The Groaning Of The 
How Does He Groan?

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 39a of 83

26Likewise 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. 27And 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” (Romans 8:26-27).

The theme of Paul’s epistle to the Romans is actually justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Therefore, in a sense, Romans 8 does not appear to be the heart of the letter. After all, it does not really deal with the doctrine of justification. Yet, from another perspective, Romans 8 is truly the heart of this letter. Why? Because it is the most heart-warming chapter of the book, and because in it the apostle unveils what the Christian life founded upon the righteousness of Christ looks like. In it, we have outlined for us the new status (v. 1), walk (v. 4),  attitude (v. 5), ability (v. 9), obligation (v. 12), relationship (v. 16), hope (v. 18), helper (v. 26), perspective (v. 28), and victory (v. 37) of the justified saint. In it we find a heartfelt study of the walk, yearning, hope and victory of the true believer.

But the chapter is not only about us, for our redemption is closely tied to the restoration of creation and the work of the Holy Spirit. The apostle expounds on this fact beautifully by speaking of three groans in Romans 8:19-27.

We have already considered the first two. The first is the groan of Creation. We saw how the whole creation is groaning and travailing in the pain of childbirth. It is groaning with the hope and expectation of delivery from the bondage of corruption and vanity. It is, as it were, stretching its neck and looking forward to the revelation of the children of God. It desires to be used by the children of God to glorify and enjoy God in.

But Creation is not the only thing that is groaning. We ourselves, who are the children of God, are groaning within ourselves. We are groaning not only on account of present sufferings, but also on account of sin in and around us. The Spirit of adoption in us has made us hate sin so that we groan when sin afflicts us.

The same Spirit has also given us a desire to be freed from sin so that we can fully enjoy and glorify God. He has made us aware that we are not perfect. He has made us realise that we have not arrived. We have not arrived whether in our body, or in our knowledge, or in righteousness.

We cannot be proud, for we are still a long way off to final victory. We must rather hope and wait patiently for the glory that shall be revealed in us. We are saved in hope. But because we hope, we groan within ourselves as we wait for the resurrection of our bodies at the Last Day.

So we have seen how Creation groans, and Christians groan. But now thirdly, we must consider how the Comforter groans in verses 26-27.

Let us begin by asking:

1.   How Does the Comforter Groan?

26b …but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.

We saw in our earlier study that a groan is a sigh or a mournful sound that escapes out of our throat because of unhappiness in the heart.

But we also saw that Paul is not speaking about a literal groaning. Creation does not literally groan, and the children of God do not necessarily groan audibly.

Likewise, Paul tells us now that the groanings of the Holy Spirit “cannot be uttered.” It is unspeakable. It cannot be expressed in words or in noise. It is not only a silent groaning but it is a groaning that cannot be described.

It is a groaning unlike that of Creation. Creation is irrational. As such it does not really groan. The groaning of creation speaks of God’s plan for Creation. But the Spirit is the Living and True God. When the Scripture speaks of Him groaning, we know that it must involve His mind and will.

Yet His groaning is unlike the groaning of the children of God. The groaning of the children of God speaks of a strong dissatisfaction in their heart.

But the Holy Spirit is the ever-blessed third person of the Trinity. There is no unhappiness in Him.

What then is the groaning of the Holy Spirit?

The groaning of the Holy Spirit which Paul speaks about is the intercession that the Holy Spirit makes on behalf of the saints. 

What does it mean to “make intercession” (ὑπερεντυγχάνω, huperentugchanō)? To put it simply, to make intercession for someone is to speak to an authority for him, or even against him. In Acts 25:24, Festus told King Agrippa that a multitude of the Jews have dealt with him concerning Paul. The words have dealt translate the same word which is rendered “make intercession” in our text. But the Jews were making representations against Paul. They wanted him dead.

On the other hand, we are told in Romans 8:34 and Hebrews 7:25 that our Lord Jesus Christ makes intercession for us at the right hand of the throne of God.

So to make intercession is to stand between someone and an authority who can effect judgement. In other words, it is to do what a lawyer would do on behalf of a person.

Christ our Lord intercedes for us by representing us as a lawyer before the Father. The apostle John says: “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 Jn 2:1). An advocate is a lawyer. So John is saying that: We have a lawyer to intercede on our behalf, even the Lord Jesus Christ.

