Calvary Road Baptist Church

“GROANINGS WHICH CANNOT BE UTTERED”

Romans 8.26-27 

It’s highly unlikely that anyone you or I will ever know has suffered more in his Christian life than did the Apostle Paul. Remembering that Paul described himself as being a Pharisee before his conversion, he may or may not have been married at some point prior to his Damascus Road encounter with the risen Savior. Speculation that his Jewish wife might have left him when he committed his life to serving Christ has existed for centuries. If there is any truth to that (and there is no proof of any kind pro or con), he would have suffered terribly for the Lord when he lost his family. What we do know for sure is that Paul suffered tremendously after he became a believer. And for what? For doing right. For serving God. For winning souls and planting Churches. And so great was Paul’s suffering that he wrote these words in Second Corinthians 1.8: 

“For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life.” 

This man who was a marvel of God’s grace suffered so painfully that he wanted to die. Think about it. If anyone was qualified to comment on the subject of suffering it was Paul. And in Romans chapter 8, comment on suffering is exactly what he did. Please make your way to that chapter in your Bible.

You will remember from our examination of Romans 8.24-25, that Paul informed his readers of a marvelous provision from God, given to every believer at the time of your salvation. And this great provision is to help every one of us cope with and negotiate the suffering that is a necessary part of the Christian life. And what is this great provision God has supplied to His children? Hope. In the midst of the suffering, we look to the future in bright and confident expectation that God will see us safely to glory.

That’s not all God has given to us. And in the times of greatest darkness and personal despair that’s not enough. Thankfully, He has also given to us the Holy Spirit of God. In today’s message, which has Romans 8.26-27 for a text, Paul informs us that the Holy Spirit of God has been given to believers to help us in the midst of our sufferings. But there is much about the person and the ministry of the Holy Spirit that we do not know. So, Paul’s instruction and encouragement to us comes in the form of teaching us what we do not know about the Holy Spirit and what we need to know, what we need to be confident of, what we need to rely on. Let’s stand together as I read those two verses: 

26 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.

27 And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. 

Two things in this passage that you and I will never know on our own, but need to know, and will only know, by faith: 

First, WHAT WE DO NOT KNOW ABOUT THE HOLY SPIRIT AND OUR POWER 

“Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities....” 

Are you competent? Are you capable? Are you a can-do kind of guy? There are four words in this first phrase that I’d like you to consider before you answer that type of question about yourself:

First, the word “likewise.” Using the word “likewise,” Paul is drawing to his reader’s attention the fact that there is something about the Holy Spirit and his description of the Holy Spirit’s ministry, to the suffering saint awaiting heaven, that is similar to the “hope” he has just finished discussing. Not that “hope” and the Holy Spirit are similar in nature, for they are not. The Holy Spirit is unambiguously declared in Scripture to be God and to be a person, while “hope” is an abstract concept, a state of mind, an attitude. But “hope” and the Holy Spirit are similar in one respect. Both have been given to suffering saints to help us cope with and deal with and get through the necessary suffering that every believer must endure.

Second, the word “Spirit.” This particular Greek word can rightly be translated into the English words “spirit,” “ghost,” “breath,” or “wind.” Sadly, and tragically for them, the Jehovah’s Witnesses cult believes that the Holy Spirit is nothing more than some inanimate force that proceeds from God. However, in the context in which the word is used here, and in consideration of the teaching of the entire Bible on the subject of the Third Person of the Triune Godhead, we understand the word “Spirit” to be the Holy Spirit both times it is found in verse 26 and the single time it is found in verse 27.

Third, the word “helpeth.” Translating a very long seven syllable Greek word, sunantilambanetai, this word “helpeth” is more significant than we might take it to be on the surface. Rather than happening to be close at hand when help is needed and then providing it, the Greek word used here refers to coming to the aid of someone and lending a hand.[1] So the Holy Spirit of God came to us, actually came into us, to help us. And why did He do this?

The fourth word reveals why. The Holy Spirit “helpeth our infirmities.” This word “infirmities” refers to weaknesses. And it’s an interesting study in and of itself. Turn to Romans 5.6: 

“For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” 

“Without strength” translates the same word. In our lost condition, though we were spiritually helpless, “Christ died for the ungodly.” Amen? Now turn to Romans 6.19: 

“I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.” 

