The Apostle Paul’s Seemingly Impossible Command


The Apostle Paul gives the following impossible command to the Philippian church:

Bible Complaining Leadership Elders Submit Obedience14 Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe

First, he does NOT say, do your best to avoid arguments. He doesn’t say try not to complain. He does not say the overall attitude should be compliance, not complaining. No, He says, do everything without complaining or arguing. Everything. No complaints.

Second, the main concern in this command is not your psychological well-being or your need to be protected from spiritually abusive pastors. The issue is squarely one between God and His people. If you belong to God, then do what you are told to do. [note the . ] And when you are told what to do—and thus are doing what you have been told to do—don’t allow your heart to grumble or your mouth to complain. When you are thus characterized by glad obedience, you are acting as blameless and pure children of God.

Third, the sum of such a compliant, obedient heart is a powerful witness to a perverted world. The most natural activity in the world is refusing any authority outside of yourself. All of us are by nature like Gollum in the Lord of the Rings, who finds even the smallest thread of binding to be positively unbearable.

This wildness of heart and untamable demand for fleshly autonomy is evident even among Christians who have godly leaders lovingly instructing them.  It has a very long history among God’s people. It was prevalent in the Israelites in the wilderness. (Numbers 14:2-3, NASB),

2 All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?”

In the midst of their suffering, they cried, “Why God!” Then they refused to trust the leaders God had given them, demanding instead to return to the past, which wasn’t perfect, mind you, but it was at least familiar. It was manageable. They could navigate the past. They knew they could get along comfortably there, but they had no guarantee of comfort going forward into a future which demanded faith in the place of sight. The past was easier to accommodate. It was doable. So, they grumbled at the man God provided to lead them into a promised future.

Such grumbling and complaining is both natural and wicked. It is severely and consistently condemned throughout Scripture. Jude marvels that the archangel Michael would not dare to condemn the Devil; instead, he said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (See Jude 9.) Yet, mere humans crept into the church and did not hesitate to “revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals….”  “Woe to them!” says Jude, “they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah” (Jude 11).

Paul, likewise, has severe words for those who cannot obey without complaining. In a letter to the church at Corinth (1 Cor 10), Paul speaks of the rebellion of Israel in the wilderness. He has a particular interest in protecting the church from grumbling, so he warns them not to “try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents.  Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer.”  You see the pattern? Grumbling and complaining get you killed. It’s not safe. Not good.

Paul goes on to tell the Corinthians that the stories of Israel’s grumbling in the wilderness were written down so that later generations of God’s people might be instructed—that is, might learn from them how to follow godly leaders.

“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Cor 10:12).

Like it or not, we must be humble and obedient people, holding firmly to Christ, keeping His word, and serving His Bride as He completes His redemptive work in this world. We must not be like the rest of the world, acting as unreasoning animals, demanding our own rights, pursuing our own fleshly preferences. We must be humble, obedient, and faithful sheep listening for and responding to the voice of the Good Shepherd Himself.

What does that mean in practical terms? Consider these 4 applications:

Submit to your elders:
 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:17)

Do not entertain charges against your elders:
19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. (1 Tim 5:19)

If you disagree—or think you might disagree—go before the Lord in prayer and dive into the Word in study before ever disparaging the work of your church or its leaders.

Finally, when you feel you must question your pastor or elders, do so with fear and with faith. The issue must not be viewed as your preferences versus the pastor’s. The only issue is the preference of the Good Shepherd Himself. What does Christ command? What does His word teach on the subject? Bring your concern to the man with your Bible in your hand and the hope of reconciliation in your heart.  Then, and only then, can you claim to be doing what is right before God.

This is a grievous subject. More than a few churches have divided and split as a result of grumbling and complaining. Those who grumble and find fault are often followers of their own lusts. They speak arrogantly, flattering some people for the sake of gaining advantage over others (Jude 16). They cause deep divisions in the otherwise unified body of Christ. And this is why the Bible says, “Woe to them!”

This expectation of unity and peace among believers is why Peter asks, “What kind of people ought you to be?” Then answers, “Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless” (2 Peter 3:14).  It’s also why Paul lovingly tells the Philippians to do everything without complaining or arguing. Paul does not want any in the church to fall into the condemnation and woe of fleshly grumblers.

We need to think more about what this means in the church. So, what are some questions for a further post?

 

Why God Is Not Impressed with Our Anger

Moses, God’s Leader, Had Trouble With Trust, Too

God Restrains His Wrath, And We Can Restrain Ours

3 Simple Ways to Stand for Religious Liberty without Falling for a Political Agenda


In my previous post, I sought to show why it is important for Christians to fight for religious liberty. What are some simple ways Christians can do this without selling out to a political agenda? I thought of 3 simple ways to get the conversation going:

  1. Religious Freedom in America

    Wikimedia Commons

    Learn. Disciples are learners. Primarily, this learning must be focused on learning obedience to Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). But Christians have an obligation to be good citizens as well (Romans 13; 1 Timothy 2:2, etc). We must learn first what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God in order then to obey Christ’s command to render unto Caesar that which is his (Matthew 22:21).

