Hope Is Not Wishful Thinking
Prepared by Dr. John Marshall
Romans 8:24 (Holman) Now in this hope we were saved, yet hope that is
seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees?
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:13, “Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Of these three, the most talked about are faith and love; the one least mentioned, by far, is hope.
When did we last pray for more hope? Though often overlooked, hope is vitally important. Without it, Christ-followers would be miserable. Hope borrows light from tomorrow, and shines it on today. Hope fastens on future bliss, and enjoys it now.
We are saved “in” hope. At conversion we did not receive everything God has for us. There is still much more in store, and we live with the blessed assurance we shall someday receive the full supply.
Due to its importance, we need to take a good look at this blessed concept. In the New Testament, hope includes at least four key ingredients.
One, hope includes time. Hope always looks to the future. As our text says, “hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees?” Once something is possessed, it can no longer be hoped for.
Two, hope includes direction. Hope always has a definite goal to focus on. Our thoughts are not aimless, but center on a particular objective.
Believers do not look over a vast ocean and sigh, “It is so pretty out there.” Nor do we only say, “Things will get better eventually.” Rather, we have a definite object we focus on—the glory that shall be revealed in us.
Three, hope includes confidence. Christian, Biblical hope knows the object hoped for will definitely occur. It is not wishful thinking. Anticipation will surely be fulfilled. We do not have to see it or hold it to enjoy it.
Hope now has almost the exact opposite meaning it had in the New Testament. Today it includes an element of doubt. “I hope to go to Heaven” is a statement of doubt, not faith. The “hope” that many Christians possess is often nothing more than that which unbelievers have. This is a grievous loss.
Christian hope is an assurance, a confidence, not a hazy wish that all will turn out well. Hope does not include doubt, fretting, worry, or anxiety.
Hope is the child of faith. Faith accepts the promise; hope expects the thing promised. Hope is the confidence of faith looking forward. Faith holds salvation and says, “It is mine.” Hope looks on it and says, “Someday I will possess it fully.”
Faith looks back to the cross; hope looks forward to the crown. Faith looks upward to the promises; hope looks onward to the fulfillment. If there is no confidence, there is no Biblical hope.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:8 Christian hope is described as a helmet. This implies something sturdy and dependable. We do not want flimsy protection, consisting merely of hunches or guesses. Those things would provide a feeble helmet. We need sure armor. Our heads have to be well protected.
According to Hebrews 6:19 our hope is to be “an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast.” Hope is meant to steady us and hold us firm. Vague longings and wishful thinking will not provide this for us. Confidence is what we must have.
Four, hope includes desire. The goal longed for is something the individual wants and values. We wait not as criminals for execution, but as a bride for her wedding. Thinking on the glory that shall be revealed in us sends a thrill through our spirits. We want it.
We join with the Psalmist in saying, “I wait for Yahweh; I wait and put my hope in His word. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning—more than watchmen for the morning” (130:5-6).
Our yearning for the fulfillment of hope should have the same intensity as the yearning of a person who works at night longs for the breaking dawn.
Some might be tempted to think such hoping would cause us to be careless about our living here on earth. This is not the case, as Paul reveals.
Romans 8:25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for
it with patience.
Christian hope is incompatible with moral indifference. The person who longs to be like God someday will want to be like Him now. Anyone who hopes to be pleasing in God’s sight tomorrow will also be striving to please Him now. The companion of hope is love; the mother of hope is faith; the daughter of hope is patience.
Since we do not yet possess the object we desire, hope must always be accompanied with patience. Do not equate patience with passivity or dullness. It refers to carrying on in our tasks, and doing our duty, whatever befalls. It is a virtue strong and active.
Without hope, we would slip into impatience, which would mean forsaking our duty. The fact we have wonderful things to hope for makes this patience possible. Despondency paralyzes, but hope stimulates exertion.
Hope helps us remain firm and constant. We may grow tired, but we then have to “buck up” and find renewed strength. Hope will help us spring back after disappointment. Hope knows the darkness of today will clear off tomorrow. Hope uses failure as a springboard for victory.
The yearning and longing for better things ahead provides motivation. Thorwaldsen, Denmark’s greatest sculptor, was once deeply dejected, on the verge of tears. When asked what was wrong, he replied he was satisfied with the work he had in hand. He said he had never sensed satisfaction over his work before and feared his complacency was a sign his decline had begun.
Losing future prospects takes joy out of today. Without hope a Christian writhes in despair. If hope sets, night creeps in on the soul.
True hope is the fire every believer needs to have kindled by God. A man and woman in love with one another do not sit around and only wait for the wedding to arrive. They remain busy all the time, excitedly preparing for the big day. There is money to be earned and saved, invitations to be sent, a cake and wedding clothes to order, a reception to be planned, etc. The hope of a future event causes them not to be idle, but rather spurs them to activity.
Even so, Christian hope does not cause us to sit around and daydream. Rather, the bright prospect of future benefits should stir us to greater activity for Christ. Someday we will be joined to perfect union with Christ. Until then we labor to please Him that we might hear Him say “Well done.”