Hope. We use the word to express our preference about the weather, inclination about a sport team’s success, and desire for a birthday gift. While part of daily vocabulary, hope seems to be less seldom applied in its biblical use. Hope, in typical conversation, expresses a wish or desire that does not have any certainty.
So, I hope that the temperature today will be in the 70s. But living in Memphis in the summer makes that hope rather unrealistic.
But biblical hope is different. It’s not a wish or preference but rather a certainty that has yet to be fulfilled. So when the biblical writers express the practice of the Christian life by the use of the triad of faith, hope, and love, they intend hope to be just as much of an ongoing practice as faith and love. Yet is it in our practice of the Christian life?
We build faith by growing in our understanding of the work of Christ. We grow in love by the way that we exercise it with the brethren. Hope, though, frames an attitude of the heart for that which still awaits fulfillment. It’s an anticipation of a fuller reality that we’ve yet to experience. Not to minimize faith and love, but it seems that hope is often more difficult to get our heads around. Faith and love we experience day by day. Hope waits. Hope calls for patience. Hope always looks ahead. Hope fixes the thoughts on the unseen. Hope, consequently, nourishes the heart by anticipating what Christ has promised in the gospel. Hope carries us through trials. Hope prepares us for facing death.
As I’ve been preaching through 1 Corinthians 15 in my current Sunday morning expositions, the subject of hope rings in my thoughts. As my wife and I were discussing this past Sunday’s study, she made the point that it is likely harder for the younger generation to see the application in the passage. Many of the more senior members of the congregation resonate with the focus on hope but perhaps fewer of the younger members. I certainly understand that, since a number of years back, I was in the younger generation, and must confess, that I spent far too little time thinking about the future hope. Yet, what I’ve been learning is that hope is not just for the senior generation of believers. Hope sustains every generation of Christians through the uncertainties of living in a fallen world. The anticipation of hope that Paul gives in 1 Corinthians centers on the bodily resurrection.
How do we build hope in our lives as Christians? Here are some of the reasons offered in 1 Corinthians 15 for building hope.
1. The bodily resurrection reminds us of our union with Christ. The Christian’s bodily resurrection directly corresponds to that of Christ’s (1 Cor 15:12–28).
2. The bodily resurrection is central to the gospel message. “. . . and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” affirms the bodily resurrection, not a “spiritual” resurrection (1 Cor 15:4).
3. The bodily resurrection gives hope beyond this life. So that helps us to understand that our future treasure through Christ is bigger than our bank accounts or life achievements (1 Cor 15:35–49).
4. The bodily resurrection joins us to an eternal kingdom. In that kingdom we continue to serve the Lord without the encumbrances of living in a fallen world (1 Cor 15:50; Rev 22:3).
5. The bodily resurrection motivates us to holy living. Fixing our hope on the future in Christ builds a deeper desire for pure, holy lives (1 John 3:1–3; 1 Cor 15:33–34, 58).
6. The bodily resurrection builds anticipation for a life that outstrips our imaginations. Paul compares our death and burial to a “seed,” while the life ahead is the full grown (“body”) plant. The comparison invites stretching our thoughts to comprehend how much better the future is in Christ (1 Cor 15:35–48).
7. The bodily resurrection affirms an immortal life in God’s presence. This perishable person living post-fall (Gen 3) puts on an imperishable life post-return of Christ (1 Cor 15:50–57).
8. The bodily resurrection declares the ultimate triumph of Jesus over sin and death. Can we taunt sin and death apart from the bodily resurrection affirmed in Christ? (1 Cor 15:54–57)
9. The bodily resurrection affirms that our toil and labor in this life are not in vain. Why grow weary in serving Christ in the present when it’s just good preparation for the future of eternal service? “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor 15:58).
After listening to the testimonies of family members who lost their loved ones in last week’s attack at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, I cannot help but think that their ability to speak of forgiveness toward the killer and joyous anticipation of the days ahead, right in the midst of grief, came because they had nurtured their Christian lives in hope. We do not know what a day brings forth. But we can be prepared for what comes by living in the hope that is ours in Jesus Christ.