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What to Do, Now and Always

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

If there is any phrase that has become a cliché in 2020, it is saying that we live in unprecedented times.  Actually, we don’t.  In the bosom of the mightiest nation ever to exist, maybe we’ve been enjoying peace and security for decades, but that’s not how things have gone for most people ever, and it’s certainly not how things went in the first century.

Back then, before people figured out germ theory, epidemics were so common that they weren’t really worth talking about.  We’re all aflutter about civil unrest in the US, but Christians 2000 years ago had to deal with the Great Jewish Revolt and Roman civil wars.  In short, the things that we think are big problems they probably would not have noticed!

However, the striking thing about God’s message to His people in turbulent times is that it did not change.  Jesus’ call to discipleship remained the same for them, and it remains the same for us.  We still have our marching orders.  As part of our continuing study of living for Jesus, then, let’s see what we should do, both now and always.

The first thing that we must remember is to CONTINUE IN LOVE.  Here, look at 1 Peter 4:8.  This isn’t a very long verse, but it reveals the chasm between the world’s definition of love and God’s definition of love.  In the world, love is something that happens to you.  You fall in love; you fall out of love.  In this passage, though, we see that love is something we maintain.  It’s something we keep constant.  To put things another way, to the flesh, love is an emotion.  To God, love is a commitment.

This passage tells us, then, that it’s not enough for us to love one another.  Instead, God expects us to keep on loving one another.  He expects us to be committed to one another.  This is true not only when love is easy and we want to.  It’s true when love is hard and we don’t want to.

Maybe this is true in our marriages.  Maybe we’re going through a rough patch that has been so long we’ve forgotten what a smooth patch is like, and we’re tired, and we want to quit.  Maybe it’s true in our families, when we’re struggling so hard to see eye to eye with them on some issues that we start wondering what we have in common with them at all.  Maybe it’s in our congregation, because somebody else has been thoughtless or we’ve been thoughtless and this whole big problem has brewed up out of nowhere.

It doesn’t really matter what the situation is.  The Holy Spirit’s words are the same.  Maintain that love.  Keep the relationship going.  Stay committed. 

Indeed, if we have that love, Peter says, it will cover a multitude of sins.  Love will help us to overlook and forgive things that we never would otherwise.  Love reveals to us that even the people who drive us crazy are precious in the sight of God.  Finally, when we are merciful to others, we ensure that He will be merciful to us.  Love does cover a multitude of sins, and some of the sins it covers are ours!

Second, we must CONTINUE TO PRAY.  Here, let’s look at Luke 18:1-7.  I admit, I could have read just v. 1 and made my point, but I wanted to read the whole parable because I think it’s amazing.  Here’s what God is saying to us.  He’s telling us that in our prayers to him, he wants us to be like this stubborn widow lady who harasses a wicked judge into giving her justice, even though he had no concern for her or justice or anything.  She wore him down with sheer persistence!  God says, “Pray like that!”

I think that usually, we see two possible answers to our prayers:  “Yes,” and “No,” right?  The point of this parable, though, is that there really are three:  “Yes,” “No,” and “How bad do you want it?”  God does not tempt us to do evil, but there are times when He does test our faith, and prayer is one of those times.  Yes, He could give us what we ask for right when we ask for it, but sometimes He delays His answer just to see what we do with the delay.  Will our trust in Him remain strong, so that we continue to pray?  Or, instead, does our weak faith give in and give up?

If we want to see the fullness of God’s blessing, we need to remain steadfast in prayer.  We need to keep praying for our country, even when it seems to be getting worse instead of better.  We need to keep praying for our loved ones who are not obedient to the word.  Sometimes, it takes decades for those prayers to be answered!  We need to keep praying for the church despite an uncertain future. 

Above all, we must remember that we are praying not to an unrighteous judge, but to a merciful God.  If even the judge in the parable gave in eventually, how much more will our heavenly Father hear the cries of His children!

