I am a fan of motivational posters. Motivational posters have a way of fixing in your mind an important truth. They are so well known that someone has decided to make up a bunch of DEMOTIVATIONAL posters. Here are a few of them:
1. On Challenges – I expected times like this, but never thought they’d be so bad, so long or so frequent.
2. On Humiliation – The harder you try, the dumber you look.
3. On Underachievement – Because soaring with the eagles takes so much more effort.
4. On Stupidity – Quitters never win, winners never quit, but those who never quit and never win are idiots.
5. On Problems – No matter how great and destructive your problems might seem now, Remember you’ve probably only seen the tip of them.
6. On Failure – Failure, when your best isn’t good enough.
I like the humour in these demotivational posters and I hope you don’t take any of them seriously because, like I said, a motivational poster has a way of fixing in your mind an important truth. I saw one that actually had quite an impact on me. It said, “Pray not for an easy life, but pray that you will be a strong person.” I liked that poster because it is theologically correct, corresponds to reality and, quite frankly, is good advice. It is both theologically correct and in line with reality because God never promises anyone an easy life. Because of sin, the Bible tells us that life will be difficult. The Bible tells us that making a living will be difficult. It tells us that keeping a marriage relationship happy and peaceful and fulfilling will be difficult. It tells us that getting along with our neighbours can be difficult. It tells us that nobody is immune from illness and death. And so God will not give ANYONE an easy life – even in response to such a prayer.
I don’t like this truth very much and so I understand if you don’t like it either. I think it is human nature to want life to be easy and to go the way we want it to. And yet, I also like the idea of having strength. I like the idea of being someone who meets the challenges of life instead of complaining about them. I imagine that you do as well.
When we become Christians, we take on a challenge that actually adds to the ordinary challenges of life. When we make our decision to follow Christ we are deciding that we are no longer going to go with the flow. We have decided to live in a way that the rest of the world doesn’t always understand and accept. We have decided to go through the narrow gate and follow the narrow path. It is not easy to live this way. Jesus never tried to cover this fact up. The Apostles never sugar-coated that truth. In the words of an old song, they never promised us a rose garden. However, they did promise something else. First, they promised that following Christ would have its reward. Secondly, they promised that God would provide the resources we would need to live for Him.
I thought of that as I studied the very last verses of the book of Romans. You see, what Paul wanted for the people of his churches more than anything else was for them to be victorious in their Christian lives. He wanted the Roman Church to be healthy and thriving and the people in it to know what it was to be overcomers for Christ. As he ends this letter, he gives some warnings, some greetings and some quick teaching about God and in all these things we can find instruction on how to be someone who overcomes the challenges that come with living for Christ.
I. Don’t be surprised by opposition.
17 ¶ I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. 18 For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. 19 Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.
There are two kinds of opposition that we might find ourselves experiencing – Outside and Inside. Opposition that comes from the outside is persecution. More extreme forms of it include physical harm or threats of physical harm, job loss or the vandalism of property. Some believers might experience slander and character assassination. Some of our brothers and sisters in Islamic or communist countries suffer this.
But there is opposition from the inside as well and this is what Paul refers to here. Paul is saying here that it is actually possible that people in the church will also work against us in our desire to follow Jesus Christ. They are like enemy spies who pretend to agree with our aims and values and goals but actually are on the side of the enemy. This opposition is more subtle and harder to detect. How do we know who they are?
They are divisive.
They work against unity. They begin to play people against one another. They begin to gather a following around themselves and instead of promoting peace and fellowship they promote conflict.
In a church up in Northern Ontario that I know about a woman began a campaign of slander against the pastor. The pastor and she didn’t agree on certain beliefs and doctrines and practices but instead of talking to him directly about it, she would go and talk behind his back to other people. If they refused to give her a hearing or didn’t agree with her, she kept searching until she found someone naive enough to believe her. This woman actually had a real reputation for godliness. The people in the church initially believed that she was on fire for God and stood for righteousness. However, her slander of the pastor revealed the kind of person she really was. She was divisive. Now I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for healthy disagreement in the church. It is how it is handled that shows what is really on our hearts.