    1. One good way to learn is by studying Baptist history. For all our faults, the one truth we Baptists have supported well is religious liberty. Baptists such as the Danbury Baptist Association, John Leland, and Roger Williams, significantly shaped America.
    2. A simple way to learn about religious liberty is to pay attention to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, now headed by Russell Moore. Dr. Moore is gifted and persuasive, and the ERLC is very good at keeping churches and Christians informed about issues of importance. For example, here is a helpful brochure.
  2. Engage. Speak to your friends, family members, and colleagues about the issues which you are studying. Do not be combative or arrogant. Be genuinely concerned and seek the most Christ-exalting, truth-honoring, love-producing position available on issues which the rest of the world invariably must strangle into a political ideology. Denny Burk provides us with this example concerning how to love your trans-gender neighbor.
  3. Bear Witness. Bearing gospel witness is more than throwing out a tract and calling for repentance. Gospel witness is never less than speaking the truth of the gospel for the good of those to hear, but the biblical vision of gospel witness is even more.
    1. According to the Bible, all of life is witness. Jesus, in giving instruction for His followers to become the world’s disciple-makers, told them first, “You are witnesses…” (Luke 24:48).  The same is true of Christ’s followers being “salt” and “light.” This is what we are as much as it is what we do. So we must bear witness by always walking in a manner worthy of the gospel, in truth and love.
    2. Collectively, the church can then become a witness, too. John says that the world will know that we are Christ’s followers by the way we love one another. Be a faithful church member. Share Christ in fellowship with one another as a gospel community. Invite others into that community. Share Christ with those you meet who are trapped by sin’s delusion and bondage. Others do not represent our political enemy. They represent all of us who once were thieves, fornicators, adulterers, drunkards, or homosexuals, but we were washed with the water of the Word (1 Cor 6).
    3. See this moving testimony for a way to witness to the “outside” world of unbelievers.

In other words, now is not the time to retreat from society into our Christian enclaves. This is also not the time for Christians to disengage from issues because of not wanting to be owned by a political party. As laudable as it may be to avoid political trappings, such a decision to disengage on controversial issues may simply be nothing more than cowardice, hoping to avoid controversy and persecution by remaining silent where the battle rages. It’s not as though the Bible is silent on issues of sexual morality. We may need a little shot of Jesus to awaken us from our wishful slumber: Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels (Luke 9).

Or, we might be encouraged by this quote, typically assigned to Martin Luther:[1]

“If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.”

May the Lord grant that we Christians in the USA will not fail to uphold justice and liberty. Our greatest desire may well be that the world would know Christ, the ultimate truth who sets us free, but we should also not forget that as Christians we live in a nation that prides itself on liberty and justice for all. Let us hold our neighbors accountable to God and each other by promoting liberty.

Religious Liberty Important for All Americans

Why Christians Should fight for Religious Liberty

Should Pastors Preach Political Messages?

 

[1] Quote usually ascribed to Luther. But the exact quote is not found in his original writings. The quote, perhaps, originates from a 19th century novel. See this article for more.

9 Reasons to Watch the 2014 World Cup


Should Christians Watch the World Cup?

The short answer (for me) is “Yes.” Whatever we do, we do all to the glory of God.  Can the 2014 FIFA World Cup be watched to the glory of God?  Each Christian will want to answer that question for himself.  As for me, I have answered the question with 9 ways to watch the World Cup to the glory of God. (By the way, we are planning World Cup parties both for fellowship and outreach purposes). Here we go…

World Cup Christians Glory God

(c) Getty Images

9.     The World Cup—like no other sport really—focuses our attention on the world.  I have a tendency to be “parochial,” meaning that I tend to think like an American, but Christ is reigning over all the earth.  So, watching Brazil, Iran, and South Korea play soccer causes me to think of the Christians I have met from those places, remembering the sweet fellowship we share which cannot be separate by oceans, skin color, language, or cultural peculiarities.  Soccer unites the world like no other sport, (though such unity is but a dim reflection of that secured by the Christ of John 17).

8.    Soccer is more fun when watched in a group.  Bars and pubs everywhere draw great crowds for futbol cheers.  Christians can join together, too, to watch soccer.  While doing so, Christians join together with fellow believers all over the world.  Just imagine that in every country represented in the World Cup, there are Christian brothers and sisters.  Even in Iran, for instance, there are brothers and sisters in Christ.  Indeed, it might be a good reminder when we see those countries to pray for the believers who certainly are alive there.  They are often in grave danger from persecution.  Christians can be found in each of the 32 countries of the World Cup because Christ has purchased them from every nation, tribe, and tongue.

http://www.espnfc.us/fifa-world-cup/4/video/1870852/united-states-chances-at-the-world-cup

7.    The World Cup provides a very stiff level of competition, and competition is indicative of the reality of life in a fallen world.  Concentrating on the defense and the incredible power and precision necessary to break through it allows me to think of the manner in which Christ has broken through the most potent forces marshaled by the prince of the power of the air.  Competition and struggle are but dim reminders of the one Christ who has defeated all enemies—including sin and death—and is now waiting as they are becoming a footstool for His feet.

6.    The World Cup is not shy to pronounce a winner.  As in most sports, the goal is to be the champion.  The World Cup will not allow everyone to go home a winner.  There is but one trophy.  There will be one winner, and the other 31 teams go home losers.  The reason this is helpful to me is that it reminds me that Christ was tolerant in many ways that His fellow religious leaders were not, but, in the end, He made it plain that there is 1 way and 1 way only that leads to life (John 14:6).

5.    Related to the “1-way” post above is the reality of triumph.  As Christians, we tend to shy away from concepts of triumph, thinking that we ought not to gloat.  While it is certainly true that we must not gloat, it is also true that triumph itself is glorious.  Christ has triumphed over His enemies and made a public spectacle of them (Colossians 2:15).  I hope the U.S. triumphs over the competition in the 2014 World Cup.

