Biblical Hope Part 1: Promises & Oaths
In I Corinthians 13:13, the apostle Paul writes that “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
We know that we are saved by God’s grace, through faith, and so faith holds a perpetually prominent place in the Christian life. And we know that faith works through love – that love is the fruit of genuine faith and reflects God’s gracious character, and it's the greatest.
What about hope? Compared with the big brothers of faith and love, it seems that hope is easily passed over. But hope is one of “these three,” and we want to give it an appropriate place in our lives.
The centrality of hope in the Christian life can be understood like this: if faith is what we do to enter the family, and love is the action we give ourselves to in the family, then hope is the attitude of the family. That is, New Testament Christianity is marked by the attitude or emotion of hope.
Natural Hope vs. Biblical Hope
But the hope we encounter in Scripture is different from the natural hope that is customary in our lives.
Natural hope goes like this: we want something to happen or to be true, and we usually have a good reason to think that it might. Natural hope means that we want something to happen and we think that it is possible. Natural hope is to wish for a particular event that is within the realm of possibility; it is to cherish a desire with anticipation.
That’s natural hope.
But biblical hope is the joyful, confident anticipation and expectation of something that is certain; specifically, the joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation. In other words, God wants us to live with confident certainty that He is going to keep his promise to us.
We’re going to look at a key scripture – Hebrews 6:13-20 -- that describes the source, content, and outcome of this hope. To help us understand it, we’re going to frame this text around four keywords: promises, oaths, anchors, and priests.
Promises: The God who makes promises
Hebrews 6:13-15 states, “For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, ‘Surely I will bless you and multiply you.’ And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.”
There are three things that stand out in this text: First, God made a promise and swore by himself that he would do it, saying, “Surely, I will bless you…”. Second, Abraham is an example of appropriately responding to God’s promise: Abraham believed the promise, Abraham lived in the promise, and Abraham received the promise. Third, we can borrow from this example and say this: being a Christian is about believing God’s promises and living like it.
Everything we are going to say about hope comes from receiving God’s promises and believing them.
Oaths: The God who guarantees promises
Hebrews 6:16-17 states, “For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath.”
These verses describe why God made an oath – He desired to show his promise more convincingly. Two key lessons stand out in this passage. First, God swears by His own greatness so that we will be fully convinced. Swearing, as the author of Hebrews points out, is done by something greater than yourself. God’s dilemma is that He has no one greater than Himself, and so He swears by Himself by saying, “Surely I will do this.” And the reason for this swearing is so that we will be fully convinced. But convinced of what? This is the second lesson.
God is going to fulfill His [unchangeable] purpose. This is what we need to be convinced of: God swears so that there will be no wavering in our hearts about whether or not He will keep his word.
Let's look at the Greek word for purpose, boulḗ, which means God’s resolved, unchangeable plan for which he purposefully arranges all circumstances so that His will is accomplished. This is simple but profound: God knows what he wants to do, and God does what he wants to do. Our purposes are different: we make a plan, and it may or may not be done; sometimes we rely on outside circumstances going just right for our plans to come together. Not so with God – he has the ability to do exactly what he intends without relying on anything or anyone else. And more than having the ability, this is what he does. Consider Isaiah 46:9-10:
“For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’”
Notice that God doesn’t say I might accomplish my purpose or I will accomplish some of my purposes. NO – God will accomplish all of his purposes.