More Than Conquerors, 5: Never Separated from God's Love
- 2003 5 Sep
In the first four installments of "More Than Conquerors" we looked at four of Paul's five questions found in Romans 8, beginning with verse 31:
1. If God is for us, who can be against us?
2. How would [God] not graciously give us all things?
3. Who will bring charges against those whom God has chosen?
4. Who is he that condemns?
5. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
We determined the answer to question one is: absolutely no one. The answer to number two is: With so much invested in us, God is not about to let us down when it comes to anything we need. After carefully considering question three, we answered: It is God who justifies!
Question four, Who is he that condemns, was viewed from two sides; 1) the one who attempts to condemn those of us who are blood-bought children of the King and 2) the One who, by rights, should condemn us, but chooses not to but rather to stand at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, saying "This one is mine. This child is free."
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
Two questions. One answer.
As Paul asks these questions, completing his list of issues found in the short section of his letter to the church in Rome, he quotes a beloved passage from Psalms 44. For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. (vs. 22)
I wonder if Paul might have also been remembering the words of Jesus, spoken while He lived and walked among the early believers. Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." (Matthew 16:24)
Or, perhaps Paul was reflecting on what the Messiah had said shortly before His crucifixion as He gave His "Oliviet Discourse." (Matthew 24) Jesus never said that the Kingdom of God would come easily...but only that it would come.
Saul to Paul
No one understood persecution better than Paul, who we first meet in our Bibles as Saul, a man who gave approval and ordered the persecution and deaths of early Christians.
Think about this for a moment. The entire Christian faith took flight with the persecution and crucifixion of its leader, leaving a small band of followers hiding within the walls of Jerusalem. Then, three days after the death of Jesus, this same group of basically uneducated social throwaways (though not all were, of course) started claiming they had seen the risen Messiah. While for centuries it has been said the body of Jesus had been moved and the rumor of resurrection started by The Twelve (minus Judas), think about how "out of character" that would have been. Why would a core group of eleven-who were too afraid to even come out after the arrest of their leader-suddenly set up shop in the very city where He'd been crucified and make such ludicrous acclamations?
The only logical reason is because it was true.
Suddenly, those who previously fled out of fear are making the boldest of claims...no matter what it may cost them.
Financially, they sold everything they had in order to keep this new religion alive. (When was the last time you heard of anyone willing to do that?) Acts 2:45 states: Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.
The number of converts to Christianity doubled and tripled on itself. Stephen became the first martyr. Saul of Tarsus worked like a madman to try to stamp out what he vehemently felt was a sacrilegious cult.
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. (Acts 8:1b-3)
Then, in one of the greatest turning points of our faith, as Saul was "still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples...he went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1-2)" he came face-to-face with a light from heaven and a voice that challenged him about his mission. When Saul asked the voice, "Who are you?" the answer was clear: I am Jesus...
An encounter with Jesus, and recognition of Who He is, changed Saul to Paul...and eventually persecutor to persecuted. With Paul's conversion and the continual ministry of the Apostles, Christianity-which began with an executed Revolutionary-spread across the known world, eventually arriving in Rome, the very axis of the empire.
Honey, You Don't Know Persecution
When a friend of mine took a new job, a mutual acquaintance said to her, "You've just leapt into the frying pan of persecution."
It was true. My friend became the "victim" of her coworkers. Her faith was constantly used as a source of entertainment. She was "set up" from time to time, her predators hoping for a slip of faith. Personally, I marveled at her ability to stay on the job. "How can you endure this kind of persecution?" I asked.
"Honey," she said with a smile. "You don't know persecution." She continued, reminding me of the early Christians and the cost they had paid for their faith. "Without their endurance, we may not know Christianity as we do in this country. Even our forefathers, who came to this New World, did so out of religious persecution. So what are a few jabs from my coworkers?"
Paul's question to the church in Rome (remember, the center of the Empire) came during the beginnings of a time that would be classified as the one of the darkest periods in Christian history. In his final questions, he is reminding those very members who may endure persecution even unto death that "hard times" do not separate us from Jesus, but rather link us to Him.
Can I Get a Witness?
"Whereas the people of God in the OT were often perplexed about the reason for their trials, the saints of NT times can trace their sufferings back to identification with Christ and rejoice that they are counted worthy to suffer for his name."1
What hardships or persecutions do you experience because of your faith? Or just even in every day life? What troubles do you endure?
Paul listed a few possibilities: famine or nakedness or danger or sword? He wrote.
Jesus said we should not worry about what we will have to eat or what we will wear. (Matthew 6) He said He would be with us always. Always. Even until the end of the age. (Matthew 28)
Emmanuel. God with us.
"Take up your cross and FOLLOW ME."
We are amongst an elite group...and nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from the very One we love and follow.
Questions for Personal or Group Study:
1. Have you ever endured persecution because of your faith? How did you respond?
2. Do you sometimes feel separated from Christ? What immediately precedes those times? How do you remind yourself that you cannot be separated from His love?
3. What have you sacrificed for the faith? What do you worry about losing?
4. In your personal prayer time, thank Christ Jesus that He is always ahead of you, that He provides for you, and that He has called you to a place behind Him.
Award-winning national speaker, Eva Marie Everson is the author of Shadow of Dreams, Summon the Shadows and the recently released and highly anticipated Shadows of Light. She can be contacted for comments or for speaking engagement bookings at www.EvaMarieEverson.com
1 NIV Bible Commentary, Volume II, New Testament (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI., 1994) pg. 566.