4.    Related to triumph is glory.  One of the greatest lessons in all sports is the lesson of glory.  If sports is about anything, it is about glory.  While it Brazil World Cup Christian Glory Godmay be true that most of the athletes in the 2014 FIFA World Cup have their eyes fixed on a “perishable wreath,” nevertheless, glory abounds. There are so many stories of athletes like Julio Cesar (goalie for Brazil) who had to overcome injury, defeat, and rejection, but now seeks redemption and gives glory to God.  In truth, most of the FIFA athletes are pursuing glory, while more than a billion people are watching—hoping to see it.

3.    Related to glory is the suffering required to achieve it.  In Christ, the greatest suffering resulted in the highest glory.  The stories of agonizing workouts and overcoming both enemies and injuries reflect—even if only to a small extent—the glory of the triumphant Christ.  These World Cup athletes are suffering injury and ridicule in their pursuit of glory.  By the time the U.S. wins the World Cup (!), there will have been many trials suffered through and overcome.  Their perseverance will be exalted along with their skill.  No matter who wins, perseverance will prove to have been a key element of their glorious triumph.  And, again, this perseverance is what Christ calls us to and what He Himself modeled perfectly in overcoming sin, death, temptation.  According to Philippians 2, this perseverance ends with his being exalted to the highest place of Heaven.

2.    Related to suffering and perseverance is the constant reminder in soccer that we live in a fallen world.  So often, referees will get the calls wrong.  They are human, and they fail.  Unlike in other sports, soccer leaves these errors in as part of the game, and I am glad they do.  They are part of life.  If you can’t overcome the errors made by yourself and others, you won’t accomplish much in this fallen world.  In other words, FIFA allows injustice to be part of the game because it forces teams to overcome.  This is real world stuff.  Life does not offer us a “further review.”  Once a word is spoken or a deed is done, it cannot be overruled or undone.  Thankfully, it can be redeemed.

1.    And speaking of redemption, the number 1 way to watch the World Cup to the glory of God is to watch for the cross.  The cross makes soccer “the beautiful game,” as Pele was quick to call it.  I agree.  Soccer is a beautiful game.  A central aspect of that beauty is the cross, which causes one player to expose himself to the defense, then sacrifice his ability to score so that someone else receives the goal and the glory.  What could be more beautiful?  Christ drew the enemy to Himself, took all the venom and poison the enemy could muster, then, at the cross, he sacrificed Himself so that others might become partakers of His glory.  Not even soccer is more beautiful than the cross of Christ.  Soccer is the beautiful game, but Christ is the beautiful Savior whose light eclipses all the lesser glory of sports.

Watch a beautiful cross here:

Follow Me: A Simple So Difficult Command


Chaos usually ensues after our worship service concludes. It isn’t the chaos of a charismatic explosion, filled with dancing or laughing or strange verbal utterances. It isn’t chaos of any negative sort. Rather, it’s the delightful chaos of slightly uncontrolled children rushing around in search of candy, suckers, and places to run.

My children are at least as crazy as the others, probably much more so. As is the case with any form of chaos, so it is true with Children-chaos; there is an urgent need for order. I am glad to provide such an ordering for my children. I am their father. Ordering them is part of what I’m called to do.

Christ Command Follow MeSo yesterday after our services ended and the chaotic running routine had run its course, I called my youngest two sons out of the crowded horde of kids.  Kids were scurrying around like ants whose mound had been destroyed.  Out of the mass, I called my two sons and offered a simple, stern, and clear command of two little words: “Follow me.”  What happened next was both illustrative of individual personality and of ordinary Christian practice.

As personality goes, these two little people demonstrated much in the carrying out of my simple command. Both of the boys “sort of” obeyed dad’s directive. The older of the two always wants to be out front. He wants to know everything. He wants to do everything. He is naturally an “in-charge” kind of kid. He “obeyed” by first realizing that I was heading to our van. Then, he summarily stopped following and started leading. He ran out in front of me toward the van, confident of his leadership role, even though he had little knowledge of where the van was actually parked.

The younger is much less concerned to learn or know. He, being three, is concerned about being free and having fun. Little else—including obedience—is of much interest to him. Yet, he, too, “sort of” obeyed the command. He has learned through painful experience that it pays to honor dad’s commands, but he also has retained his strong-willed, free-spirited sense of autonomy. So, he obeyed by moving toward me in large, circular patterns, patterns which would allow him to make runs into his group of friends, take time to swing around a parking lot sign, and find a moment to skip or even climb a few steps. He meandered along a gigantic looping path that, technically, was in the direction I was headed and, thus, technically, followed my command.

My first thought upon seeing these semi-obedient sons was to get frustrated that they are unable to obey even the simplest of my commands. The second thought was to laugh at the fact that this one episode had exposed their personalities so clearly. The third thought was somewhat more profound.

I realized I was observing more than my semi-(dis)obedient sons. I was actually watching my own semi-(dis)obedient life behind my Savior’s simple command: Follow Me.  Repeatedly, our Lord commanded His followers—Follow Me. He said that if we were His sheep, we would hear His voice and obey it (John 10). He said that if we desired to serve Him, we must follow Him. We must leave the dead to bury the dead while we follow the creator and sustainer of life. We must recognize the broad way of destruction, while we follow our king through the narrow way of abundant life. We must follow Jesus as He makes us fishers of men.

