The Benedictory Intercession
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (15:13)
Paul closes this passage with a beautiful benediction of intercession for all the people of God, not mentioning Jew or Gentile, but addressing the entire, unified Body of Jesus Christ. He petitions the God of hope to graciously fill His people with His divine joy and peace and hope. It expresses the apostle’s deep desire for all believers to have total spiritual satisfaction in their beloved Savior and Lord.
It is essentially the same benediction with which Paul blessed the church at Philippi: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7; cf. 1 Pet. 1:3, 8). It is a prayer for satisfied souls in Christ to know and experience the peace, the hope, the love, the victory, the joy, and the power of the indwelling Spirit of God, who makes them one in Jesus Christ their Lord.
The First Benediction
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
There is a sense in which the Book of Romans ends with the thirteenth verse of chapter fifteen, because what follows is essentially personal in nature. Paul did not always end his letters with such remarks, and this one would have been complete without them. Besides, Romans 15:13 would have been a great ending.
I have called this study “The First Benediction” because there will be two more benedictions before we end—Romans 15:33 and Romans 16:20—followed by a doxology in Romans 16:25–27. Each benediction is important, but this is a particularly important and comprehensive one.
Donald Grey Barnhouse devoted six studies to this verse in his radio series on Romans. (They were reduced to one in book form.) He says, “This verse is a great summary of the blessed life in the brotherhood formed by our oneness in Jesus Christ. The source of that life is the God of hope. The measure of that life is that we shall be filled ‘with all joy and peace.’ The quality of that life is joy and peace which he desires for us. The condition of that life is faith—we enter it by believing. The purpose of that life is that we might abound. The enabling of that life is divine power. And the director of that life is the Holy Spirit.” So clearly, this is a very practical verse.
Romans 15:13 is a prayer, which leads Leon Morris to say, “We should not think of Paul primarily as a controversialist; he was a deeply pious man and it is characteristic that he finishes not with some equivalent of Q.E.D. [quod erat demonstrandum, meaning ‘which was to be demonstrated’] nor a shout of triumph over the antagonists he has confronted but with a prayer.”
The God of Hope
The obvious place to begin this study is with the word hope, because it is the first key word and occurs twice, once at the beginning and once at the end.
What is striking here is that Paul links hope to God, speaking of “the God of hope.” This can point to God as the source of hope (a subjective genitive), or it can point to God as the object of hope (an objective genitive). Both are true. God is the source of hope because he is the source of every good thing. But he is also the object of hope, since we have hope in him and not in the weak things advanced as objects of hope by our secular sinful world.
Paul is not saying to “keep a stiff upper lip” or “look for the silver lining” or “never, never, never give up” when he speaks of the Christian’s hope. To be hopeful is a human characteristic possessed in large measure by great men and women, and we admire it. But if that is all we are talking about in terms of our spiritual state, it would be utter deception and delusion. This is because without God our condition is literally, thoroughly, unmistakably, and unalterably hopeless. We are indeed “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12).
As soon as we bring God into the picture the situation is reversed. Now we have hope through the work of Jesus Christ, because God himself is our hope and has given hope to us.
Nothing else can be that or do that. If you put your hope in other people, they will let you down. If you trust your stocks or bonds or bank accounts, you will find that they can disappear overnight. In any case, they are not ultimately satisfying. Health will fail. Houses can burn. Jobs can be lost. Even great nations enter periods of economic and moral decline. But the one who has his or her hope from God and trusts God as he has revealed himself in Jesus Christ can stand firm in anything. Edward Mots expressed it in one of our best-known hymns:
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
His oath, his covenant, his blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives away,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
Paul spoke of this hope when he wrote to the Christians at Corinth, describing himself as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Cor. 6:10).
Abounding in Joy
Joy is one of Paul’s great concepts since, as Leon Morris points out, “the term occurs in his writings twenty-one times and no other New Testament writing has it more than John’s nine times.” He links it to faith in Philippians 1:25 (“I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith”) and with the other fruits of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22–23 (“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”).
Yet Paul didn’t invent the idea. He received it from Jesus, who spoke of it, along with peace, as his gift to his disciples before his departure. Jesus said, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). Speaking of his death he added, “Now is your time for grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy” (John 16:22). Later in his high priestly prayer, recorded in John 17, Jesus said to his Father, “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them” (v. 13).
This joy has its source in God, since “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).
This means that the Christian’s joy is not a matter of natural human endowments or nice circumstances. It is supernatural in origin and in the way it expresses itself in spite of circumstances. Donald Grey Barnhouse wrote, “It is not a question of being an extrovert or an introvert. Some people are by nature gloomy and morose. In the days of superstition it was thought that such had been born under the influence of Saturn, and so they were called saturnine. Other people are buoyant and outgoing, and this was attributed to their being born under the influence of the planet Jupiter, so they were called jovial. But jovial people are sometimes plunged into the deepest despair and gloom when something goes contrary to their selfish desires. And contrariwise, some who are naturally despondent learn to settle upon the eternal Rock, and are filled with a deep and steadfast joy, which does not have its spring in this natural life.”
