Light to Live By

"The unfolding of your words gives light ..." (Psalm 119:130a)

Category: Persecution (page 1 of 2)

In an Age of Pluralism

 

coexist

The first century was an age of pluralism–every bit as much as this twenty-first century. How did the fledgling Church survive and, indeed, thrive in such a context of competing voices? How did they become “These men who have turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6)? What can we learn from those who lived most closely with Jesus?

William Ramsey was an expert on first century life. He describes the scene in this way:

“An easygoing Christianity could never have survived; it could not have conquered and trained the world. Only the most convinced, resolute, almost bigoted adherence to the most uncompromising interpretation of its own principles could have given the Christians the courage and self-reliance that were needed. For them to hesitate or to doubt was to be lost.” (The Letters to the Seven Churches, p.220, italics added)

Ramsey was not a preacher. He was a classical scholar and archeologist. He was reporting to us as a historian. He had no theological ax to grind; nor was he seeking a soapbox. He was not peddling ideology, but reporting the facts as they stood in that intensely pluralistic age. He penned his words in 1904, well before the cultural shifts of the 20th century which had such a profound influence with regard to a resurgence of pluralism in our nation.

His words when read through our current cultural grid may seem to promote an isolationist mentality. That would be to misread the facts. The earliest Christians wore their insistence upon the exclusive claims of Christ in a missional way that thrust them out from holy huddles and into the mainstream of their society. Their pagan contemporaries wondered aloud about their selflessness and love for the disenfranchised and marginalized of their age.  They held their stubborn orthodoxy with profound love toward both Christ and those around them. They proved that resolute faith in the exclusive truth of the Gospel is at the heart of transforming love, not its enemy. May the Lord who held the balance of “grace and truth” so beautifully enable us to do so in our day and may He find us such ready channels for His love that once again the world might label us “These men who have turned the world upside down.”

The Lonely Road of True Fellowship

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12)

Lonely

William Barclay was correct: “A man had to be prepared to be lonely in order to be a Christian.” (The Gospel of Matthew, 1:107). A.W. Tozer also asserted that “Most of the world’s great souls have been lonely.”

Indeed, how could it be otherwise? Tozer declared in another place that “The Christian, the genuine Christian, realizes that he is indeed a lonely soul in the middle of a world which affords him no fellowship.”

This world is no friend of grace, nor of those who live by and offer it. There is a reason Jesus put “peacemakers” just before “persecuted” when enumerating His Beatitudes. Yet Jesus’ words do speak of a deeper fellowship than the world can offer, indeed, a fellowship that is truly found only in the world’s rejection. It is fundamentally a communing fellowship with the King Himself. To the rejected, despised, persecuted and reviled, Jesus promised a present experience (“is”) of “the kingdom of heaven.” Which at least means that such folk get to come under that special reign and relationship with the King Himself right now, in the present. Jesus’ words may mean more than simply that, but they do not mean less.

There is then (marvelously, but only secondarily) down this painful road also the fellowship that is found with “the prophets who were before you.”

Again, I affirm that Barclay was correct: “A man had to be prepared to be lonely in order to be a Christian.” But he was also correct when he then later wrote, “… no man ever suffers persecution alone; if a man is called upon to bear material loss, the failure of friends, slander, loneliness, even the death of love for his principles, he will not be left alone, for Christ will be nearer to him than at any other time. …. When a man has to suffer something for his faith, that is the way to the closest possible companionship with Christ.” (1:113, 114)

Is it possible that your present hardship is not an evidence of Jesus distancing Himself from you, but, quite the contrary, an evidence that He is drawing near to you? Is it possible that current distress is only God’s answer to your prayer to know Him more deeply?

John J. Murray, was speaking about God’s plan for building our character, but I wonder if his words do not also fit with this matter of bringing us into true fellowship with Himself: “We might be tempted to ask whether God can [give us true intimacy with Himself] without suffering. That is a hypothetical question. He has not chosen to do so.” (p.15, Behind a Frowning Providence)

 

You Cannot Harm Us!

justin.martyr

“Justin Martyr, one of the leaders of the early church, also serves as a portrait of convictional leadership. Leading members of his own congregation to their mutual execution at the hands of the Roman authorities, Justin encouraged his people with these words, written to the Roman emperor Antonius Pius: ‘You can kill us, but you cannot harm us.’ (empahsis added, Albert Mohler, The Conviction to Lead, pp.23-24)

The Fastest Way to Spiritual Loss

“Don’t ever give up in freedom what we would never have given up in persecution!” — An elderly Russian pastor to an American missionary interviewing him about the persecution suffered under Communism (The Insanity of God, p.196)

I take this to mean that prosperity is at least as dangerous to our faith as is persecution.

We are far more likely to be seduced into surrendering our faith and its essentials than we are to be scared out of it.

Embracing Every Friend

“Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son …” (Romans 8:29a)

Several great principles emerge from this, speaking volumes into the details of my life:

  • The only goal that matters ultimately is Christlikeness. (2 Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:24)
  • When Christlikeness is my ultimate goal I move with God, in the sweep of His power and with the confidence of eventually arriving at His designed end. (Phil. 3:21; 1 John 3:2)
  • If Christlikeness is my ultimate goal, then even the deepest hole and darkest night can become my friend. (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:16-17)
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