NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER EIGHT (Lesson XLVII)
The Apostles Paul now begins to enumerate all the adversities that might cause a believer to turn back from following Christ because they’re convinced it’s not worth it. Paul wants the believers to know that for each dilemma, God has an answer. For the first trial, Paul uses the Greek word thlipsis which the KJV translates as “tribulation” and means to be living under pressure, feeling oppressed, afflicted, in distress, and going through hard times. Thayer in his Greek Lexicon references this to what God said the children of Israel would go through while under enemy attack: “Because of the severity of the siege and distress that your enemies are inflicting on you, you will eat the offspring of your own body, the flesh of your own sons and daughters.”1 So we can see that this is not a reference to the Great Tribulation mentioned in the Book of Revelation but as an example of the most difficult of times a believer must go through down here.
The next Greek word stenochōria is translated by the KJV as “distress.” It signifies going through a narrow place while facing some calamity of extreme misfortune. Again, Thayer in his Greek Lexicon references what was prophesied that the children of Israel would go through: “Even the most gentle and sensitive man among you will be without pity for his brother, his beloved wife or his surviving children, to the degree that he will refuse to share with any of them the flesh of his children whom he is eating; because if he did, he would have nothing left for himself.”2 This is the worst kind of dilemma to face, when even those of one’s own family turn on them with violence out of hatred for their faith in God and to satisfy their greed.
Then Paul uses the Greek word diōgmos which the KJV translates as “persecution.” In Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary this word is used to emphasize the concept of someone being pursued, thrown down, sat upon, yelled at, then brought to trial and punished. This is what happened to the Christians after the Day of Pentecost. Luke tells us: “At that time there was a great persecution against the congregation which was at Jerusalem, and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the Apostles.”3 In other words, their lives were made so miserable that they had to move in order to survive.
Now comes the term “famine,” which is English for the Greek word limos. Thayer’s Lexicon interprets this as literal “hunger.” Thayer refers to what the Apostle Paul said back in verse 27: “Often I have been hungry and thirsty and have gone without food.” Then we have the Greek word gymnotēs which is translated as “nakedness.” Thayer sees this as a reference to the lack of clothing. We are given a reference to what was said to the children of Israel should they forsake God: “You will become slaves to your enemies because of your failure to praise God for all that He has given you. The Lord will send your enemies against you, and you will be hungry, thirsty, naked, and in need of everything.”4 But this can also be used metaphorically to mean being denied the basics of life such as love, care, kindness, encouragement and having to face life all alone; feeling abandoned, forsaken, and there is not one who cares at all about your situation.
And then we have the Greek word kindynos which is translated in the KJV as “peril.” This simply means being in danger of suddenly being harmed or even killed. Thayer’s Lexicon points to what Paul had to say about circumstances he’s been through on his missionary journeys: “I have traveled many weary miles and have been often in great danger from flooded rivers and from robbers and from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the hands of the Gentiles. I have faced grave dangers from mobs in the cities and from death in the deserts and in the stormy seas and from men who claim to be brothers in Christ but are not.”5 As dark as these circumstances may become, it will give the believer the opportunity to let their light shine even brighter for all to see the power of faith.
And then lastly, we have the Greek word machaira which is rendered as, “sword.” Thayer gives us the literal definition of a large knife, or small sword, used for killing animals. But Thayer also assigns a metaphorical meaning to the instrument being that of receiving a death sentence. A reference is given to an account by Luke: “About that time King Herod moved against some of the believers and killed the Apostle James (John’s brother).” But Paul is not left without an answer. He quickly and clearly states that as a believer in this world we should expect no more and no less from those around us who oppose Jesus Christ and God the Father, the One who chose us, justified His choice, and expects to shower His glory on those who remain faithful to the end.
But to all of these Paul things says: Going through all of this, whether or not we make it out alive or pass on to our rest, we are fulfilling this Scripture: “For Your sake we are put to death all day long, we are considered sheep to be slaughtered.”6 Jesus did not contradict this concept. In fact, one day He told His disciples: “I have told you these things so that you won’t be staggered by all that lies ahead. For you will be excommunicated from the synagogues, and indeed the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing God a service.”7 Was Jesus being cavalier about His followers being killed as though there were weeds or vermin? No! Take a lesson from the cells in our bodies that are constantly dividing, regenerating, and dying. Each cell’s life cycle is different. But the purpose of any cells is to do the job it was created for and then make room for new cells. Paul said we are all members of one body. Some of us live longer than others. But when all is said and done, all that will be asked of us by our Creator is this: Did you do the job you were created to do?