But Christ himself indicates that we have another advocate other than Him. He told His disciples in John 14:16 that He would give them “another Comforter.” The word translated “Comforter” is the word παράκλητος (paraklētos) which is the same word translated as “advocate” in 1 John 2:1. Who is this other Comforter, Advocate or Lawyer? He is none other than the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:26).

In other words, Christ is an advocate to intercede on our behalf; the Holy Spirit is another advocate to intercede on our behalf.

Christ is our advocate in heaven. The Holy Spirit is our advocate in our heart. Christ is our lawyer in heaven. The Holy Spirit is our lawyer in our heart.

As the head of the Church, Christ intercedes on behalf of the church corporately. As the Comforter in-dwelling, the Holy Spirit does the same thing on behalf of the Christian individually.

But how does the Holy Spirit intercede on our behalf?

Well, there is a great debate amongst commentators as to what Paul means by saying that the “Spirit itself maketh intercession of us.”

William Hendrikson, for example insists that what Paul means is that the Spirit actually prays for us. According to him, when we pray for something that is contrary to God’s secret will, then the Holy Spirit prays something else for us and the Holy Spirit’s pray will be heard over our own prayer.

Others, such as John Calvin, believe that Paul is not saying that the Holy Spirit actually prays for us, but that He stirs up our hearts so that we may pray alright.

Who is right? I believe a marriage between the two views is right!

In the first place, remember how Paul had earlier said: “ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Rom 8:15). But in Galatians 4:6, he says: “Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (Gal 4:6).

Comparing the two verses, we know that when Paul says (in Gal 4:6) that the Holy Spirit cries “Abba, Father” in us, He is saying that the Spirit causes us to cry “Abba, Father.” That is to say, He creates in us an instinctive filial love so that we are enabled to recognise God as our loving heavenly Father.

So likewise in our text, when Paul tells us that the Spirit intercedes for us, we must understand that he is speaking about the way in which the Holy Spirit helps us in our prayers, rather than merely praying for us.

How does He help us?  He helps us in such a way as to be equivalent to interceding for us! What does that mean? It means that He helps us with our words in prayer, and He speaks for us.

The Holy Spirit, in other words, intercedes for us in the way that a lawyer would. A lawyer does not only advise his client. He also speaks on behalf of his client.

This is what the Holy Spirit does. He advises us. He advises us with groanings that cannot be uttered. How does He do so? Well, in that the groaning of the Spirit cannot be uttered, we know that the Spirit communicates with us inaudibly. How then does he advise us? He advises us by bringing to remembrance the Word of God and applying it to our soul. Our Lord teaches us:

“… the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (Jn 14:26)

So the Holy Spirit intercedes for us by guiding us in prayer. But He does more than that. In verse 27, Paul tells us that the Father knows “what is the mind of the Spirit.” This suggests to us that the Spirit does not only guide us in prayer but actually speaks for us too. Likewise, as our advocate or lawyer, the Holy Spirit does not only guide us in prayer, but actually speaks on our behalf!

He speaks for us, when we know not what to pray. Or in other words, He speaks for us, when all we can do is sigh and groan. You know what it is like don’t you?

Some times when I kneel down before the Lord to pray, I just don’t know what to say. Tears may come to my eyes because of something that has happened, but no words come to my lips. I don’t know what to say. Thank God that such times are not wasted, for the Comforter is interceding for me!

This is why does Paul speak of the Spirit groaning.

But why does He not simply say: “the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us [fullstop].” Why does he say: “the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings.

      The reason is, no doubt, to encourage us that the intercession of the Spirit is a compassionate intercession. A ‘groan’ does not only speak of deep feelings. It speaks of sympathy. Creation groans in sympathy with the children of God. So the Holy Spirit groans in sympathy with us too.

As Christ our Lord is a compassionate Great high priest interceding on our behalf, so the Holy Spirit is a compassionate Comforter, interceding on our behalf.

The Comforter does not intercede apart from us. He intercedes for us in our hearts. In fact, one commentator suggests that the intercession of the Holy Spirit ascends to heaven upon the wings of our sighs which we utter during our prayers. Well, that is not too far from what Paul is saying, though Paul is speaking about “groanings that cannot be uttered.”

But whether or not we literally sigh or groan is immaterial. What is important is that our Comforter intercedes for us. He does it in such a way that even when no words come out from our lips, the affections in our hearts are transformed into prayers so that they ascend to heaven. This is what Paul means when he speaks of the groaning of the Comforter.


…to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim