In theological college in a class about pastoral work as an assignment we were given certain scenarios about things happening in people’s lives. Then we had to write a letter to them as their pastor to address the issues and try and bring them comfort and strength.
I want you to imagine that you are taking that class with me, and you have to respond to a family whose lives are described below.
They live in an overcrowded apartment in a slum area of city with little sanitation and no medical care, despite infectious diseases often running rampant. They lost children in infancy because of the conditions. The area they live in is violent. There are politically motivated gangs, thugs paid for by rich men, roaming the streets at times beating up opponents. Violent robberies and drunk brawls are commonplace. There is no effective police force or justice system for people in these poor areas. The family work long hours for little pay. Sometimes they don’t know how they will survive the next week financially. On top of all that, the authorities have been rounding up their fellow believers and torturing and killing them. The next knock at the door could be a group of soldiers coming for them.
So, what would you write? How would you respond?
That description is pretty much how the first generation of Christians living in Rome experienced life. I am pretty sure that I wouldn’t written what Paul wrote to these new believers facing such tough circumstances.
Here is his response:
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
TROUBLE, HARDSHIP, PERSECUTION, FAMINE, NAKEDNESS, DANGER, SWORD
Paul didn’t use poetic license when he chose those words, they weren’t added for dramatic effect. They were the description of the real lives of the real people he was writing to. Life for the ordinary people of Rome was full of trouble and hardship, many of them were slaves. Hunger was a common experience either because people didn’t have the money for food, or the harvest failed. The streets of Rome were violent dangerous places. On top of all of that the mentally unhinged and sadistic Emperor Nero had scapegoated the Christians for a fire that burnt down some of the city and a terrible persecution broke out. When Paul talks about being condemned, he is probably talking about believers being condemned to torture and death on the orders of Nero. Roman historians tell us that on one occasion Nero had Christians hung from poles in the garden of his palace, covered in pitch and then set alight to provide light for one of his parties.
And yet, Paul says to the people going all of that in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us
He actually writes SUPER CONQUERORS
That can come across like some unrealistic bravado from a motivational guru.
But this wasn’t unrealistic advice from some ivory towered expert. Read the book of Acts and his letters, everything Paul talks about here, the hardship, hunger, violence, injustice and persecution, he experienced. This is the voice of experience speaking, whatever he had faced in life Paul had experienced the sustaining love of Christ allowing him to have the victory
One commentator says this about these words from Paul
“The little groups of Christ followers who met in stinking apartments or hidden from sight in the catacombs amongst the dead in Rome needed to know that the love of God demonstrated supremely in Christ death was the most powerful force in the universe. It was greater than anything they faced in their tough lives. Greater than any hardship they were experiencing or would experience.”
Here in Switzerland our lives are very comfortable in comparison to what Paul describes but I think we still need to hear and experience what Paul is describing. That through the love of Christ, known in our heads and experienced in our hearts, we can overcome whatever this world throws at us. We can be more Super Conquerors. Not because we are especially, brave, strong, smart or resilient but because of the love of God at work in us.
I want to leave you with some more words from that commentary
“If God is for us, who can be against us” … The greatest thing we can discover in life is that God loves us. When we know that and live it out we become SUPER CONQUERORS, Paul’s outrageous statement suddenly becomes not so outrageous. He knew that these Roman believers lived difficult lives, but he also knew God loved them completely. God didn’t magically turn their circumstances around or beamed them up to heaven and safety. In fact, things grew worse for them and him. Paul himself would eventually die a violent death in Rome on Nero’s whim. But he knew that through the presence of the Risen Christ and His Spirit at work in these little communities of faith, God was right there with them in the hardship and hunger, death and distress, right to the very worst, even death. He was confidence there was nothing in this world or beyond this world that could cut them off from God’s sustaining love”
I would just add, and that includes what you are going through right now.