses this particular verb for searching is 1 Corinthians 2:10: “…the Spirit searches everything….”

How should we understand the phrase that is translated as “the mind of the Spirit” in verse 27, given the fact that the exact same Greek phrase (phronēma tou pneumatos) is found in verse 6 and translated there as “the mind set on the Spirit” (NASB)?
We should understand it as a reference to the mind of the groaning believer. Paul moves now to the next logical step. The Spirit knows the mind underneath the groans. Because the believer’s mind is set on the Spirit, and because the Spirit knows the believer’s mind, the Spirit can bring our deepest desires to the Father when we cannot express those desires with words. The repetition of the Greek words for “what” and “know” creates a parallel between the middle line of v. 26 and the first line of v. 27: what to pray for, we don’t know; but the Spirit knows what the mind set on the Spirit is. We don’t know what to request, but the Spirit knows our mindset, and he turns that mindset into a prayer that he presents to the Father on our behalf.

How should we understand the last line of verse 27?
The Greek preposition that is translated “according to” in verse 27 mirrors the use of same preposition in verse 26: “according to how we ought….” This repetition highlights the contrast between the believer and the Spirit. Suffering believers sometimes don’t know how to pray according to God’s will, but the Holy Spirit does. The conjunction in the middle of verse 27 should be translated “so that” (a consecutive hoti): the Spirit knows the believer’s mind so that he can intercede.

Of all the different terms that Paul could have used to describe Christians, why did he choose the word “saints” at the end of verse 27?
The word “saints” means “holy ones,” and the term “holy” is especially used to describe the Spirit. The term “saints” concisely references the fact that believers have an intimate connection to the Holy Spirit who is making them holy.

Putting all of this together, how do you translate verses 26-27?
Likewise also, the Spirit is helping us in our weakness. For we do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself is interceding for us with respect to our wordless groans. He who searches hearts knows what is the mind that is set on the Spirit so that, with prayer that is according to the will of God, he intercedes for the saints.
[Italicized words are interpretive additions].

Paraphrasing into simple English, I get something like this: Also in this age of suffering, the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. We don’t know what we should ask God for. The Holy Spirit, however, intercedes for us and our wordless groans. The Spirit who searches our hearts knows our Spirit-oriented mindset. This way he can intercede for us saints, and he does so with prayer that is in harmony with God’s will.

Works Consulted:
Kenneth Berding, “Who Searches Hearts and What Does He Know in Romans 8:27?” JBPR 5 (Fall 2013).
C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. T&T Clark, 1975.
Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans. NICNT. Eerdmans, 1996.
Peter O’Brien, “Romans 8:26, 27. A Revolutionary Approach to Prayer?” RTR 46 (1987).
Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology. J. R. De Witt, trans. Eerdmans, 1975. Pages 227-228.


Thoughts On Psalm 31

This Sunday we will be reading Psalm 31. From various commentators:

The theme permeating the entire psalm is trust and the fulfillment of that trust. The psalmist, lamenting his distress, comes to God in prayer, but even as he prays, his spirit sours upward toward trust in God. That his trust was fulfilled and properly placed becomes evident in the concluding praise and thanksgiving. –Peter Craigie & Marvin Tate

An unusual feature of this psalm is that it makes the journey twice over from anguish to assurance: first in 1-8 and again in 9-24. –Derek Kidner

The psalm has been called a model of prayer that is confident of being heard. This confidence informs the prayer from start to finish; to pray this psalm is to be led into and instructed in this confidence. But the confidence of the prayer is not in any respect a virtue of the one who prays. It is, rather, a possibility that is based on the character of the one to whom the prayer is made. The psalm speaks to the Lord as the ‘el ’emet [God of faithfulness] (v. 5), the God who can be relied on and believed in because he is true to himself and continues always to be what he has shown himself to be.– James L. Mays

God owns his saints when others are ashamed to acknowledge them; he never refuses to know his friends (v. 7b). He thinks not the worse of them for their rags and tatters. He does not misjudge them and cast them off when their faces are lean with sickness, or their hearts heavy with despondency. –Charles Spurgeon

The deepening demoralization of the victim, from gloom to hopelessness (12) and terror (13), shows how murderous is the impact of hatred, especially when it takes the form of rejection. –Derek Kidner

In verse 14, I and thee are emphatic, as David wrests the initiative from his enemies and deliberately turns in a new direction. –Derek Kidner

“My times are in your hand” (v. 15) means: my destiny (the occasions when things happen that determine my life) is in the hand of God. — James L. Mays