Finally, we must CONTINUE TO WORK.  Consider Galatians 6:9-10.  Much like we can get discouraged in loving others and get discouraged in praying, we can get discouraged in our work for the Lord too.  Sadly, it’s all too common for preachers to burn out, but I know this is a struggle for the brethren in the pews too.  So many of you do so much, both for this congregation and in the rest of your lives, that’s out of sight.  You put all this time and effort in, and the world seems to flow on unchanged.

If that’s how you’re feeling, I have some things I want you to think about.  First, your contributions aren’t going as unnoticed and appreciated as you think.  I don’t know how many times I’ve been talking with one of the elders, and they’ll mention that So-and-So is doing this.  They know what you’re doing, and God certainly knows what you’re doing!

Second, we need to remember that it’s a lot easier to tear down than it is to build.  With one bad decision, any of us can ruin our lives, but to accomplish anything for good often takes years of patient effort.  When you’re working for the Lord, things usually aren’t going to happen very fast.  However, the more effort we put in, the better the results will be.

Let me say to all of you, then:  don’t grow weary and lose heart!  All of you who are working in our classes, working on VBS, working in the AV room or the security team, working on the building, and a host of other things besides—your work matters, and it will matter. 

Most of all, though, if you’re trying to shine the light of Christ to the lost, don’t give up on that!  There are dozens of Christians here this morning who had a spouse, or a friend, or a co-worker who didn’t give up on them, who patiently taught and encouraged them until they obeyed the gospel.  We can be that spouse.  We can be that co-worker.  We can be that friend.  I know as well as anybody how discouraging personal work can be, but we have God’s promise:  if we don’t grow weary, somewhere, with somebody, we will reap.

Portrait of a Loveless Christian

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

As all of you hopefully know by now, my favorite sermon topics are the ones that the brethren here request.  I know that when I preach on those topics, my sermons are closely connected to the interests and needs of my hearers, and I believe that makes them as useful as they possibly can be.

This morning’s sermon idea comes from Jason.  He and I were talking after my sermon two weeks ago, which was about love, and he began musing about what the portrait of a loveless Christian would look like.  I said, “That’s a great idea!  I’ll preach on that!”, so here we are.

It’s tempting, I think, to compare such a portrait to other Christians whom we have known, but it’s most important to compare it to ourselves.  When we figure out where we have fallen short in our love, it shows us where we most need to improve.  Indeed, if we don’t figure that out, we may lose our souls over it.  Let’s consider, then, what this portrait of a loveless Christian looks like.

First, the loveless Christian is PUFFED UP.  Consider 1 Corinthians 8:1-2.  In context, Paul is referring to first-century Christians who understood that it didn’t matter whether meat had been sacrificed to an idol or not.  In comparison to God and Jesus, idols are nothing!  However, these knowledgeable Christians were so self-centered that they didn’t care that their behavior was leading others to sin against their conscience.

Today, the debate about meat sacrificed to idols isn’t an issue for us, but spiritual arrogance still is.  It can show up in any number of ways.  It appears in the life of the Christian who has studied a great deal, but who uses his knowledge to crush and intimidate others rather than gently guiding them to God.  It also shows up in the Christian who doesn’t know nearly as much they think they do and aren’t nearly as righteous as they think they are, yet presume to sit in judgment on others.  When Christians insist on getting their way in every decision that the church makes and aren’t willing to let some minor matter go for the sake of peace, that too is being puffed up.

These things are sinful, but they are insidiously dangerous because they are not immediately obvious as sins.  The Christian who is living in adultery sooner or later is going to be unmasked and called to repentance, but it is entirely possible for unloving and arrogant Christians to remain on the membership rolls for years or decades.  We’re usually not comfortable in confronting one another when the presence of sin is a matter of judgment, so when it comes to these things, each one of us must search our own hearts.

Better still, we must work to develop the humility of Christ:  not callous toward others, not blind to our own shortcomings, not self-seeking.  For the Christian, it always is right to put others first, to set their good before our own.  The worldly wisdom of arrogance sees this as the road to ruin, but in reality, it is the way to becoming greatest in God’s kingdom.

