Connecting Biblical Hope to Promises

It would be hard to deny the importance of hope in the Christian life. Along with faith and love, Paul lists hope as one of three essential virtues (1 Cor 13:13).

Additionally, Paul calls Jesus “our hope” (1 Tim 1:1). Peter gets in on the action, reminding Christians that they have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).

So, hope is crucial to followers of Jesus. What, then, is hope?

Basic Ideas About Hope

We use “hope” in conversation with enough frequency that we may not have a solid definition in mind. When we tell a friend that we hope they have a good day or that we hope we can cut the grass before it rains, we’re expressing a strong desire. In this usage, “hope” means something close to “wish.”

But this isn’t how the Biblical authors use the Hebrew and Greek words that come into English as “hope.”

Before we dive too deeply, let’s establish some basic ideas about hope. First, hope is forward-looking. It is about the future, events yet to come. Additionally, in almost every New Testament instance, the use of “hope” is eschatological. That fancy word just means that hope refers to “last things” or “end things.” Here are some examples.

Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” (Acts 23:6)

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Cor 15:19)

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. (Col 1:3–5a)

Word Studies

In some circles, “word studies” are a popular approach to the Bible. Such a method involves a concordance or a digitally searchable form of the Bible, and every occurrence of a word is gathered and analyzed with the goal of finding the one true meaning of a word.

This is a flawed approach to Bible study, as it often considers words out of their literary context. Additionally, it assumes that words are used uniformly by different authors and at different times. This isn’t the way we use English words, and we shouldn’t project that onto the Biblical authors. Analyzing the use of a word in different parts of the Bible can provide us with a range of usage, and clearly a word cannot mean anything we want it to mean. But there is rarely a single narrow meaning of a word.

Hope and Promises

With all this being said, we can draw one conclusion about many uses of the word “hope” in the Bible. Hope depends on what God has promised.

We can see this in several places in the New Testament, notably in Hebrews 6:9–20. The writer calls attention to Abraham as one who obtained the promises of God through waiting (Heb 6:15). Because it is “impossible for God to lie,” we can “hold fast to the hope set before us” (Heb 6:18). Hope is described as “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (Heb 6:19). The argument in verses 13–20 is made so that the hearers of this letter might “have the full assurance of hope until the end” and “inherit the promises” (Heb 6:11–12).

We see the connections between hope and God’s promises throughout this passage. We must conclude that the Christian’s hope is built on God’s promises. As one Bible dictionary says, “Hope is the proper response to the promises of God.”

Reading Backwards

If what I have claimed is true—that Christian hope is built on God’s promises—then we can profitably read other references to hope with this in mind.

When Paul refers to the “God of hope” who will make the people “abound in hope” (Rom 15:13), we know that it is because God makes and keeps promises. (The connection is explicit here, as the previous verse quotes a promise given in Isaiah.)

In 2 Corinthians, Paul hopes that the people will be comforted (2 Cor 1:7) and that they will be delivered from present suffering (2 Cor 1:10), because these are promises God has made.

God is a promise-making and promise-keeping God. And so many of his promises are designed to give us strength, encouragement, and clarity to press in and press through the hard things of life. We can abound in hope as we learn, remember, and trust in God’s promises.

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Ryan Higginbottom
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