I know you haven’t heard from me in a while and for that, I apologize. My focus has been on completing the semester in seminary and transitioning to my relatively new ministry role as a youth pastor. This semester has been one of my more difficult seasons of life due to the many transitions I have experienced. For some time now I have been reading and meditating on Ephesians. A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a student about Thirteen Reasons Why (Netflix series) and we discussed the hope that Christian teenagers have contrasted with Hannah Baker’s perceived lack of hope. This post is the result of a conversation with one of my students and my own need to be reminded of the hope found in Jesus.
In 2016 Tenth Avenue North released the song, “I have this hope”. The song is based on Isaiah 43:1-3 wherein God reminded His people that He redeemed them and would not leave them. Jesus made a similar promise to his disciples and gave us the Great Commission. (Matthew 28:18-19) Religion is not the “opium of the people” as Karl Marx claimed. All of us were created to worship and for relationships with God and others. Christian hope is based on the objectivity of Jesus’s resurrection.
The Apostle Paul prayed that Ephesian Christians would “be enlightened and know the hope of His calling and the riches of His grace.” (Ephesians 1:18) Paul’s rich prayer and confident trust in God should challenge the way we pray today. I will focus specifically on Paul’s prayer that the Ephesian Christians would know the hope of Jesus’s call.
Reflection upon Paul’s prayer demands that we must consider how the terms know, hope, and calling are used in this passage. I am providing you with the lexical definitions from the original language.
Know: To grasp the meaning of something, understand, recognize, come to know, experience. (BDAG, οἶδα) More research is needed to determine why Paul used this term rather than other options. Hope is one aspect of the new reality inaugurated by Christ. Contrary to the view that nothing can be known I posit that there are some things that can be known and true. (See F. Leroy Forlines in The Quest For Truth, 1-2. Forlines states, “The culture which denies that Truth exists or is accessible is in desperate need of truth.”) Paul wanted his readers to comprehend and experience the reality of Jesus’s resurrection so they might experience hope.
Hope: This term has been overused and has taken on a completely different meaning in the English language than it was used in Paul’s time. We often say things like, “I hope you have a great day” or “I hope you do well on your exam” or “I hope things will all work out”. When we use the term hope we are referring to a feeling or expectation that something will happen. Paul has a different usage in mind.
Hope refers to Christian expectation rooted in the Gospel and promise of the resurrection. (BDAG, ἐλπὶς) Weeks could be spent examining each passage in the Old and New Testaments to better understand the believer’s hope but that will be reserved for another time. Paul’s desire is that the Ephesian Christians and we will comprehend with our total persons the certainty and result of God’s calling.
Calling: In contemporary language, this term has also been misused. Generally, God calls or elects disciples to make disciples. God’s appears mysterious at times but it doesn’t have to be. Paul’s prayer was that the Ephesian saints would know the hopeful implications of Jesus’s call.
BDAG defines call for verse 18 as “an invitation to an experience of special privilege and responsibility.” (BDAG,κλῆσις) What is the special privilege, you may be wondering? There are many special privileges reserved for those who have applied Jesus’s righteousness through faith, one being free access to the Father. Another privilege is that disciples are given the same authority Jesus had to effect God’s kingdom in the world.
Having defined the terms know, hope, and call we proceed to consider what makes Christian hope distinct from other forms of hope.
What makes Christian hope distinct?
Christian hope is grounded in the Gospel, the person and work of Jesus, and the promise of future resurrection. Whereas earthly “hope” relies upon feelings, Christian hope depends upon objective truth. As Christians, we must remember the difference between joy and happiness. Our hope is not grounded in our feelings but in God’s sovereignty and character.
Suffering is depicted throughout the Biblical narrative but we sometimes forget that it is a normal part of life for the believer. When we suffer we are quick to blame God while ignoring the countless promises that suffering is a natural part of our lives as disciples. (Read 1 Peter in its entirety.) We forget that when “Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.” (Bonhoeffer) When doubt feels bigger than faith we must remind ourselves of God’s promises revealed in His Word. Feelings let us down but objective truth grounded in Jesus and the Gospel never will.
Paul expressed that Jesus’s resurrection is the foundation for Christian hope. (1 Corinthians 15) This makes our hope distinct. I am convinced there is more evidence that Jesus existed, was crucified, and risen than there is to support that he did not. If all of God’s promises find their yes in Jesus we should look no further than the Gospel as a source of hope.
Now that I have defined key terms and briefly discussed elements that distinguish Christian hope, I will conclude with some ways we can overcome despair or hopelessness today.
Overcoming Hopelessness through the Gospel
I don’t know about you but I can become discouraged and forget the hope found in Jesus. Multiple situations challenge our hope including cancer, unsaved family members, addictions, or even church conflict. Our hope is found God’s word, the Bible. It is living and active and does not put us to shame. (Romans 8:24-25) I too struggle to remember the hope of Jesus’s calling but I have found the following steps helpful in transforming hopelessness.
- Commit to daily prayer even you have been slacking. You are God’s child through faith in Jesus. Prayer changes us and further molds us into the image of Christ.
- Find a local church to invest in. We were not meant to be Christians alone. There are NO lone ranger Christians. We need each other. Joining a local body of believers enables us to give and receive grace.
- Be transparent with safe people in your life. Not all persons are safe people and we cannot share our deepest thoughts and feelings with everyone. Even so, we all need accountability. Depression vanishes in the context of vulnerable and transparent people who give and receive grace regularly.
- Reject that the lie that you cannot be depressed and Christian at the same time. As Protestants, we do a poor job of meeting people where they are even if they are in the “dark night of the soul”. Sometimes we can pray the paint off the walls and do all the spiritual disciplines but still have despair. It’s okay to not be okay, brothers and sisters. Your problem may be spiritual but it could also be a mind problem. Thankfully God has given us tools such as Christian counseling to strengthen our total personhood.
I am praying that all of you will know the love of Jesus and will be reminded of the hope found in his Gospel. Thank you for reading!