In the prayer recorded in John 17, Jesus indicated that we should have “the full measure” of this divine joy within. But we don’t always; that is why he prayed for it on our behalf.
We find much the same thing in our text in Romans, for Paul is praying that God might fill the Roman believers with “all joy and peace as you trust in him.” This teaches that there are degrees of these blessings for Christians; and this must mean that although many have them, not all are filled with them. Instead of being mostly empty of blessings, you should be filled to the brim.
Two Kinds of Peace
Two kinds of peace are spoken of in the Bible: peace with God and the peace of God. Thus far in Romans the first meaning has dominated, because Paul has been trying to show how sinners, who are naturally at war with God, might find peace with God through the cross of Christ. Here, however, he is talking about personal peace, the peace of heart and mind that God gives.
William Barclay in his commentary on Romans writes about how people naturally want peace but lose it due to inner tensions or disturbing circumstances:
The ancient philosophers sought for what they called ataraxia, the untroubled life. They wanted above all serenity, that serenity which is proof alike against the shattering blows and the petty pinpricks of human existence. One would almost say that today serenity is a lost possession.
There are two things which make serenity impossible. (a) There is the inner tension. Men live a distracted life, for the word distract literally means to pull apart. So long as a man is a walking civil war, so long as he himself is a battleground, so long as he is a split personality, there can obviously be no such thing as serenity. There is only one way out of this, and that is for self to abdicate to Christ. When Christ controls the tension is gone. (b) There is worry about external things. There are many who are haunted by the chances and the changes of life. H. G. Wells tells how in New York harbor he was once on a liner. It was foggy, and suddenly out of the fog there loomed another liner, and the two ships slid past each other with only yards to spare. He was suddenly face to face with what he called the general large dangerousness of life. It is hard not to worry, for man is characteristically a creature who looks forward to guess and fear. The only end to that worry is the utter conviction that, whatever happens, God’s hand will never cause his child a needless tear. Things will happen that we cannot understand, but if we are sure enough of love, we can accept with serenity even those things which wound the heart and baffle the mind.
What that is all about, if we speak in theological terms, is faith in the sovereignty of God—that God is in control and that he never lets anything come into the lives of one of his children that he has not ordained for that person for his or her ultimate good. A person who really trusts in God’s sovereignty will have a peace that others cannot even comprehend.
Trust in Him
The fourth of the key terms Paul puts together in this verse is faith, or trust as the New International Version has it. Faith is the indispensable channel for blessings, as they come from God but become ours only as we trust in him.
This is not so mysterious. It is simply a matter of believing God when he tells us who he is and what he has done and will continue to do for his people. I am convinced that the most important of all differences between people is precisely at this point, not whether they are intelligent or unintelligent, kind or unkind, joyful or taciturn, people-oriented or loners, but whether or not they will trust God. Christians by very definition are believers; non-Christians are unbelievers. But I mean more than this. I mean that even professing Christians differ fundamentally in regard either to trusting or not trusting God, either believing him or questioning what he says.
In his study of this verse Donald Grey Barnhouse illustrates this by citing the way some Bible critics reacted when so-called errors they believed they had found in the Bible were explained. They began by creating a series of arguments for why intelligent people could no longer trust the Bible—call them arguments A, B, C, and D. These stood for a while because biblical scholarship is slow. Yet as the years went by arguments A and B were refuted by a better knowledge of the Bible and of the times of the writing of the biblical documents. By this time these same unbelieving critics had developed arguments E, F, G, and H. Scholarship crawled on and eventually explained these problems. But now the critics had arguments I, J, K, L, and M. And so it has gone. Eventually they ran out of letters and had to start again!
We might expect that such people would learn from what has happened, but they do not. In the meantime, however, as Barnhouse writes, “While this parade of doubt passes by, there is the quiet march of men of faith who are filled with all joy and peace in believing, because they have been filled by the God of hope who establishes, strengthens and settles them.”
I have often called attention to Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s remark that he was willing to be thought a fool today, knowing that in twenty or thirty years his faith in the Word of God would be vindicated, and chiding those who aspired to seem wise now by attacking the Scriptures but who would look foolish in a decade or so’s time.
Learn to trust God. You will find that as you trust him you will grow stronger in your faith and that you will become ever more firmly settled in the wonderful doctrines taught us in the Bible. Moreover, you will discover something of the perfect joy and peace of believing God. Hymn writer Thomas Kelly (1769–1855) wrote this:
Trust in him, ye saints, forever;
He is faithful, changing never;
Neither force nor guile can sever
Those he loves from him.
