Glorious Together

Six Steps for Abounding in Hope

Funeral Message for Marlys Arenson

I’m going to focus on the third one of her favorites because it is the one that rings with hope, and that’s what we need when we lose someone very precious to us and struggle with our own coming death.

Hope for the Needy

Romans 15:13 says:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

The verse begins and ends with hope. In fact, that whole unit, starting in Romans 15:4 on down through the end of the chapter, rings with hope. Let me read Romans 15:4 so that you can see how the theme of hope comes to a climax there in Romans 15:13. Romans 15:4 says:

For whatever was written in former days (let that sink in because that’s the entire Old Testament) was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

That’s incredible. The whole Old Testament — including all those strange stories, all the prophets, and all the psalms — were written so that we might have hope right now, in this room, facing death, which is in front of us and behind her.

And here’s what’s really wonderful and remarkable about the text. It is very aware that the Old Testament was written for Jews. It’s a Jewish book, right? And it’s also aware that the Messiah, Jesus, came into the world, died, and rose again, and opened the door to the nations — every single ethnicity on the planet — and said, “All those promises back there I bought for anyone who believes in me. That’s what my blood means. I bought those promises.” Every promise is yes in Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20), including all the Gentile names, like Malmsten and Arenson.

Seeing Glory and Being Glorious

Now, what kind of hope does he have in mind? Romans 5:2 says:

Through [Christ] we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

That’s our hope. So Marlys’s ultimate hope was to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But, seeing would not be enough if we were still plagued with a decrepit, painful, dying body, or if the world were still filled with brokenness. So, Romans 8:20 says that God subjected creation to futility. That’s death. That body right there is what is meant by futility, and we’re all going there. That’s built into creation ever since the fall. God ordained that there would be futility, corruption, and death in the world because sin entered the world.

But, listen to this amazing verse as he says that:

The creation was subjected to futility . . . in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Romans 8:20–21).

That means Marlys wasn’t just hoping to see glory, but to be glorious — the glory of the children of God. Do you know what Jesus said about every one of you Christians? In Matthew 13:43, he said, “The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” You do not look that way now. Do you know how many planet earths can fit into the sun? One million. And it’s all fire. But you — I’m looking at you — are not an impressive lot. We dying, fading people, Paul says, are inglorious now, but this mortality must put on immortality; this perishable must put on imperishability (1 Corinthians 15:53); this tiny, fading spark of my life must shine like the sun in the kingdom of our Father. That’s hope. Seeing glory and being glorious is what Romans 15:13 is talking about.

Christ, the Savior of All People

Let me read you some more of the context because it is so good. This is Romans 15:8:

Christ became a servant to the circumcised (that means he became a Jew to minister as the Messiah to the Jewish people) to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs . . .

So Jesus came to confirm all the promises made to the Jewish people. And then Paul broadens it out in Romans 15:9 like this:

And in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.

There may be a few Jewish folks in here but most of us are Gentiles. The coming of Jesus was “yes” to Israel and “yes” to the world — every ethnicity, all peoples, all tribes, all tongues, and all nations. And then to underline it, he quotes four Old Testament passages to say, “Hey, Jewish folks, it’s for the nations too.” Listen to these. This is Romans 15:9–12.

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles,
     and sing to your name.”

And again it is said,

“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”

And again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
     and let all the peoples extol him.”

And again Isaiah says,

“The root of Jesse will come,
     even he who arises to rule the Gentiles;
in him will the Gentiles hope.”

So, from Romans 15:4, through Romans 15:8–9, through Romans 15:9–12, and now Romans 15:13, it’s all hope for the nations, for non-Jewish people who connect with the Jewish Messiah, Jesus, and his death and resurrection. There’s this hope to see glory and be glorious together with Marlys forever in the kingdom that is coming.

Six Steps Toward Abundant Hope

Let me just say a few things about Romans 15:13. I see six steps in this verse, and they’re each just a couple of minutes. There are six steps toward Marlys’s hope in this verse, and if you’re in Christ, yours as well. All six of these come out of this verse.

1. The God of Hope

Romans 15:13 says:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace . . .

Everything begins with God. If there’s no God, there’s no hope. So we start with God.

2. The Word of God

That’s not explicit in the verse, but it’s implicit in the words in believing, isn’t it?

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing . . .

In believing what? All those words I just gave you, all those passages of Scripture, and all the promises of God that are “yes” in Christ Jesus. Believe those. So, by implication, the second step is that God has spoken.

3. The Spirit of God

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

If you, right now, are hoping more in God than in money, pension, family, or health, you didn’t create that hope; the Holy Spirit did because it’s a miracle.

Marlys, you, and I were born depraved and dead. We weren’t dead in every way, but we were dead to God and dead to hope in Christ, and the Holy Spirit turned it around. At a point in Marlys’s life — and I presume there is a record — she heard the word of God. In a family like hers, it was probably on the way home from the hospital after she was born, and every day after that. And at a point — though most of us don’t know the exact point because it is totally sovereign — God moves in the heart, whether it is 6, 16, or 26, and he does the miracle called the new birth. The new birth is the opening of the eyes to see that Word that’s been spoken to you all along as being real, beautiful, true, satisfying, and glorious. That’s what the Holy Spirit has to do in order for there to be joy and peace.

4. Faith in God

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Here’s the key question, practically, for us. Some of you are going to live another year, and some might live 30 or 40 more years. During those days, what will connect the Holy Spirit in his power with joy and peace in your heart? What’s the connection? The answer is in that phrase right there: in believing. It says:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

What is the practical link when you go home this afternoon and do not feel joy and peace? What are you going to do? How are you going to fix that? Does the Bible give any practical suggestion for how you could become a hopeful, happy, and peaceful child of God, in spite of all you are going to face in the next years? The answer is in believing. That simply means that you take all those promises — like all the ones Marlys wrote down and put by her bed — collect them, take hold of them, and believe them.

