Our Valuable Anchor

[This article was taken from our book The Christian’s Hope: The Anchor of the Soul.]

 

A Biblical Look at “Hope”

In order to properly understand the Christian’s hope, it is important to examine the exact meaning of the word “hope.” “Hope” means “a desire for, or an expectation of, good, especially when there is some confidence of fulfillment.” It is used that way both in common English and in the Bible. However, the Bible often uses the word “hope” in another way—to refer to the special expectation of good that God has in store for each Christian in the future. This includes the “Rapture,” receiving a new, glorified body, and living forever in Paradise. Today, the ordinary use of “hope” allows for the possibility that what is hoped for will not come to pass. [1] However, when the Bible uses the word “hope” to refer to things that God has promised, the meaning of “hope” shifts from that which has a reasonable chance of coming to pass to that which will absolutely come to pass. To be a useful anchor, hope must hold fast.

A biblical occurrence of “hope” as “an expectation of good” can be found in Acts 27:20. Paul was on a ship bound for Rome. A storm came up and raged for many days, such that “we gave up all hope of being saved.” Another example is in 3 John 14 where the Apostle John wrote to his friend Gaius, and said, “I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.” These are examples of the Bible using the word “hope” in the way it is used in everyday language, such as when someone says, “I hope it rains this week,” or “I hope you feel better.” There are also many biblical examples of the word “hope” referring to everlasting life and the blessings associated with it. Colossians 1:23 mentions “the hope held out in the gospel,” i.e., “the expectation of future good presented in the gospel.”

It is unfortunate that the word “hope” has come to be used in common English as a synonym for “wish.” In the sentence, “I hope it will rain this week,” the word “hope,” if properly used, implies a certainty or confidence that it will, in fact, rain. If there is no such confidence, then it would be more proper to say, “I wish it would rain this week.”

As noted above, when the Bible uses the word “hope” in reference to events in the future, there is no doubt at all that the events will occur. The book of Titus contains a usage of “hope” referring to the believer’s expectation of eternal life:

Titus 1:1 and 2
(1) Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness—
(2) a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time.

This is a good example of the word “hope” referring to our expectation of everlasting life. In this case, it implies more than just a desire or a wish. It is an expectation of the future that will absolutely come to pass. God, “who does not lie,” made many promises about the future everlasting life of the believer. Although we may not know when He will fulfill those promises, we can be absolutely certain that He will fulfill them.

The Anchor of the Soul

The Bible has a great deal to say about the future life in Paradise that saved people will enjoy. God speaks about the future for a reason: He wants each and every Christian to make up his mind to obey Him and to be committed to Him in good times and in bad times. History and experience both show that it is difficult to make and keep a Christian commitment. Many people commit to the Lord for a while, but then, for various reasons, abandon their commitment. Many once-dedicated Christians have stopped praying, reading the Bible, fellowshipping with other Christians, etc., for all sorts of reasons. God speaks about the future to provide hope so that believers will have an anchor for their souls; an anchor to hold them steadfast to Him. Hebrews 6:19 says, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”

God’s use of the anchor to represent the believer’s Hope is appropriate and poignant. An anchor keeps a boat from drifting away with the currents or being blown away in a storm. Thus, using an anchor to describe the purpose of the Christian hope makes perfect sense. When a Christian has a clear picture of what he is hoping for in the future, especially the rewards that the Lord will give to those who have earned them, it helps to keep him from “drifting away” from his commitment and becoming involved with the sinful pleasures and abundant temptations offered by the world. It also helps to prevent him from being “blown away” from God during the storms of life.

Because the Hope was referred to as an “anchor,” the anchor was the earliest known Christian symbol. It was used to represent the Hope of resurrection unto everlasting life. At Pompeii, the Roman city buried by lava in 79 AD when Mt. Vesuvius erupted, a ring was discovered with a beautiful image of an anchor and the Greek word elpis, “hope,” inscribed on it. [2] Some of the earliest Christian graves have an anchor carved into the rock next to them. [3] Christians today use a cross as their common symbol, but there is no reference to the cross being a revered Christian image until after the Roman Empire became Christian. The cross was so abhorred as an instrument of torture that no early Christians venerated it. Historically, the first interest in the image of the cross came after Queen Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, reportedly found the “true cross” on her trip to Israel in 326 AD. [4] Before that time, the anchor was the symbol that the early Christians used to show their hope of resurrection and a wonderful, everlasting future. [5]

The Psychological Value of Hope

The Adversary has made a concerted attack on the subject of the Hope because of the value that it has to anchor people to godliness and truth. One of the reasons the Hope is an anchor for the Christian life is that hope energizes people and gives them strength to endure in a way that nothing else does. People without hope become defeated, broken, and unable to cope with adversity. Hopeless people give up. If Christians are going to stay energized and motivated to do the work of the Lord day in and day out, putting up with all the trouble that the Devil and people put them through, it is vital to have a hope that is real, alive, and vivid.

The strengthening and energizing value of hope shows up in many ways in everyday life. When a mother tells her hungry family that dinner will be ready in ten minutes, she gets a totally different response than if she says she does not know when it will be ready. The hope of eating soon gives the family the energy to hold on a little longer. Having hope is vital in the medical field. Modern medicine acknowledges the healing value of hope because hopeful people have more strength and endurance. A mother will tell a sick child that the medicine will make him feel better “soon” because that helps the child stay positive and endure the pain.

