“We know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves…” (Romans 8:22-23).
There are three common views about “the whole creation.” (1) Some believe that it refers to all of creation including animals and plants. Wayne Jackson commented, “Paul, in these passages, has personified the creation. He has figuratively ascribed emotions to material creation” (Jackson, Notes From The Margin of My Bible, Vol. 2, p. 66). Such personification is found elsewhere in scripture (e.g. Psalm 96:12; 98:8; 114; Isaiah 35:1; 55:12; Ezekiel 31:15). (2) Some believe that it refers to all of humanity (cf. Mark 16:15). (3) Some believe that it refers to the church. Jesus “create(d) in Himself one new man from the two” (Ephesians 2:15). “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus…” (Ephesians 2:10). “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). (4) Some think that the reference is to gentiles Christians (Cf. Colossians 1:23).
There are three common views as to the identity of “we ourselves.” (1) Some understand this to refer to humanity. This does not seem to be correct, because this is speaking of those who “have the firstfruits of the Spirit.” (2) Some believe that this refers to Christians. The term “firstfruit(s)” is used early converts (e.g. Romans 16:5 cf. 1:13; 1 Corinthians 16:15; James 1:18). (3) Some believe that the reference is to the apostles. They were the first to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8 cf. 2:4) and through their hands others were miraculously endowed (Acts 8:14-18; 19:6; Romans 1:11; 1 Corinthians 1:4-7 cf. 2 Corinthians 12:12-13; Galatians 3:2, 5; 2 Timothy 1:6). (4) Some think that the reference is to Jewish Christians. They were the first Christians.
Regardless of the view, the basic point is the same: There is suffering in this life. Moreover, the context tells us that Christians are not exempt (Romans 8:18, 36).
“…eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance” (Romans 8:23b-25).
How can we endure the sufferings and hardships of life? First, we have hope for something better. Paul said, “I consider the sufferings of this present time… not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). We wait for adoption (Romans 8:23), literally “a standing as sons.” T. Pierce Brown has written that the original word (huiothesia), “Never refers, as far as we can tell, to coming into the family… It always refers to the standing or position of a son who has the rights and privileges (of such)” (article: Born or Adopted?”). Vine’s commented, “God does not ‘adopt’ believers as children; they are begotten…” There is a sense in which we have been given sonship (Romans 8:14-17). But, we have not been taken home yet. We have not yet received the full benefits of sonship.
Likewise, there is a sense in which we are currently the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5). However, we are currently betrothed (2 Corinthians 11:2). The marriage is to come (Revelation 19:7). We do not currently dwell with Him (John 14:1-3).
Likewise, there is a sense in which we now have eternal life (1 John 5:13). However, we now have it in promise and not in reality or actual realization (1 John 2:24-25; Titus 1:2).
We wait for the redemption of the body. That is, “deliverance of the body from frailty and morality” (Deaver, Romans, God’s Plan for Man’s Righteousness, p. 285) cf. Philippians 3:20-21.
The hope of what is to come is spiritual armor in this difficult world (1 Thessalonians 5:8). It helps us endure.
“Likewise, the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself (or, itself – KJV) makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27).
How can we endure the sufferings and hardships of life? Second, we can pray and God knows what we wish to say even when we have trouble putting such into words.
Man has groanings. The groanings are man’s and not the Holy Spirit’s (Romans 8:22-23, 26 cf. 2 Corinthians 5:2; Exodus 2:23-24). R.L. Whiteside remarked, “Every man who is devoted to the Lord finds times when deep down in his heart there are vague desires and longings, and a sense of need, that he is unable to put in words. These are groanings that cannot be uttered” (Guy Woods, Questions and Answers, Vol. 1, pp. 72-73). Howard Winters has written, “There are longings, gratitudes, and needs in the human heart that cannot be adequately expressed in words. Yet we strongly desire to express them to God – we want Him to know our deepest yearnings and devotions” (Winters, The Work of the Holy Spirit, p. 153).
God understands our groanings. We have help. (1) The Spirit helps in our weaknesses. (a) Most take this to be the Holy Spirit. Lynn Blair commented, “It is important to note that Christ alone mediates for us (1 Timothy 2:5). However, since it is entirely permissible and even desirable for one man to intercede (pray for) another (1 Timothy 2:1; James 5:6; 1 John 5:15, et. al.), we should not be surprised to learn that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us” (Blair, Studies in Romans, Annual Denton Lectures, p. 170). It is important to understand that this is the Holy Spirit doing something for us (helping us with prayer) and not directly to us (directly influencing the human heart). (b) A few have understood this to be referring to the human spirit. Foy Wallace Jr. has written, “It was suggested to me years ago by R.L. Whiteside that the Spirit in Romans 8:26-27 refers to the human spirit and not to the Holy Spirit, and the meaning of the text, is that our own spirit groans or yearns in intercession to God for that which cannot be uttered, or put into words” (Wallace, The Mission and Medium of The Holy Spirit, pp. 68-69). The human spirit reveals man to God (Proverbs 20:7; 1 Corinthians 2:11). (2) There is one who searches the heart. (a) Many believe that this refers to God (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7; Psalm 94:11; Acts 15:8; Hebrews 4:13). Roy Deaver has written, “God knows the mind of the Spirit. And God responds to the Spirit’s intercession in our behalf” (Deaver, Romans, God’s Plan For Man’s Righteousness, p. 292). (b) Others believe this refers to Jesus (Revelation 2:28 cf. 2:8). He intercedes for us according to the will of God (Romans 8:27 cf. 8:34). Note: “He” in verse 27 is masculine and this does not refer to the Spirit.
Regardless of the view, the basic point is the same: He knows what we feel. He receives our groanings. He knows our needs (cf. Matthew 6:8). He cares. He understands even when we have trouble wording our prayers.