A Roman General, following exceptional military achievements, would be honoured and drawn in process through the city of Rome in a 4 horse chariot to an applauding crowd. The spoils of war and his captives would lead the way, with his army following behind. The “Triumphator” ( man of triumph) would be promoted above every mortal Roman Citizen, seen as divine and linked with the demi-god Hercules and the god of war “Mars”.
It was a victory parade and a display of mans pride, ego and success. The General was the “Vir Triumphalus” man of triumph, a man of victory. The procession would culminate in a sacrifice to the gods at the Capitoline temple.
Each Roman citizen, slave, gentile and Jew and even Christian would have known about the “Vir Triumphalus” and this symbolism and display of victorious success and excess permeated the culture of all roman inhabitants. In the Epistle to the Roman Church and writing into this context, Paul makes the astounding declaration “ Yea, we are MORE than Conquerors” (Romans 8:37)
When Paul used the words “ more than a conqueror’ he was placing himself over and above the pomp and glory of a returning warrior, victorious in all his exploits.He was placing the Christian believer above the demi-god status of the victorious general, greater than the Roman god of war.
The Greek for “we are more than conquerors” here is a single word, (hypernicōmen), composed of nicaō, “conquer” with the prefix hyper-, “over, beyond” added to it –absolute conquest(https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/)
Paul was telling the church in Rome, that they are greater than conquerors, and the battle for them shall result in an “absolute conquest”.
If Paul had been writing to a small group of believers, living in some tiny village tucked away in Asia Minor, far away from the pageantry of imperial roman life, the boast of “ being more than a conqueror” may have been received with little surprise. But it wasn’t, this claim was made in an epistle to the Romans who were used to seeing ‘returning conquerors from triumphant wars of conquest, dragging their captives at their chariot wheels!’
When Paul used this phrase “ more than conquerors”, he was using a word significant of the wealth and grandeur of the Roman Republic, and in a single phrase declaring that his life is greater than all that is represented by the ‘Triumphator’ procession! To Paul, this wasn’t about a mans conquest over his enemies, it was to be an absolute conquest. A Complete Victory.
But what in Pauls life would compare to the grandeur of the Roman Victories? What in a Roman Christians life, free or slave, was comparable or even greater than the “Vir Triumphalus”
What was there in Pauls life to equate with this claim that
“ We are MORE than conquerors?”
What was there about Pauls life would compare with the triumphal process of a victorious general through the streets of Rome?
When we examine the external circumstances of Pauls life, we realise nothing from a worldly perspective. We are confronted with struggles, beatings and persecution.Enemies plotting his death, being whipped in Philippi, attacked in Thessalonica, despised in Athens, heated in Ephesus, chained in Jerusalem and finally imprisoned in Rome.
His victory procession was cold, dark and a stark contrast to the festive victory procession of a Roman General. Yet, his boast of being “More than a conqueror” seemed filled with dichotomous meaning, a two edged sword. Where was his victory to be found? Definitely not in his external circumstances, but still Paul shouts out joyfully “ We are more than Conquerors!”
So how should we, as Christ followers define a life of victory, of triumph and of success? How did Paul define his triumphs?
There are two ways to examine a mans victories and success in life. Two lines of investigation; – the visible and external versus the internal and the unseen
The first , is that we measure the mans external and material treasures, his gains and visible achievements and successes. The type of car he drives, the house he owns, the clothes he wears, or even the ‘trophy wife’ alongside him, his investments and tangible assets. We examine his conquests, achievements and even the achievements of his children.
By this standard, Paul was a failure. His life seemed to be a succession of defeat and yet he claimed to be “more than a conqueror.This was because Paul chose the second measure of success and triumph. His measure of success was based on that of the LORD’s.
The second way to judge a mans life is to look at his character, his heart, the condition of his soul. It is the second line of investigation that we should choose when investigating and examining our own lives. What lies deep within?
1 Samuel 16:7 tells us “ For the LORD sees not as a man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
Do not measure your success or self worth based on the worlds criteria, but by Gods measures for success.
For Paul, circumstances meant little. He was more concerned with the effect of the circumstances on a mans soul. Wealth does not define a mans success, but what does the wealth do to a mans soul. Alternatively, one could also ask the same of poverty. What does poverty do to a mans soul?
Even in Pauls daily life as an apostle, and days of success as a healer would shine the spotlight on him, Paul reacted in humility, not seeking the fame or status, but only to do Gods will. To Paul the condition of his soul was an indication of victory and triumph. But it was the fruit of the Holy Spirit, evident in his life that bore witness to an measure of success. the condition of his soul.
So often, I have made the mistake of examining my ministry and “blessing” of God in my life by the external circumstances of my life. I would ask “Do I have enough money?” If not, am I blessed by God? “Are things going well for me?” If not, am I blessed by God? For so long I failed to recognize the difference between a divine blessing and a worldly blessing. That’s not to mean that my worldly blessings are not of God; its all about perspective and what I prioritize. It
So how was Paul able to declare that he was” More than a Conqueror”?
it is the victory of the soul, the spirit, over the external circumstance!
The victory that Paul alludes to is the inner strength of the soul to overcome the external happening around us.
What Would Paul say or write of our current situation? Would he spend hour upon hour analysing the social media posts about Covid19, the conspiracy of vaccinations or would he ask about the response of our souls to what is going on around us?
Would he not say, but we are MORE than conquerors; greater than what is happening in the world today?
How is your soul responding? If it is shrivelling up in fear, responding in anger and aggression and suspicion then perhaps we need to spend more time with the one that makes us MORE victorious.
The only way we can be more than conquerors than anything the world throws at us is THROUGH Him that loved us.
It is at this point that we should then examine and acknowledge the second part of that verse in Romans 8: 37 “ We are MORE than conquerors through Him (through Christ) who loved us”
As J.H. Jowett writes in the Whole armour of God, Conquest only happens through a “humble and intimate communion with the eternal Lover” . “The very secret of love is self-impartation ( of inner strength) to the beloved” “The Saviours love is the giving of Himself” to each of us.
We are and become ‘MORE than conquerors through Him who loved us’. It is His Power and His Love that strengthens our inner spirit.
The victory Paul speaks about, is not a slaying of the dragon of worldly circumstances with a worldly sword, it is the overcoming of the world in our spirit through Christs power.
Victory and success is not measured by an external material measure, but by the depth and ‘sweetness’ of the fruit of Gods Spirit in our lives in response to external circumstances. We are more than conquerors when Love, Joy and Peace is our response. Victory is attained when people see “ love, joy , peace, patience, kindness,goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control “ as a response to external obstacles.
If we ask ourselves as Christians, are we showing these character traits when things get tough?
When I think of the response of a Church-going crowd of their response to Law Enforcement asking them to move away due to Covid 19 restrictions and the need of police to disperse them a few weeks ago, I did not see the fruit of the Spirit. There was no Christ there, only anger and suspicion.
Being more than a Conqueror in 2021 during this Covid19 Pandemic and all the restrictions, is not about asking God to change what is happening around you, but about asking God to change your heart.
We will be Victorious in this world when we are spending more and more time in His presence, speaking to Him , praying to Him and allowing our inner soul to be guided by the Holy Spirit…and loving Him ( and others) as He loved us!
-Chaplain Philip Stoneman
*Based on Romans 8:37 and chapter 15 of “The whole armour of God” by J.H Jowett, 1916