See the word “infirmity”? And you thought that when you trusted Christ, you would somehow come to have spiritual ability? Not a chance. You and I are as spiritually inept after our conversion as we were before our conversion. Now turn to Romans 8.3: 

“For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” 

Think that the Law is going to help you? Think that legalistic Christianity is the solution? Think that obeying rules, even the pastor’s rules, will lasso spiritual success for you? Not a chance. God grants no power to the flesh, and He grants no power to any Law, Mosaic Law or pastor’s rules, either. Now, please, turn back to my text. We were spiritually weak before our salvation. We are spiritually weak after our salvation. The Law is spiritually weak. And with the indwelling Spirit of God, we are still spiritually weak. But He is powerful. Amen? He is the omnipotent God.

When are we Christians going to realize that only the Holy Spirit of God, not any other person and not any other thing, can help us in our infirmities? We have no power. Therefore, either you depend upon the Spirit of God, or you don’t function spiritually. Amen? 

Then, WHAT WE DO NOT KNOW ABOUT THE HOLY SPIRIT AND OUR PRAYER 

Through the rest of verse 26 and verse 27, Paul uses the specific example of prayer, to show in a most concrete way just how the Holy Spirit helps us in our infirmities. Notice how Paul does this:

First, the declaration of the content of the Spirit’s intercessory prayers for us. To intercede means to plead or make a request in favor of another.[2] Notice what the apostle declares about the Spirit’s pleadings on our behalf: 

“for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” 

There are three observations I’d like to make here: First, we, which is to say Christians, do not know what to pray for. We know, generally, what to pray for, for we are told in many passages of Scripture what to pray for in a general way. We do not, however, know what to pray for in specific instances. This is one of the areas of infirmity in our flesh; limited comprehension and understanding of spiritual situations. Remember Second Corinthians 12.8? Three times Paul specifically asked God to relieve him of a severe problem. Keep that in mind as we continue. Second, the Holy Spirit helps us by interceding on our behalf. That is, He pleads on our behalf when we pray. So, why should we pray at all? Because I see no indication in Scripture that the Holy Spirit does this except when we pray. That is, He will not pray for you unless you pray for yourself with a right heart attitude. So, without being expressly indicated, we know that the Holy Spirit interceded for Paul in Second Corinthians chapter 12 as he prayed for relief to God. By the way, this intercessory ministry of the Holy Spirit is how two guys can pray for the same thing, but the one who prays amiss is the one who asks for something that he might consume it upon his lusts, while the other asks for it that he might use it to God’s glory. As I understand Scripture, the Holy Spirit intercedes for the second guy, but not for the first guy, and not for the guy who doesn’t pray at all. So, pray, Christian, because when you pray the Holy Spirit of God intercedes for you in that prayer. Third, the Spirit’s intercession is “with groanings which cannot be uttered.” Remember the creation groaning, Romans 8.22? Remember the Christian groaning, Romans 8.23? Here we have the Spirit of God groaning. But whereas creation groans for itself, and Christians groan for ourselves, the Spirit of God groans, not for Himself, but for the praying Christian. And His groanings “cannot be uttered.” No one heard the Holy Spirit while Paul was praying in Second Corinthians chapter 12.

Our Pentecostal friends maintain that this refers to speaking in tongues. They would say that the Greek word for “cannot be uttered” doesn’t mean you can’t say it. They would say it just means you don’t say it. Either way, whether the Greek word refers to that which is unspoken or unspeakable, the fact of the matter is it isn’t spoken. Therefore, it cannot be speaking in tongues. What this does refer to is the fact that when the Holy Spirit intercedes for the praying Christian, He groans in anticipation of our redemption for us. He yearns for us to be delivered from the suffering even more than we do. And He prays directly to the Father in a way which requires no verbalization, no spoken words, no audible sounds.

Then, the determination of the content of the Spirit’s intercessory prayers for us, verse 27: 

“And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” 

How does the Holy Spirit know what to pray for when we pray, and He intercedes for us? Paul doesn’t tell us everything. But he does tell us two things about the content, the substance, of the Holy Spirit’s prayers to the Father on behalf of the praying Christian: First, there is the searching of the mind of the Spirit by the Father. This phrase “he that searcheth the hearts” is a description of God the Father. One of the reasons why the Spirit’s prayers are not uttered is because they don’t need to be uttered. Because God the Father is the One Who searches the hearts to know the minds of those who are not in perfect accord with Him, how sure we can be that He is perfectly aware of the mind of the Spirit, Who is in perfect agreement and accord with Him. So, God knows that the Holy Spirit doesn’t want us to suffer. Then, the supplication of the Father by the Spirit. Notice that when the Holy Spirit prays for us “with groanings which cannot be uttered” He “maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” God knows everything that’s on the Spirit’s mind. But the Spirit knows everything that’s on the Father’s mind. And when the Spirit “petitions” the Father, His petitions are always according the will of God. That means, even though the Spirit doesn’t want us to suffer, the accomplishment of God’s goodwill in our lives is actually more important than the immediate relief from suffering in many cases. We recognize that. That being true, what do you think the Father’s response to the Spirit’s prayers will be? Yes. Always yes. And what does the Spirit pray for? Here’s the example of Paul again. Second Corinthians 12.8-9: 

