Theme: Great Forces against Us
In this week’s lessons, we are reminded of the Lord’s abiding presence with his people, even in the midst of great trials and hardships.
Scripture: Psalm 114:1-8
Sometimes Christians are accused of being unrealistic about life, as if it were nothing but a bowl of cherries for them, but that was not true of Paul. When Paul wrote in Romans 8:39 that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” he was not closing his eyes to reality or shutting his ears to the hostile and destructive forces that surround us. On the contrary, he opens his arms to these forces and invites them to come forward, saying nevertheless that they will never defeat God or succeed in detaching us from his love in Jesus Christ.
What are the forces arrayed against us? Paul lists seven great forces. Yet although they are great, all will bow before the presence of our God.
1. Trouble. The first circumstance that might be thought able to withstand God and separate a Christian from his love is “trouble” or, as the older King James Version has it, “tribulation.” It means being pressed down by life so that we feel crushed by it. You may have experienced this. You may have been abused as a child, lost your job, been deprived of a husband or wife or undergone severe illness. Paul says that no tribulation, however severe it may be, will separate you from Christ’s love.
2. Hardship. The second circumstance that Paul thinks of as a possible separator is “hardship,” which embodies a slightly different idea. The Greek word is composed of two separate words that mean a “narrow space or territory.” So the idea is not so much being pressed down by life as being confined within a narrow and oppressive space.
Take the example of a man who is in a dead-end job. He entered his company with hopes for advancement, but he is in his late forties and has been passed over for promotions several times. It is getting to where he cannot make a good lateral move. Meanwhile, he has a wife and children to support. There is a mortgage to pay. He would like to be free of these confining circumstances, but he knows that he cannot break free and still honor his commitments. Or again, imagine a woman in her thirties with children who make tremendous demands on her, who has to survive on a rather meager budget and who knows there is no immediate future for her apart from the circle of school, supermarket, baby-sitters, and the other marks of a very confined life.
How are you to triumph in such tight circumstances? It is to realize that God has fixed his love upon you and that nothing is ever going to separate you from his love. You may be in narrow straits now, but you are an heir of heaven, and one day your horizons will be as vast as the universe and as soaring as the stars. Nothing will deprive you of this destiny.
3. Persecution.The Greek word for “persecution” denotes relentless attempts to do harm. Very few of us suffer much outright persecution today, though Christians in other parts of the world endure it. But there are often subtle persecutions, and these will probably become stronger and more open if the present secularizing trends of Western life continue.
Two things we can be sure of: 1) persecutions are a normal response to any forthright Christian witness or stand; and 2) we will experience them to the extent that we confront the world with Christ’s claims. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.” But he added, “Take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Persecutions may separate us from a more lucrative worldly future or a more attractive image before the world, but persecutions will never separate us from Christ’s love.
Review the first three forces arrayed against us. How have you experienced each of them? How has God sustained you through each one?
What does God promise to do for his people as they go through such difficulties?
Prayer: Thank God that nothing will separate us from God’s love and Jesus Christ. Thank him for his love that will one day free you of trouble, hardship and persecution.
Key Point: You may be in narrow straits now, but you are an heir of heaven, and one day your horizons will be as vast as the universe and as soaring as the stars.