So the Spirit groans along with his people. Paul describes the groaning of the Spirit as being beyond words, as too deep for them. He says that more is said by these groans than is said by the most articulate prayer. Alfred Plummer, the commentator, once said, ‘By the work of the Spirit, a heart without words may bring down the blessing of God.’
It is possible to interpret the groaning of the Spirit as happening outside our souls, as if the Spirit groaned to the Father as well as to us. But that is unlikely. The best way to interpret his groaning is to see an analogy with the witness of the Spirit mentioned earlier in the chapter. The Spirit, in his witnessing, strengthens our own sense of sonship. In a similar manner, the Spirit strengthens our groaning by creating it and sustaining it. He makes our desires into ardent ones.
What are the areas in which the Spirit will strengthen our prayers?
One such situation is the longing for stronger affections. A believer may be expressing his love to Christ and yet sense that his love is not as strong as he would like it to be. He groans for a stronger, more intense response to his Saviour. What he may use is a sigh, but that sigh is the product of the indwelling Spirit producing a request that is too deep or strong for words.
A second longing that results in groaning is a believer’s desire to have a focus on heaven, to have a longing for the glory to come, and that is the context of Paul’s description here. The believer wants to set his affections on things above, he desires to anticipate something of the glory ahead. This, too, causes him to groan positively. And this groaning comes from the Holy Spirit.
A third matter is a believer’s sense of indwelling sin. The cry, ‘Oh wretched man that I am,’ is a groan, but it is not a negative groan because it anticipates the deliverance that Christ will give. Nevertheless the sensitive Christian is aware of how far he fails in coming up to the requirements of God’s holy demands, of his heart disobedience to his gracious Father, to his compassionate Redeemer and to the sensitive, indwelling Spirit. As he realises his sin, a recognition that is the evidence of the Spirit’s working, he confesses it with groans produced by the Holy Spirit.