This week's passage offers two major teachings: (1) Spirit-assisted intercession and (2) God's invincible love.
- The Spirit of God intercedes within believers with sighs too deep for words.
- God works in all situations, no matter how difficult, to bring about good for those who love God, for those who are called to God's purpose.
- The destiny of believers is to be Christ-shaped as members of God's family.
- God, who did not withhold his own son, is fully trustworthy for all things.
- God does not condemn believers. The resurrected Jesus Christ intercedes for us.
- No persecution, hardship, or physical danger can separate believers from God's invincible love.
Key Preaching/Teaching Points:
The beginning of this week's passage focuses on prayer, specifically Spirit-assisted intercession.
How Shall We Pray?
Paul reminds us that we do not know how to pray — particularly when we are overwhelmed beyond words.
Why is it that we do not know how to pray? Commentators offer various reasons:
1. We do not know the future.
2. We are weak; that is, we are not fully redeemed and are unable to see clearly. Compare to 1 Corinthians 13:12: "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known."
3. We do not know how to call God's future into our present.
The church remains puzzled about how to pray, thus the need for the Spirit's assistance. The Spirit of God aids the redeemed by teaching humble trust of God.
Paul challenges us to enter into deeper wrestling with the pain of the world. From the environmental to rundown communities to the devastation of humankind, all of God's creation groans in pain.
The Spirit teaches through the vehicles of prayer, lament, and deep groaning. The groaning is trifold. We are to groan with creation over its present state of decay. We are to groan with God over the present state of fallen humanity. We are to groan with the church as it longs for God's ultimate redemption.
The groans further represent the struggle that often exists internally between the redeemed and God. We also groan over our personal weakness.
Nothing Can Separate Us From God's Love
The passage ends with a divine hymn that boasts of God's invincible love. Nothing can separate us from this love. In biblical times, people feared many apparent "powers," including angels and astrology.
At the time of Paul's writing, the Jewish belief system was well developed regarding angels. Jews believed that everything in the world had an angel: wind, snow, thunder, the seasons, even a blade of grass. Jews believed that angels were even hostile toward humanity.
There was also a strong belief in astrology in biblical times. Humans were thought to be under the domination of stars. When a star was at its highest, it exerted the most influence. Heights or depths referred to the position of the stars and their supposed influence on human beings.
Despite the existence of all the terrifying things that can happen, none of them can separate us from the love of God.
(Does your congregation know the following terms or concepts found or alluded to in Romans 8:26-39?)
Predestination — The concept of predestination means that God has determined a purpose long before it is actually manifested. It further implies that God is unquestionably capable of planning and bringing about that divine plan.
Justification — A legal term meaning that one is declared righteous. In relation to God, biblical writers express confidence that God is impartial and just. Therefore, one can take confidence in God's declaration that a person is righteous.
Glorification — In human terms, glory refers to one's position, one's possessions, one's strength, or one's length of life. God's glory refers to the external manifestation of all that God is and does. Glorification thus contains a multistage meaning. First, glorification involves sanctification of the believer, causing him or her to be made holy and blameless. This is an ongoing work for Christians. Second, the physical bodies of believers will be glorified and made immortal. Creation also will participate in glorification. Third, glorification involves participation in the reign of God; that is, reigning with Christ. Finally, glorification involves sharing in God's own glory.
Evangelistic Preaching Tips
This week's passage contains several oft-quoted verses. Do not let the familiarity of the passage discourage deeper exploration. The perpetual challenge to the body of Christ is trying to engage it in more than perfunctory prayer. This passage affords the opportunity to teach deeply about the need to pray through empathetic groaning with God over the church; with creation over its decayed state; and with one's self that awaits ultimate redemption.
Reading: Romans 8:26-39 [An Evangelistic Approach — To lead people to Christ]
Clear Away the Debris — God's love is more powerful and more trustworthy than any enticing diversion that the world offers. Inwardly, we all long to be loved with the persistence and reliability that God alone can provide. What stands in the way of us enjoying God's love? Paul offers a laundry list of challenges resident in his time. What are people allowing to separate them from God's love today? Fear of sex offenders in the neighborhood? Concern over violent crimes? Alarm over terrorism? The inability to control one's life and circumstances?