Having a hope in the form of a visible goal is also important in athletic performance. Every coach knows the value of yelling “Last lap!” to the runner or swimmer whose muscles are already screaming from fatigue. Hearing “One more lap!” causes the athlete to reach deep and find the energy to push through to the end. Runners, skiers, skaters, rowers, and other athletes know that muscles that seem to be just holding on somehow come to life and have extra strength when the finish line comes into sight. The Hope that the race will soon be over infuses the body with energy that seems to come from nowhere. There is no question that having hope anchors a person to his goal and gives him energy and strength to go on.

Just as hope energizes and strengthens, it is also true that being without hope drains one’s strength. The feeling of being “hopeless” is devastating. A person with no hope, with no expectation of good, often sinks into depression and despair and may even commit suicide. The effects of being hopeless are well documented. People who have no hope of everlasting life grieve over death in ways that Christians who are confident of everlasting life do not. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians and told them that the dead Christians would be raised to life when Christ comes “down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel, and the trumpet call of God” (1 Thess. 4:16). Paul knew that when they really had hope in the raising of the dead, they would not “grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13).

Christian work can be difficult. It is often under-financed and under-appreciated, many times involving endless hours of work in poor conditions for unthankful people. Furthermore, Christians are still human, and so, although it should not be this way, Christian work is often accompanied by envy and jealousy, power struggles, distrust, personal agendas, cliques, backbiting, and other less than desirable things. Why would anyone work—often on a volunteer basis—in those conditions? One answer is that many people start out being very idealistic, but idealism usually does not last long in the “real” world. Without a vivid hope to sustain them, they eventually burn out. Having a vivid hope, however, gives people strength and energy to press on. The mistreatment and lack of appreciation can be dealt with when one realizes that there will be rewards that he or she will receive at the Judgment. Paul wrote about this very thing:

1 Corinthians 15:58
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Unfortunately, too many Christians do not “know” that their “labor in the Lord is not in vain.” Many have been taught that salvation is the “be all, end all” for the Christian. They have not been taught that an important part of their hope is the rewards they will receive for their work in this life. Thus, as they look around and see other “saved” Christians doing much less work, they lose their energy and strength and become discouraged. If these people really knew the rewards their efforts were earning, they would have the strength to go on. Because accurately teaching the Hope has the effect of strengthening and invigorating Christians, the Adversary has launched a powerful attack on it. To date, the attack has been very successful. Nevertheless, the scriptures concerning the Hope stand clear. It is therefore the purpose of this book to present those scriptures so that Christians will become knowledgeable of the Hope and benefit from the application of that knowledge, for truly, a vital hope is the anchor of the soul.

Endnotes

[1] It is due to the fallen nature of man that the meanings of words degenerate over time. E. W. Bullinger was a wonderful biblical scholar and fluent in Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, and other languages. His study of language led him to this interesting conclusion: “It is a strange commentary on fallen human nature to see words thus changing their usage; for this change is uniformly in one direction; it is always a change for the worse. We never find a word acquiring a higher meaning! It is always down, down, down, like fallen and falling man himself, who thus drags down with him the meanings of the words he uses. How, for example, did the change in the usage of this word “prevent” come about? [Bullinger had been writing of the word “prevent” and how in earlier English usage it used to mean “precede, go in front of, go before”]. It was because whenever one man got before another, it was generally for his own advantage, and to the hindrance, hurt, and loss of the other; hence the word came to have this new and lower meaning. The same may be seen in apology, which was used of a defense, as in Jewel’s Apology (i.e., Defense) of the Reformation. But, because man’s defenses of himself are usually so poor, the word has come to mean a mere excuse. Our word censure was used simply of judgment, which might be favorable or otherwise; but, inasmuch as such judgments have generally proved to be unfavorable, the word is used today only of blame. Our word story was originally short for history, but because so many histories and stories are what they are [i.e., made up or embellished], the word has come to mean that which is not true. Cunning meant merely knowing; but because knowing people generally know too much, or use their knowledge to a bad purpose, it has come to have its present usage. Villain meant a servant of a villa, or of a country or farm-house. The house has kept its good meaning, but the man has lost it.” E. W. Bullinger, How to Enjoy the Bible (Samuel Bagster and Sons, Ltd., London, reprinted 1970), p. 230. The meaning of hope has degenerated also. From meaning something that was likely to occur, the modern English usage of “hope” actually implies that what is hoped for is very likely not to occur. For instance, one might say “I hope to go to the store today” when there is doubt that he actually may do so.
[2] E. M. Blaiklock and R. K. Harrison, eds., The New International Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology (Regency Reference Library, Grand Rapids, MI, 1983), p. 28.
[3] The earliest Christian graves are not in graveyards with a tombstone but are either in caves or catacombs with the actual grave being dug into the rock. Often an anchor would be carved into the rock next to the grave.
[4] Blaiklock and Harrison, op. cit., Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology, p. 141.
[5] The fish was also an early symbol used in Christianity, but it did not represent the hope. The origins of the fish symbol are obscure as to who started using it and when. It is not referred to in the New Testament as is the anchor. Apparently the reason that the fish came to be used to identify Christians is that the Greek word ichthus, “fish,” is the word spelled by the first letters of the phrase “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior” when that phrase is written in Greek. Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit and Tremper Longman III, eds., Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1998), pp. 290–91; F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press, New York, 1974), p. 514.

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