Our Help in Weakness

Sermon by Wiley Lowry on Jul 1, 2018

Romans 8:26-30

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Let’s turn back to Romans chapter 8 tonight; it’s found on page 944 in your pew Bibles. I told Billy after he preached last week on the previous section, that I went back and I underlined a few phrases in my Bible because they stuck out to me, they stood out to me as he explained that passage. And the phrase is the phrase that we see in verse 23, “wait eagerly.” That’s actually one word in the Greek. And it’s the same word that Paul uses if you look down at verse 19 when he says that “the creation waits” and in verse 25 “we wait.” That’s one of my favorite words in the Bible. It’s – you laugh! Let me explain. Greek scholars think that Paul coined that word. We don’t find it anywhere else before Paul brings it up in his epistles. And it’s a word that beautifully captures what it means to live the Christian live, to live by faith, to eagerly await. Billy finished with a John Stott quote last week; let me start with one. This is what John Stott says about that word or the phrase, “to eagerly await.” He says that “We are to wait neither so eagerly that we lose our patience nor so patiently that we lose our expectation, but eagerly and patiently together.”

That’s what Paul’s been doing in this chapter of Romans, Romans chapter 8. He’s been pointing us to the hope of glory. He’s been focusing our attention on the hope of glory and that hope of glory leads us to this sort of eager waiting. Romans chapter 8 – it begins in what way? It says that “there is now no condemnation.” Romans chapter 8 begins with no condemnation; it ends with no separation. But in the meantime, we wrestle with all those things that accuse us and those things which may make us doubt Christ’s love for us. So that’s where Paul comes in in verses 26 to 30 and he’s pointing us to the Spirit’s help and he’s pointing us to God’s sure purposes that we will be glorified with Christ. Nothing can be against us. That’s the beauty of this passage tonight. It’s our great privilege to open it up and read it and study it together. Let me pray before we do so.

Our Father, we praise You that You have spoken to us in Your Word; You have given us encouragements along the way, that You have made our salvation secure and complete. So, Father, we ask that You would encourage us and assure us by Your Word and by the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Help us to live life in the freedom of the Spirit, with joy and peace, and that You would use us wherever You would send us to be Your people and to spread the glory of Christ. Give us Your Spirit as we read Your Word tonight. Open our hearts. Give us understanding. Give us wisdom, by Your grace. We pray this in Christ's name, amen.

Romans chapter 8 verse 26:

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God endures forever.

You know preachers think a lot about sermon titles. I don’t think anybody else really cares that much! But I’ve titled this sermon, “Our Help in Weakness,” and what I want us to see from these verses tonight is our help in weakness when our souls ache and when troubles surround us. When our souls ache and when troubles surround us.

When Our Souls Ache

First, is when our souls ache. It could be the definition of weakness to say that we do not know what to pray for as we ought. I’m sure that everyone, at some point in the Christian life, has been so overwhelmed by sadness or fear or some other emotion that we can find no words to pray. It may be that your tears will not stop long enough for you to be able to collect your thoughts. It could be that what you’re going through has brought you to your knees and yet you can think of no words to pray. It may be that you stop to pray and it seems as if, it feels as if no one is listening. Think about what it’s like to suffer disappointment, to suffer heartache; what it’s like to struggle with anxieties and discouragements and maybe even to struggle with anger. Those are the things that Paul is talking about back in verse 23 when he says that we “groan inwardly.” And quite often when we groan inwardly we do not know what to pray for as we ought. Either the words do not come to us or we’re not sure if we’re praying for the things that God would have us to pray for. Are we merely praying for our own deliverance or are we praying for God to be most glorified in our sufferings? Either way, is there anything that more clearly captures the experience of weakness and the feeling of helplessness than not knowing what to pray?

What to Pray

We can know what to pray. Jesus tells us; He teaches His disciples that we are to pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,” and we can do that when so much else in us fails. I’ve heard sweet and sincere prayers from the lips of those suffering with dementia or with their bodies immobilized by sickness. I’ve almost been brought to tears by hearing our friend, Allen Gardner, pray on a Wednesday night in our Wednesday night prayer meeting. We can pray. We can pray when things are difficult, when we suffer. But when we do not know what to pray for as we ought, that is weakness. That’s real weakness.

