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Sermon for July 30, 2023 – Proper 12

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 5036 | Stubbornness
Greg Williams

Have you ever been accused of being stubborn? I’m sure we’ve all had our moments. My wife and I sometimes joke around about which one of us is more stubborn. Truth be told, it’s me.

Stubbornness often gets a bad rap, and it is often equated with refusing to admit when you make a mistake. And that’s a problem. But when we look at the definition of stubbornness, we see there is a good side. It is defined as a dogged determination not to change one’s attitude or position on something. Some positive words associated with stubbornness include persistence, resolve, determination, and tenacity.

When I talk about my love for my wife, children, or grandchildren, I’m proud to say my love for them is not determined by their actions, their emotions, or their words. I have a stubbornness – a dogged determination to not change my mind about how much I love them.

I share this because when I think of God’s faithfulness, I see that same stubbornness. He refuses to change his mind about how much he loves me and you. He has a resolute commitment to his love to always have the last word.

Take for example one of the most stubborn expressions of God’s love found in the book of Romans.

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 8:38-39 (ESV)

God’s stubbornness toward his love for us is what gives us hope, courage, strength in times of trial, and the motivation to love him in return. Stubbornness in his case includes faithfulness. We can absolutely trust that we will never be separated from his love for us.

That’s the kind of stubbornness I’d love my wife and family to blame me for. I’d just smile and remind them of my love for them – much like God does for us in this passage from Romans.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 105:1-11, 45b or Psalm 128 • Genesis 29:15-28 • Romans 8:26-39 • Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

This week’s theme is assurance of God’s fidelity. The call to worship Psalm celebrates God’s faithfulness to Israel in his covenant with them. The Old Testament reading from Genesis recounts the story of Jacob’s persistence to marry Rachel despite Laban’s deception. The epistolary text from Romans records Paul’s assurance of God’s divine help and faithfulness in the face of all opposition. The Gospel reading from Matthew presents six parables to disclose the nature and life of God’s kingdom.

God Is For Us

Romans 8:26-39 (ESV)

It has been said that Romans 8 is the Gospel in a nutshell. Paul is bringing the first part of his letter to a climatic conclusion in chapter 8, before dealing with the topic that was heavy on his heart, the rejection of Jesus by his own Jewish people. Side by side, these two themes paint a heart-breaking picture for Paul. Considering the astounding good news given in Jesus Christ, why on earth would anyone reject it? And for Paul, the Jews rejection of Christ amounts to a rejection of himself. If you remember, they sought to kill Paul on several occasions. For Paul, the rejection of Christ by his own people was extremely personal.

Maybe you can relate! As Christians, our heart aches for those – especially our beloved friends and family – who do not seem interested in the least about the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, you may have experienced their rejection personally when trying to share the incredible good news that Paul has laid out in Romans 8. Perhaps you have said what so many Christians say when observing all the pain and suffering in the world: “How does anyone make it through this world without knowing who God is?” That question only comes from those who experientially know the difference between knowing the God revealed in Jesus Christ and the scriptures, and not knowing him while living in this broken, distorted, and evil age. How does one deal with the incredible tragic losses so many must endure? How do people face the threat of war, disease, and crime, especially when it appears in your own backyard? How does one cope with one’s own weaknesses, shortcomings, failings, and heartbreak, and especially, one’s own inevitable death, without the abiding hope that only comes in Christ? These are all questions that can come up when we see the gospel in all its beauty, alongside the visceral rejection of it.