Second, loveless Christians are HYPOCRITICAL.  Look at Paul’s appeal in Romans 12:9.  Love must be without hypocrisy because the presence of hypocrisy reveals the absence of love. 

We have no better example of this than the Pharisees.  Often, people describe the Pharisees as arrogant legalists.  They did everything right in the Law, and they trusted in their own righteousness to save them.  Well, that’s partially true.  They did trust in their own righteousness, but they did not do everything right in the Law. 

The problem with the Pharisees wasn’t the laws they kept.  It was the laws they broke.  According to Jesus, the Pharisees were willing to watch their parents starve in order to keep a vow they had made to the temple.  They used legal trickery to take the houses of poor widows away from them.  They tithed garden herbs, but they had zero interest in justice, mercy, and faithfulness. 

In short, the Pharisees followed all of their own little rules and condemned those who did not do likewise, but the godliness they claimed for themselves was not actual godliness.  Instead, they were disobedient to God’s will and dishonored Him.

Today, then, Pharisaism still is a massive potential problem for Christians, but it’s not the problem that people think it is.  It’s not a problem when we care about all of God’s commandments, even the tiniest ones.  However, when we get so focused in on the tiny ones that we stop obeying the broad, significant ones, that’s when we walk in the footsteps of the Pharisees.

We don’t have a piano in our church building.  Great!  We don’t spend money on church colleges and fellowship halls.  Wonderful!  We show up for services every time the doors are open.  Outstanding!

But where are our hearts, brethren?  Where do we stand when it comes to justice, mercy, and faithfulness?  Do we shine at home and at work so that people who look at us see Jesus?  Do people know that even the hard things we tell them, we say because we love them?  These are the things that distinguish the genuine disciple from the hypocrite.

Finally, loveless Christians BITE AND DEVOUR.  Pay attention to Paul’s admonition in Galatians 5:13-15.  Here, we learn that contention and hostility toward our brethren is another thing that excludes the possibility of love.  As John so pointedly asks, if we can’t love our brother whom we have seen, how can we love God, whom we have not seen?

There are so many ways that biting and devouring can show up.  It happens on social media all the time.  In fact, it seems to be happening all the time recently.  This isn’t scientific by any means, but I’ve had a number of Christians tell me over the past week that they’re leaving Facebook at least temporarily because they can’t handle all the vitriol that brethren are spewing at other brethren.  All these ugly arguments over the pandemic and racism and what have you—those things are biting and devouring.  They’re sinful!

Biting and devouring happens plenty in person too.  Sometimes, we bite and devour a brother or sister when they’re not even present.  I’m talking, of course, about gossip.  I think all of us know that not all Christians are equally easy to like and get along with.  It’s probably true that for somebody, every one of us is one of those Christians!  Nonetheless, even if a brother jumps up and down on our last nerve every time we see them, that still doesn’t give us the right to talk bad about them behind their back. 

Love doesn’t do that.  Love doesn’t zero in on the quirks and faults and imperfections.  Love celebrates what is beautiful and good about everyone—and prays for patience with the rest!

Finally, we bite and devour when we stir up trouble in the congregation.  Some Christians seem to have a knack for it.  They’re always in some fuss with somebody, and it’s always going to the elders and making their lives miserable.  Brethren, if that’s us, we need to take a long, hard look at the possibility that the problem isn’t all those other Christians.  It’s us!  If we aren’t careful, our selfish bickering can do massive damage to the church.

Love, the Greatest Commandment

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

This year, our congregational theme has been “Living for Jesus”.  As a result, much of our preaching and teaching has been focused on the Lord.  I think that’s extremely valuable and important.  After all, how can we live for Jesus if we don’t know who Jesus is? 

This morning, though, I’d like to take a slightly different tack.  I want to focus on the “living” part rather than the “Jesus” part.  We can’t live for Jesus without knowing who Jesus is, but we can’t live for Him if we don’t know what His expectations are for us either.