And is there a better example anywhere in the Bible of the experience of anguish and the challenge of prayer than of what we find with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane? Jesus Himself was greatly distressed and troubled. Mark says that His soul was “very sorrowful, even to death.” And with the prospect of facing His death on the cross and of taking the curse of sin and of facing the wrath of God, He prayed if it is possible that the hour might pass from Him. Three times Jesus prayed those similar words. He said, “Remove this cup from me, yet not what I will, but what you will.” That’s Jesus in the intensity of His humiliation and the great strain of His weakness that He took on for us, in our place, as our substitute. And we know, don’t we, the experience of His disciples, how they fared in that situation. Don’t we? Jesus told them to pray, to watch and to pray, and what did they do? Jesus came back to them and He found them sleeping. Their eyes were heavy and they did not know what to say. “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” We see so clearly in the prayers of Jesus, in the prayers of His disciples in Gethsemane, prayer in a time of weakness.

By the way, do you know what else we find in that prayer when Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane? Do you remember a few weeks ago Romans 8:15? “We have received a spirit of adoption as sons by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” Do you know what is the only place in the Bible where we hear the words, “Abba! Father!” being prayed to God? It’s from the lips of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He says, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me, yet not what I will, but what you will.” You see, even in His place of great need and weakness, Jesus is able to enjoy close intimacy with the Father, the intimacy that that term of affection, “Abba,” captures. That’s the intimacy which He has enjoyed with the Father from all eternity but surely that is the ministry of the Holy Spirit to Jesus, the Holy Spirit who was given to Jesus without measure, so that He would accomplish His task; He would do and finish the work of salvation.

The Spirit Ministers

And what Paul’s saying to us here in Romans chapter 8 is that the Spirit ministers to us in that very same way. The Spirit ministers to us in our groanings and when our souls ache. Verse 26 says the Spirit “helps in our weakness.” Let me mention another Greek word. It’s a great Greek word that’s translated “help” here – “συναντιλαμβάνεται." It’s a pretty good word; seventeen letters in the Greek! It means something like “to take hold with at the side” or “to share a task with someone.” In our ESV it’s translated “help.” It’s sort of like you’re watching the World Cup and after the game one of the players is being interviewed and the interviewer asks him if it was a satisfying victory and he goes into this long answer in French or Spanish or some other language and then the translator in English says, “Yes, it was.” Surely, he said more than that! Well, “συναντιλαμβάνεται" – “help” – the Spirit helps in our weakness. The Spirit’s help in our weakness is worthy of that seventeen letter, compound Greek word.

In fact, I have an old amplified New Testament from my grandmother and for this verse, it says here, “So too, the Holy Spirit comes to our aid and bears us up in our weakness.” And what does the Holy Spirit do to help in our weakness? The Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Verse 27 says that the Spirit intercedes for the saints “according to the will of God.” What those verses are saying to us should stagger us; they should overwhelm us. Because what Paul is saying is that when we trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, when we are united to Christ by faith and we live life in the Spirit, then the Spirit is such a part of us, completely and inseparably, that the Spirit associates with our weakness and inters into our groanings and intercedes for us. The Spirit prays for us and the Spirit prays for us in a way we don’t understand, but God understands. And He prays for us in a way that is according to the will of God. The Spirit knows our grief and our pain. The Spirit knows our sorrow and our weakness in ways better than we do. That’s the intimacy of the bond between the believer and the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit not only knows but the Spirit takes those things in prayer to the heavenly Father, bringing our needs to the throne of grace as the One who enjoys eternal and unmatched fellowship and love with the Father and the Son. What a blessing. What a blessing is the gift of the Holy Spirit, of the fellowship that we enjoy with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That takes our breath away.

And we oftentimes sing that hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus!” “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear. What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer. Oh, what peace we often forfeit; oh, what needless pain we bear. All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.” What a privilege it is to carry everything to God in prayer. Isn’t the closeness and nearness of God by the Holy Spirit an encouragement for us to pray? But isn’t it a comfort that when we do not know what to pray in our great weakness that the Spirit carries everything to God in prayer? What a privilege. What a blessing.

That is a part of Jesus’ ongoing ministry to us as His people because if you remember back in John 14, Jesus told His disciples, He promised them, “I will ask the Father and He will give you another Helper to be with you forever.” Jesus said that it was actually to our advantage that He go away because He would send the Helper to us. And that Helper, the Holy Spirit, helps in our weakness by interceding for us when we do not know what to pray for. And I can’t help but think what a sweet blessing that is to those who have a small and a weak faith, that have a mustard seed faith, that the Spirit prays for us. What an encouragement that is to the faith of a Mustard Seedster, to someone with special needs, when all they may be able to do is to groan inwardly and to know that the Spirit is interceding for them with groanings too deep for words. How beautiful is that? That is the beauty of Christ’s ministry to us and the blessing of the Gospel.

