Last week we looked at scripture that seems to promise persecution as a result of our faith. Now let’s look at a number of individuals whose lives have stood the test of time as examples of faithfulness in the face of both the good (Proverbs 27:21) and bad they experienced.
Joseph’s life (Genesis 37-48) expressed an enduring belief in God’s goodness and provision regardless of the circumstances of the moment and an unswerving dedication to live as God would have him live, despite the consequences; surprised by the unforeseen good accomplished in the midst of uncertainty. The challenge of living a life of service in a “foreign”, ungodly atmosphere is likewise graphically depicted by the life of Daniel (Particularly his experience in the lion’s den. Daniel 6) and the moral challenge faced by Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego in the fiery furnace. (Daniel 3:16-19) The Prophet Isaiah, of royal blood, chose the office of prophet over a life of ease and power; probably suffering martyrdom as a result. Jeremiah was ridiculed, imprisoned and exiled because of the love he had for his people and country. A love that wouldn’t allow him to be silent in the face of sin and political compromise. Christian tradition holding that only one of the original twelve disciples died a “natural” death, the others meeting their end as martyrs; while countless other early Christians were chased from their homes, financially ruined, beaten and executed. Their response remaining the same as the Apostles who had earlier proclaimed, “We must obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29 Scripture further recording that Paul the Persecutor became Paul the Persecuted, ultimately losing his head in Rome after a life full of trial and triumph. Peter too giving his life in Rome, being crucified upside down as entertainment for the crowd. Why? What made them willing to live lives of risk and privation? They had taken to heart the admonition recorded in Is. 7:9, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.”
They had counted the cost of faithfulness and decided it was worth it all to be obedient to God Almighty; realizing that as they worked, God was able to move in and magnify their efforts in a wondrous way. Paul speaking for them all when he proclaimed, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.” 2 Corinthians 12:10 For, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18 Following Christ always involves endurance (Matthew 24:13); marshalling our resources and standing firm in our efforts to achieve victory in Jesus (Luke 14:28-33); fighting the good fight (1 Timothy 6:12); pressing toward the mark (Philippians 3:14); running the race to win! (1 Corinthians 9:24) Proving that there is nothing passive in the call to discipleship.
A productive Christian life requires us to give everything over to God, allowing him to lead as he sees fit, finding peace in him even as trouble swirls about us. Finding the confidence to live such a life in the admonition, “Do not be anxious about anything,.” For “…the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6,7 Who beckons us to, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28 Rest from worry, fear and anxiety over things we can’t control anyway. That is not to say we become unconcerned about our welfare or insensitive to those about us. It does mean that we understand, “…that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…” Romans 8:28 – always, even when we don’t understand how. Leading us to an understanding of Paul’s assertion that, “…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Philippians 4:11 (This from a man who had experienced first-hand so much! See 2 Corinthians 1:23-28) Why? Because he had found his strength and purpose in the one who has no end of purpose and power. Proclaiming, “I can do all things through (Christ) who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13 It wasn’t that he didn’t care about his condition but he kept his needs in perspective, his priorities set. He knew that as he sought God’s kingdom first and the righteous life that produced, all his other needs would be met. (Matthew 6:33 – see also Mark 10:28-30)
Quite frankly, he had learned through his experiences the reality of Jesus’ power to save and the assurance of heaven if called upon to give his all. Jesus counseling us to, “…not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” Matthew 10:28 He knew whose example he followed; that even Jesus, “Although he was a son, (had) learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, (by that obedience?) he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…” Hebrews 5:8,9 He also realized the truth of Jesus’ warning, “If the world hates you, keep in mind it hated me first… If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” John 15:18 & 20 For the reality of faith consists in large part in our ability to witness in the midst of disbelief and persecution. Paul exclaiming, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” 1 Peter 2:21
Jesus said, “Blessed (fortunate or favored) are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, …” Matthew 5:10 -12That’s tough. Our natural inclination is to respond in kind. But we are to be unnatural in our responses to people as children of our Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:45) Not being, “…overcome by evil, but overcoming evil with good.” Romans 12:21 We are to go so far as to, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.” Matthew 5:44 (See also James 1:12)
Facing no opposition as a Christian is probably an indication that we are not living as we should. We must do things differently as we grow in grace and stop doing other things altogether. This should be expressed humbly though, as we realize that we have often done what we now refrain from (see Colossians 3:7 & Ephesians 2:1-5), that we are all sinful beings in need of forgiveness. As such, we are to “Be on the alert; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. Do(ing) everything in love.” 1Cor. 16:13,14Some “loving deeds” may not be understood or appreciated as such. As when we, “admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak,…”; but if done with patience and consideration; it can be effective. 1 Thessalonians 5:14,15 (See also 2 Timothy 1:7) Jesus made self-denial the heart of Christianity. (Luke 9:23) Paradoxically saying, “…whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Which could very well be speaking of actual physical death but may as well be speaking to the concept of “losing” our desire to do our own thing and doing God’s will instead. (Mark 8:35)
The statement, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,…” Acts 14:22, seems a daunting battle cry for many. But that can be mitigated when we, “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:3 “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him,…” Philippians 1:29 “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 1 Peter 5:6-10
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