But these are not the questions Paul puts to us in our selection of Romans for today. Paul has been filling nearly every sentence in Romans 8, one way or another, with the good news that God is for us. Perhaps that is the simplest conclusion we can state about what we see in Jesus Christ. God is for us! And that reality prompts Paul to ask a set of rhetorical questions that are all essentially asking, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” That’s a good question for us to answer today as we find ourselves swimming upstream against the currents of rejection on account of our faith in Jesus. “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Paul seems to anticipate one answer to that question that we may not think to consider:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27 ESV)

Here we find that God is for us in such a way that we cannot even be against ourselves. Our weakness is not taken away from us. However, our lack of understanding what to pray for does not hinder us from our relationship with God. Prayer can be viewed as the pinnacle of our relationship with the Father, a participation in a real communion that is taking place between the Father and his Son in the Spirit. This is what we are brought into, and since God is for us, he gives us his Spirit, who will help us in our weakness, so it does not work against us. We may all experience times when we struggle to articulate a prayer or find the words to express what we are feeling. The Spirit helps with that as well, but it seems Paul has something deeper in mind. Paul is pointing to a groaning that we can’t express. We do not even know what our deepest needs and wants are, so we groan. These groanings bear witness to a deeper reality of God’s will for us. We can’t possibly fathom what God has in store for us, what he ultimately created us for. If we only received what we asked for, we would get far less than God is willing to give. So, God sends the Spirit to translate our groanings into a sanctified prayer that matches what God aims to give us in Christ Jesus. Our heavenly Father is so for us that he will not even let us be against us.

He goes further in the next three verses to expand his point:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30 ESV)

Paul gives a sweeping statement that “all things work together for good.” That “all” means we can include all our trials and suffering, all our weaknesses and shortcomings. Paul does not mean that God causes all things, but rather he works in all things to bring about his good purposes for us. Yes, our decisions do have real consequences, and our resistance to God is not a path to the abiding relationship with him that God intends. However, even in our shortcomings we can trust the Father to still work towards our good. So, for clarification, sin is not a good ingredient God uses for our good. No, sin is our rejection of God, and we can trust that God will reject our rejection. That is how God is working for our good, even when we are working against it.

The promise Paul is stating is that when we consider all the suffering that comes our way, regardless of its cause, we can face it knowing that God is working in it to add it all up to something good, namely our becoming more like Christ. This is how the Christian can face a world full of suffering and pain in hope. Our sufferings are not in vain. That is one huge difference the believer has over the unbeliever when facing suffering. We know our sufferings now can serve a purpose so grand that the sufferings pale by comparison. We no longer suffer for suffering’s sake; our sufferings are bent into an instrument to further God’s work of bringing us into his glory. We will never look back on our sufferings, no matter how deep the scars or searing the loss, and be disappointed in what God did in them. It will be completely worth it. And we should add, that in the end, our losses are redeemed. So, not only does God work in our sufferings and losses to bring us closer to his good purposes, but he also restores to us all that was lost. Paul is not justifying our suffering with God’s good purposes. He is reminding us of the redemptive love of the Father to restore us, including all that we have lost and suffered.

These verses have fueled theological debate for centuries over concepts such as foreknowledge and predestination. But that is not Paul’s concern here. His focus is not on these words here or elsewhere for that matter. Paul’s aim is to assure us that there is no reason to worry or doubt our salvation. These verses move from Paul’s previous encouragement of the Spirit’s involvement in our present lives, to God’s purposeful involvement in the past. It was his plan to bring us into glory long before we ever appeared on the scene. Paul here is even speaking about our being “glorified” in the past tense. Paul is not raising the question about whether people can or cannot refuse the glory God offers. So, we need not concern ourselves with such debates here. Rather, we can take encouragement that our glorification, our becoming like Christ, was God’s plan from the beginning. Basically, if we want God’s salvation and good purposes, we are assured God will bring us into it.

As we move into the remaining verses of Romans 8, we will see that God not only works in our present and our past for his good purposes for us, but he also does not allow anything in the future to prevent his plans for us.

Paul wants to encourage his readers, including us, in light of the fact that our immediate future will always pose the threat of hardships, especially for those who are in Christ. It is here that he gives expression to the rhetorical question we have been working from—“If God is for us, who can be against us?”

