35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
Verses 35 through 39 show how, because God is “for us,” no one can be “against us” (v. 31). We have confidence in this because of the death of Christ, His resurrection, His session, His intercession (v.34).
This verse suggests seven things that might come between a Christian and Christ’s love for him. Paul experienced all seven of the problems in verse 35 firsthand (2 Co 11:23-28). Nothing can separate the eternal security of the believer from God because nothing can separate us from Christ loving us.
35 Who shall separate [sever] us [emphatic] from the love of Christ?
The issue in this verse has to do with the possibility of severance from Christ’s love for us eternally. No one can pull apart Christ’s love for us. The word “love” is prefaced in the Greek two times by the definite article “the,” making it a special and unique love. It is “the love, the love of Christ” (restrictive attributive).
The phrase “love of Christ” does not mean our love for Christ. The idea is His love for us. It is “through Him that loved us,” as written two verses later (v.37).
Paul answered this question of verse 35 later in verse 39 by saying that nothing can separate the believer from “the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
“Tribulation” is pressure, trouble, or distress. Problems press on people. Calamities come. “Tribulation” refers to troubles pressing upon someone from without, such as persecution.
The word “distress” in Greek carries the idea of a narrow place. This is distress from within, such as anguish or discomfort. It is the idea of being pressured by circumstance.
“Persecution” is hostile prosecution by an enemy. It is the idea of being pursued by someone who has the intent to harm us.
“Famine” is want of food. Christians may suffer hunger.
“Nakedness” is lack of clothing.
“Peril” is danger.
“Sword” refers to slaughter by cutting. This is physical violence against Christians. It may carry the idea of execution of believers.
No litany of disasters can separate us from Christ’s love.
Nothing can separate a believer from Christ’s love, even though he or she faces extreme adversity.
Christ’s love is not fickle. Nothing, therefore, can sever the believer from Christ loving him or her. Salvation does not depend on circumstances but upon God who does the action of justification. No one can lay a charge against nor condemn a Christian because of this (8:33,34). Jesus intercedes for us (8:34). All this is because of Christ’s love for the believer, not our love for Him.
Withdrawing our love toward Christ is of no moment compared to our separation from His love for us. His love can never change toward us. It is there permanently. It is also “all compassion” and “unbounded,” as Charles Wesley’s hymn expresses it. This is a hard thing for some Christians to accept. They have a hard time believing the fact that Christ loves them with an undying, unconditional, unadulterated, undiminishing, and eternal love. His love is permanent.
No Christian can avoid problems. That is a part of life. We will face a variety of problems throughout our lives. No Christian should operate on a misapprehension of that our lives will be free of troubles.