And yet, we often follow like my younger son, in broad, meandering circles seeking worldly amusements to accompany faithful service. Countless Luke 9:62 Christ Command Obedience Discipleshipdistractions bend our otherwise obedient walk. When we take our eyes off Jesus, or when our love is not burning hotly toward Him, our circular path of distracted service grows larger with worldly influence and smaller with the clarity and focus of faithful obedience.

Even when our zeal burns hot, we are in danger of running ahead of the Lord, just as my older son ran ahead of me. And like that older son, we run ahead with confidence without content. We run like Paul said the Jews were running (Romans 10:1-3) with zeal, but not in accordance with knowledge. There is a fine line between self-confidence and bold faith. One is obedient; the other is not quite right.

So I realized from my little after-church adventure that I shared the folly I found in my own sons. My hoped-for correction is to fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, laying aside more and more of the distractions and encumbrances which dilute my obedience.  My further hope is to keep in step with the Spirit, not running ahead in fleshly arrogance or vain confidence.

May the Lord grant us all to keep both hands on the plow to work the earthly row we’ve been given. Let us not look back, to the left or to the right. But straight ahead, fixed on Christ, the Resurrection and the life. Our Savior has called us from the chaotic crowd. Let us hear His voice and follow Him.

A Simple Way to Share Your Faith


The hardest part of sharing the gospel (for me) is starting the conversation. Like most Christians, I love to talk about Jesus and the truth of the Scriptures, but it is hard to get the conversation going. So, I’ve tried to identify easy “connections” between the Bible and everyday life. One of the most natural connections to everyday life is found in John 3:16.

Share Christ Christian Evangelism Salvation PersecutionJohn 3:16 is a great place for starting gospel conversations because it is easily remembered. Most Christians memorize John 3:16 early in their Christian walk. More than a few pastors, scholars, and teachers have recognized how clearly the gospel is present in this simple verse:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

To begin with, John 3:16 gets immediately to the heart of the human problem: Perishing. From birth, we are perishing apart from the life-giving, resurrection power of Jesus Christ. This concept of perishing operates as a great connector from the mundane world of human existence to the heavenly glories of Christ and His kingdom. Here’s how to make that connection plain.

Have you ever heard your friends talk about their problems? Have you ever had family members dump their emotions on you, venting about their frustrations? Have you ever heard your colleagues bemoaning some injustice in the world? Yes, yes, yes! Of course, you have. Each of these experiences exists on account of the Fall of humankind from peace with God.

In other words, all problems are ultimately rooted in the singular problem of our being at odds with God: the Fall. Because of the Fall, we are all mired in sin, stuck in a web of deceit, sinfulness, and death. The problem, ultimately, is that we are perishing. We are in the darkness and hating the light because of our own evil deeds (John 3:19-20).  We are living as human beings in the world, but we are under the curse of death. That is our problem. We are perishing.

God’s provisionto remedy the curse and reconcile us to Himself, giving us life instead of death, is nothing less than Jesus Christ. God so loved…that He gave Christ to be a payment for our sins. The problem is that we are perishing under the curse. The Provision from God is Christ Himself, who came to satisfy the payment price for our sins and purchase for us the remedy for death.

The problem is that we are perishing in our sin under the curse of death. The provision is Christ who came to pay the price for us. And now there is a promisefrom God. The promise is eternal life. God so loved that He gave with the purpose and intent that whoever believes will NOT perish, but HAVE eternal life. Christ remedies the curse of death with the sure, purchased promise of eternal life in His name.

In this simple way, this one common verse is able to move you from a perennial problem (sin, death) to an eternal solution (eternal life in Jesus’s name). You are likely already familiar with John 3:16 so there is no need to get anxious about “what should I say” or “how should I start”? Just start with John 3:16 and cover the problem (perishing); God’s provision (Christ); and the promise of a new life (eternal life).  Problem, Provision, Promise. There’s the gospel from John 3:16. Now, let’s go share it!

Why Persecution Is a Social Justice Priority


Persecution Social JusticeBrooke Parks at Persecutionblog asks an excellent question: Is Christian Persecution a Social Justice Issue? I believe that it is. At least, I believe that persecution is a justice issue. Parks is correct to note the limits of social justice. Parks points out that the goal of ministry to the persecuted is not to remove inequality. The goal is not simply to make the persecution go away. The goal, according to Parks, is “for the church to be the body of Christ to them and with them.” I completely agree. From the New Testament perspective, “Being the body of Christ to them and with them” is primarily an action of justice.  Caring for the persecuted is a fundamental expression of biblical justice. Perhaps the term “social” can be abandoned, but the idea of justice cannot. And here is why.

In the Old Testament, God Himself proved to be the one who would always “execute justice” and “love” the strangers and aliens among Israel (Deuteronomy 10). The revelation of God as the source of justice and love was supposed to govern Israel. Israel was expected to be like God, executing justice in her own midst, making sure that the poor, the orphans, the widows, and the powerless were not forgotten.  In addition, Israel was supposed to show love to those who came into her midst from the nations around. In this way, Israel, like God, was supposed to model justice and love.

When the time came for Israel to adopt a king, the Lord gave specific instructions for the king: (1) That the king should first read, study, meditate upon, and obey carefully God’s law (Deut 17:18-20); (2) Then, second, that the king would execute justice and righteousness. This function of the king was on splendid display when the Queen of Sheba came to call upon Solomon. She proclaimed,

because the LORD loved Israel forever, therefore He made you king, to do justice and righteousness.” (1 Kings 10:9)

According to God, the king’s task was first to be just and, next, to execute laws of justice and righteousness for all of Israel.

