Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory. Ephesians 3:13.
My wife Wini was recently engaged in a service project where she was asked what was our church’s position on homosexuality. Wini responded by saying that we have had an extensive ministry with HIV positive, Gay men in the past and that all people are welcome to attend our church. She then said that while all are welcome we cannot affirm their lifestyle any more than we would affirm the lifestyle of pornographers, adulterers, fornicators, drug dealers, liars, or thieves; that we are not doing such people a favour if we do not speak the truth to them. The women laughed at Wini, mocking her and the Bible’s view on such things. I regularly read the Voice of the Martyrs website and constantly see evidence of many around the world suffering simply because they are Christian.
Our church is growing numerically and spiritually and we are praying and labouring to reach our very secular community with the gospel. Wouldn’t we be better apt to reach our community if we toned down the preaching? You know, make it gospel light and omit the S(in) word and the H(ell) word? Wouldn’t we gain a greater hearing from the community if we were both accepting and affirming? We just can’t do that, however. We love people too much for that. We love God and his Word too much to not say everything we should. We are not helping people by ignoring their drug dealing, pornography, adultery, homosexuality, lying, or stealing. Churches which fail to address these matters biblically may be doing so from sincere motives (they want to get people in the door and then give them truth in small groups or Sunday School classes), but that is not what the Apostle Paul did.
In Ephesians 3:13 Paul is closing his parenthetical statement, verses 2-13, telling the Ephesian Christians that they are not to lose heart (literally they are not to behave badly, like a doctor who kills, a student who does not study, a salesman who does not sell) at his tribulations. Paul clearly is referring to his present imprisonment which was then going on four years, an incarceration due simply to his preaching the gospel of grace. Paul and Luke, the writer of Acts, record in numerous places the suffering Paul faced at the hands of the Jews and pagans. See 2 Corinthians 11, 1 Thessalonians 2, Acts 14. These tribulations were for their benefit. How so? When a congregation sees their pastor suffer and weather the storms of that suffering with grace and humility, then it gives them the courage to stand as well. That’s another reason why sexual sin among ministers or Ruling Elders is so devastating to a church body.
Persecution has always been the lot of God’s people. Moses faced it from Israel before and after the exodus. Jeremiah faced it numerous times with the nation of Judah, beating him, imprisoning him, and casting him into a well to die. And I already mentioned Paul’s suffering. Jesus told us it would be that way, that if they persecute the Master then we should expect the servants also to be persecuted. And then Paul said that all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted [2 Timothy 3:12].
The question is – why? Why does a simple desire to preach the good news of Christ often bring such rabid, vitriolic responses?
First, the gospel challenges the status quo of power brokers.
Consider Pharaoh’s response to Yahweh’s call to ‘Let My people go.’ What do you think would happen to public education, for example, if God did a mighty work of revival and awakening in New England bringing an evangelical consensus? Christians would want God and a Biblical world view in their schools and they would have the numbers to demand it. Do you think the public educators of New England would roll over and easily give in to such demands? There would be great conflict.
Second, the gospel demands things which many are unwilling to do.
Moses told Israel to trust Yahweh and to obey Him concerning their food and water, but they murmured and complained. To call people to Christ without urging them to repent that very moment of known sin is a truncated gospel. For me to ask a couple who are living together outside of marriage to ‘pray to receive Christ’ without confronting their obvious sin, calling them to turn from it, proves I am not preaching the full gospel. Would this couple be angry? No doubt.
Third, the gospel subverts geo-political alliances.
Jeremiah was charged with sedition because he urged Judah to submit quietly to the Babylonians, telling them that Yahweh would restore them seventy years later. Christian pastors and leaders brought down the wicked Communist regime of Ceausescu in Romania and his followers were not happy about it.
And fourth, the gospel calls people to exclusive devotion and radical repentance.
Paul ran into trouble in Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe because he was calling people to turn from their idols and to serve the living God. A sixty-five year old man in Myanmar recently left Buddhism to become a Christian, throwing his idols into a nearby stream, incurring the wrath of his wife, children, and the local police who imprisoned him and later exiled him from their town.
Would you not agree that too often our response to the persecution of brothers and sisters in other parts of the world is deaf ears, blind eyes, cold hearts, lame feet, and weak wills? Do you pray regularly, for example, for the persecuted church in Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu countries like Iran, Iraq, Indonesia, Myanmar, and India?
And do you know anything of persecution for your stand for Christ? Obviously I am not suggesting that you look for trouble. An irritable, harsh personality does not count either. But telling the truth, loving people enough to confront them with the truth, even if they laugh at you, write you off, distance themselves from you, castigate you behind your back, gives evidence that you count it a great joy to suffer shame for the sake of Christ. See Acts 5:41.
And what benefits come to those who suffer persecution! It drives people to Christ, to solidarity with Him in His sufferings [Philippians 1:29, Hebrews 13:13]. It moves people to greater delight in and trust in Christ [Psalm 73:25; 16:2, Philippians 3:8]. It brings greater conformity to Christ, working Christian virtues within the sufferer [1 Peter 5:10]. And it promises eternal rewards to those who persevere to the end [2 Timothy 4:7, 8, Revelation 2:9-11, Matthew 5:11, 12].
Do you love people and the truth enough to speak to them about their souls, risking their rejection?
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
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