Summary: An expository sermon on Romans 8:31-39 touching on Pauls meaning of the Greek word nikao, "overcoming"
“Where Shoe Companies Get Their Names” by Matthew Everhard. An expository sermon from Romans 8:31-39 originally delivered at Hudson Presbyterian Church on April 3rd, 2005
What do you think is the most misleading commercial on television today? You’ve heard of truth in advertising… Who do you think are the most flagrant violators of that policy? Maybe it’s the weight loss pills. You know they have these totally fake “before and after” pictures where on the left the person is sticking out their belly, they look like they just woke up from a hibernation, and the studio ran out of light bulbs that day. And on the right is the same face, but with makeup, a great hairdo superimposed on some supermodel’s body. Is that misleading? Or maybe it’s the fake spray-on hair. Do you remember that stuff? Some company actually tried to sell you a can of spray paint for your head! Listen, if you’re really going that bald, you don’t need a can of insta-hair, you need a razor alright?
I’ll tell you what I think though. I think the most misleading commercials on TV are the shoe commercials. Does that surprise you? Think about it. They take the most celebrated athletes in sports. They add slow motion effects. They’ve got sweat dripping down from their faces. They’re dunking the ball, they’re running the streets faster than cars, they’re smacking the baseball out of the yard. And they’re gonna tell me that Lebron James can’t score 56 points in one game unless he’s wearing the right sneakers? Are you seriously expecting me to believe that if Lebron accidentally laced up a $30 pair of Wal-Mart’s instead of his $150 pair he couldn’t even get rim?
But listen I’ve got to hand it to Nike: at least they picked a biblical name. Did you know that Nike ripped their name right out of Romans chapter 8? I am absolutely not kidding. “Nike” is taken from the Greek verb Nikao which means “I conquer.” Did you know that? And that is exactly what they’re promising you. “If you buy our shoes, you too will be able to conquer on the court or in the field or in the world.”
And that promise of victory, the ability to overcome, the desire to conquer is so alluring isn’t it? That’s probably because most of us are far more familiar with defeat than we are with victory. Think about it: 80% of small businesses fail within one year. Most people have suffered some sort of relationship break up. Probably a bunch of us here have been fired from a job at some time or another. We’ve all bombed a test or a paper in school even though the grading scales are juiced up to make us feel good about ourselves. We’ve all had a project or a program at work that just didn’t succeed like we hoped it would.
But life can cut deeper still can’t it? Chances are most of us will suffer from a serious medical illness someday. We will all suffer the grief and misery of the loss of someone we care deeply about. And then there is the enemy of death itself: The ultimate loss that no one can overcome, right? In almost 2000 years since Paul wrote Romans no one, not even one person has been able to stay alive indefinitely.
So how can Paul look us right in the eyes and tell us in verse 37 that in “all things we are more than conquerors”? There’s that Nike word again in the original language! That whole phrase “we are more than conquers” is actually just one word in Greek. It’s a compound word with two parts: uper (from where we get our word super) and nikao (from where we get the name Nike). Paul is in essence saying: In all things, we are like super-champions, super-winners, super-conquerers! Do you believe that? How does Paul get off saying that? Is that truth in advertising? Let’s go back to verse 35 and see if we can find out.
Paul started this whole section out with a rhetorical question in verse 35: “Who can separate us from the love of Christ?” In other words, is it theoretically possible for a believer to fall from grace? That’s sort of an important question to think about isn’t it? If you and I are going to follow Jesus Christ with our lives, I want to know if this is the sort of relationship that is going to last. Can I trust Jesus to stay with me, even when things get rough and I mess up? And so Paul scratches out a good old-fashioned list. He lists seven things that would scare even the most faithful Christians out of their socks: Can hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril or sword? You know, we could take the time to define all of these things. We could say that hardship is the general word for all kinds of earthly sufferings, and that distress means the inner-turmoil of the troubled soul, that persecution means specifically suffering for bearing the Name of Christ. But I think we get the idea. Paul knew what suffering was by experience and so do most of us. Paul had been imprisoned, beaten, hated, shipwrecked, snake bitten, back stabbed… I bet you too could make a list of your own sufferings seven layers deep.