When Christ came to establish His kingdom, He did so in righteousness. Christ was, of course, just. As He announced to John the Baptist, Christ also fulfilled all righteousness (Matthew 3:15).  Christ would later explain that basic discipleship—that is, a basic knowledge of what it means to follow Him—includes learning to be obedient to all His commands (Matthew 28:18-20, commonly called the Great Commission). Being obedient to Christ’s commands is essentially putting God’s justice and righteousness into action.

Christ came as a righteous king to establish God’s righteous kingdom. Consequently, Christ taught His followers that they must pursue righteousnessRighteousness Persecution and the kingdom as matters of first importance (Matthew 6:33).  Christ also taught His followers that their pursuit of justice/righteousness would lead them to be persecuted (see Matthew 5:10-12).

What all of this means is that to live the Christian life is to display God’s justice. Such a display will provoke persecution now just as it did when Christ and the Apostles ministered on earth. When Christ’s followers suffer persecution, they do so on account of righteousness (justice). They suffer for doing what is right in His name. It is His authority and His presence in His people which provokes the persecution.

So, in the New Testament, the first priority for social justice—that is, for feeding the poor, caring for widows, providing for orphans, and showing mercy to prisoners—is to minister to the persecuted and oppressed church. To use a common metaphor applied to the people of God in the New Testament, the first priority is to care for one’s own family—the family of God.

The idea of family first is evident in Paul’s instructions to Timothy regarding the care of widows:

But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Christians are to do good to all people, but, especially, we are to do good to those who are of the household of faith, according to the Apostle Paul (Galatians 6:10). Not surprisingly, the New Testament is replete with examples of Christians doing good for fellow saints who are suffering.

Most references in the New Testament concerning feeding the poor actually understand the poor to be persecuted and suffering Christians. The offering Paul took from the churches was collected to care for needy, suffering saints in Jerusalem (see 1 Cor 16:1-4, Rom. 15:25). Paul Himself was partly responsible for the persecution which put these saints in such a needy state (see Acts 9:1-13). Little wonder, then, that after his conversion he felt responsible for their care.

When Paul went before Peter, James, and John to validate his commission to preach to the Gentiles, they gave him the right hand of fellowship and encouraged him to continue caring for the poor believers as he had been doing in Jerusalem (see Galatians 2:1-10).[1] Likewise, the admonitions in the book of James concerning the poor also are references to the brother or sister among you, that is, to the poor and needy Christians.

Further, the care of widows and orphans—which is called by James a “pure and undefiled religion”—is care for widows and orphans in the household of faith. These issues—typically called issues of social justice—are primarily issues of Christians acting rightly toward fellow brothers and sisters of the faith. They are issues of justice within the household of faith.

When the New Testament speaks of visiting prisoners, it means that Christians are responsible to remember (Hebrews 13:3) and care for fellow Christians who have been thrown into prison on account of Christ (cf. Hebrews 10:34). In fact, Peter made sure the early church held to an important distinction in categorizing imprisonment:

Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name (1 Peter 4:15-16; cf. 1 Peter 3:17).

John love persecutionIn the New Testament, issues of justice begin with the household of faith. As the household of faith learns to love one another rightly and, thus, executes the justice of God rightly so that God’s righteousness is on display, the world begins to see what justice and love actually are like. The whole world begins to know that Jesus Christ is present because of the way the Church loves one another (John 13:35). In this way, the Church witnesses to the world of Christ’s love.

So, it is important that the church exercises “justice” in caring for the poor and suffering Christians. In this way, ministry to the persecuted is the first order of “social justice” business. Our love for one another is crucial to our witness before the watching world.

Brooke Parks’ question has to be answered affirmatively: “Yes!” Persecution ministry is the foremost and primary act of social justice. Parks answered the question negatively, but only with regard to the non-biblical idea that justice concerns equality. Parks is correct to say that the goal of persecution ministry is not to bring society back into some arbitrary notion of balance or equity.  Rather, the goal of persecution ministry is to display the righteousness of God in the face of world’s unrighteous desire to be rid of Christ by executing His people.

See also:

http://www.heritage.org/research/commentary/2014/5/christian-persecution-an-injustice-for-all

 

[1] For fuller discussion, see Thomas Schreiner, Galatians, in the Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, published by Zondervan.

Does Persecution Create Strange Bedfellows?


In William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a drunken jester named Trinculo declares, “Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.”  This familiar expression has oft been adapted to the political arena: “Politics makes for strange bedfellows.”  Indeed, the twisted manipulations of political warfare can lead former enemies into convenient beds of agreement.

Yet Trinculo’s statement is not meant to highlight the peculiarity of such sleeping arrangements as much as it is intended to focus their necessity. Misery made it impossible for Trinculo to survive a terrible tempest without snuggling up to a monster for security. Necessity called him to action.

Christian persecution middle eastPerhaps necessity has raised a spiritual tempest of misery to such a degree for Christians suffering persecution that strange bedfellows are beginning to emerge once again. Hundreds of Christian leaders have joined together to sign a pledge of solidarity and call to action on behalf of Christians suffering persecution in the Middle East (particularly in Syria, Egypt, and Iraq).

As Nina Shea points out, this pledge was signed by a host of Christians across both the lines of denomination and lines of doctrinal conviction:

Some 200 Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox leaders have signed on — from Catholic Cardinal Wuerl, to National Association of Evangelicals’ chair Leith Anderson, to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Episcopal Church to Armenian Orthodox Archbishop Oshagan Cholayan.

