8:26-30 Even so, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know what we should pray, if we are to pray as we ought. But the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings which baffle speech to utter; but he who searches the hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because it is by God's will that he intercedes for those whose lives are consecrated to God. We know that God intermingles all things for good for those who love him, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he knew long ago he long ago designed to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the first born among many brothers. Those whom he long ago designed for this purpose, he also called; and those whom he called he put into a right relationship with himself; and those whom he put into a right relationship with himself he also glorified.
Romans 8:26-27 form one of the most important passages on prayer in the whole New Testament. Paul is saying that, because of our weakness, we do not know what to pray for, but the prayers we ought to offer are offered for us by the Holy Spirit. C. H. Dodd defines prayer in this way--"Prayer is the divine in us appealing to the Divine above us."
There are two very obvious reasons why we cannot pray as we ought. First, we cannot pray aright because we cannot foresee the future. We cannot see a year or even an hour ahead; and we may well pray, therefore, to be saved from things which are for our good and we may well pray for things which would be to our ultimate harm. Second, we cannot pray aright because in any given situation we do not know what is best for us. We are often in the position of a child who wants something which would be bound only to hurt him; and God is often in the position of a parent who has to refuse his child's request or compel him to do something he does not want to do, because he knows what is to the child's good far better than the child himself.
Even the Greeks knew that. Pythagoras forbade his disciples to pray for themselves, because, he said, they could never in their ignorance know what was expedient for them. Xenophon tells us that Socrates taught his disciples simply to pray for good things, and not to attempt to specify them, but to leave God to decide what the good things were. C. H. Dodd puts it in this way. We cannot know our own real need; we cannot with our finite minds grasp God's plan; in the last analysis all that we can bring to God is an inarticulate sigh which the Spirit will translate to God for us.
As Paul saw it, prayer, like everything else, is of God. He knew that by no possible human effort can a man justify himself; and he also knew that by no possible effort of the human intelligence can a man know for what to pray. In the last analysis the perfect prayer is simply, "Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit. Not my will, but Thine be done."
But Paul goes on from there. He says that those who love God, and who are called according to his purpose, know well that God is intermingling all things for good to them. It is the experience of life for the Christian that all things do work together for good. We do not need to be very old to look back and see that things we thought were disasters worked out to our good; things that we thought were disappointments worked out to greater blessings.
But we have to note that that experience comes only to those who love God. The Stoics had a great idea which may well have been in Paul's mind when he wrote this passage. One of their great conceptions was the logos ( Greek #3056 ) of God, which was God's mind or the reason. The Stoic believed that this world was permeated with that logos ( Greek #3056 ). It was the logos ( Greek #3056 ) which put sense into the world. It was the logos ( Greek #3056 ) which kept the stars in their courses and the planets in their appointed tracks. It was the logos ( Greek #3056 ) which controlled the ordered succession of night and day, and summer and winter and spring and autumn. The logos ( Greek #3056 ) was the reason and the mind of God in the universe, making it an order and not a chaos.
The Stoic went further. He believed that the logos ( Greek #3056 ) not only had an order for the universe, but also a plan and a purpose for the life of every individual man. To put it in another way, the Stoic believed that nothing could happen to a man which did not come from God and which was not part of God's plan for him. Epictetus writes: "Have courage to look up to God and to say, 'Deal with me as thou wilt from now on. I am as one with thee; I am thine; I flinch from nothing so long as thou dost think that it is good. Lead me where thou wilt; put on me what raiment thou wilt. Wouldst thou have me hold office or eschew it, stay or flee, be rich or poor? For this I will defend thee before men.'" The Stoic taught that the duty of every man was acceptance. If he accepted the things that God sent him, he knew peace. If he struggled against them, he was uselessly battering his head against the ineluctable purpose of God.
Paul has the very same thought. He says that all things work together for good, but only to them that love God. If a man loves and trusts and accepts God, if he is convinced that God is the all-wise and all-loving Father, then he can humbly accept all that he sends to him. A man may go to a physician, and be prescribed a course of treatment which at the time is unpleasant or even painful; but if he trusts the wisdom of the man of skill, he accepts the thing that is laid upon him. It is so with us if we love God. But if a man does not love and trust God, he may well resent what happens to him and may well fight against God's will. It is only to the man who loves and trusts that all things work together for good, for to him they come from a Father who in perfect wisdom, love and power is working ever for the best.
Paul goes further; he goes on to speak of the spiritual experience of every Christian. The King James Version rendering is famous. "For whom he did foreknow he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called them he also justified; and whom he justified them he also glorified." This is a passage which has been very seriously misused. If we are ever to understand it we must grasp the basic fact that Paul never meant it to be the expression of theology or philosophy; he meant it to be the almost lyrical expression of Christian experience. If we take it as philosophy and theology and apply the standards of cold logic to it, it must mean that God chose some and did not choose others. But that is not what it means.
Think of the Christian experience. The more a Christian thinks of his experience the more he becomes convinced that he had nothing to do with it and all is of God. Jesus Christ came into this world; he lived; he went to the Cross; he rose again. We did nothing to bring that about; that is God's work. We heard the story of this wondrous love. We did not make the story; we only received the story. Love woke within our hearts; the conviction of sin came, and with it came the experience of forgiveness and of salvation. We did not achieve that; all is of God. That is what Paul is thinking of here.
The Old Testament has an illuminating use of the word to know. "I knew you in the wilderness," said God to Hosea about the people of Israel ( Hosea 13:5 ). "You only have I known of all the families of the earth," said God to Amos ( Amos 3:2 ). When the Bible speaks of God knowing a man, it means that he has a purpose and a plan and a task for that man. And when we look back upon our Christian experience, all we can say is, "I did not do this; I could never have done this; God did everything." And we know well that this does not take freewill away. God knew Israel, but the day came when Israel refused the destiny God meant her to have. God's unseen guiding is in our lives, but to the end of the day we can refuse it and take our own way.
It is the deep experience of the Christian that all is of God; that he did nothing and that God did everything. That is what Paul means here. He means that from the beginning of time God marked us out for salvation; that in due time his call came to us; but the pride of man's heart can wreck God's plan and the disobedience of man's will can refuse the call.