Key thought; we grow in joy, peace, and hope by developing a brighter view and expectation for the future of the world.
Note: How do we find joy, hope, and peace in our lives? The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans is all about that. He teaches that we do it by having more faith, hope, and love. In the 6th part of this study, we consider, is there hope for my the world? This is the 6th of an 8 part study of Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians. You can read part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, part 4 here, and part 5 here.
The Heartbreak of the World
Right now, there is a war going on in the Middle East. Israel is vowing to defeat Hamas. But will it bring peace? Where is the hope in this complicated situation for a lasting solution?
Immigrants make the hard trek to the United States because of the miserable and insecure living conditions in which they live. It breaks the heart.
Beyond these bigger issues, We all have families, churches, communities, or businesses that have failed us. We thought they were in one place, but they were in another. Few things can grieve our hearts like a community gone wrong. Few things can rob us of hope for the future like seeing the communities we relied on totally fail us.
That’s what the Apostle Paul was experiencing. He had hoped that his people would accept Jesus, but they had not. This broke his heart. He saw them as being on a destructive road. “I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit—I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” for his own people (Romans 9:1–2). They should have accepted the Messiah, but they missed him. Paul understood because he was one of them. He did not see it at first. God had to get his attention in dramatic fashion (read part 1 of this study here to read about Paul’s story).
So, how did Paul process his grief over his community going in the wrong direction? He saw God’s purposes above it. He recognized that God’s purposes are not tied to any particular community. He is not bound to them or dependent on them. He can do what He wants.
Paul goes back to Israel’s own history to show this. He says that Abraham’s own children received different things from the Lord. Jacob and Esau were Abraham’s son Isaac’s twins, but they did not both inherit the promises. Only Jacob did. God’s purposes sometimes cut through our communities, and Israel’s history shows this.
In the case of Egypt, God used Pharaoh’s own stubbornness against him to bring about a deliverance for Israel. How can Israel complain if God uses their own stubbornness against them? “It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. . . . Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (Rom. 9:16, 18).
Does that mean that God is done with Israel? Not at all. That’s what we will see in the next sections.
But note for now that Paul sees the purpose of God above the purposes of men. He can see that God is working even in the failures of human societies and communities. When communities go wrong, we can look beyond them to the purposes of the sovereign God of the universe. But does that mean that we should give up on our communities?
The Message for the World
No. There is always hope for our communities. Paul did not give up. God does not give up. We should not give up.
The key is for Israel and all people to see that righteousness and goodness is not a result of our effort. It is a gift of God. “Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:3–4). This is God’s work to forgive us and change us that we spoke about in Parts 3 and 4 of this study. All Israel needed to do was to give up the idea that they were righteous before God or could become what they should become on their own, and they could be accepted, forgiven, and transformed.
How will they know how to do this? Someone has to tell them. Paul writes, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:14). Christianity is about the good news of what God has done and will do in Jesus. It is a message that needs to be explained, proclaimed, and accepted.
When this message gets out there, it can change the world. People who were disconnected with God can be reconnected to Him. People who did not have joy, hope, and peace can find it. People who were unforgiven can be forgiven. People who had no power to change can find new life and hope. Communities that were divided can be reunited. That’s the power of the Gospel, the good news.
What if the community does not accept it? God tells us what He does. He keeps offering. “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people” (Romans 10:21). And so should we.
The Hope for the World
Is there any hope that the world will eventually accept it and find that joy, peace, and hope that God can give?
Yes! Paul provides himself as an example. “I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew” (Romans 11:1–2a). Even at that time, there was a remnant preserved and saved by God’s grace.
But that was not the end of the story. The Gospel was going out now to the Gentiles, but it was doing this so that Israel would eventually be provoked to jealousy and be united together with them in one fold. “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in . . .” (Romans 11:25). He goes on to say, “Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you” (Romans 11:30–31). Because of Israel’s rejection of the Messiah, the Gospel went out to the Gentiles. The Gentiles’ acceptance of the Gospel will lead eventually to Israel’s acceptance of it.
And so what should our view of the future be? “For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all” (Romans 11:33). God may have hardened some, but His great goal is to have mercy on them all. We have to keep these things together: God’s hardening and God’s mercy. When communities fail, remember God has purposes above them, but remember that mercy has the final word.
A few years back, a friend of mine was speaking about all the bad things going on in the world. He lived in a little trailer park. I encouraged him to start right there and reach out to his neighbors with love to help them become what God had called them to become. He responded to me, “I think God has given America over to its own wickedness, and I don’t think people will be turning to the Lord.” This man had accepted that God’s purposes do not always mean the blessing of our own communities. What he had not seen is that God still stretches out His hands, even to a disobedient people. What he did not see was that God’s purpose was “that he might have mercy on them all.”
That’s what we can miss, too. When things go wrong, it’s easy to give up. We have to keep our eyes on God’s own actions in reaching out to a fallen world and in His purpose to have mercy on them all. When we see God’s bigger purposes for mercy that even comes out of judgment, we will be able to have joy, peace, and hope that will lead us to feel hope for the world and empower us to act for its blessing.
Questions for Constructing Your Own Lesson
- What is the context for Paul’s discussion of the future of the world (see Romans 9:1–5)?
- How does Paul process his grief over Israel in Romans 9?
- What is the way for people to find a way out of their wrong path, according to Romans 10 (see especially Romans 10:3–4)?
- What do people need in order to discover the way to joy, peace, and hope, according to Romans 10 (see particularly Romans 10:14–15)?
- How does Paul explain God’s purpose to have mercy on all in Romans 11?
Questions for Reflection
- What human communities have disappointed you the most? How have you processed this?
- Have you given up on the communities of which you are or have been a part?
- How does Romans 11 give us hope in the future of the world? What would happen if we really embraced this vision?