8  For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.

9  And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 

The Spirit said, “Father, I’d like you to stop the suffering of your servant Paul. But since it’s more important for him to suffer and be spiritually effective than to be comfortable and be ineffective for Christ, bring on the suffering.” 

A Church with a wonderful and godly pastor goes to prayer because their preacher is in the hospital in critical condition from an automobile accident. The Church unites in prayer that God would give the doctors great wisdom and certain skill and that the Great Physician, Jesus Christ, would heal and raise up their preacher. But the man dies.

Was God’s answer to their prayer “No”? Not at all. Because of the infirmity of their flesh they didn’t realize the real situation and the Holy Spirit did. And the Holy Spirit prayed this prayer with groanings which cannot be uttered: “Father, this man is a man of God. He loves you, Lord. But the people have become so dependent upon him that some of them are not looking to you any longer. Father, take the preacher so the people will be without him and so they will look to your Son.” Folks, God answered that prayer.

And the Holy Spirit doesn’t help our infirmities only by interceding for us in prayer. He helps us in every way. The soul winner goes out and begins to deal with a lost man. And in his fervent efforts to win the lost man to Christ, he misstates certain truths and misreads the responses of the lost man. Oh, he’s making a mess of things. But the Holy Spirit, nevertheless, is using the Word of God which that soul winner is quoting to convict the heart of that lost man and draws him to Christ and genuine conversion.

Or how about the Christian spouse or the Christian parent? There is no way to explain the successes we enjoy except for the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Are you a good husband or wife? Are you a capable parent? Any good you do is the Holy Spirit’s doing. Amen? He’s the agent of change in the Christian’s personality, is He not? And He’s the One Who persuades and convinces, as well as convicts and draws. Amen? How could any marriage survive, how could any child grow up right in a Christian home, without the help of the Spirit of Almighty God?

There are myriad examples of our infirmities and the Holy Spirit’s help. Paul gives us just one example; prayer. But the point he seeks to make with his readers is that the pathway to glory is paved with suffering. To enable His people to negotiate the suffering, God has made two provisions for us. Two provisions for every one of us. First, there is Biblical hope. We studied about that last week in Romans 8.24-25. Second, there is the Holy Spirit of God, Who goes so far as to even intercede for us when we are praying.

We have looked at the several verses that dealt with “infirmity. We ought to recognize from those verses that we came into this world spiritually impotent and on our way to Hell. When you trusted Christ and were converted, Christian, you became a born-again Christian on your way to heaven. Even so, you are still spiritually impotent.

To negotiate the pathway of suffering, to serve and glorify God in your life, to make sure that your life counts for something this side of heaven, you have to have spiritual power and might. But you don’t have spiritual power and might. In fact, you are so spiritually inept that you don’t even know what to pray for, except in the broadest and most general ways. “And this is supposed to encourage us, Pastor?”

Yes, it does encourage us. Because the Holy Spirit of God, that omnipotent and omniscient Third person of the Triune Godhead, has come to live inside every Christian. And He provides power to the powerless. He provides competence to the inept. He provides wisdom to the foolish. And He provides insight to the ignorant.

Oh, my friend, we must depend upon the Holy Spirit of God to do great things for God. We must depend upon the Holy Spirit of God to do anything for God. And by dependence, I mean conscious and constant dependence. I mean grateful dependence. I mean appreciative dependence. We must appreciate and understand that any demonstration of independence from God is a gesture of rebellion, is a gesture of pride, is a gesture of confidence in the flesh, and is a gesture denying the truthfulness of God’s estimation of our inabilities.

Pray in repentance, if you are an independent and self-sufficient kind of Christian. If you are lost a man, who needs Christ for salvation, come to Christ. Pray to commit your life to Him, if you are not consciously and constantly walking in dependence upon the Holy Spirit and in obedience to the book that He wrote, the Bible.

Give up. Give up unashamedly. Give up unconditionally. Recognize and realize that without the Holy Spirit’s help for our infirmities, we who are saved would get to heaven. But what a mess of things we would make on the way.

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[1] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 965.

[2] Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), page 955.

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