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32 ESV)

The answer of course is quite obvious. If God is for us, then no one can be against us. Meaning that no one can succeed in their opposition to what God is doing in us. But Paul does not give us this direct answer. He will continue to point to who God is to answer the question. He reminds us here that God did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. That is the God we see in Jesus Christ. A God who does not hold back his very best from us. He is not stingy or reluctant to give us all things. We will never find a place in God’s character that will allow for us to claim that his promise of glory is held back from us. The Father intends to keep his word because of who he is. And we see that he already has. In giving us his own Son, he has already graciously given us all things.

Paul now has another rhetorical question for our encouragement.

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. (Romans 8:33 ESV)

As Paul looks to the future, he can assure us that on the final day of judgment, there will be no one who can accuse us because God has already secured a not-guilty verdict. As we anticipate this final pronouncement in the future, we can live into this reality in the present. Even when we fail, we can resist the evil one’s accusations that we are beyond God’s saving work. Again, if God is for us, who can be against us? Even the evil one will have to hold his tongue.

But the evil one may get others to do his dirty work. How often do we accuse ourselves or fall prey to the accusations from others? In response, we often attempt to justify ourselves. But it is God who justifies. We have not been given that authority. The next time someone accuses you of something, no matter how heinous, you can rightly tell them, “Your accusation falls woefully short of my actual sin. However, Jesus has stooped low enough to forgive it.” There is no need to justify yourself. God already has in Jesus Christ. And there is no need to receive an accusation that runs counter to God’s word. As we trust in God’s word to us, that word can shield us from the darts of accusations hurled our way.

Paul continues…

Who is to condemn? 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. (Romans 8:34 ESV)

The death of Christ took on all our condemnation and nailed it to the cross. Not only do we have Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, but we have Jesus, raised and alive, interceding for us for all eternity. If Jesus doesn’t condemn you, everyone else must drop their rocks.

One final question from Paul…

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:35-37 ESV)

Paul lists various difficulties, most which he personally experienced, that can tempt us to think God does not love us. Paul even includes the reference of Psalm 44:22 to graphically portray the problem. Paul’s list here not only covers everyday hardships that may come our way, but it also covers suffering that may come because of having faith in Christ. Neither cause of suffering is elevated over the other. And neither can separate us from God’s love. Paul does not leave this question unanswered. He gives us a bold and firm “no.” And he goes further to claim that “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” How does one become “more” than a conqueror? The victory is not confined to simply conquering the suffering. It’s not just that we got over the present trial or persecution that was once afflicting us. It is that we have been given a share in Christ own victory in our sufferings. The prize adds up to the eternal glory God has for us. There is more for us than just being conquerors; we are given the prize of eternal glory that Christ has conquered for us.

Paul now concludes by exhausting the ink in his pen to answer the question, “If God is for us, who can be against us?

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 ESV)

Paul leaves no rock unturned in these two concluding verses. You can sense his search to cover every possible objection we may raise to counter God’s love for us. He ultimately provides a catch all “nor anything else in all creation” just in case he left something out. This is God’s word for you today. He wants us to know that the God we see in Jesus Christ is the God who loves you to the very end. Nothing will ever come between you and his love for you. Absolutely nothing. Amen!

In Step with the Spirit w/ Gavin Henderson W5

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July 30 — Proper 12 of Ordinary Time
Romans 8:26-39, “God is For Us”

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Program Transcript

In Step with the Spirit w/ Gavin Henderson W5

Anthony: Our final passage of the month is Romans 8:26 – 39. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 12 in Ordinary Time, which is July the 30.

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with groanings too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches hearts, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son but gave him up for all of us, how will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ who died, or rather, who was raised, who is also at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than victorious through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

It’s probably unfair to only have a few moments, Gavin, to discuss this amazing passage. It’s a challenge to even know where to begin. So where would you like to begin, Gavin?

Gavin: This is such a beautiful passage of Scripture. I mean, really this is. As you reflect on those words, you can almost get lost in them because this is Paul at his very best, I think, in this section in Scripture.