Living on the Promises of God

I have promises in my head that are like the gear sound when the car is in neutral:

Fear not, for I am with you;
     be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
     I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10).

That’s the sound of the gears in my brain when it’s in neutral. I live by promises. How else can you live through the day, apart from God speaking to you, saying, “I’m for you. I’m not against you. I have forgiven you. You’re mine. I adopted you. You’re in my family. I’m going to keep you by my power.” I just read that this morning in 1 Peter 1:5. It says we are kept by the power of God. I’m 76, and some of you are a lot older than that. Marlys was 13 years older than me, and she would sing that — “He kept me!” Why else are you a Christian? What a glorious thing that in believing, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can enjoy peace and joy.

So collect your promises, believe them, and through that, the Holy Spirit gives you joy and peace.

5. Joy and Peace

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing . . .

Now, those three texts came from Marlys through Alice to David and me, and as I looked at them, I thought, “I think probably the common denominator between these three verses is the joy and peace part.” The reason I think that is due to the fact that the one that is printed there in Philippians has those two themes as well. It says:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice (double joy). Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God . . . (Philippians 4:4–7).

There you have joy and peace together. Joy and peace are in the second verse she has written down, and joy and peace are in the third verse. The first verse at the top is just, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

Joy and peace in believing seem to be why Marlys loved these especially. That’s warfare for all of us. Some people have personalities that are more chipper, and others of us are less chipper, and we have to work harder. We have to fight for joy and peace. That’s what Paul said:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith (1 Timothy 4:7).

Marlys was a good fighter. I don’t know whether it came naturally to her or not. That was her spot right over there. This building is 21 years old, and in the other building, she had her spot as well. She was a good fighter. She fought with the word of God, she listened well, and she responded well to the word of God. She was a great encouragement to me.

6. Abundant Hope

Step six is a surprise. You can see it at the end:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Maybe you would say, “Why do you say that is surprising? You already said it begins with hope and ends with hope. The whole message is about hope. What’s the surprise?” The surprise is this: I don’t think in terms of joy and peace yielding hope; I think of it the other way around. In fact, it’s essentially true the other way around. Think back on your conversation and your growth as a Christian. You’re not going to have any joy and peace without hope. If you’re a hopeless person, where would joy and peace come from? So this is a surprising ending for me.

It makes me wonder, “What are you thinking, Paul?” I could show you in Romans and other parts of the New Testament that coming to Christ means having your eyes opened to how hopeful the future can be if you believe in Jesus. So the first thing quickening your heart is, “You’re real. I trust you. And I’m feeling hope for the first time in my life that my sins could be forgiven, and my death will not be the end, and I’m going to have eternal happiness.” And from that comes joy and peace.

So what’s he thinking? I think he’s thinking like this: the abounding-ness of hope and the fullness of hope is never exhausted in this life. It’s not as though when you become a Christian you get unchanging hope — it never grows or becomes bigger or smaller. That’s crazy. It’s not true. Hope wanes. Hope waxes. Hope abounds sometimes, and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s a really dynamic thing in your life. So how does abounding hope flow from joy and peace? Again, it says:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Hanging on the Word of God

Here’s my little metaphor: hope, among the many things it feeds on, like promises, feeds on its own fruit — namely, joy and peace. Hope is back at the beginning. When you became a Christian, God put hope in your heart. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for (Hebrews 11:1). Among the first realities in the newborn heart is hope, and it yields joy and peace. And now he says that as you have joy and peace through the hardships of your life, you look back and you say, “I made it. I made it through my mom’s funeral. I made it through the loss of my husband.”

Her husband Merlyn probably passed away somewhere right here. This used to be a parking lot, and my office used to look out on the parking lot, which I enjoyed very much because I could see which couples held hands when they left and which couples didn’t. It helped me understand what was going on in life.

The morning Merlyn passed away was a startling morning for a young pastor like me. One of my dearest members dropped dead between the services, and I had to preach one more time. And Marlys showed up with one of you on the balcony as my sermon began. And she took my hand afterward, and like many of the older women did, she pushed it against her tummy. I still don’t know what that means. Older women used to do this. They would take your hand and push it against their tummy and say, “Pastor, I just needed the Word. That’s why I came back.”

The Fuel for Hope

Hope feeds on its fruit. Let me describe this one more time and we’ll be done. Romans 5 is what is cluing me into how hope feeds and gets stronger as it looks at its own fruit. It says:

We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame . . . (Romans 5:3–5).

How does being approved after tribulation work hope? It goes like this. You’re hoping in God and resting in God, and he smashes you with some calamity, whatever it may be — cancer, a car wreck, the death of your mom. And your hope and joy are threatened, and you might turn on God at this point. But instead, the Holy Spirit empowers you to move through the tribulation, and in a few months you come out on the other side believing. You come out on the other side and you look back on the tribulation, the months of difficulty, and how you survived it, and you say, “I’m real! I’m a real Christian. I didn’t throw it away.” Hope feeds on that assurance. Hope feeds on that endurance and approvedness.

I think that’s the idea here. Of course, hope is at the front end, and it produces joy and peace. But when joy and peace abound through the troubles of life, hope abounds more and more because it feeds on its own fruit.

Be Steadfast and Immovable

So, Marlys, in choosing this verse for us, has served us well. In directing my attention to the hope that I will see him in his glory and I will be like him, shining like the sun, and you will too.

. . . in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”

“O death, where is your victory?
     O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord (in the years you have left), knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:52–58).