(Rom 8:19-23 ESV) 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
Just as the creation will freed from the corruption of the curse of Genesis 3 when God renews the creation to become the new heavens and new earth prophesied by Isaiah and the Revelation, our bodies will be redeemed. We’ve covered before and will cover again, Lord willing, the renewal of bodies discussed in much more detail in 1 Corinthians 15, where we’re told we’ll have bodies like the body of the resurrected Jesus —
(1Co 15:49 ESV) 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
Paul mentions the Spirit again in v. 23, saying that we have the “firstfruits” of the Spirit. “Firstfruits” refers to the first grain or fruit that ripens in the harvest. Thus, the Spirit itself is referred to as a firstfruit — an early fruit of the redemption of all things. Just as the first sheaves of wheat promise that the rest of the harvest will shortly ripen, the receipt of the Spirit promises that we’ll soon have the presence of all of God — not just the Spirit, but God the Father and the Son personally dwelling with us in the new heavens and new earth.
(Rom 8:26-27 ESV) 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
This is a frequently quoted verse, and it’s an important one. We begin with “we do not know what to pray for as we ought” — which is an astonishingly true declaration. We don’t know what to ask for, because we don’t know the outcome of the changes we want. We often aren’t even sure of what we want.
We can’t adequately even pray for forgiveness, because we all commit sins we’re unaware of and violate God’s will because we misunderstood his will. Who among us can claim to know how God wants to do act in every situation?
And God, knowing our weaknesses, gives us the Spirit to pray for us. You see, we tend to picture God as angry and Jesus and the Spirit striving to assuage his wrath — but this was God’s idea. God gives the Spirit to make certain he hears the prayers we should have prayed. And that’s a tremendous comfort indeed.
“He who searches hearts” means “God the Father” —
1Ch 28:9 “And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever.
Therefore, v. 27 means “God knows the Spirit’s prayers because it is God who asked him to help us pray.”
“Groanings too deep for words” is a reference to numerous Old Testament passages where God’s people “groaned” and God heard them.
(Exo 2:24 ESV) And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.
(Exo 6:5 ESV) Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant.
(Jdg 2:18 ESV) Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them.
(Psa 6:6-9 ESV) 6 I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. 7 My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes. 8 Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping. 9 The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD accepts my prayer.
(Psa 12:5 ESV) 5 “Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise,” says the LORD; “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.”
(Psa 38:8-15 ESV) 8 I am feeble and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart. 9 O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you. 10 My heart throbs; my strength fails me, and the light of my eyes–it also has gone from me. … 15 But for you, O LORD, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.
(Isa 35:10 ESV) 10 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Now, the key thought here is that it’s the Spirit groaning on our behalves! We groan for God, but the Spirit does so for us as well and does so better than we could ever do. And if God was touched by the groanings of his people in ancient times, surely he’ll respond to the groanings of the Holy Spirit!