But if we go back to the start of our passage here, I think really what he’s saying is so encouraging for us as Christians, as disciples, as followers of Jesus Christ that we aren’t doing this alone. In everything that we do, God is with us. The Spirit helps us in our weakness.

And I think particularly for a lot of new believers this is a passage that is really helpful for them to understand that God isn’t asking them to rely on their own strength. And even when it comes to something which is as fundamental for Christians as praying, God helps us with our prayers. And sometimes for new believers, it can be really challenging when you are praying with other believers.

Some believers really have a gift for prayer, and when they pray, it is so uplifting and encouraging. And as a new believer, you can struggle because sometimes your prayer life is still developing. Sometimes you might even find it difficult to know where to begin in prayer. But what this verse is saying is just start.

Because the truth is the Spirit helps us. Often when we pray, our prayers are very selfish. They’re focused often on our immediate needs. And sometimes they go a little bit beyond that. But the reality is that every time we pray, the Holy Spirit is interceding with us and transforming our prayers as they’re presented to God.

And God knows our hearts. He knows the mind of the Spirit, and he knows what we need. And this is the God we worship. This is the God we praise. This is the God who loves us, that even when it comes to prayer, he is at work for us. He is helping us. And so, it means that we should never hesitate.

In our prayers we have nothing to fear about praying to God or that we make mistakes in our prayer, because inevitably we will sometimes say the wrong thing or sometimes, we don’t even know what to say. Sometimes we are confronted with difficult scenarios, and we don’t even know the right thing to pray for.

I’ve been [with] people who are very unwell and are at the point where it’s not clear what their future should be. What is the best thing for them at that stage in their life? And sometimes we just don’t even know what to pray in those circumstances. But the good news is the Holy Spirit is with us.

We don’t do anything by ourselves. God is with us. He is for us. And this is what this passage is saying.

Again, if we go back to that “now and not yet” concept, here God is saying his plans for us is more than we might think. He predestined every one of us to be conformed to the image of his Son. He predestined every one of us to be like Jesus and that’s an incredible thought! We can think in our own lives, how are we ever going to be remotely like Jesus? And yet here we’re told the Spirit helps us in our weakness, helps us to be conformed to the image of his Son, the image of Jesus Christ.

This is really encouraging news. And that’s certainly where I would begin on this passage because I think this is something that people new in the faith really need to hear and to understand that they do not engage in discipleship alone. God is with them at every stage through the process.

Anthony: Yeah. I’ve often asked if the Holy Spirit is interceding on our behalf and Jesus is also interceding on our behalf at the right hand of the Father, which this passage points to, why bother to pray? If they are praying for us and they know the will of the Father.

But it’s relational, right? Just like with your own three children, Gavin, you probably have a pretty good idea of what their school life looks like, but you still want to know, to hear them talk about their experiences because it’s relational.

And I think that’s part of what conforms us to the image of the Son. In our time of just relating with God, in the Spirit, as they intercede on our behalf, that we come to know something of the mind of Christ, and we are formed by it. Hallelujah. Praise God.

I’m hard pressed to think of a better way to end our time together than worshiping the God who says nothing can separate us.

And I think he really means nothing, as he goes through this litany of list here from the apostle Paul. So, herald, this good news for us, Gavin.

Gavin: Yeah, so this is just such a beautiful section of Scripture here—to think that there’s just nothing that can separate us from the love of God.

It’s such a powerful concept because the reality is that so often in our lives, we do feel separated. We do feel isolated from others. If you look around society today, loneliness is such a problem. People feel alone. People feel unloved. And you can see this throughout societies and in different cultures and different places around the world.

And yet the good news is nobody is unloved. God’s love for us is so much greater than we can imagine. His love was so great that he gave his own son Jesus Christ, so that all of us can have life, so that all of us can share in the inheritance that Jesus Christ has. This is the good news that we are called to.

The reality is that if we go through periods where we do feel separated, we need to return to this scripture. We need to remember the promise we have: there is nothing that can separate us from the love of Christ.

