(from a transcript of a sermon preached on 6/1/03 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Please turn in your Bibles to Romans chapter 8. I'll be reading verses 19 through 27:
Romans 8: (19) For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly awaits the revelation of the sons of God. (20) For the creation was not willingly subjected to vanity, but through Him subjecting [it], on hope; (21) that also the creation will be freed from the slavery of corruption to the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (22) For we know that all the creation groans together and travails together until now. (23) And not only [so], but also we ourselves having the firstfruit of the Spirit, also we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly expecting adoption, the redemption of our body; (24) for we were saved by hope, but hope being seen is not hope; for what anyone sees, why does he also hope? (25) But if we hope for what we do not see, through patience we wait eagerly. (26) And likewise the Spirit also joins in to help our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes on our behalf with groanings that cannot be uttered. (27) But the [One] searching the hearts knows what [is the] mind of the Spirit, because He petitions on behalf of [the] saints according to God.
Two weeks ago, we went over verses 23 through 25 and saw that we, the children of God, having the first indication in us of what is to come, the Holy Spirit who is the earnest of our inheritance, we groan out of a certain hope based on God's promise of final glory conditioned on the work of Jesus Christ alone. We are EAGERLY AWAITING, EARNESTLY EXPECTING, INTENSELY ANTICIPATING the fulfillment of that promise, which is the full revelation and full benefits of sonship and joint-heirship, and the redemption of our physical bodies from corruption, decay, and death. We saw that we were saved IN or THROUGH hope. Hope is the certain expectation that something as yet unseen will happen in the future. We wait with both patience and eagerness for the time when all the children of God will be revealed in final glory.
Now let's focus on verse 26. The first sentence of this new paragraph says, "And likewise the Spirit also joins in to help our weaknesses." The first thing we see is the connecting phrase "and likewise." As a side note, the Greek word DEH, meaning "and," is left untranslated in the King James Version. You wonder why the KJV translators, who supposedly believed that every single word of God was inspired, left an inspired word untranslated. If it were any other version, the KJV-Only advocates would be out in force saying that the translation is deleting words from Scripture. But, of course, since it's the KJV that's deleting a word here, it's okay to the KJV-Only hypocrites. Anyway, the right translation is "and likewise." The Greek word for "likewise" means "in the same way" or "in like manner." So the sentence could read, "And in the same way the Spirit also joins in to help our weaknesses." This raises a question. To what does "in the same way" refer? We've seen many of the things the Holy Spirit does in believers in this chapter. But I think this is referring specifically to verses 15 and 16 in which the Holy Spirit causes us to cry "Abba! Father!" and witnesses with our spirit that we are children of God. In the SAME MANNER in which the Holy Spirit witnesses with our spirit that we are the free adopted children of God, the Holy Spirit helps us in our weaknesses in a manner that we will get into later, the Lord willing. And this is ALSO connected with verse 23, when we, having the firstfruits of the indwelling Holy Spirit, groan in eager expectation of the final revelation and benefits of our adoption. This groaning we will see later on in verse 26, the Lord willing.
So what does the Spirit, in the same manner He witnesses with our spirit that we are the children of God, do for us? He "joins in to help our weaknesses." The Greek word for "to join in" is another mouthful. It is soon-an-tee-lam-BAN-om-a-hee. It comes from SUN, which means "with" or "together," and an-tee-lam-BAN-om-a-hee, which means "to take part in" or "to help." So it means "to help together." The Holy Spirit takes part in helping us. The Greek word for "weaknesses" means feebleness, malady, or frailty. What feebleness, malady, frailty - weakness - is being talked about here? Some say it's talking about all the different weaknesses that believers have, while others say it's talking about a specific weakness or weaknesses. Some who say it's talking about a specific weakness say that the specific weakness is doubting one's salvation or one's final glory. But that's impossible, since Paul just got through saying that the Spirit witnesses with our spirit that we are the children of God and that we who are indwelled with the Spirit are eagerly expecting and have a certain hope of final glory. Haldane goes so far as to say that believers are "often ready to cast away their confidence," which is equivalent to saying that believers are often ready to throw away their faith, which is absolutely a lie. So what does "weaknesses" mean here? Instead of engaging in vain speculation, why don't we just look at the next sentence that shows us exactly what it means? "For we do not know what we should pray as we ought." There we go. The weakness in which the Holy Spirit helps us is our weakness in prayer. Let's take some time to look at this.
