Saturday, March 21, 2009

Love Conquers All

If God is for us, who can be against us? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? Who is he that condemns? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

                        Romans 8.31, 32-35, 37

Take It to Heart

In Romans 8.28-39, Paul delivers a soaring pronouncement of faith that all earnest believers should internalize. We won’t find another passage of Scripture more dynamic than this to explain God’s plan, power, and love. Its truth is self-evident, but its force surges in Paul’s unmistakably defiant tone. Palpable outrage underscores every word, suggesting he’s appalled anyone would question the Romans’ right to follow Jesus. He’s convinced God includes them in His plan and loves them without restraint. He knows as Romans they don’t fit the conventional Christian stereotype. Their lifestyle and philosophy don’t always square with how other believers—particularly those with a Judaic background—approach the faith. He’s keenly aware criticisms muttered abroad are wafting over the Aegean, as intended, to dispute the Romans’ commitment to Christ. Paul’s virulent defense means to drown out such nonsense once and for all.

A brief overview passage supports this reading. It begins by encouraging the Romans that “in all things God works” for those who love Him and are called for His purpose. He chose you before you were called, Paul stresses. He legitimized you with His call and transformed you to answer it. No authority can contest this, challenge your inclusion, or condemn your faith. No one has power to withhold Christ’s love. Let none of this affect you, Paul stresses, because Christ’s love conquers all. Nothing can separate us from God’s love. Reading this, we should take it to heart—particularly we who’ve been pilloried by religious rejection and hostility. Indeed, we’d do well to know it by heart, because we’ll inevitably need it to drown out future criticism and condemnation levied against us.

More Than

Never forget this: we are more than conquerors. Most believers misread this to say, “We defeat any opposition we face.” Doing this severely diminishes Paul’s statement, however. When the Roman church read it, the phrase leapt from the page and, no doubt, made their hearts leap by raising them above the fray of faith wars. Perhaps the best way to illustrate their response is to recall a signature sequence found in every old Hollywood sword-and-sandal epic. After a decisive victory abroad, the conquering hero—say, Richard Burton or Charlton Heston—marches into the Forum to receive Caesar’s gratitude and praise. Paul’s scenario casts Jesus as the victor and us as Caesar. Christ’s love defeats our enemies, restores peace, and extends our reach. While we make it our duty to prosper in faith, Christ engages our adversaries and triumphs on our behalf. “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” 1 Corinthians 15.57 says in the spirit of one who is more than a conqueror. In Exodus 14.14, while the ground trembles with the roar of Pharaoh’s cavalry and chariots, Moses assures Israel, “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” As more than conquerors, neither fighting nor winning is ours to worry about. Through Christ, God’s love carries the day. He gives us victory.

Inseparable

A sliver of doubt burrows into Paul’s more-than-a-conqueror metaphor, but he catches and removes it right away. With Brutus’s assassination of Julius Caesar still fresh in memory, the Romans viewed the conqueror’s love as vulnerable to shifting loyalty and political expedience. Not so with Christ, Paul rushes to explain. His love guarantees He and we will remain inseparable always. “For I am convinced,” he writes in Romans 8.38-39, “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 God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Foreshadowing His imminent surrender to the cross, Jesus tells His disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 14.13) Calvary is the believer’s Gettysburg—the blood-soaked battleground where God’s unconquerable love turned history’s tide to reunite Him with us for all time. Since then, we’ve tried our best to undermine His achievement and undo history with near-constant border skirmishes to prevent those we disagree with from accessing God’s love. Over and over, we fight long and hard to protect our “values.” Yet, regardless how many decades or centuries we waste in battle and how many millions rally around our cause, love ultimately triumphs. To paraphrase Paul, no wall can be raised so high, no trench dug so deep to separate us from God’s love. He chose us. He called us. He justified us. He qualified us. There’s nothing anyone can say or do about it. And should they try, He wins us the victory for us. We are more than conquerors.

Christ conquers all with love and we, like Caesar, are more than conquerors, who express our gratitude and praise for the victory He gives.

(Tomorrow: Craving Good)

Postscript: Standing Invitation

Last Sunday I served up the possibility of a “Straight-Friendly” weekend retreat where those who were interested could spend time getting personally acquainted, praying together, and sharing the Word. I’ve received several positive responses. In case you missed the suggestion, I mention it again (and most likely will a few more times to make sure no one’s left out). Right now, it’s just a seed of an idea. But if it appeals to you, let me know so I can include your input as plans take shape. As I originally wrote, the thought of spending time with wonderful fellow believers like you is one I can’t resist. If you do as well, don’t hesitate to say so. This is merely a “pulse check” for interest, not a request for definite commitment.

2 comments:

Sherry Peyton said...

As usual Tim, you give me much to think about. Paul writes so very powerfully here, and Romans is undoubtedly the hardest of his works to understand properly. Thank you as always for such fine work. You are deeply gifted. Blessings.

Tim said...

Sherry, I'm always overjoyed to hear from you. Romans is a tough book, because it's written to a highly literate and aware congregation--there's a lot hidden between the lines.

I resisted using the Hollywood epic analogy, thinking I might sound facetious. But I've found that those old clunkers have actually helped me when I read Romans, alerting me to the culture and times in which it was read. (Obviously, I also try to learn as much real history as possible to ensure the veracity of what the movies showed. And while they fudge the romance, they actually do a pretty decent job of getting the rest of it right.)

What strikes me most, though, is that the issues Romans addresses are the same ones we struggle with today. As Casteneda said, those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it...

Thanks for dropping by--and blessings always to you and yours.

Tim