They use smooth talk and flattery to deceive people. We might see flattery as something relatively harmless. We might even enjoy it. We all enjoy being praised. We all enjoy the idea of someone thinking that we are smart or good looking or very capable. Flattery plays on our insecurities. People who use flattery play on our desire to be liked and to feel good about ourselves. Paul warns us that flattery can be used as a tool to manipulate us and even getting us to believe lies.
5 ¶ Whoever flatters his neighbor is spreading a net for his feet. (Proverbs 29)
28 ¶ A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin. (Proverbs 26:28)
People who use flattery are very charming. What they are really trying to do is to charm us. Sometimes when Naomi wants something from me that she`s pretty sure I won`t agree to, she`ll flutter her eyelids and tell me that I`m the best daddy in the whole wide world. It`s a little game we play and we laugh about it, but often flattery is no joke but rather a form of manipulation.
When someone gives us a sincere complement, they do it with no thought to what they can get out of it. They do it solely for our benefit. Flattery, on the other hand, always has an ulterior motive.
You may never have had the experience of someone flattering you in order to manipulate you. I hope you never have but I can tell you that this can be a real problem because I have experienced this kind of flattery myself. I have had people try to rope me into following their agenda by insincerely praising me. When their motives became clear it was tough to admit that it was flattery not only because the praise felt good, but also because I had fallen for it.
To live as an overcomer in Christ, we must expect that we will find opposition and that opposition will come in unexpected places and in unexpected forms.
II. However, despite the opposition, Paul encourages us to have confidence that we will indeed overcome the opposition.
20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.
Note how Paul says that the God of peace will soon crush Satan under “your” feet. Yes we will experience opposition. Yes our enemy looks so much stronger and powerful than we are. Yes, by ourselves such a struggle might be hopeless but God intends that Satan will be crushed under OUR feet. As Paul says, “If God is for us, who can be against us.”
You are probably struggling. You are probably struggling with temptation to sin. Perhaps even this morning you gave in and did something you know you shouldn’t do and you have come here feeling defeated. Maybe you are struggling with obeying God in the face of difficult situations. Maybe people in your life are causing you grief and you are struggling to forgive them and love them anyway. You know that Christians are supposed to get a handle on these things. You are not the person you should be. You see your struggles with anger, lust, jealousy, addictions and the other works of the flesh and you wonder if you will ever be free from them. You may even despair. Paul urges us here to remember that God is still working and is working towards our victory. He encourages us to continue fighting. He tells us not to give up.
6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Php. 1:6)
In 1952, Florence Chadwick attempted to swim the 26 miles between Catalina Island and the California coastline. After about 15 hours a thick fog set in and Florence began to doubt her ability and didn’t think she could make it. She swam for another hour before asking to be pulled out, unable to see the coastline due to the fog. As she sat in the boat, she found out she had stopped swimming just one mile away from her destination. Because she couldn’t see the destination, she gave up. Two months later, Chadwick tried again. This time was different. The same thick fog set in, but she kept a mental image of the shoreline in her mind while she swam. In your struggle to follow Christ, keep that mental image of you overcoming in your mind. Trust that God IS working in you and will make you an overcomer.
III. Cultivate positive Fellowship.
21 ¶ Timothy, my fellow worker, sends his greetings to you, as do Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, my relatives. 22 I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord. 23 Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings. Erastus, who is the city’s director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings. 24
Here we have another list of names like the one earlier in the chapter only this time, it isn’t a list of names of people to greet, it’s a list of names of people who are sending greetings to the Church at Rome. We know something about Timothy who was Paul’s right hand man through much of his ministry. We don’t know much about Lucius, Jason, Sosipater, Gaius and Quartus. Tertius we see acted as Paul’s secretary and wrote the letter down for Paul. Erastus is a little more interesting. There is a pavement stone in Ancient Corinth with his name inscribed on it that identifies him as being a municipal leader. The inscription says: “Erastus the commissioiner of public works bore the expense of this pavement.”
