Hope keeps us going during difficult times
Ask a group of people what hope is, and they will produce a variety of answers. Some of these might include a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen, a sense of trust, or wanting something to happen or be the case. Usually, there is an element of uncertainty or even forlornness regarding the issue of hope.
My father did the football pools for many years in the hope he would win something, but he never really believed it would happen. In point of fact, he never won more than he paid into the pool. Many people are happy to spend money weekly for the possibility of winning the lottery. Although the chance of winning the jackpot is minuscule people are paying for a small amount of hope as they see it.
There are many jokes about the uncertainty of hope. One example conveys the mixed feeling people have about hope with the joke about the optimist falling off the top of the Empire State Building and saying as he passes every window, “Alright so far.”
Christian hope is very different from this. The world has devalued the right concept of hope. Biblical hope is an entirely sure thing. It is something that will happen but has not happened yet.
Paul makes the point that hope that is seen is not hope (Romans 8:24)124 For we were saved in hope, but hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for that which he sees?. The New International Version of the Bible talks about us being sure of what we hope for (Hebrews 11:1)21 Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, proof of things not seen.. This assurance of future things is at the heart of Christianity but very foreign to our culture. Paul considers hope to be vital and lists it alongside faith and love (1 Corinthians 13:13)313 But now faith, hope, and love remain—these three. The greatest of these is love..
The Problem of Hopelessness
Many Christians have a problem, with hope. Many believers struggle with a sense of hopelessness in their lives and churches. Why should this be?
During the last fifty years, Christians have increasingly focussed on the here and now. There was a reaction to what was viewed as ‘pie in the sky when you die thinking.’ Of course, it is essential that we live in the here and now and not over-focus on the future disengaging from our present lives. As with so many things balance is needed.
One of the things that enable us to keep going in current difficult circumstances is the assurance of a better future coming. Paul links patient endurance with hope (Romans 5:4)44 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; .
Much teaching in our churches is about the hearers living their everyday lives. Other learning is viewed as impractical and not relevant. One of the ways hope is built into people’s lives is to teach them the truth about the future.
Remember hope is about the future. Christians have the most incredible future ahead of them. It is helpful that we live our current lives in the light of all the beautiful things that lie ahead. The Bible has a lot to say about our future, and the study of this will build hope in our lives. There is nothing for the Christian to fear in what lies ahead. An accurate view of what the Bible teaches about the end times will significantly encourage Christians.
False Teaching the Enemy of Hope
There are two approaches to teaching people the Bible.
Approach 1: The correct approach is to start with a scripture from the Bible and accurately identify what this meant to the people hearing it being taught. The aim is to accurately see what the teacher intended to convey. This process is known as exegesis.
The next thing to do is to apply it rightly to our lives and situations at this time. Not all scripture applies to us even though all is profitable for us. There are a number of reasons why a scripture may not directly apply to us. The Bible is not all about us even though we like to think it is. We live in a different culture to Bible times and although Biblical principles are timeless the way they connect with our lives through our culture may differ. The way we apply scripture is known as hermeneutics.
Approach 2: The other approach which is incorrect and unhelpful is to start with a teaching and look for a scripture or scriptures to validate this. The problem with this is that we can read all sorts of meanings into the part of the Bible we are looking at that takes scripture out of context, culture and the correct use of language. We can literally use the Bible to prove anything we want using this approach.
To parody an old hymn:
Wonderful things in the Bible I see,
Put there by you and put there by me.
This incorrect approach is called eisegesis. This approach to teaching is increasingly used and starts with a doctrine that can often be an invention of men. When we put our trust in these false doctrines they do not work in our lives. Because some people incorrectly think they are what the Bible teaches when these doctrines don’t work they throw out the baby with the bathwater and end up rejecting the truth of scripture as well as the false doctrine.
An Example of False Teaching
False hope: If we delight ourselves in God He gives us whatever we want. This teaching can be also known as prosperity teaching or name it and claim it.
A scripture which is often misquoted to justify this is (Psalms 37:4)
4 Also delight yourself in Yahweh, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
What the verse is really saying is that if we long after God and seek Him wholeheartedly God will reveal Himself to us and give Himself to us. If He is the delight of our heart He gives us Him, our heart’s desire. It is not saying that delighting in God is a golden ticket to get things we may want.
It has been used to falsely reassure single people that they will marry. Women greatly outnumber men in the church. For women who want to marry a Christian man, this presents a major problem. Some have tried to link delighting in God with finding a Christian husband. This has created a false hope. Sadly, many women have struggled with not finding a husband despite placing their hope in (Psalm 37:4). Many have been left seriously questioning their faith in consequence of this erroneous teaching.
The context of (Psalm 37) is King David being delivered from his enemies. The promise of getting his hearts-desire in this context means that those who delight themselves in God know deliverance from evil men.
We need an accurate knowledge of the Bible to have true hope in our lives.
- What are the hopes we can be totally sure of?
- Can you think of other false doctrines that misuse the Bible and rob people of hope?
- How can we more accurately learn and teach the Bible?