A devastating diagnosis. The loss of a job. A marriage in ruin. A wayward child. In missions, you will encounter many hurting people with a myriad of losses and longings. (You might also experience some of these trials yourself.) How do we minister to the hurting, both at home and abroad, in these difficult seasons? The world would offer kind sympathies and platitudes, but what does the gospel say about hope?
The Hope of the Gospel is Not Wishful Thinking
Many of us use the word “hope” in our daily language. We might say, “I hope so,” in response to something like the weather or a desired event. In this context, the word hope conveys doubt. But one of the Old Testament words for hope, batah, conveys trust, confidence, and security, the complete opposite of doubt. Similarly, in the New Testament, the Greek word elpis means to have a joyful and confident expectation of good. The hope of the gospel is not wishful thinking; it is complete assurance in the promises of God. But to understand the true meaning of gospel hope, we must be sure we have a correct understanding of what God promises in Scripture.
The Hope of the Gospel is Not Based on Circumstances
The Bible tells us in Romans 8:23-25 that our hope does not lie in something we possess here on Earth:
“Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we are saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”
It can be tempting in times of trial to base our hope in the improvement of difficult circumstances. Many of us, in the depths of our hearts, long for an easy life more than we long for Christ to be glorified in us through suffering. In “Mere Christianity,” C.S. Lewis writes:
“Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. … It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”
So if gospel hope is not dependent upon circumstances, what should hope look like in our lives? Our hope should be set upon the grace brought to us at Jesus’ second coming (1 Peter 1:13). Our hope is borne out of endurance in suffering (Romans 5:2-5) and is also the inspiration for our endurance (1 Thessalonians 1:3). Our hope is both worldwide—the hope of Jesus who is the Savior of all people (1 Timothy 4:10)—and personal—the hope of forgiveness, reconciliation, righteousness, and fellowship with God for every believer. Our hope is in Heaven, where there will be no more tears or suffering or pain, but we can also have hope in our present lives, knowing that whatever trials we face, God will use them for our growth and our good (James 1:2-4).
The Hope of the Gospel Does Not Disappoint
Our ultimate hope is in Christ—His fulfillment of Old Testament promises and His future return to make all things right. So much so, the Apostle Paul refers to Him in 1 Timothy 1:1 as, “Christ Jesus our hope.” If our hope is in our circumstances—a desired promotion, a marriage, a financial status, the health of our loved ones—we will surely be disappointed. The world offers sufferers hopeful thinking, but gospel hope offers firm assurance.
“This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” -Romans 5:5, CSB
Throughout Scripture, we have clear evidence of God’s faithfulness in keeping His promises. The greatest fulfillment of these promises was Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection, which fulfilled more than 300 Old Testament prophecies. All of the Old Testament points to this Christ-hope, and in the New Testament Apostle Peter reminds us that it is living:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead … .” -1 Peter 1:3
Our hope is anchored in the past death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It continues to encourage us in the present because He is alive and abides with us today through the Holy Spirit. And we have hope for the future because we know that whatever trials and despair we face in this life, we have hope in God’s promise of “a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13).” Jesus Christ is our living hope, a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls (Hebrews 6:19). When we place our trust in Him, we will never be shaken.
Marlena is a mom, wife, and freelance writer in Texas. She has a desire to use her skills to glorify God and encourage others.