The pledge describes some of the atrocities Christians face in these countries:

  • Christians, including some clergy, after being identified as such by their names, identity cards, or some other means, have been beheaded, shot execution-style or otherwise brutally murdered. Clergy have also been killed for their peace-making efforts or simply as personifications of the Christian faith.
  • Untold numbers of Christians, including bishops, priests, pastors, and nuns, have been kidnapped and held for ransom.

    Nina Shea Hudson Christian Persecution

    Nina Shea

  • Young women have been abducted and forced to convert to Islam and marry their captors.
  • In some instances, Christians have been told to convert to Islam or be killed; some have been forced to pay protection money.
  • Muslim apostasy and blasphemy codes and standards for dress, occupation and social behavior are being enforced for Christians, as well as for Muslims, in some communities.

I agree that Christians and all people of “good will” ought to voice their concerns and call others to action. Government leaders and concerned citizens alike ought to care for oppressed and suffering people. Christians in particular have an obligation before God to care “especially” for the household of faith (Galatians 6:10). Our own faith family is suffering these atrocities; thus we must not remain unconcerned.

There are other concerns, too, that must not be forgotten. The list of signatories seems short on theologically-minded evangelicals. Evangelicals rightly hesitate locking arms with those (like Katharine Jefferts Schori) who advocate for doctrine and ethics contrary to the Scriptures. Some on the list of signatories advocate for abortion rights, gay marriage, and errant ideas related to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. These are matters of utmost importance.

Somehow, evangelicals must find a way to act on matters of utmost urgency without compromising doctrines of utmost importance.  The severity of Christian persecution pushes unity and action on behalf of Christ’s followers into the urgent need category.  Our brothers and sisters urgently need our prayer, support, advocacy, and physical care. They need for us to advocate on their behalf with one voice against the horrific crimes of persecution.

If evangelicals of good will cannot join with liberal professing Christians (or vice versa), then, by all means, let them advocate separately. But advocate we must. We must pledge our support. We must minister. We must call other professing Christians to action. We must obey the command of Hebrews 13:3: Remember the persecuted.

I, for one, am not comfortable with an Orthodox vision for icons and intercession of the saints. I’m uncomfortable with Roman Catholic instructions on justification and congruent merit. I reject liberal Christianity’s capitulation to the sexual revolution. Yet, I am very glad that these groups are speaking out against the atrocities of persecution being perpetrated against the body of Christ around the world.

As the tempest of persecution rages against Christ’s flock, let us be sure—whatever our doctrinal convictions—that we are found very near to our fellow Christian soldiers, regardless of who else may have drawn near to help. Our obligation is first and foremost to Christ Himself. And He is present with His suffering sheep. Are we?

The Real Life Narrow Way Pictured


I’ve been off the grid for a bit, partly because of spending a week at the NorCal Pastor’s Retreat. This retreat, by design, was retreat from everything resembling a normal, daily routine, including cell phones, text messages, internet service, television, indoor plumbing, private bathrooms, etc.

For me, the retreat also served as a kind of metaphor for the Christian faith. On the drive in to this mountainous area of northern California, I was struck by how precisely the drive mirrored the Christian’s pilgrimage through life.

Jesus Christian Life narrow way persecution pastorsThe driving portion of the trip began with a very crowded arrival at San Francisco International Airport. I proceeded from there to a crowded train which took me to a very crowded rental car area. Apparently, a large number of folks desire to fly into San Francisco. (Are there tourist attractions or something?)

Not only are there a great many folks visiting San Francisco, but there are also tons of people living there. So, I drove north toward the mountains on a crowded U.S. 101.  The further north I drove, the less crowded the roads became. Still, U.S. 101 is a freeway in California. Therefore, it was still crowded with residents and visitors heading into and out of the beautiful wine country of Marin, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties.

Once I left the freeway, however, the crowds diminished severely. The road from U.S. 101 to Potter Valley, CA, is as unpopulated as, say, the road from Dry Prong to Tioga in the rural center of Louisiana. As it turns out, not all of California is crowded. Anyway, leaving the freeway focused more sharply the lesson this trip offered for Christian living.

First, the retreat was accessible only to the determined. It was not located in a place which one might “happen” to see. A sign at the last intersection before heading up the hill made the point plain: “No Outlet.” As Christ taught is disciples that the kingdom life is one in which both hands would be fixed to a plow looking forward (Lk 9:62), so, too, this sign made clear that one need not hope to simply wander through or pass by this retreat setting. There was no way out.

Those who say they “tried Christianity, but it didn’t work,” prove only that they were never on the kingdom way. They prove, as John says, that they went out from us because they were not of us (1 Jn 2:19). Maybe in our discipleship, we ought to tell would-be Christians that the road begins with a sign that says, “No Outlet.” One is either “in Christ” and “on the way,” or he is not.

Second, as the road continued further toward its end at our retreat setting, another sign appeared. This time, the sign had an even more Jesus Christian life narrow way pastors persecution preachingunmistakable Christian message: “Road Narrows.” That sounds a lot like Jesus Himself:

13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

The beginning of the journey in the sought-after Bay area of San Francisco ended in this remote, desolate wilderness with no one around. The road was already small and unoccupied, and, yet, it was still getting smaller, and more narrow, and less traveled. Christians need not wonder that they often feel alone. They are on the narrow way of life. As the road narrows, the crowds shrink.

