Paul has already mentioned two different expressions of groaning in this passage – the groaning of creation and the groaning of Christians – with each connected to the future glory that God’s people will have. Now he mentions a third expression of groaning, one that comes from the Holy Spirit. The groaning of the Spirit is linked to some of the prayers offered by God’s people, which tells us that this is an experience that only believers know.
The groaning of the Spirit is connected to the other two expressions of groaning. Both are positive and not negative because they are concerned about the future entry by God’s people into their inheritance. The groaning of the Spirit is one of sympathy with the groaning of Christians.
This activity of the Spirit is intended as a support for Christians in their weaknesses. Of them, they have many, including persecution from the world and spiritual assaults by the devil. Yet Jesus has told his disciples in the Upper Room that the Holy Spirit would come to help them serve God.
Moreover, the Holy Spirit has a special ministry of helping God’s people when they pray. Paul says elsewhere that believers should always pray, but he says here that there will be times when they will not know what to say in prayer. They may be in dangerous circumstances, or they may face a pair of difficult options, neither of which is wrong, but each of which has a wide range of consequences. We can groan in either situation, and what we need in both is a form of infallible requesting. Our gracious God has provided for this through the groaning of the Spirit. The Spirit’s groaning, says Paul, is according to the will of God, which the Spirit knows perfectly. His intercession is always in line with the purpose of God.
So we can see from Paul’s description that the groaning of the Spirit should be as precious to Christians as his work of enabling them to cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ Of course, we may call God ‘Father’ when we are going through very difficult situations. In such times, the difficulty is not in calling him ‘Father’. Instead, the difficulty is to know what to say to him in such moments.