As Clay observed last week, though, meeting those expectations can’t merely be a matter of outward form.  The Pharisees were masters of check-the-box religion, but the Lord condemned them harshly because of their inward failings.  They were willing to offer God 10 percent even of the herbs from their gardens, but what God really wanted was 100 percent of their hearts.

The same is true for us today.  If our religion doesn’t come from the heart, it’s worthless.  I’d like to preach this morning, then, in response to another one of those sermon requests.  Let’s spend some time contemplating love, the greatest commandment.

We need to begin this study by defining WHAT LOVE IS.  In this regard, consider Paul’s words in Romans 13:8-10.  To some, it might seem surprising that we need to begin this study with a definition.  After all, even small children know what love is and tell their mothers “I love you!”, right? 

The thing is, though, that our definitions of love don’t necessarily line up with God’s definition.  God is love, and He never is deceived about what truly is loving.  That’s not true for us, though.  We are prone to being deceived by others and even deceiving ourselves.  As a result, we may sincerely believe that our conduct is loving when in God’s eyes, it isn’t loving at all.  Indeed, people have done great evil in the name of loving God and loving their neighbor.

We think we know what love is, but we don’t.  In order to help us, then, God gave us His definition of love.  That’s really what the Bible is.  Every commandment in the law of Christ is an expression of love, either for God or for our neighbor. 

Sometimes, people get this wrong.  They say, “My heart is filled with love, so getting all those tiny things right in God’s law doesn’t matter.”  That’s exactly backwards.  Our hearts are not so good that we get to sit in judgment on the word of God and decide which parts are important for us to keep.  Instead, we must allow God’s word to sit in judgment on our hearts, to highlight all the places where we fall short of His perfect love. 

Indeed, the more difficult, even outrageous, we find God’s commandments, the more important this becomes.  I know people who have serious problems with the Bible’s condemnation of the practice of homosexuality.  However, their outrage doesn’t highlight a problem with the Bible.  It highlights a problem with them.  God’s word is perfect.  We aren’t.  We need to be humble before it and live accordingly.

Second, we must understand WHY LOVE MATTERS.  Here, let’s consider the encounter between Jesus and the scribe in Matthew 22:34-40.  A lot of the time, we think that calling love the greatest commandment was a new teaching from Jesus.  It wasn’t.  In fact, whenever we see somebody in the gospels asking Jesus what the greatest commandment is, it’s because they know the right answer and are checking to see whether He does.  

Jesus calling love the greatest commandment in v. 38, then, isn’t the new, intriguing part.  Instead, it is when He reveals in v. 40 that all the Law and the Prophets depend on love.  Some translations here say that on love hang all the Law and the Prophets, and I think that highlights the function that love serves. 

Imagine, then, that love is like a peg or a hook on a wall, and you’ve got a bunch of things hanging from that peg—depending from it, if you will.  If you remove that hook, if you take out that peg, all of those things are going to fall to the floor in a heap. 

If you take the animating principle of love out of God’s law, the same thing is going to happen.  Yes, every commandment was handed down to us as part of God’s definition of love, but it is equally important that we use those commandments as ways to express our love for God and others.   If we forget about love, our failure will ruin our obedience.

In fact, this is exactly what happened to the Pharisees.  They thought they were keeping the Law, but they forgot about love, and as a result, rather than expressing love, their selective Law-keeping expressed self-righteousness, hypocrisy, and hard-hearted contempt for others.  The same thing can happen to us.  A Christian without love is nothing more than a Pharisee.

Finally, let’s examine WHAT LOVE LOOKS LIKE.  Look at 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.  This is a familiar passage.  Clay read it during his sermon last week.  It’s commonly used during weddings.  Everybody thinks it’s so poetic and beautiful and heartwarming and all the rest of that stuff.  The thing is, though, that we only can take it so lightly when we don’t think about what it’s actually saying and how it applies to us.  Once we start thinking that way, rather than being beautiful and heartwarming, this is a text that becomes painful and humbling.

To illustrate this, let’s spend a few moments considering the coronavirus edition of 1 Corinthians 13.  Over the past six weeks or so, many of us have found ourselves spending more time with our families—our loved ones—than we ever have before.  During that time, how have we honored God’s ideal of love?

