THE COMPASSIONATE INTERCESSION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT HELPS
KEEP US ON TRACK AS WE ENDURE THE SUFFERINGS OF THIS LIFE ON OUR WAY TO GLORY
Thomas Schreiner: The idea of the Spirit groaning is not the main idea of verses 26–27. What Paul stresses is the Spirit’s aid in our weakness, and the groaning of the Spirit is not the thematic center, since it is relayed in a dative phrase near the end of verse 26. In addition, the groaning of creation and believers is not the main point of verses 19–22 and 23–25. In both instances the focus is on the eschatological hope that anticipates the indescribable beauty of future glory. The theme that joins this text with the preceding, then, is that the Spirit sustains our hope while believers await redemption (Murray 1959: 310–11; D. Moo 1991: 559–60).
Believers, then, should take tremendous encouragement that the will of God is being fulfilled in their lives despite their weakness and inability to know what to pray for. God’s will is not frustrated because of the weakness of believers. It is fulfilled because the Spirit intercedes for us and invariably receives affirmative answers to his pleas. We can see how nicely this fits with the next verses, where Paul teaches that God works everything together for good and that God has designed all things so that we are conformed to the image of his Son. No wonder all things are working out for our good: the Spirit is effectively praying for us so that the will of God will be accomplished in our lives, and we know that God identifies with and cares about our experiences of suffering, which provides comfort.
Douglas Moo: These groanings of the Spirit are perfectly in accord with God’s will (v. 27). Thus God, who knows the heart, hears and answers those prayers. Our inability to pray as precisely as we would like is no hindrance to the working out of God’s perfect will in our lives. We may not know what to ask for in a given situation, but the Spirit does. His requests are in perfect harmony with the will of the Lord for us. As Jesus intercedes for us before the Father (cf. 8:34), guaranteeing our salvation, so the Spirit intercedes for us in our hearts, preparing us for that salvation.
R. Kent Hughes: How marvelous this all is! We have two intercessors:
- one in Heaven—our Lord Jesus who intercedes for our sins (v. 34) and
- one in our hearts—the Holy Spirit himself. How greatly we are loved!
Grant Osborne: As believers, we are not left to our own resources to cope with problems. Even when we don’t know the right words to pray, the Holy Spirit prays with and for us, and God answers. With God helping us to pray, we don’t need to be afraid to come before him. We simply ask the Holy Spirit to intercede for us “in accordance with God’s will.” Then, when we bring our requests to God, we will trust that he will always do what is best.
Thomas Constable: The basic principle of effective praying is that it must be in harmony with the will of God to be effective (1 John 5:14-15; John 14:13; 15:16; 16:23-24). However, what the precise will of God is is often hard for us to know. The Holy Spirit then comes to our aid: “the Spirit Himself intercedes for us.” To intercede means to pray for someone else.
I. (:26a) THE HOLY SPIRIT HELPS US RIGHT NOW IN OUR WEAKNESS IN PRAYER IN THE CONTEXT OF SUFFERING
“And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness;”
- Our weakness and suffering is very real and very painful
- Our best resource in this life is the person of the Holy Spirit
- The Holy Spirit is our Helper
Thomas Schreiner: The hope of believers is also strengthened by the assistance of the Holy Spirit. The verb συναντιλαμβάνεται (synantilambanetai, helps) is probably intensive, indicating not merely that the Spirit joins in helping but also that the Spirit himself and alone renders the assistance believers need. The text says the Spirit helps believers “in our weakness” (τῇ ἀσθενείᾳ ἡμῶν, tē astheneia hēmōn). The weakness that believers experience is doubtless due to their general incapability, and thus the term could designate weakness in a broad and undefined way (Murray 1959: 311; Dunn 1988a: 477; Fee 1994: 578); for instance, in the near context Paul speaks of the weakness of waiting for future redemption (Wright 2002: 598). Still the γάρ (gar, for) in the text suggests that the weakness is more specific. Indeed, O’Brien (1987: 69) is probably correct in detecting a chiasm in this verse in which the second part defines more precisely the first element (cf. also Sanday and Headlam 1902: 213).
- A The Spirit helps
- B in our weakness.
- Bʹ For we do not know what to pray for as we should
- Aʹ but the Spirit intercedes with unspeakable groanings.
In the chiasm, the weakness of believers is defined in terms of their ignorance as to what is the proper content of prayer, and the Spirit’s help is defined in terms of his intercession for believers. Paul is not describing, then, the Spirit’s help for us in a general way, nor does he contemplate weakness as a total phenomenon in the lives of believers. It is weakness in prayer that Paul zeros in on, and the Spirit’s help in prayer is the answer to our weakness.