These names, as insignificant as they seem, are evidence that even Paul needed people to encourage him in his own walk with God.
All through the Bible we see encouragement to form relationships in our lives with people who will encourage us when the going gets tough.
Pr 27:17 As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.
I was at a conference where the keynote speaker was Howard Hendrix, an expert in Christian Education. When speaking of these kinds of friendships, he said, “Find someone who loves you, but isn’t impressed by you.”
Do you have a friend who helps you follow God. Such a person should be following God him or herself. Is this person able to tell you difficult truth without you resenting it? If you don’t have such a person in your life, can I ask you why? Does it scare you to get that close to someone? Are you too busy for such a relationship? If you are, maybe you are too busy.
Alexander the Great, the Macedonian General who conquered Greece, Egypt, Asia and some of India became great because his soldiers used a military formation called a Phalanx. It was a simple military formation with a straightforward mandate, “You never go into battle without the man beside you.” In the Phalanx your shield guarded the man to your left. The man on your right guarded your exposed right side with his shield. By standing together, the men in the Phalanx were remarkably effective.
The lesson is to never go into battle alone.
Positive fellowship helps us to be overcomers.
IV. Remember that it is God’s plan that you overcome.
25 ¶ Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.
God’s plan for you was not only to save you from hell, but also to transform you into an overcomer.
Look at what Paul writes in this amazing Doxology.
The Gospel is not only meant to save you, but to ESTABLISH you. Other Bible translations say “strengthen” instead of “establish.” And so God wants you to experience spiritual power. He doesn’t want you to be the victim of the devil or controlled by sin. He wants you to know what it is to be an overcomer.
This plan has always been at the forefront of God’s plan. Paul says that the gospel was a mystery hidden for long ages past but is now revealed in the Word of God so that people of all nations would willingly come under the rule of God.
All Salvation history from Adam onward – the great overarching theme of the Bible – is about this – God saving and transforming people who overcome sin for righteousness.
The Apostle John is big on this:
2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5)
Now I realize that we can’t expect to perfectly overcome sin in this life. Becoming perfect and being in a state where we never sin is only reserved for Heaven. But according to what Paul says and what John says here, here, we can be so much more than we are. Many people don’t realize that and stay stuck in the same old patterns of living.
John Newton, the author of the hymn Amazing Grace, put it this way:
"I am not the man I ought to be, I am not the man I wish to be, and I am not the man I hope to be, but by the grace of God, I am not the man I used to be."'
He had learned what it was to overcome. This is God’s plan for you and if it is God’s plan, it is possible.
Do you want to live an overcoming life as a Christian? I hope your answer is yes. Although this is no invitation for a walk in the park it is possible for every follower of Christ to be an overcomer. Yes, it is a challenge. You will face opposition – sometimes from places you will least expect it. So be aware of those who are smooth talkers and who flatter you. They may trying to get you from following God’s agenda to their agenda. But also be aware that you can be an overcomer despite any opposition you might face because God is for us and will crush Satan under our feet. Instead of seeing yourself as the victims of your own impulses or the victims of Satan’s manipulations – the devil made me do it – what if you saw yourself as an overcomer? What if you saw yourself as someone who through the power of the Holy Spirit, can, is and will be transformed? We know that’s what God wants for us, so it is not only possible, we know he will help us. We can take Philippians 4:13 as a promise in this regard:
Php 4:13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
This idea that we can be overcomers isn’t something that is wishful thinking. It isn’t even simply positive thinking. It is based on a promise of God. We can overcome – and by God’s grace, we will.
What would happen if we all took this seriously? What if we all had the faith that God intends all of us to overcome the world, the flesh and the devil? I think we would be surprised by what God would do both in and through us! I can guarantee that it will be a pleasant surprise.
And so I hope I have motivated you to become an overcomer – even if I don’t have a witty poster. I hope that I at least have convinced you that you CAN be one. I really hope that I have convinced you that this is what God wants for you and that through Jesus Christ he can enable you to.
C. 2011 by Rev. Steven Brown. You are free to use portions of this message but please do not pass this off as your own.