Finally, the road itself not only narrowed but became rough and more difficult to traverse. There were potholes and washouts along the shoulders. Eventually, the patchy asphalt gave way to gravel and dirt. By the end of the journey, the road simply disintegrated into the retreat setting, a quaint, rustic Bible camp complete with outhouses and dinner bells to ring in campers three times a day for a hearty meal.

The illustration here is obvious. There are times when Christians mingle with the masses and live in the world. Yet, the more prevailing reality for Christian living is that—even when we are in the world, we are not of it. We are always on the narrow way that leads to life. Our life is promised to be (1) one way, from earth to the heavenly presence of Christ; (2) more narrow—and thus often more lonely—than the way most in the world travel through their time on earth; and (3) often difficult. As Paul told the Christians in Antioch (Acts 14:22),

Jesus Christian life narrow way pastors persecution preachingthrough many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.

What Should I Read This Summer?


I once saw a Facebook status which confused me: “I’m sooooo bored,” it read. I wondered–with so many great books and so much to explore–how could anyone be bored?

Book Schaeffer How Then LiveBelow is my service to any who might be tempted to boredom. Here is a list of some helpful and Biblically sound literature. I compiled this list (or one closely like it) for a student of mine who asked what he should read this summer. These are not recommended as “must -reads.”  And they are not listed in any particular order. They are simply some of the books thinking Christians will want to read.

I hope this list sparks your interest in learning more. The list covers hermeneutics, apologetics, theology, pastoral ministry, productivity, and even history. I tried to offer a variety of topics. Enjoy.

  1. Robert Stein, A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible: Playing by the Rules.
    1. Dr. Stein’s book is deceptively simple. It reads as a basic introduction to reading the Bible, but it is thoroughly informed by the most important trends in hermeneutics. Dr. Stein is a gifted writer, and this book is profoundly simple in offering a few rules for how to approach the Scriptures, taking into account authorial intent, genre, text criticism, etc.
  2. Matt Perman, What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done
    1. Matt has done a great job of sorting through the latest literature on business, productivity, and efficiency. He then interprets that literature through the lens of the gospel to produce a helpful resource for making the most of our time as Christians.
  3. R. C. Sproul, Willing to Believe
    1. In this classic overview of the literature related to the age-old question of God’s sovereignty vs. Free will, R. C. Sproul offers a thorough Book Willing Believe Free will sovereigntyintroduction to the best arguments for and against “Free –will.” He traces the debate from the Scripture through Augustine, Calvin, Arminius, Edwards, to the present. It is amazing how succinctly and clearly he is able to cover so much ground.
  4. R. C. Sproul, Getting the Gospel Right
    1. In this volume, R. C. Sproul—somewhat controversially—takes aim at some of the more stalwart evangelical Christians of our day. His reason is to protect the gospel from the errors of the Reformation. Even if he might be deemed too harsh in his criticism, Sproul does a great job in this book of highlighting the importance of Reformation distinctions related to the gospel.
  5. Carl F. H. Henry, Twilight of a Great Civilization
    1. Written in the late 1980’s, this book by Carl Henry proved prescient indeed. He spoke of the “drift” in culture and offered a Christian response which proved to be prophetic. His remedies are still worth considering by those wishing to remain evangelical in a world which emphatically is not. Henry is too quickly being dismissed by evangelicals today. We need to keep reading the works of this brilliant stalwart of our Christian faith.
  6. John R. W. Stott, The Preacher’s Portrait
    1. For those who are pastors, or those wishing to be pastors, or even those just wishing to understand the basic nature of pastoral ministry, John Stott has written a simple little volume which offers a snapshot of the pastoral life. His style is simple and clear. This is a very helpful little volume.
  7. Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life
    1. Don Whitney is a gifted writer and speaker. This book—which is about to be released in an updated anniversary edition—should be required reading for every Christian. He walks through the Christian disciplines in a simple, step-by-step way. His work is as encouraging as it is enjoyable to read. For anyone who has not read this work, you should start here. Dr. Whitney is a reliable guide for the Christian faith.
  8. Ron Nash, The Meaning of History
    1. For a change of pace, I offer this intriguing read. It isn’t a long book, and it is well written, but, I will warn you, it is a work of philosophy.Book Meaning History philosophy time hebrews As philosophy books go, this one is easy to read, but the ideas are profound. Dr. Nash demonstrates how important the Christian view of history is. We take this view for granted, but such a view of history is fading as our culture reinvents itself in a non-Christian way.
  9. J. I. Packer, Knowing God
    1. Hopefully, you have already read Packer’s classic volume on the basic proposition that we are able to know God through His revelation. This book is foundational in many ways. It is, as I sad, an evangelical classic. The book has been in print for 4 decades and has sold millions of copies.
  10. Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live
    1. Like Carl Henry, so, too, Francis Schaeffer’s voice was absolutely prophetic. All the dangers about which he warned us have unfolded over the last 30 years. This book by Schaeffer has been a foundational work in apologetics, particularly from the presuppositional perspective. It is still very much worth reading because of the manner in which Schaeffer traces ideas through history which have brought us to our present state of affairs. Schaeffer is an outstanding writer.

I hope at least some of these titles will interest you, as you continue to be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Should We Pray for the Persecuted?


It is a curious thing that the New Testament does not command us to pray for the persecuted church. Before asking for food, shelter, safety, deliverance, or even a copy of the Scriptures, most persecuted believers ask first for prayer. Praying for those suffering persecution is as natural to the Christian as praying for loved ones as they are heading into surgery. We really don’t have to be taught to do it. We just know that it’s right.