As a provident man will regulate his liberality toward all men in such a manner as not to defraud his children or family, nor impoverish his own house by spending his substance prodigally on others; so God, in like manner, in exercising his beneficence to aliens from his family, knows how to reserve for his own children that which belongs to them (v. 19), as it were by hereditary right; that is to say, because of their adoption. –John Calvin

Christian courage (v. 24) may thus be described. It is the undaunted audacity of a sanctified heart in adventuring upon difficulties and undergoing hardships for a good cause upon the call of God. The genus, the common nature of it is an undaunted audacity. –Simeon Ash

The words that Jesus quotes [at Luke 23:46] from Psalm 31 do not express the alarm, distress, and lament that are also present in the psalm, but rather focus on the element of confidence and trust in God. Jesus’ death, accompanied by the words of the psalmist, “Father, into your hand I commend my spirit,” is portrayed as a proactive event, as a gesture of confidence. Since Luke places the passion narrative in Luke 22:37 into the horizon of Isa. 53 [with a quotation from Isa. 53:12], the voluntary nature of Jesus’ death is thus emphasized by the quotation of Ps. 31:5: as the vicarious death of the Suffering Servant in Isa. 53 was compared with the lamb that goes to the altar to be killed as sacrificial victim, so Jesus went to his death voluntarily. –David Pao & Eckhard Schnabel

Why not stop for a moment now and read the psalm itself?


Thoughts on Psalm 28

This Sunday we will be reading Psalm 28. From various commentators:

The thorn at the breast of the nightingale was said by the old naturalists to make it sing: David’s griefs made him eloquent in holy psalmody. The main pleading of this psalm is that the suppliant may not be confounded with the workers of iniquity for whom he expresses the utmost abhorrence; it may suit any slandered saint who, being misunderstood by men, and treated by them as an unworthy character, is anxious to stand aright before the bar of God. — Charles H. Spurgeon

Dear reader, in the time of your trouble, do not roam. Fix your heart as the psalmist did, and say, “Unto thee will I cry.” Oh, how happy is that man, who feels and knows that when trouble comes, he cannot be bewildered and confused by the stroke, no matter how heavy it may be. His is no vague theory of the general sympathy of God for man; his is a knowledge of God, as a personal and feeling God; he says with the psalmist, “Unto thee will I cry.” — Philip Bennett Power

The petition to be helped (verses 3-5) combines a plea not to be dealt with as one of the wicked with a request that the Lord give the wicked what their conduct deserves.– James L. Mays

David, being free from every evil passion, and likewise endued with the spirit of discretion and judgment, pleads here (verses 4-5) not so much for his own cause as the cause of God. And by this prayer, he further reminds both himself and the faithful, that although the wicked may give themselves loose reigns in the commission of every species of vice with impunity for a time, they must at length stand before the judgment-seat of God. –John Calvin

The first half of the psalm prayed for deliverance and for judgment; the second half gives thanks for both. If the poet wrote the psalm at one sitting, then at this point (verse 6) the certainty of being answered dawns upon him. — Keil & Delitzsch

Faith substantiates things not yet seen; it alters the tenses, and puts the future into the present tense as here (verses 6-7). — John Trapp

The pictures of God’s saving power, both active (strength…shepherd) and defensive (shield…refuge), come in profusion now (verses 6-9), enriching the praise; but the solitary metaphor in verse 1, “my rock,” perhaps outbids them all, as the urgent cry of faith under trial. — Derek Kidner

Oh, sweet consolation! If a man have a burden on him, yet if he have strength (verse 7) added to him, if the burden be doubled, yet if his strength be tripled, the burden will not be heavier, but lighter than it was before to his natural strength; so if our afflictions be heavy, and we cry out, “Oh, we cannot bear them!” yet if we cannot bear them with our own strength, why may we not bear them with the strength of Jesus Christ? — Isaac Ambrose

David now (verse 8) builds on the fact that he is more than a private citizen. As the Lord’s anointed (a term which grew into the word Messiah) he stood for his people, and God’s grace must be meant for them as well. –Derek Kidner

The psalm holds the individual, the anointed, and the people of the Lord together in that inseparable unity which belongs to the purpose of God. — James L. Mays

The Lord Jesus may be seen here (verses 8-9) pleading as the representative of his people. — Charles H. Spurgeon

The metaphor of the flock, an everyday feature of Jewish life, pervades the Old Testament. God himself was known as Israel’s Shepherd (verse 9), and his people are the sheep of his pasture. In John 10:1-21 Jesus sees himself as embodying the characteristics and expectations attached to this salvation-historical biblical figure as the Good Shepherd par excellence. — Andreas J. Köstenberger

Why not stop for a moment now and read the psalm itself?