Sheep Can Be More Than Conquerors
Years ago, when I was at the school of Journalism, we learned a writing technique which consists in grabbing the reader’s attention when crafting an article. In fact, the practice is common to various areas in the field of mass communication (advertising, marketing, public relations, broadcasting, etc.).
Over the years that I have been a student of the Bible, I have also learned that God employs the same technique when speaking to His people. One way He does it is through the use of contrasts. Here is an example from Romans 8:36-37 where the Spirit-filled apostle Paul wrote, “For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all things we are more than conquerors.” The expression “more than conquerors” is the translation of the Greek compound word “hupernikao” (Strong’s concordance, 5245) which means, according to Vine’s dictionary, “to gain surpassing victory,” with the stem “huper” meaning “over” and “nikao” “to overcome.” Thus “we are more than conquerors” literally means “we are hyper-conquerors” or, contextually, “we are pre-eminently victorious.”
Paul described the Christians living in Rome to whom he wrote, and himself, as sheep that are “more than conquerors.” But it is hard to think of sheep as having such a quality. Sheep are rather vulnerable creatures as Jesus explained in John 10 saying that they can be at the mercy of wolves. Also, the reason they are offered to the slaughter for sacrifice pertains to their docile nature (Isaiah 53:7). Moreover, sheep always need a shepherd to protect and guide them; so do Christians need the Lord (Psalm 23; John 10). On the other hand, the term “conqueror” suggests the ability to prevail against adversity and survive independently. I can only think of lions being portrayed as conquerors because of their ferocity and ability to prey on other animals, but not sheep. So “we are sheep” is a statement which is the contrary of “we [sheep] are conquerors.” But this is only a paradox; in other words, it is a combination of two statements which seem contradictory, but are not. That’s what a paradox is.
The paradox of “sheep that are conquerors” is designed to help Christians get the message that while they are weak in the face of suffering, they are able to overcome it. To be sure, Christians, like all human beings, are a prey to suffering. The fact that one is a Christian should not lead him to conclude that God would build a hedge around him and protect him. Even the effort one makes to improve his life can become distressful and burdensome to his mind. Job said, “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble...his flesh upon him shall have pain, and his soul within him shall mourn.” (Job 14:1; 22). This is essentially because suffering is woven into the fabric of life. Besides, Christians suffer on account of their obedience to Christ and of their effort to live a godly life. Jesus said, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake...Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.” (Matthew 5:10-11; cf. 2 Timothy 3:12). In the case of the Christians at Rome, they were affected by Emperors Claudius and Nero’s decisions to expel the Jews from the city respectively in AD 57 and 64. Aquila and his wife Priscilla were among those who were driven out (Acts 18:2).
But Paul encourages Christians to believe that although they find themselves in the grip of evil forces, whether it is a natural disaster or a man-made affliction, they will be victorious in the end. Implied in Paul’s words of comfort is the idea that Christians must be valiant soldiers of Christ. Let me say in passing that God requires Christians to show courage in bearing trials, but He also wants them to be militant in defending truth against error. We have the assurance from Paul that God is on the side of the disciples of Christ. Earlier in verses 28-30, the apostle identified them as people who love God, having responded to His call and been, as a result, justified before Him. For these reasons, God will not abandon them in their faithful struggle for worship to Him and service to Christ. Paul went on to give a list of tribulations that cannot “separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 39). This list, obviously, is not exhaustive. God’s love is in Christ in the sense that He demonstrated it through the death of Christ. Paul said, “God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). And because God saved us from sin, there is then no other difficult situation from which He wouldn’t will to rescue us. Here is the assurance that we have: “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (v. 31-32) God’s goodness is the Christian’s assurance of victory over evil.