It may be a dim reflection of the Spirit’s help, but maybe you remember the British sprinter, Derek Redmond, in the 1992 Olympics. He was running the 400 meters and about halfway through he pulled his hamstring and he came up limping. And he tried the rest of the way to sort of hop and skip his way to the finish line, and after a little while his father came from the stands and came alongside him and put his arm around him. And Redmond was weeping and he was in agony and pain, and his father, as they walked down the track, his father was waving off the track staff and the medical personnel and they walked all the way to the finish line and they crossed the finish line together. It was one of the most touching and most memorable Olympic moments there ever has been. That’s just a shadow; that’s just a shadow of the Spirit coming alongside of us and bearing us up in our weakness. That is profound.

When Troubles Surround Us

And as if that is not profound enough for us to take in, then we come to Romans 8:28. Romans 8:28, we find that God is for us not only when our souls ache but when troubles surround us. That’s our second point. It’s tempting, isn’t it, to come to verses 28 and 30, we read these verses that we know so well, they’re precious to probably all of us, it’s tempting to think, “How can I express all that’s taught here? How can I do justice to these verses?” It’s also tempting I think for us to think, “Let’s focus on each and every doctrine that's mentioned here in these verses and to talk about providence and the golden chain of redemption, foreknowledge, and predestination. After all, we could teach the Baptists a thing or two couldn’t we?

We were in our house Friday night and we heard a loud “thud” outside of our window. And a large limb had fallen out of one of the oak trees in our front yard. It fell a few feet away from a car that was parked in our neighbor’s driveway. And everybody came out to see what had happened. The limb was so close to the car, I think maybe a leaf had brushed up against the car. If it had been parked a few feet forward it would have been crushed. And we introduced ourselves to the man whose car it was and he was a Baptist minister. And he found out that I was a Presbyterian minister and he said, “Well, if I was a Presbyterian I would say that it was meant to be!”

Confidence in God’s Salvation

And we can certainly affirm God’s hand of providence in everything, but you see, the point of these verses here in Romans chapter 8 is to stress the absolute confidence that Christians have in God’s salvation. This is now the fifth sermon in this series on Romans chapter 8 this summer, but really it's more like five parts of one sermon with one main point. And that is the assurance and the security of God's people. This whole chapter has been building the case, it's been viewing this point from different angles – that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. That nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. And Paul wrote in verse 18 that "the sufferings of this present time are not worth to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us." What he's saying here is that this glory will be revealed in us. Everything is working together for that purpose. And we know that "for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose."

You know it’s always hard to know what were the exact challenges facing the original recipients of these letters, of Paul’s writings. Much like us, they would have dealt with sickness and disease and death. They lived in an ungodly and a pagan culture. They would have been surrounded by idolatry and temptations. There was crime. There was danger. There was racism. There was persecution that was close at hand. And there would have been some to whom Paul was writing who were either in prison or who had been in prison. There were some who were slaves. And there were those who knew the fine, thin line between daily bread and poverty. And in our own lives, the external challenges around us, the threats from the world around us, they come readily and quickly to the front of our minds, don’t they? Ed told us this past week about one of our supported missionaries who was deported from the country where he was serving. He was separated from his family, no longer able to carry on the work that he was doing because he was planting churches. What’s amazing about that is to think that there is a missionary from this congregation who was trained and supported and sent there just a few months ago to carry on that work at the time of its greatest need. That’s God’s hand. We see God’s hand there and that is so important.

I was reading from Psalm 125 on Friday morning. Verses 1 and 2 say this. “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people from this time forth and forevermore.” That is the security of God’s people. And I had written a little note in the side margins of my Bible. It was from Eugene Peterson’s book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. And this is what Peterson says about Psalm 125. “We are secure not because we are sure of ourselves but because we trust that God is sure of us.” It’s those who trust in the Lord, not those who trust in their performance, in their morals, in their righteousness, in their health, in their pastor, in their doctor, in their president, in their economy, in their nation – those who trust in the Lord; those who know that God is for us and will make us whole eternally. That’s the security of the believer – that we know that God will make us whole eternally, that we will be glorified with Christ Jesus. “For those who love God, all things work together for good.”