And then Paul goes on to really highlight that it’s absolutely nothing. Death itself cannot separate us from the love of God. So, nobody who has died is separated from the love of God. Nothing we can face in life can separate us from the love of God. There are no beings or powers out there that can separate us from God’s love. There’s no heights, no depth.

There’s nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. And so really this should be our identity as Christians. This should be the foundation that we rest upon—that we are loved by God with the love that we as humans will spend the rest of our lives slowly beginning to understand more and more of.

I don’t think there’ll ever be a stage where we as human beings fully understand the fullness of God’s love. But we will spend the rest of our lives, the rest of our rest of eternity, learning more and more the love that God has for us, the love that has been displayed for us in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

Anthony: Hallelujah. That is some really good news.

I want to thank you, Gavin, for joining us here on Gospel Reverb. It’s been a blessing to have this conversation around something we’re both passionate about, and that is the written word of our Lord.

And I want to remind our listeners, Christ has descended deeper than any abyss you might find yourself falling into. He has likewise ascended higher than all things, and now carries with him his humanity in the presence of our Father. Therefore, Paul can say, if God is for us who can be against us? Hallelujah.

I want to thank Reuel Enerio, our podcast producer, who does such a great job, and also Elizabeth Mullins, my wife. I like her exceptionally, and she also does the transcription.

Gavin, your words are going to be remembered for a long time to come. Thank you for them. As is our tradition here on the podcast, we like to end in prayer. Gavin, would you please pray for us?

Gavin: Sure.

Heavenly Father, what a joy it is to be able to spend time in Scripture to reflect on the words that you have given us, Lord. Words that testify to your Son, Jesus Christ, that testified to what Jesus Christ has done for us. And as we have looked at these words, Lord, one of the things that is so striking is the love that you have for us. Father, words don’t begin to describe that love.

We find ourselves struggling at the very limits of language as we try and articulate how great the love that you have for us is, Lord. But Father, we praise you. We thank you for what you have done for us in Jesus Christ. And Father, I pray for everybody who’s listening to this podcast, that you’ll inspire them, that you’ll encourage them, that you’ll help them to hear your words to them.

Lord, as they listen to this podcast, that you’ll encourage them to go out and to reclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, the good news of what Jesus Christ has done for us, that he has saved us from our sins. We no longer have to try and work out our own salvation. We no longer have to try and work out our own righteousness, but instead we just rest and trust in Jesus.

And through Jesus, we have been saved for a purpose. And that purpose is life with you, Lord. And Father, we thank you for the hope that you have given us. We thank you that as difficult as this world may be, as difficult as the challenges that we face on a daily basis in our lives, that we know we have an eternal future that is secure in Jesus Christ.

Father, we ask that you help us to rest in that good news, to rest in that hope. And Father, let us turn our eyes squarely on your Son, Jesus Christ. Let us joyfully move towards him in every way that we possibly can.

Father, I just pray for everybody listening to this and I pray for your church. I pray for the body of Christ that you’ll encourage that. And we just pray for that time when you will return to this world in glory and the whole earth will finally understand who you are. Lord, that is our longing, that is what we hope for.

And so, we just give all praise to you, and I thank you for everybody involved in this podcast who has helped it happen as well, Lord. Just thank you, Lord. And I say this in Jesus Christ’s name. Amen.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Do you have a story of stubbornness you can share?
  • In what way can we speak of God as being “stubborn?”

From the Sermon

  • Can you relate to Paul’s heavy heart of knowing Jesus while his own people have rejected him?
  • How does Paul’s rhetorical question “If God is for us, who can be against us?” strike you?
  • Discuss Paul’s statement that “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
  • Do you have experiences you can share where you saw God working in something painful that was for your good?
  • How does our faith in God’s purposes for us help us through these times of suffering?
  • What comfort do we have in knowing that Christ does not condemn us?
  • Discuss what it means to be more than conquerors.

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