But Paul had another factor in mind when he wrote the Corinthians: “We live under constant danger to our lives because we serve the Lord, but this gives us constant opportunities to show forth the power of Jesus Christ within our dying bodies. Because of our preaching we face death, but it has resulted in eternal life for you.”8 When we put these two ideas together, we can see that for each one of God’s children who die as a result of persecution, oppression, or hungry and unclothed while in peril, God uses that death to bring others into His kingdom.
Under the first covenant, we’re told that sheep, goats, doves, etc., served as sacrifices to atone for the death penalty of sins committed. The prophet Jeremiah looked at himself this way: “I was like a tame lamb led to be slaughtered; I did not know that they were plotting schemes against me.”9 Under the last covenant, Jesus sets His death as an example of why He was not afraid. It was part of the prophecy about Him in Isaiah: “He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet He never said a word. He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter.”10 Why should we then expect any more honorable way to glorify our Lord and God?
Early church scholar Clement says that because of all He has done, let us carry around a deep love for the Creator in our hearts. Let us draw close to Him with our whole being. Let us not waste our time, like the prodigal son, with foolishness and pride. Let us take advantage of the same joy that was set before our Lord as He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God11.12 Then another early church scholar, Origen, makes the point that when difficulties and problems come our way, we thank God by saying: “Yet You gave me room to breathe when I was in distress.”13 That’s why when we encounter moments of hardship in this world, especially those that arise from our daily needs, we can call on God’s broad wisdom and knowledge so that such things will not distress us. That’s when we should return to the wide fields of the Holy Scriptures and look for the spiritual meaning of God’s Word. There we will find it said: “For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”14
If, when we suffer persecution, we confess Christ as our Lord and Savior before our oppressors, we are certain that He will confess us also before His Father, who is in heaven.15 As Paul says, famine cannot disturb us, for we have the bread of life which comes down from heaven and refreshes our weary souls.16 And that bread never becomes unavailable, it is exactly what we need and eternal. Being vulnerable does not make us confused because we are embraced by the Lord Jesus Christ.17 We will not fear peril because God is our light and our salvation; whom then should we fear?18 Furthermore, no earthly weapon can frighten us because we have “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.19”20
Bishop Cyprian, who gave his life for the cause of Christ, wrote that none of the things Paul mentions here can separate believers from the one who loves them. Nothing can pull away those who cling tightly to Christ’s body and blood. Cyprian believes that this persecution is sent for the examination and evaluation of our belief. God wants us to be tried, tested, and proven as genuine. Many times He has put His own children to the test, and yet, in the midst of those trials, never at any time has He bailed out any of those who failed to make it all the way. Instead, He rushes to their aid and helps them become victorious.21
I like what Bishop Moule says here, that these verses are like a chorus of divine music. They follow previous verses as they were sung in order: Jesus is our Lord who was offered for our sins and raised again for our justification. This allows grace to reign which brought the promise of eternal life. So we are to thank God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, who is all, and in all, and for all, to those who believe in Him. And now, all is gathered up into this: Redemption, Righteousness, and Sanctification.22 He makes every truth, every doctrine of peace and holiness real, every promise becomes a source of strength for our life as well as our light, and His everlasting love does not disappear in times of trouble.23
1 Deuteronomy 28:53
2 Ibid. 28:54-55
3 Acts of the Apostles 8:1
4 Deuteronomy 28:47-48
5 2 Corinthians 11:26
6 Psalm 44:22
7 John 15:1-2
8 2 Corinthians 4:11-12
9 Jeremiah 11:19
10 Isaiah 53:7a
11 Hebrews 12:2
12 Clement of Alexandria: Fragments 11.7
13 Psalm 4:1
14 Isaiah 41:13
15 Matthew 10:33
16 John 6:51
17 See Romans 13:14
18 Psalm 27:1
19 Ephesians 6:17
20 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.