Real Suffering

Of course, that does not diminish in any way, in the least bit, the experience of real suffering. It can be easy to say those verses and to say those words when our suffering has not been very intense. I listen to some of our neighbors in Midtown and I hear some of the mistreatment and the prejudice and the hardship that they've faced in their lives. I saw in an article this past week that in some places in the United States that the lifespan for African-Americans can be twenty years less than that for whites. That's suffering; that's suffering in the best of time for people who are right next to us. And then we read articles and hear the news of our neighbors in Mexico where families are separated from one another and we think about the injustices of our immigration laws. We're surrounded by those who are surrounded by trouble. And then we know trouble ourselves. Do we shrug those things off because we know that all things work together for good? No. No. Those things should make us groan. We should strive to come alongside those who suffer and to bear one another's burdens and to point them to where true hope is found because we know that all things work together for good. God works in all things for the good of His people and that "all things," it includes suffering.

The Way to Glory

In fact, for those who are called by God, suffering is the way to glory. That was the way it was for Jesus. Wasn’t it? He was born in poverty and scandal. His early years were spent as a refugee. During His ministry, He had no place to lay His head. At the end of His ministry, He was mocked and abused and humiliated and killed on a cross as a condemned criminal. And then He drank that dreadful cup of God’s wrath. He took sin’s penalty to the full in the place of His people. No one, no one faced greater suffering or endured more pain than Jesus did, but He did not see corruption. Did He? No, He was raised from the dead on the third day. He was victorious over all that was against Him, victorious over sin and death and He ascended into glory to the right hand of God. That’s where He sits and reigns right now in glory. And just as surely as Jesus has been glorified, so too will everyone for whom He died.

To Be Like Christ

We’ve already been told that we have been made children of God. Haven’t we? Verse 15 says that we have “received a spirit of adoption.” What Paul is saying here, we’ve been made children, we will be made like children of God; that we will be conformed into the image of His Son or that Jesus might be the “firstborn among many brothers.” That is the good to which all things work together for God’s people – to be made like Jesus; to be glorified with Him. You see, if God knew you from before the foundation of the world and He chose you and called you by His grace and by faith He justified you, made you right with Him, and He looks on you as He looks on His own Son in whom He is well pleased, then won’t He complete His work of salvation that He has begun in you and bring you to the place of glory? If we are in Christ, then we will be like Christ.

One of the board games that we like to play in our house is Pictionary. Now you know, Pictionary is where you try to get your teammates to guess the clue on the card by drawing pictures. And there’s a time limit, so usually you’re drawing pretty fast and sometimes you’re not sure if it’s an animal or a car or a shoe or really anything! It can be a little confusing. But if it’s a more difficult clue, then what you usually do is you try to break it down into parts. So you get someone to get the first part, then you put it together with the second part, and when you put those things together you get the end result.

See, if you have foreknowledge and you have predestination and you have calling and you have justification, you get glorification. And it’s so certain, did you notice how Paul refers to it here in these verses? He refers to it in the past tense – “who He justified He also glorified.” That’s what someone has called future history. It’s talking about a future event so certainly as if it had already happened. And did you notice the difference between the two parts of this passage that we studied tonight? It’s the difference between what we don’t know and what we know. We do not know what to pray for; we know that all things work together for good. But in both cases, it is God who keeps us and it is God who works in us and who works in the world around us to complete the work that He has begun in us and to bring us to the place of peace and joy and wholeness and beauty and righteousness; to bring us to the place of glory and to the presence of our Savior, Jesus Christ. When our souls ache and when troubles surround us, the Spirit is our unfailing and all-providing help in weakness. That’s why Paul says in the next verse, verse 31, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Remember that, know that, because we’re going to study those verses next week, Lord willing. But I can be pretty sure that we’ll need to hear that sometime before we come back together next week. If God is for us, who can be against us?

Let’s pray.

Our Father, we praise You for these great promises of Your Word. They are almost too much for us to take in. We pray as we’ve heard them tonight that You would continue to minister them to our hearts and to our lives and to all that we do by the power and by the grace of Your Holy Spirit. So, Father, we give You thanks for what You have done for us in Christ and for what You will do for us in Christ. And we look expectantly for those things; we wait eagerly. Help us to do that and help us to glorify You as we do it. We pray this in Christ's name, amen.

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