Steven Cole: The word “helps” occurs only here and in one other place in the New Testament. The meaning is, someone is carrying a heavy load and another person comes alongside to take the other end and bear the burden with him. The other use of “help” is in Luke 10:40, where Jesus is in the home of Mary and Martha. Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet, but Martha was distracted with all her preparations. Finally, she burst out, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” She wanted her sister to help bear the burden of preparing and serving the meal.
The word implies that the Holy Spirit doesn’t do everything, while we sit back and do nothing. Rather, we are to keep praying and, if appropriate, keep working or obeying or whatever the Bible may tell us to do about our situation. But as we pray, the Spirit says, “Let Me grab the other end. Let me help you by picking up your burden and taking it before the Father’s throne. I know what to pray for when you don’t.” So the Spirit helps us by praying for us in our weakness. What an encouragement!
II. (:26b) THE HOLY SPIRIT INTERCEDES FOR US
A. Our Weakness in Prayer
“for we do not know how to pray as we should,”
(contrast between our helplessness and confusion vs.
compassionate intercession of the Holy Spirit)
Thomas Schreiner: Most scholars now agree that the weakness of believers lies in the “content” of prayers. They do not know adequately what to pray for. . . The weakness of believers in prayer, therefore, is that they do not have an adequate grasp of what God’s will is when they pray. Because of our finiteness and fallibility, we cannot fully perceive what God would desire.
John Murray: Prayer covers every aspect of our need, and our weakness is exemplified and laid bare by the fact that we know not what to pray for as is meet and proper. It is not our ignorance of the right manner of prayer that is reflected on, as the rendering of the version might suggest. It is rather our ignorance respecting the proper content – we know not what to pray as the exigencies of our situations demand. It is at the point of this destitution on our part that the Holy Spirit comes to our help, and upon this particular aspect of the Spirit’s activity the apostle concentrates attention as peculiarly and by way of eminence the grace of the Spirit in reference to our infirmity, the grace which consists in the fact that he “himself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”
B. The Holy Spirit’s Strength in Prayer
“but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words;”
Thomas Schreiner: The term ἀλάλητος could mean that which cannot be uttered in words, but it much more likely means “without speech,” the absence of any vocalization at all. This seems to be the most natural way of translating a word that negates a word for speech. . . The most serious objection to a reference involving speaking in a tongue is that Rom. 8:26–27 refers to all Christians, while glossolalia is reserved for only a few. . .
God searches the hearts of believers and finds unutterable longings to conform their lives to the will of God. The Holy Spirit takes these groanings and presents them before God in an articulate form. Even though believers cannot specify their requests to God adequately since they don’t know his will sufficiently, the Holy Spirit translates these groanings and conforms them to God’s will.
John Murray: the groanings are not expressed in articulate speech; they are not request or petitions or supplications which are formulated in intelligible utterance. While far from being devoid of content, meaning, and intent, they nevertheless transcend articulated formulation. The groanings will have to be understood as the groanings which are registered in the hearts of the children of God.
Frank Thielman: The term “wordless” (ἀλαλήτοις) does not refer to glossolalia (cf. 1 Cor 13:1; 14:9) or to the “inexpressible things” of paradise “that no one is permitted to tell” (2 Cor 12:4 NIV). It simply emphasizes the inarticulate nature of the groans that characterize existence within a world subjected to futility (8:20). The Spirit enters into this existence in order to help believers and requests God’s aid for believers in their plight.
Steven Cole: I suggest that Paul pictures the Holy Spirit groaning on our behalf to convey that He takes up our needs at the deepest emotional level and conveys our hurts and cares to the Father’s throne, all in line with the will of God. This should encourage us to pour out our hearts before Him (Ps. 62:8).
III. (:27) THE HOLY SPIRIT ASKS FOR THE EXACT THINGS WE NEED IIN HARMONY WITH GOD THE FATHER
A. God the Father Intimately Knows God the Spirit
“and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is,”
Frank Thielman: The Spirit is able to intercede effectively for believers because he not only knows what believers need in their distress but also because he knows, and is fully known by, God.
B. God the Spirit Intimately Knows God the Father
“because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
The Harmony between God the Father and God the Holy Spirit
- (between the mind of God and the mind of the Spirit;
- between the will of God and the will of the Spirit;
- between the love of God and the love of the Spirit for us;
- between the desire of both to see Christ glorified in us)
ensures that His Compassionate Intercession will keep us on track
(since His help is totally consistent with the will of God)
David Thompson: Now verse 27 is a critical verse pertaining to the subject of the will of God. This verse clearly implies that there is a specific will of God for your life as a believer and the Holy Spirit, working in harmony with the other members of the Godhead, is involved in interceding concerning that will especially when we are suffering.
There is obviously a sovereign will of God that sometimes is hidden from our knowledge and the Holy Spirit knows exactly what that will is and He prays on our behalf, knowing that will.