Listen to the audio of today’s Reflection:

Romans 8:31-39

More Than Conquerors

     31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? 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 is he that condemns? 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.

It’s probably no great insight to say that lots of people aren’t too crazy about the apostle Paul. He sometimes comes off as judgmental and self-righteous and moralistic. And Christians who quote Paul a lot also seem judgmental and self-righteous and moralistic. In our time, more progressive followers of Jesus accuse the apostle Paul of justifying sexism, domestic abuse, slave-owning and homophobia.

I understand the complaints about Paul, but I’d make the case that if you really take the time to seriously study his letters in the context of his world, you find that his theological interpretations are much closer to ours than some of his modern critics think. People tend to think of Paul as a defender of the status quo, but a lot of what he wrote would have seemed positively radical to the first people to read it or heard it.

But whether you love him or hate him, it’s hard to deny that Paul had a powerful commitment to living out his faith, even in the most difficult circumstances. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote that he had been flogged severely, five times getting the customary Jewish forty lashes minus one. Three times he had been beaten with rods, and at least once he had been stoned and left for dead. Three times he had been shipwrecked. He also wrote, “I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.”

The other thing it’s hard to deny about Paul is that all the suffering and hardship he had been through just seems to have reinforced his sense that God was with him and holding him up in all circumstances. And this passage we’re reflecting on today seems like one of the most confident expressions of faith in any of Paul’s letters. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” It’s written as a question, but it’s really a very powerful and confident statement of faith.

The church historians say that when Paul wrote this letter to the churches in Rome, many followers of Jesus were encountering persecution, usually in their own communities. Conflicts had broken out in local synagogues, since most Jewish followers of Jesus still thought of themselves as Jews. Jewish followers of Jesus were being thrown out of the synagogues, shunned by their families and friends, and sometimes even beaten or stoned.

But as you might remember, not all the early Christians had been raised as Jews. And gentile members of the church had problems of their own. Followers of Jesus who had grown up as pagans were being abused because they no longer took part in the local rites and festivals that honored the Greek and Roman gods. Gentile Christians were called “atheists” in the Greco-Roman world. In that world, being called an atheist was an accusation of being subversively unpatriotic. Among other things, the emperors were worshipped as gods.

But in the middle of all this trouble and persecution, Paul offers his fellow believers a word of encouragement and reassurance. If God was willing to make the sacrifice he made on the cross, then what further reassurance do we need that God is with us in all of our struggles? No matter what might happen to us in this world, our God loves us and stands with us.

Paul writes that we are “more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Conquerors might celebrate their victories for a while, but sooner or later they inevitably fall victim to the next conqueror in line. But as followers of Jesus, we live in the assurance that his victory over the powers of this world will never be followed by a subsequent defeat. And since we share in his victory, we are more than conquerors.

Paul closes this part of his letter with two of the most striking and powerful verses in all of his letters. I can’t do any better in closing today’s Reflection than to invite you to read them again, and to let them refresh and strengthen your faith and hope as they did for the followers of Jesus in Rome almost 2,000 years ago.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 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.”

Let’s pray. Lord, we rejoice in the promise that whatever challenges this life may bring, you will stand with us to hold us up in your loving arms. Help us to act boldly for your kingdom, trusting in that promise as we live out our calling as followers of Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace,