The setting was sobering. Our tour group of 51 people was at Yad Vashem (The World Holocaust Remembrance Center) when our amazing tour guide told us, through tears, the gut-wrenching story of how his parents both survived the horrors of World War II. When he was finished, there wasn’t a dry eye in our group.
As we left Yad Vashem that day, my heart was heavy.
It always is when I visit that place, but this time, there was something else going on inside my heart as I thought about the horrible atrocities that have been heaped upon the Jewish people throughout the centuries. I thought about how the Jewish people as a whole do not see themselves as victims, despite the horrible evils that they have had to endure. Rather, they see the difficulties that they have endured as opportunities to rise above. The people of Israel have gone through more difficulties than any people group that has ever existed in the history of mankind, yet they are such industrious people. The nation of Israel is a world leader in innovation, security, agricultural technology and fresh citrus fruit production and exportation, just to name a few.
When I think about how the people of Israel have chosen to be opportunists rather than victims, it reminds me of what we are called to be as followers of Jesus Christ. Romans 8:37 tells us that we are “more than conquerors through Him who loved us!” Now, we all know what a conqueror is. In Paul’s day, it was the Roman army who beat the world into submission. Today, it is the UFC fighter who destroys his opponent in the octagon. It is a football team that destroys the other team 56-0. We can think of numerous examples of someone or some team being conquered, but what does it mean to be “more than conquerors?”
I appreciate this insight from John Piper:
“One biblical answer is that a conqueror defeats his enemy, but one who is more than a conqueror subjugates his enemy. A conqueror nullifies the purpose of his enemy; one who is more than a conqueror makes the enemy serve his own purposes. A conqueror strikes down his foe; one who is more than a conqueror makes his foe his slave. Practically, what does this mean? Let’s use Paul’s own words in 2 Corinthians 4:17: ‘This slight momentary affliction is preparing [effecting, or working, or bringing about] for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.’”1
Here, we could say that affliction is one of the attacking enemies. What has happened in Paul’s conflict with it? It has certainly not separated him from the love of Christ, but even more, it has been taken captive, so to speak. It has been enslaved and made to serve Paul’s everlasting joy. Affliction, the former enemy, is now working for Paul. It is preparing for Paul “an eternal weight of glory.” His enemy is now his slave. He has not only conquered his enemy, he has more than conquered him.
We live in a day and age where more and more people tend to assume the role of the victim.
I know that there are many people who have experienced much more tragedy than I ever have, and that tragedy has left them deeply scarred emotionally; but the scar that has been left from the wound that has been afflicted has the opportunity to define their lives in one of two ways.
For some, a scar is the reminder of the event that ruined their life, or their marriage, or their faith, but for others who, through the grace of God and the Spirit of God working through embracing the Word of God, that scar becomes the symbol of the thing that should have ruined their life, and is now a testimony of the abounding grace and power of God that turns the conquered into those who are more than conquerors. The affliction and the enemy have moved from being the master to the slave for the glory of God and for helping others who have gone through similar trials learn to overcome.
The Apostle Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7:
“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.”
May we who are followers of Jesus learn from our Jewish friends to not allow ourselves to be victims, but through the grace and power of Jesus working in us, be victorious and industrious for His kingdom and glory!
1 John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2003), pp. 96-97.