Summary: The Christians in Rome were apprehensive as to the future so Paul diagnoses the Problem and finds the Solution in Christ which gives us assurance in entering the New Year.
NEW YEAR ASSURANCE IN PAUL’S TRIUMPH SONG
"What will this year bring?" I expect that all of us in our private thoughts, or even spoken, have wondered what’s in store for us. I can’t tell you what will happen, but I suspect that 2008 will be much like 2007. The Earth has been circling the sun a long time. In principle, little changes - winter and summer, springtime and autumn come around with amazing regularity! That’s true of the big picture. And yet we do wonder what 2008 will bring. It’s easy to be pessimistic. There’s the uncertainly of the international scene with terrorism and, locally, our economy – and then we have our own personal and private fears as to the future.
I was at a business seminar and one of the participants told a story to illustrate a point about imaginary problems. A man was out hunting bears. He spotted one in a forest and took a shot but just managed to hit its nose, much to its fury! The bear gave chase and the hunter ran to a tree to climb out of harm’s way. Unfortunately, there were no branches low enough for him to grab, so he had to run around the tree followed by the bear. Just picture the scene - round and round they went this large tree. The man could feel the bear’s breath on his neck. He tried to escape by running even faster, but to his consternation he found he had a bear in front of him as well as behind! Imagination can play tricks on us, causing unnecessary fears - but they can be real as well.
The past is history, but the future is still in the unknown. There’s a saying that "life must be lived forwards but can only be understood backwards." The past teaches us that life can be most unpredictable. It’s rather like the weather - one day it can be glorious sunshine but the next is the opposite. Clouds can gather as a depression develops, with storm-force winds creating havoc to the well-ordered gardens of our lives. Life can be like that. The forces ranged against us seem to surround and overwhelm, and we are downcast if not despairing.
Paul the apostle knew the experience well. He gave the Christians at Rome the benefit of his being in the forefront of the spiritual battle. The last 12 verses of Romans 8 (28-39) have been summed up as "the Christian’s Triumph Song". Yes, there is triumph but Paul isn’t a triumphalist. He’s a realist. He knows all too well that where there’s a potential for triumph there’s trouble and trial as well. So we must ask:
WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?
It’s because we live in a fallen world. This isn’t how it was designed to be and Paul looks forward to the day when it will be freed from "its bondage of decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God" (8:21). Paul is quite definite that we’re still in the waiting period. Citizens of countries that had been overrun by enemy forces lived in hope that a liberating army would free them but there was to be a lot of hardship before that longed-for day came. There’s a saying: to be forewarned is to be forearmed. So what are the enemies that we might well encounter in the unknown future? There’s the consciousness of our:
Satan is known as the "accuser" - that’s what his name means. There’s never been a shortage of enemies to make accusations against God’s people. Then we have our own consciences and of memories readily pointing the finger - and all too frequently we know it’s true. It can be depressing to know that we frequently fall short of God’s standards. Paul knew this when he wrote to the same readers about the accusations of failure that he felt: "I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am!" (7:22-24). Yes, in 2008 we’ll be conscious of our imperfection. If we don’t recognise it ourselves, someone else is sure to tell us! But there’s more to come. There’s the probability of:
Paul catalogues a list of candidates to make life hard for us. Who can tell if the circumstances of the coming year will prove tough and uncomfortable, tempting us to cry out: "If God loves me, why does he allow this to happen?" It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking God’s love gives us the right to an easy life. The enemies that lurked around the corner for Paul were "tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril and the sword" (8:35). It’s possible that the future will bring a different mixture because we live in a more tolerant society and we’re privileged to live in a community with a social conscience, which provides some cushion against the harsh impact of destitution. All the same, a glance at the newspaper tells us that 2008 could be a tough year for many. And then there’s: