By Pastor James R. Gray
There is one Mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5), however, the Bible reveals TWO INTERCESSORS for the believer. In Romans 8:34 and Hebrews 7:25 we are told that Christ intercedes for us. He is our Heavenly Intercessor. Romans 8:26 tells us that we have another who intercedes for us: THE HOLY SPIRIT. Since the Holy Spirit indwells us (Rom. 8:11; 1 Cor. 6:19), we could refer to Him as our Earthly Intercessor. In this study we want to consider the intercessory ministry of the Holy Spirit as revealed in Romans 8:26-27.
OUR NEED FOR THIS INTERCESSORY MINISTRY
One thing is clear in this passage: our need for the intercessory ministry of the Holy Spirit. Our text brings this out in two ways.
- By the word “weakness.” The Greek word is “astheneo,” meaning “lack of strength, strengthless” and indicates the inability to produce. The word is used of a comprehensive sense of human frailty in general. Dr. Lloyd Jones reminds us that the word does not imply that weakness is sinful in and of itself but, rather, he notes:
“…there is a difference between infirmities and sins. Our infirmities may lead us to sin, but our infirmities in and or themselves are not sinful. They are undoubtedly the result of the fall of man, because there were no infirmities in man as God made him” (Romans: “The Perseverance of the Saints,” p. 124).
- By the phrase: “for we know not what we should pray for as we ought.” This phrase explains the weakness we, as believers, possess: a lack of knowledge. The place this weakness is found is in our prayer life. This is the reason the Spirit’s intercessory ministry is needed.
What is it that we do not perceive or know? The Greek text shows us the answer. The Greek article is found in the phrase but not in most translations. It is to be connected with the “what” and should read “the what!!” Wuest calls this the “particular what” in his book on “Romans,” p. 141). Thus, the Holy Spirit helps us, not in the form or matter of prayer, but the content! Murray points this out clearly, when he writes the following on this verse:
“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” (“Romans,” p. 311).
Thus, it is in the content of our prayers that the Holy Spirit comes to our aid. He “helps” us! The word is “sunantilambano” in the Greek. It means to take part with, or assist, to help in bearing. It is the picture of a man struggling with a heavy load beyond his ability to handle, and another coming to his aid and helping carry the load. The student must note that the idea is clearly that of aid, not taking over the load whereby it relieves the other of his responsibility. It is working together. Wuest notes this clearly, writing:
“Just so, the Holy Spirit indwelling the saints, comes to the aid of that saint in his spiritual problems and difficulties, not by taking over the responsibility for them and giving the saint an automatic deliverance without any effort on his part, but by lending a helping hand, allowing him to work out his problems and overcome his difficulties, with His help” (p. 140).
The primary task of the Holy Spirit is “Helper” (Jn. 16:7) and a major area in which He helps us is in our prayers.
THE NATURE OF THE SPIRIT’S HELP
The nature of the Spirit’s help is clear: He “intercedes for us.” The Greek word is “huperentuchano” and is used only here in the New Testament. It means to make a petition on behalf of another.
How does the Holy Spirit intercede for us? Some students of the Word tell us that it is by indirect means. It is their position that the groaning is in ourselves; it is we who fail to find the words to express what is happening within us. This position is based upon a theological idea that the Holy Spirit does not and cannot groan.
However, it is dangerous to come to the Word based on theological ideas, rather than letting the Word form our theological ideas. The text declares a direct intercession by the Holy Spirit. The text uses the emphatic form, “the Spirit Himself,” and connects it with the instrumental phrase “groanings inexpressible.” This indicates that it is by these groanings that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. The Holy Spirit intercedes directly for believers, just as Christ does in Romans 8:34.
THE EFFICACY OF THE SPIRIT’S MINISTRY
Romans 8:27 gives the efficacy of the Spirit’s intercession for us. This efficacy is based upon two things: First, God knows the mind of the Spirit (cf., 1 Sam. 16:7). The God who searches the hearts of man surely knows the mind of His Spirit. The Greek word for mind is “phronema” and denotes what one has in mind, or the intent or aim of the mind. Thus, God knows the aim or intent of the Spirit’s intercession by these inexpressible groans. Curtis Mitchell says that, “the object of the Holy Spirit’s groanings is to lay bare all the deep hidden needs of the saints before the Father” (The Holy Spirit’s Ministry, Bib.– Sac., July 1982, p. 238). Second, the Spirit’s intercession is “according to the will of God.” Thus, it could be said that the intercessory work of the Spirit is to re-interpret our prayers of ignorance (our not knowing what to pray for), and to do so in accordance with the will of God. The Spirit’s intercession is always and completely in the Father’s will. Therefore, they will meet with God’s acceptance and approval.
WORD OF APPLICATION
From this great verse some clear applications can be seen. First, this work of the Holy Spirit is released by the believer. This ministry is not automatic! This Holy Spirit aids us, not prays for us. It is the believer’s act of prayer that allows the Spirit to act as intercessor. If we do not pray, the Spirit will not intercede for us. Thus, we see the importance of our praying. In fact, we could say that we hinder the Spirit’s ministry if we do not pray, for His intercessory ministry is not to pray in our place, but to aid us in our prayers.
Second, prayer need not be articulate to be effective. It is in our inadequate words and ignorance that the Spirit works. The assurance of our prayers lies not in and of ourselves, but in the intercessory work of the Spirit. We can all thank God for this assurance and assistance.