At Valley Worship today Gerry Stacey talked on Romans 8:17-39 ‘nothing in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’.
I am often asked questions about when and how the Bible was put together. One of these is often about when the books were written. There are certainly some odd anachronisms in the sequence of the Bible as we know it, not least amongst the letters of Paul. Indeed most scholars would agree that Romans was the last of Paul’s letters yet comes first in the structure of the New Testament.
Early collections of the epistles show some differences in order but even in the earliest Greek collection (P46) dating to about 200 ad, Romans comes first. With Hebrews second. When we look at the modern structure some suggest that they are currently printed in order of size.
There is an interesting theory that the early church wanting to split from Marcion’s influence, thought to be heretical needed to change from his structure of the epistles which was largely chronological so chose a list in size order as this also managed to keep Romans first because all believed this to be the most important of Paul’s letters.
I think we have seen this clearly in this series of talks about Romans
We heard recently about being children of God and we are all reminded at this time by the arguments going on over the exam results how the well-being and care of children is so important to everyone and Paul tells us that however old we get Jesus always loves us and cares for us like little children.
In the early part of chapter 8 we heard how through Christ we are born in the spirit which transcends life. And now from today’s passage — Romans 8:35–39 — in verse 35: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”
The answers are so clear as Paul lets us know. Verse 31: No one can be successfully against us Verse 32: God will supply everything we need — even when all seems lost. Verse 33: No one can make a charge stick against us in the court of heaven — no matter who accuses us. Verse 34: No one can condemn us. And today in verse 35: No one and nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.
And what makes this text so relevant today is that Paul spells out the kinds of things that cannot separate us from the love of Christ, and they are the sort of things that we see around us.
Who shall separate us from the love of God, he asks and then answers his own question with a list which depending on which translation you read includes “Shall it be troubles, hardships, persecution, hunger, poverty, danger, or even death and the sword?”
The reason Paul chose to mention so many terrible things is to make sure we knew he was not saying: well, there are some things so horrible that they really could separate us from the love of Christ. No. Nothing can separate us from Christ’s love.
No not even death which we may well think separates us from most things. We do after all accept this technically in the words of the marriage vow when we say ‘until death do us part’. But many of us who have lost a loved one will know that death does not separate us from their love but whilst we mean that the memory of their love will be sweet and powerful Paul means here. And in verse 34 says plainly, “Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”
The reason Paul can say that nothing will separate us from the love of Christ is because Christ is alive and is still loving us now. He is at the right hand of God and is therefore ruling for us. And he is interceding for us, which means he is seeing to it that his finished work of redemption does in fact save us hour by hour and bring us safe to eternal joy. His love is not a memory. It is a moment-by-moment action of the living Son of God,
But this omnipotent, effective, protecting love does not spare us from calamities in this life, but brings us through them safe to everlasting joy with God.
Paul makes this crystal clear in verse 35: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” Now some might say this means that God will not let these things happen to us but Paul goes on to say two things.
Firstly in verse 36
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
Whilst we worry about religious and racial tolerance in this country and I would not for one moment want to diminish the importance and significance of such movements as black lives matter we should never forget that in many countries in the world, from China and north Korea to Pakistan Afghanistan and Libya and Sudan Christians are still daily persecuted and worldwide more than 100,000 a year are killed just for being Christian
In verse 38 he says “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”. So Paul is clear we will suffer all those things BUT none of them will separate us from Gods love
Well it is certainly clear we are suffering all those now, through the pandemic which apart from the direct illness death and distress is increasing poverty and hunger across the world, via nasty dictatorships in places like north Korea and Belarus to wars in Yemen and Syria to racial and religious persecution across the world there is no doubt we live in a time of tribulation.
So the sum of the matter in verse 35 is this: Without God, the world is hopeless. But Jesus loves us with moment-by-moment love that does not always rescue us from calamity but preserves us for everlasting joy in his presence even through suffering and death. There is however one small proviso Paul was of course talking to the Christian community and did not need to mention this but the one thing that can separate us from God’s love is us, you and me. But Paul is right and if we accept God, ask Jesus to be our saviour, then as Paul says
Nothing 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.