This phrase, "For we do not know what we should pray as we ought" is translated differently by the KJV and Young's Literal Translation. The KJV translates it, "for we know not what we should pray for as we ought." Young's translates it, "for, what we may pray for, as it behoveth us, we have not known." There are some nuances here. Other translations and commentators translate it, "for we do not know HOW to pray as we ought." But I think in context, especially verse 27 that says the Holy Spirit PETITIONS on our behalf, it's talking about the specific WORDS to use when praying, specifically WHAT is to be petitioned for. And even more specifically, I believe it's talking about petitions related to our groaning within ourselves in expectation of final glory as we go through the sufferings of the present time. I'll try to flesh this out for you. We see in verses 15 and 16 that we have the Holy Spirit of adoption that witnesses with our spirit that we are the children of God. We see in verse 17 that we are joint-heirs with Christ if we suffer together with Christ. We see in verse 18 that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared to the coming glory. We see in verse 23 that, while we are suffering persecution in the present time, we are groaning in eager expectation, in hope of final glory, waiting patiently and eagerly. And in the midst of our present suffering in this world, in our eager expectation of being freed from this suffering and corruption, we cry out to God, but our crying out, our groaning, is something that we are unable to put into the proper words. Sometimes the suffering is so great, sometimes we have a heightened sense of our own sinfulness, sometimes we yearn for heaven so much, that we cry out to God but can't put into words what we're praying for. Have you ever had that experience? Have you ever just been so overwhelmed by everything that you've just prayed, "God, help me"? You know you should be more specific, but the words just don't come. In fact, there aren't any words to express what we want to express sometimes.
But we can take comfort in the words that follow. "But the Spirit Himself intercedes on our behalf with groanings that cannot be uttered. But the One searching the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because He petitions on behalf of the saints according to God." Praise God, that when we don't know what to pray, when we come to God in our present suffering and our eager anticipation of heaven, our coming to God is not for naught. God doesn't say, "Since Marc didn't come to me with the right words, I'm not going to hear his prayer." God, in His infinite love and mercy, gives us His Holy Spirit to intercede on our behalf as we groan in unspeakable groanings. It's not the Holy Spirit that is groaning unspeakable groanings. It is the Holy Spirit who not only CAUSES us to bring forth these unspeakable groanings but who also INTERCEDES for us, that our unspeakable groanings will be heard by God as if they were the most articulate of prayers. Related to this is the comforting thought that God knows what we need before we pray. God is not dependent upon our prayers to find out what we need, what our petitions are. He does not depend on the content of our prayers to then go ahead and fulfill our petitions. If we mistakenly leave something out of our prayer, He's not going to keep something from us because of it. Now this isn't an excuse to be lazy in our praying. We need to be as specific and detailed as we can be in our prayers, not because God is helped by these, but because God uses our prayers to help us. But we also don't need to be overly anxious that we haven't included everything or don't know exactly what to ask for. The Holy Spirit intercedes for us when we don't have the words, specifically when we don't have the words for our groaning in our present suffering and in our eager anticipation of being freed from these mortal bodies and sinlessly glorifying God in heaven.
The Spirit is an appropriate, adequate, sufficient, acceptable, satisfactory intercessor because of what we see in verse 27:
Romans 8: (27) But the [One] searching the hearts knows what [is the] mind of the Spirit, because He petitions on behalf of [the] saints according to God.
The One searching the hearts is God. God is the all-knowing One who knows the hearts of every human being. And, as we've seen before, the HEART is the seat of the THOUGHTS. The omniscient God knows all the thoughts and intents of the heart. Let's take some time to read some verses on this subject.
1 Chronicles 28:9:
1 Chronicles 28: (9) And you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a perfect heart, and with a willing mind. For Jehovah searches out all hearts, and He understands every imagination of thoughts. If you shall seek Him, He shall be found by you. But if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever.
Psalm 44: (20) If we have forgotten the name of our God, and have spread our hands to an alien god, (21) shall not God search this out? For He knows the secrets of the heart.
Psalm 139: (23) Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; (24) and see if [any] wicked way [is] in me; and lead me in the way everlasting.
Jeremiah 17: (10) I, Jehovah, search the heart, [I] try the reins, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.
God is the searcher of hearts. Back to Romans 8:27 - the next thing we see is that God knows what is the mind of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is part of the triune Godhead and is co-equal with God the Father and eternally proceeds from the Father, so it follows that God knows what is the mind of the Spirit. And it goes the other way as well; 1 Corinthians 2:11 says that no one has known the things of God except the Spirit of God. The last part of verse 27 says, "because He petitions on behalf of the saints according to God." God, who searches the hearts, knows the mind of the Spirit, because, in this particular instance of the Spirit's intercession, the Spirit petitions on behalf of those who are groaning unspeakable groanings. The KJV again uses the phrase "maketh intercession" in verse 27, even though it's a completely different Greek word than in verse 26. In verse 27, the Greek word means "to meet with" or "to confer with" or "to entreat." God the Holy Spirit entreats with God the Father on behalf of the saints. The phrase "according to God" means that the Holy Spirit only pleads according to what God has willed for Him to plead and only what is for the good of His people. So, put all together, verse 27 gives us comfort in knowing that, even when we don't know the right words to pray, God knows what is in our hearts and hears the petitions of the Holy Spirit on our behalf when we don't know what we should pray as we ought, and these petitions are only for the good of God's people according to God's perfect will.
These words should give the people of God great comfort. As we're going through the sufferings of the present time, as we struggle with indwelling sin, as we yearn for the time when we will be glorified with Christ in heaven, our groanings are devoid of words, and, in our weakness, we don't know what we should pray as we ought. And through all this, the Holy Spirit, by which we cry, "Abba! Father!", who witnesses with our spirit that we are the children of God, intercedes and petitions on our behalf, so our petitions are heard by God even when we don't have the words for them. Praise be to God that this is one of the blessings that has been secured for us by the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone. Amen.