Powered by the Holy Spirit
The fifth and last of the great biblical words found in Romans 15:13 is power, in the phrase “by the power of the Holy Spirit.” In the Greek it is the word dynamis, not exousia (which is sometimes also translated as power but actually means authority). It is a power that gets things done.
This phrase reminds us that nothing of any spiritual value is possible in and of ourselves since, as Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). We cannot believe unless we are enabled to believe by God (Eph. 2:8). We cannot find peace unless we submit our requests to God by prayer and earnest petition (Phil. 4:6–7). Joy comes only from God and is a fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work within (Gal. 5:22). Hope is impossible (Eph. 2:12). But while these blessings are impossible for any of us to achieve by ourselves, everything is possible for God who makes them possible for us and in us by his Spirit’s power. In fact, God promises to bless us in all these ways if we will trust him, and it is for this that Paul is praying in Romans 15.
By ending with a reference to “the power of the Holy Spirit,” the prayer that is our text both begins and ends with God. This is an important point, and it is one that should be familiar to us by now since it is exactly what we found in Romans 11:36, which closed the long doctrinal section of the epistle. It ended with a doxology, the final words of which were:
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.
Everything in this whole universe begins with God, is accomplished by God’s agency, and exists for God’s glory. But if that is true of the inanimate universe—the world of plants and trees, of suns and planets, of quasars, quarks, and black holes—it is certainly true of salvation. It is true of you, if you are a Christian. You exist because God created you. You believe because he worked faith in you and sustains it in you by the power of his Holy Spirit. He does this that you might live to his glory now and indeed forever.
Left to ourselves we can do nothing. Even as saved people we would fall at the first wisp of temptation or the first blast of Satan’s death-dealing blows. But because God is for us we can stand firm and triumph. That is why Thomas Kelly continues, in the hymn from which I quoted earlier:
Keep us Lord, O keep us cleaving
To thyself and still believing,
Till the hour of our receiving
Promised joys from thee.
Finally, we note that according to our text, all this is so Christians “might overflow with hope.” That is Paul’s emphasis, his conclusion. To put it in temporal sequence: God, who is the source of hope, is asked to fill believers with joy and peace through their learning to trust in him, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit’s working they might overflow with the hope of which God the Father is the source.
This is the fourth mention of hope in this chapter (vv. 4, 12, 13 twice) and the third since verse 12. So obviously it is Paul’s main concern and should be ours also, especially since we live in an age that is so lacking in hope. As I look around me today I sense that people have lost hope in nearly everything. They have no faith in politicians or the economy or justice from the courts or even safety from those authorized to provide it. They do not even have faith in themselves. And they are without God, and therefore there is no hope for them in this world.
What an opportunity for God’s people! Robert Haldane says, “The people of God have high hopes.” Indeed we do. We have divine, uplifting, great, overwhelming, and overpowering hopes. So let’s be hopeful. Abound in hope—and let the world know why.
13 As he had done at the close of the first section in this chapter (v. 5), Paul expresses his desire that God will meet the needs of his readers. Although eschatology is a significant feature of ch. 8, eschatology in a formal, structured sense has little place in Romans. Its subjective counterpart, “hope” (elpis, GK 1828), however, is mentioned more often than in any other of his letters, especially in this portion (vv. 4, 12–13).
The expression “the God of hope” means the God who inspires hope and imparts it to his children. “Hope” in the NT does not mean “wishful thinking”; quite to the contrary, “hope” in the NT connotes “a confident expectation.” The confidence of Christian hope derives from the fact that God can be counted on to fulfill what yet remains to be accomplished for the church (5:2; cf. 13:11). Likewise, in the more immediate future and with the help of Paul’s letter, they can confidently look to God for the working out of their problems, including the one Paul has been discussing. Hope does not operate apart from trust; in fact, it is the forward-looking aspect of faith (Gal 5:5; 1 Pe 1:21). Paul prays that the Romans might be filled “with all joy and peace”—words that remind us of key traits of the kingdom of God according to 14:17. Peace, of course, is very pertinent to the concerns of this portion of Romans.
Paul in his pastoral zeal is not satisfied with anything less than a rich experience of hope that “overflows” (perisseuein, GK 4355), even as elsewhere he desires his readers to abound in love (Php 1:9; 1 Th 3:12), in pleasing God (1 Th 4:1), and in thanksgiving (Col 2:7). The reason for this emphasis in Paul is that the God who is supplicated here has so wonderfully abounded in the exercise of his grace (5:15) that he can also be expected to enable his people to increase in the manifestation of Christian graces, especially as this is ensured “by the power of the Holy Spirit,” who indwells and fills the inner life.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1991). Romans (Vol. 2, p. 324). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Boice, J. M. (1991–). Romans: The New Humanity (Vol. 4, pp. 1834–1841). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
 Harrison, E. F., & Hagner, D. A. (2008). Romans. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 216). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.