Love is patient.  Over the past six weeks, have we always been patient, even when one of our kids wakes up on the mouthy side of the bed one morning?  Love is kind.  Have we always been kind to our spouses, even when we’ve been tripping over each other for the past six weeks? 

Love is not arrogant.  Have we been arrogant?  Have we demanded things from our families that we have no right to expect?  Love is not rude.  Are we ever rude to our loved ones?  Love is not self-seeking.  Do we ever, just for the tiniest little moment, get fed up with serving our families and start wondering when someone is going to do for us instead?

Love is not irritable.  Are we?  Do we sometimes wake up on the wrong side of the bed ourselves and make sure everybody knows about it?  Love does not keep a record of wrongs.  Do we?  Have we spent our quarantine making a little list of everybody’s shortcomings and failings, until finally we blow our stack about them?

I could go on, but I think that makes my point.  Is there any Christian here who is willing to testify that they’ve been perfectly loving during isolation?  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I can’t make that claim.  When it comes to love, all of us have got a lot of repenting to do, and a long way to go before we become like Jesus.

Jesus Washing Feet

Thursday, May 07, 2020

The Bible contains many truly revolutionary ideas, but of them all the strangest may be the concept that the greatest should be the servant.  This was alien to the people of Jesus’ day.  Back then, people uniformly believed that the greatest should be. . . the greatest.  Even today, 2000 years after Jesus’ ministry, in a country in which most people claim to be Christians, most people consistently put their own interests ahead of the interests of others.

This year, our theme is “Living for Jesus”, which is why Clay and I have been doing so much preaching, teaching, and writing about Jesus.  If we truly want to live for the Lord, though, that means that we cannot be living for ourselves.  If we want to eradicate the disease of selfishness from our lives, only Christ can show us the way.  With this in mind, then, let’s turn to an episode from the final evening of His ministry.  Let’s consider what we can learn from Jesus washing feet.

We’re going to spend most of our time this morning in John 13, and the first section of the foot-washing story is about JESUS’ MOTIVATIONS.  Let’s read from John 13:1-5.  The first thing that we see here is that Jesus acted out of love.  Washing feet was usually the responsibility of the lowest-ranking slave of a household, but here, the Son of God on earth lowers Himself to do the task.  Why?  For the same reason that the Son of God came to earth in the first place—His love for every member of the human race. 

Even today, love does not exalt itself.  Love does not boast.  Love does not insist on getting its own way.  Instead, love serves.  If we are like Jesus, we too will serve others, even in the most humble ways possible.  It’s not demeaning for a Christian to bring a meal to somebody, clean their house, mow their lawn, or even scrub their toilet.  Instead, when we act from love, we make even the lowest task noble.

Second, we see that Jesus acted because He knew who He was.  He came from God, and He was going back to God.  Washing the disciples’ feet didn’t change His value or His worth.  Today, I think the people often refuse to be humble and serve because they’re afraid of losing who they are.  They’re worried that if they give in to somebody else, that will lessen or diminish them. 

That might be true for people in the world, but it’s not true for Christians.  Like Jesus, we’re children of the King.  Our lives are hidden in Him.  So long as we remain righteous, there is nothing we can do or that anyone can do to us that will alter that truth.  If I don’t insist on my own way, guess what?  I still have an eternal inheritance waiting for me that makes any earthly squabble look insignificant.  Jesus has given us everything, and that frees us to serve like Him.

In the second section of this story, PETER MISSES THE POINT.  Look at John 13:6-11.  When Jesus gets around to Peter with His basin and towel, Peter pitches a fit.  Then, when Jesus explains to him that anyone who doesn’t let Jesus serve them isn’t Jesus’ disciple, Peter goes to the other extreme.  He sees what Jesus is doing, but he doesn’t see the lesson.

