Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril…
A heterogeneous mass the apostle here brigades together as an antagonistic army. There is no attempt at an exhaustive enumeration, or at classification.
I. THE IMPOTENT ENEMIES OF LOVE. There is contempt in the careless massing together of the foes which the apostle enumerates. He begins with the widest word that covers everything — affliction. Then he specifies various forms of it. "Distress," straitening, as the word might be rendered. Then he comes to evils inflicted for Christ's sake by hostile men, "persecution." Then he passes purely physical evils, "hunger" and "nakedness." Then he harks back again to man's antagonism, "peril," and "sword." And thus carelessly, and without an effort at logical order, he lumps together, as specimens of their class, these salient points, as it were, and crests of the great sea, whose billows threaten to roll over us; and he laughs at them all, as impotent and naught, when compared with the love of Christ, which shields us from them all. There is no need, in order to rise to the full height of the Christian contempt for calamity, to deny any of its terrible power. These things can separate us from much. They can separate us from joy, from hope, from almost all that makes life desirable. They can strip us to the very quick, but the quick they cannot touch. The frost comes and kills the flowers, burns the leaves, cuts off the stems, binds the sweet music of the flowing rivers in silent chains, casts mists and darkness over the face of the solitary grey world, but it does not touch the life that is in the root. You need not be very much afraid of anything being taken from you as long as Christ is left you. You will not be altogether hopeless so long as you feel the sweet and all-pervading consciousness of the changeless love of Christ.
II. THE ABUNDANT VICTORY OF LOVE. Mark how the apostle, in his enthusiastic way, is not content here with simply saying that he and his fellows conquer. There must be something more than that to correspond to the power of the victorious Christ that is in us. Note, then, further, that not only is this victory more than bare victory, being the conversion of the enemy into allies, but that it is a victory, which is won even whilst we are in the midst of the strife. No ultimate victory, in some far-off and blessed heaven, will be ours unless moment by moment, here, to-day, "we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us." So, then, about this abundant victory there are these things to say — You conquer the world only then when you make it contribute to your conscious possession of the love of Christ. Has the world helped me to lay hold on Christ? Then I have conquered it. Has the world loosened my grasp upon Him? Then it has conquered me. Note, then, further, that this abundant victory depends on how we deal with the changes of our outward lives, our sorrows or our joys. The set of your sails, and the firmness of your grasp upon the tiller, determine whether the wind shall carry you to the haven or shall blow you out, a wandering waif, upon a shoreless and melancholy sea. The worst of all afflictions is a wasted affliction, and they are all wasted unless they teach us more of the reality and the blessedness of the love of Jesus Christ.
III. THE LOVE WHICH MAKES US CONQUERORS. The apostle, with a wonderful instinctive sense of fitness, names Christ here by a name congruous to the thoughts which occupy his mind, when he speaks of Him that loved us. His question has been, Can anything separate us from the love of Christ? And his answer is, So far from that being the case, that very love, by occasion of sorrows and afflictions, tightens its grasp upon us, and, by the communication of itself to us, makes us more than conquerors. This great love of Jesus Christ, from which nothing can separate us, will use the very things that seem to threaten our separation as a means of coming nearer to us in its depth and in its preciousness. The apostle says, "Him who loved us," and the words in the original distinctly point to some one fact as being the great instance of love. That is to say they point to His death. And so we may say Christ's love helps to conquer because in His death He interprets for us all possible sorrows. The Cross is the key to all tribulation, and declares it to be a token and an instrument of an unchanging love. Further, that great love of Christ helps us to conquer, because in His sufferings and death He becomes the companion of all the weary. The rough, dark, lonely road changes its look when we see His footprints there, not without specks of blood in them, where the thorns tore His feet. And, lastly, this dying lover of our souls communicates to us all, if we will, the strength whereby we may coerce all outward things into being helps to the fuller participation of His perfect love.
(A. Maclaren, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?