31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted 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, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
What powerful and encouraging words from Paul! His theological masterpiece, the letter to the Romans, articulates for us the foundation for a more broad understanding of the "elected" recipients of God's love, grace, and restoration. One commentary says that this letter is written with such care, and is so robust, that Paul is able to communicate in one moment what the Gospel message is, why he as a Jew was preaching it, and how it should be expressed in daily life in community with others.
It's interesting, because if we look at the social context of Romans, what we see is a divided community in the midst of moving forward into an uncertain future. Paul is obviously writing to those in Rome, and while there was a segment of the Jewish community in Rome that was influential, they were also not looked upon favorably because of some of the preferential treatment they had received from the Roman leaders. This favor was given as more and more Gentiles were intrigued by this burgeoning religion and began to explore it.
Tension between the Jews and the Gentiles increased in Rome as a result, leaving each synagogue fragmented and divided, as some groups were made up of Jews, others Gentiles, others beginning to combine. This obviously created theological questions, ethical debates, and varied expressions of what was considered foundational truth. Therefore, instead of a letter being read publicly to a large group of gathered people, which would have been too dangerous, Paul knew enough about the situation to include a mixture of encouraging words and instructive insight to be read repeatedly throughout the many "house churches" that existed. Knowing that different facets of the letter would resonate differently with the various "house churches," Paul completed a document that was holistic and sound in it's content, as well as it's intended application.
This week's portion zero's in on the inseparable love of God for God's people, with the emphasis being that finding security within this committed love results in our ability to overcome whatever challenges we might be facing. This Sunday we'll focus on the victory found within this love, but for now, let's simply rest in the comfort of knowing that the love we find reflected in Christ is the same love that is available to us. It is also the same love that should empower us when faced with opposition.
Author Chuck Swindoll once wrote that God's love is like a log sitting on top of a frozen lake. When the ice thaws and melts, the log sinks deep into the water, becoming fully immersed and absorbed by the lake. The truth is, the trials that come along in our lives are like that thawing process. If allowed, they can melt the walls we put up around us; they can soften even the hardest of hearts. Our hardships can allow God's love to penetrate deep within us and become a part of us. For it is in those hard times where we are reminded most of God's inseparable love. Paul's encouraging words to the divided community of faith in Rome speak to us today in our varied circumstances. They remind all of us that there is not one hardship we can go through that will separate us from our Lord. In fact, Christ has already brought the victory. And for that, we can collectively, from our various locations and contexts, raise our unified voice in saying, "Thanks be to God!
See you on Sunday,