In this, I think there are two lessons for us.  First, we need to learn to let others serve us.  Many Christians, myself certainly included, have real trouble with this.  We will be first in line to help somebody else, but when the time comes to be helped ourselves, we make that as hard for other Christians as possible.  I know sisters in Christ who would haul themselves up out of their deathbed and crawl around the kitchen making a meal rather than letting themselves be put on a meal train!

Brethren, this is something we need to work on.  First, when we don’t allow others to serve us, we are denying them an opportunity to imitate Christ, and that’s a cruel thing to do to a disciple.  Second, we need to be aware of the seductive illusion of self-reliance.  Who are we to think that we don’t need help from anybody?  Deep down, do we believe that we ought to be able to manage our sin problem on our own too?  Fundamentally, being a Christian means being honest and admitting we can’t.  When others want to help us, we have to be honest about our need for that too.

Second, notice that Peter also goes astray here in wanting to turn Jesus’ service into a ritual.  He wanted Jesus to wash all of him, even though only his feet were dirty.  Jesus refuses because there wouldn’t be any point to that.

So too, we need to be careful about turning Jesus’ actions here into a ritual.  There are, of course, religious groups who engage in ritual foot-washing.  However, they’re missing the point just like Peter did.  It’s not serving anybody to go around with a basin and wash a bunch of clean feet!  This is a text about meeting needs, not going through the motions, and we need to keep our focus on that.

Finally, we see JESUS’ APPLICATION.  It appears in John 13:12-16.  The first thing to notice here is His call for His apostles, and indeed for us, to imitate Him.  This is one of the places, I think, where it really helps us to look at the other gospels.  John doesn’t tell the story, but according to Luke 22, during the Last Supper, the apostles returned to one of their favorite pastimes—arguing about who was the greatest.  One can well imagine the argument raging until Jesus, who is greater than all of them, rises from the table without a word and does something for them that none of them would have lowered themselves to do.

Hopefully, we usually have the good sense not to argue that we’re the greatest, but all of us struggle with that attitude from time to time.  We think that other Christians ought to listen to our opinions.  We think that things ought to be done in the church according to our preferences.  We might not say that we are the greatest, but maybe we want to be treated like it.

Jesus’ example here shows how foolish that is.  He really was the greatest, but He served like the lowliest.  If the Lord Himself didn’t insist on His place, that doesn’t leave much room for any of the rest of us to do so, does it?

That’s where the power of this story lies.  It’s not a call for us to scrub feet that don’t need scrubbing, and then to go on putting ourselves first.  It’s a call for us to adopt the spirit of our foot-washing Lord.  If there are feet that need washing, we’ll wash them.  If there are toilets that need plunging, we’ll plunge them.  For the disciple of Jesus, no act of service is too low, because we know that the lowliest service makes us more like Him.

More Than Conquerors

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

By now, most of us have realized that shelter in place ain’t no fun.  Thankfully, in Maury County, TN, there have been few who have contracted coronavirus, and even fewer who have died from it.  If all continues according to plan, in a few days, many of the restrictions that have prevented us from assembling will be relaxed.  It is likely, though, that the economic effects of social distancing will be felt here for months to come.

For a moment, let’s take a grim view of that future.  Suppose that the recession of 2020 is both deep and prolonged.  Suppose that the ‘rona makes a much more deadly return.  Suppose, in fact, that problems we haven’t even imagined yet rear their ugly heads.

Know what?  For Christians, none of that makes any meaningful difference because it does not alter the relationship between God and us.  Our brethren in the first century faced problems far worse than any of us are likely to see, but they remained triumphant through it all.  This morning, let’s examine the back half of Romans 8 to see how we can remain more than conquerors.

This begins with an examination of GOD’S PURPOSE.  Let’s read here from Romans 8:18-30.  In this reading v. 28 is one of the most famously Pollyanna-ish verses in the whole Bible.  How can it possibly be true that all things work together for good for God’s people when we regularly endure suffering, tragedy, and heartbreak? 