Help pre-Christians understand that none of us is immune from hardship and suffering, but God's invincible love will accompany us through difficulties if we will trust God.
Aim: Encourage pre-Christians to fully trust in Jesus Christ, who loves us eternally, particularly in hard times.
Reading: Romans 8:26-39 [A Renewal Approach — To strengthen the faith of Christians]
Imagine — God Is Praying Through Us! Prayer is God's vehicle for spiritual maturity, yet prayer as a spiritual discipline remains grossly underused. Why? We have access to the greatest prayer teacher, the Holy Spirit.
Interestingly, the best prayer instruction generally occurs in the midst of severe hardship and suffering that can leave us floundering and overwhelmed. It is then that the Spirit prays in and through us with groans that are too deep for words. Take the opportunity to encourage Christians to depend on the Holy Spirit to aid them in prayer — especially when words fail.
Aim: Encourage Christians to deepen their prayer lives, particularly in times of hardship.
Reading: Romans 8:26-39 [A Reclamation Approach — To restore "de-churched" individuals to vital faith in Jesus Christ]
Inseparable— Many distractions attempt to sever our attention from God. Each distraction claims to be more powerful, important, or influential than God. Paul lists some of the challenges to faith in his day. See Romans 8:35 and following. What does that list look like for the people in your congregation? What erodes people's confidence in God's love today? Terrorism? Job insecurity? Illegal drugs? Natural disasters? Make a bold declaration. There is one word that describes the relationship between God's love for God's redeemed: inseparable.
Aim: Encourage the de-churched to reclaim their relationship with God's invincible love.
Provide Opportunities for a Faith Response
Encourage people to develop a deeper prayer life in the midst of hardships. May it be a prayer practice that intentionally expects assistance from the Holy Spirit. See the prayer resources below.
Provide Opportunities for Follow Up
Encourage ongoing prayer development through hardship: individually, in small groups, and corporately.
Encourage prayer partners to pray:
- Informally during designated portions of worship.
- During the week at their discretion.
Encourage prayer journaling with a heightened expectation of the Holy Spirit's help in prayer.
Develop intercessory prayer groups to pray about local concerns [groaning with creation], church concerns and the spiritual formation of the congregation.
- The Upper Room Daily Devotional
- The Upper Room Prayer Center
- How to Pray by E. Stanley Jones, revised 2015 (Upper Room Books, 2015)
- A Guide to Prayer for All Who Walk with God by Rueben P. Job, Norman Shawchuck, John S. Mogabgab (Upper Room Books, 2013)
- Praying in the Messiness of Life: 7 Ways to Renew Your Relationship with God by Linda Douty (Upper Room Books, 2011)
- Praying Together: Forming Prayer Ministries in Your Congregation by Martha Graybeal Rowlett
- Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home by Richard J. Foster
- Principles of Prayer by Charles Finney
- The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit by R. A. Torrey
Resources for Romans
- The New Interpreter's Bible A Commentary in Twelve Volumes: Volume X — Acts, Introduction to Epistolary Literature, Romans, 1 Corinthians. Abingdon Press.
- The Message of Romans: God's Good News for the World (The Bible Speaks Today) by John R. W. Stott
- Romans: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries by F. F. Bruce
- Romans: A Shorter Commentary [ABRIDGED] by C. E. B. Cranfield
Follow Up Resource Available in pdf
Small Groups & Accountability: The Wesleyan Way of Christian Formation, by Steven W. Manskar, Director of Accountable Discipleship, Discipleship Ministries
General Evangelism Resources
- Ancient Future Evangelism by Robert Webber
Webber explains Pentecost as the traditional time to declare one's Christian vocation.
- The Faith-Sharing Congregation by Roger Swanson and Shirley Clement
- Faith-Sharing: Dynamic Christian Witnessing by Invitation by H. Eddie Fox and George Morris
- The Faith-Sharing initiative Participants' Manual (Spanish Version) — El compromiso de compartir nuestra fe: Manual del Participante (pdf)
- The Faith Sharing New Testament
- That the World May Know Jesus Christ! by Brazilian Methodist Bishop Paulo Lockmann
- Transforming Evangelism: The Wesleyan Way of Sharing Faith by Henry H. Knight III and Douglas Powe Jr.