“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” – James 4:4
Western Christians have become dangerously accustomed to comfort. So accustomed that many are ashamed to say much even in a church Bible study. At some point, somewhere, many a theology gets skewed by incorporating a lie that persecution, trials, and storms in a Christian’s life means that Christian has done something wrong. The Bible seems to say the exact opposite; that trials are a hallmark of Christian life and persecution a badge of honor:
“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, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:11-12
So why do so many Christians avoid conflict like the plague? Is such a thing compatible with Christianity at all? Can we follow Christ without taking up our own cross? I contend that it’s not likely.
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9:23
“But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” – Matthew 10:33
Being the sort myself that doesn’t shy away from charged topics I’ve heard the: “you’re not Jesus” line enough times to realize that a lot of people are waiting around until they become perfect to begin to be willing to speak up for Christ. Which really only means they’ll never speak up. Where does this “you’re not Jesus” line come from anyway? Sure, plenty of Bible writers recognized that “He must become greater, and I must become less…” but those are the same writers that were preaching Christ regardless of the consequences.
Even while Stephen was stoned in the street after saying things that those people did not want to hear, Stephen was not perfect. Nor was anyone but Jesus Himself. So the idea that someone must be completely blameless and perfect to experience Matthew 5:11 persecution is silly. We humans are clumsy (a great song about this) and terribly flawed. Our hearts are consistently deceitful. This flesh and blood “bag of bones” that God gave us for a short time is as corrupt as the dust it was made from, but that doesn’t change the fact that within this “temple” is a “lamp-stand” that is the image of God that He shared with His children. Our Heavenly Father loves us anyway.
He loves us and He expects us to follow in Christ’s footsteps to Holiness. That means speaking truth, being willing to be disliked, perhaps even mocked, or maybe even sued? What are these threats compared to the stonings, beheadings, and crucifixions that our brothers & sisters have faced? Here in Western Christianity some are more afraid of someone rolling their eyes at them than Daniel was afraid of the lions’ den, or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who faced the fiery furnace. What happened!!!!?????
Well, firstly we are just too comfortable. We have thermostats, indoor plumbing, cars… We live daily face-to-face with deceptions that tell us that life is supposed to be comfortable and easy. It’s not, especially for Christians. If everyone who call themselves “Christian” were speaking up for Christ’s commands in the face of today’s threats, our nation would be a different place. Instead, for the sake of comfort, Christians cower. Where are the Davids or Josephs of the 21st Century?
“Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God.” – 1 Samuel 17:34-36
Where is that kind of courage? I sure can’t claim to have it. I may not cower at church meetings but in society I’m afraid. I’m afraid that my finances, freedom, even my family will be threatened if I share “too much” about Jesus. Even when I don’t cower at a church meeting, that doesn’t mean I’m not afraid of all of the emotional heartache I’ll be strapped with for a long period after. That sadness stinks, but despite the doubts we should remember that we’re in good company. Even Elijah lamented the outcome of bravely proclaiming the word of the Lord, and Joseph suffered for it too…
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” – Genesis 50:20
Who doesn’t think that Joseph was persecuted by his brothers? Put yourself in his shoes, sitting at the bottom of a well, or chained to a wagon train headed into slavery. Having bragged to his brothers about how they would all bow down to him. “Why did I say something so stupid? Just because God gives me a dream doesn’t mean I have to go announcing it to everyone within earshot. Especially not my older brothers… especially not about them bowing down to me…”
Oh, but it gets worse. Now he’s being carried off in shackles for having not been willing to sleep with his master’s wife. “How terribly unjust that I’m a slave in the first place, how could God love me or care about me at all? Now this lady wants me to do something like this? I could have gotten some revenge but instead I ran away and now I’m arrested for ‘rape’? Why do I even try?”
I hope you’re starting to see my point. Nobody told us that we need to wait until we’re perfect and blameless to face our own Goliaths. In fact, waiting around only means that we’re missing the point. Life is short. Even as the King of Israel, with all of the wealth and luxury that went with it, David laments throughout the Psalms of the enemies, trials, and pain that he lived with daily:
When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. – Psalm 32:3-4
My prayer for any that may read this is that we’d all be willing to face giants. Not sitting in front of the TV on Sunday afternoon watching highly paid athletes imitate battle. Instead that we’d get in the fray of real-life. It can and will be every bit as grueling as an NFL line of scrimmage. In fact more-so, because there are no safety nets, helmets, or pads in the battle against principalities and powers. Even the referees are usually our enemies. Just ask Joseph, or David, or pretty much any of the writers of the Bible. Can you name one whose life consisted of constant comfort? The reason you cannot, is because a Christian without persecution is like a bird without wings.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33