Paul, of course, was no Pollyanna.  In what we just read, he refers to the sufferings of the present time.  A little later on in the chapter, he discusses trials like being executed because of our faith in Christ.  His point is not that our suffering is not real, nor is it that every trial we face was crafted by God for our enjoyment.  Instead, he’s telling us that our reward is so great that next to it, our suffering pales into insignificance.

He explains this particularly with reference to this physical creation.  We live in a fallen world that is replete with suffering.  However, it exists for a noble purpose—to reveal who God’s children are.  As a result, even when our misery is so great that the whole creation can be said to be groaning, those groans are not the hopeless groans of the terminal cancer patient.  They are the hopeful groans of the woman in childbirth.  Even though the present may not be wonderful at all, the future that it is certain to produce will be wonderful.

In addition to the groaning of the creation as it strives for this wonderful future, Paul mentions two other groaners.  We ourselves are groaning as we long for the resurrection, and so is the Spirit of God as He intercedes for us.  We are not satisfied with the imperfection of this life, and neither is God satisfied with our position.  However, our groaning and the Spirit’s groaning are going to be fulfilled too.  Together, the creation, we ourselves, and the Spirit are the “all things” that are working for our good.

We can be certain of what God will do for us because of what He has done for us.  After all, we were dead in our sins, but He foreknew, called, justified, and glorified us.  When we consider our position as those who have been raised up with Christ in heavenly places, we can rest assured that our future will be even more glorious. 

Here’s what this means for us.  I know some of the brethren here are suffering intensely for various reasons.  It is likely that the future holds intense suffering for all of us somewhere.  However, unlike the suffering of everyone else, our suffering is endurable because of our hope.  Earthly suffering is limited in time, and it is limited by our capacity for enduring pain.  However, when we are with God, we will experience a joy that is infinite in duration and scope.  No matter how bad things here get, we can lift up our heads because of that joy set before us.

Having advanced this audacious claim, Paul stress-tests it by considering various trials.  The first of these are SPIRITUAL TRIALS.  Let’s read from Romans 8:31-34.  This is an important question to raise.  After all, our glorious future depends on our maintaining a right relationship with God.  At the beginning of the book, Paul reported that sinners only can expect wrath from Him, so that our hope and our freedom from sin must be linked.

Paul points out, though, that we have nothing to fear on the sin front.  First, we enjoy the favor of God.  If God was willing to surrender even His Son, His most precious possession, to redeem us, He will surrender everything else for our sakes too.  Second, once we have been justified by Christ, Satan the accuser no longer has a charge to bring against us.  Even if Satan did, there is no penalty that he could ask for because Jesus already has died in our place.  As if that were not enough, Jesus rose to power at God’s side so that He could continue interceding for us.

With some regularity, I talk to Christians who still feel guilt over sins they’ve repented of.  If you’re feeling that way, there are few better passages to turn to than Romans 8:31-34.  God loves you more than you can imagine.  He has done more to save you than you can imagine.  As long as you cling to Him, you have nothing to worry about.

The same is true of PHYSICAL TRIALS.  Let’s finish off the chapter with Romans 8:35-39.  Having sent the spiritual forces of wickedness against Christians on an all-out blitz, now Paul is doing the same thing with physical trials.  He’s imagining a future of persecution so bad that Christians are getting slaughtered like sheep every day.  Surely that will show that Christ doesn’t love us anymore, right?

Actually, no.  Paul says that nothing, not the worst persecution imaginable, not the most powerful forces in heaven and on earth, can separate us from God’s love in Christ.  If the government starts slaughtering Christians like sheep, that doesn’t make us the conquered.  It makes us the conquerors.  One can well imagine the glorified martyrs on the day of judgment looking at their miserable earthly tormentors and saying, “Well, that didn’t work out the way you thought it would, did it?”  The worst this world has to offer only can send us home ahead of schedule.

In short, brethren, we need to worry a lot less about earthly things because God’s got it covered.  It doesn’t matter whether there is a massive recession.  It doesn’t matter whether COVID explodes again.  In fact, it doesn’t matter whether the wrong guy becomes president in November.  None of those things can separate us from the love of God, and that means everything is going to be all right.

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