Growing up my Christian school…
Had a mascot called the “Conqueror.” The graphic was a knight on a horse with armor and a lance. Like many mascots it was reflective of something with great capacity for violence. Unlike other school mascots, though, it was taken from a Bible verse. Here’s how we always heard it…
“Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” Romans 8:37
Did you catch it? Even when I was a kid I couldn’t help but think, “why are we the ‘conquerors’ if the verse says that we are ‘more than conquerors?'” Our mascot was one thing…but the writer of the letter to the church in Rome was telling them (and us I believe) that we are something more.
Here’s how some other translations word it…
“No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.” Romans 8:37 NLT
“No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us.” Romans 8:37 HCSB
I can’t help but ask myself this question when I come across this verse, this idea, this promise.
This letter was written to a church in the heart of the Roman Empire. In the heart of the global, military superpower. They were familiar with conquering. They knew how victory tasted. They were the victors. I imagine Roman soldiers sitting in the gathering hearing this letter written to them.
Maybe he is confused. Maybe he scoffs at this idea. This group of oppressed people following a dead “savior” are somehow claiming victory, overwhelming victory? They are something more than conquerors? Maybe he asked himself what could be more than the thing he had committed his life to.
Honestly, I’ve never had an answer until now. I’ve never been able to wrap my mind around this question. In an American Christian church I just assumed that it could mean that America was a new, different kind of Rome. That we were a benevolent global, military superpower. But the longer I live the more that seems unlikely. Sure, America is a kind of Rome, but not the anti-Rome. We’re too much like Rome for me.
I think there is something more than a conqueror. A different kind of power. A different, new way of being in the world. I think Jesus lived this way and taught us to see life this way. In context this verse is part of a larger discussion of how good these suffering, persecuted people really have it even though they are beaten and despised for their faith. And why is it still so good? Why are they overwhelmingly victorious? p
They are more than conquerors because they are in loving unity with God through Jesus.
There is something better than a conqueror…a UNITER. Conquering usually means killing, beating into submission, or dominating an opponent. Leaders would march armies into lands not their own to “conquer” people and then make it their own. Some would assimilate the people. Others would incorporate the new culture. All would conquer. Maybe peace came after, because if you weren’t peaceful you were killed. But that’s not real peace.
Jesus was a uniter. He conquered with the weapon of uniting love. He accomplished this through extreme humility and ultimate sacrifice. And if one follows Jesus they are called to the same uniting efforts. Most powers-that-be aren’t interested in uniting. They thrive on division. They create us/them dynamics. Whether it’s American partisan politics, nationalistic dictatorships, or simply religious distinctions, they all want division. Clear cut lines.
But this isn’t the way of Jesus. The way of love. Jesus is the incarnation of Divine unity. His humility to the cross is our example. His resurrection our power. The same New Testament writer, Paul, who wrote to the Romans also wrote a letter to the church at Philippi saying this…
“You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges ; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” Philippians 2:5-8
At Downtown Faith we call this the “first leg of the table.” Without humility we are so entrenched in our own ego, agendas, and perspectives that we cannot and will not open up a seat at the table to discuss important matters with those with whom we disagree. And without that, we will only divide…never unite.
To be more than a conqueror, a uniter, might mean more love and listening and less posting and shouting and politicizing. It might mean trying to experience the experience of the “other.” Jesus’ humility placed him right next to those the religious elite and governmental powers hated. This is why he was different. Here’s an excerpt from Build A Bigger Table…
“Maybe that’s why he was so comfortable with tax collectors and sinners. He understood what it felt like to be hated and ostracized. And why did he understand? Because he humbled himself. Not just in mind but in experience.”
Let’s follow Jesus! Let’s love well! Let’s be UNITERS!!!!!