Christian persecution pray for the persecutedWe do need to be commanded to pray for our enemies, however. As Jesus points out in the Sermon on the Mount, we have already heard that we should love our neighbors and hate our enemies. What we need to hear by way of divine command is “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” Isn’t this strange?

We are not commanded to pray for the persecuted in the Sermon on the Mount. We are told to pray for the persecutors! What is Jesus thinking? What could possibly be the reason for such a seemingly impossible command?

We might think the reason would be to pray for the conversion of the persecutor. That way, a double victory is won, both with a victory for the persecutor in moving from an anti-Christian rebel, headed for destruction, to becoming a saint with all the privileges of a child of God, including eternal life. The double victory portion would be found in the fact that the converted persecutor would stop persecuting—it’s a win-win. And a win-win would be good, right?

Maybe such an outcome would be terrific for all involved, but it is not the reason Jesus gives for praying for the persecutors. Why pray for the persecutors?  Jesus gives the reason in Matthew 5:45,

so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

The idea found in Matthew 5:45 is simply this: Reflect the glory of God with your life. God pours out love on us who are naturally unloving and unlovable. So, why would we refuse to offer it to others? Because we have the spirit of Christ, we, too, can reflect the glory of God by showing His love to our enemies. Show the world the grace God has bestowed upon you. We are to be like God, extending love aggressively in the face of hostility.

Now let’s step back to our original dilemma. We are commanded to do the difficult (almost impossible) task of praying for those who persecute us, but we are not commanded to pray for the persecuted—even though they are asking for us to pray for them. How do we make sense of this biblically? We turn to Paul and 2 Corinthians 1:8-11,

For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, Christians Praying for the Persecutedbeyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; 10 who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, 11 you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.

Notice, first, how desperate the situation was for Paul and his companions. Second, notice the role of prayers in Paul’s deliverance. And, third, notice the reason Paul thinks God will deliver him and his persecuted companions through the prayers of other saints.

Paul reached his physical and emotional limits. But God helped him and saved him through it all. The prayers of other saints were crucial in this process according to Paul. The situation was so bad that only God could provide deliverance. And God did so in accordance with the way the saints were praying. The reason God orchestrated the events of Paul’s severe persecution the way He did was so that the whole church could celebrate the goodness and power of God when God provided a miraculous deliverance in accordance with the prayers of the saints.

Today, when we pray for our brothers and sisters in need, we, too, become instruments through whom God is bringing deliverance to His people. Part of our reward is celebrating in the Thanksgiving of answered prayers offered to the Father on behalf of Christ’s people. We don’t have to be commanded to do what we know God wants us to do. We know more than God’s commands. We know God Himself. And we know how He works in and through His people.

Shall We Give Them What They Want?


Shortly after Thanksgiving a few years ago, my wife and I were in the yard with a dear, dear brother. His name before he was converted was simply “Mad Dog.” As he says, “when I was a pagan, I meant it with all my heart.” (He is just as sincere now that he is a believer.)

Dog Desires John 6 JesusAnyway, our dog, Tess, had found the post-holiday turkey carcass and was in full delight tearing at the bones like the hungriest of wolves. For Tess, the random meat portions she found along the way were better than music to her ears.

My friend noticed both how delighted the animal was and, yet, how dangerous were the turkey bones. Turkey bones are notoriously damaging to dogs because of the way the little bones splinter in digestion. So, my friend said, “You can’t let her have that.” – He really loves dogs. My wife replied, “But she’s enjoying it so much. We can’t take it away from her.”

At this point, the wisdom of conversion overcame our friend. Fired with conviction and unafraid in his love both for us and our animal, he replied, “Well I used to love marijuana, too, but it doesn’t mean it was good for me.” His point was simply made, and profoundly true.

But his is a lesson easily forgotten. When our children cry for ice cream and cookies instead of carrots and peas, when our bodies crave sleep or stimulation instead of sermons and truth, or when our lusts crave riches and ease rather than conversions and faith—we, too, demonstrate the animal-like tendencies of a dog eating turkey bones. We want what we want, with little regard for truth beyond our immediate appetites.

Jesus once pointed out this human tendency to a very large crowd of onlookers. In John 6:26, Jesus said to a large crowd of followers:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.”

Notice the Spirit of Jesus here was the same spirit exhibited by my friend toward Tess: Don’t go after that which ends—sooner or later—in death. Rather, seek that which gives life. Life comes from one source: the living God. And Jesus Christ has made Him known. So hunger and thirst for Jesus. Feed on Jesus Christ, who has been raised from the dead to give eternal life to all who believe and follow Him.

Sadly, if you know the rest of the story of John 6, then you know that the vast majority of those assembled found no use for Jesus and His instruction. They truly were following Him only to feast on his baskets of bread.

This Easter season, we should remember that we follow Christ not because He can give bread, but because He alone is life. The story in John 6 ends with almost the entire crowd turning away from Jesus. Listen to Peter’s response and offer your own “Amen!”

67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” 68 Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. 69 We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”

Why It Is Important to Identify with the Persecuted Church: 3 More Reasons


In my prior blog post, I noted that there are at least 5 reasons all Christians should identify with persecution. First, the New Testament says that all Christians will be persecuted, and the persecution could take several different forms, from the mild mocking and name-calling to the more severe imprisonment and execution. Second, Christians are united in one body. Thus, attempts to distinguish between those who are “really” persecuted and those who are not introduce artificial division in the body of Christ.

All Christians Face PersecutionThis leads to the third reason all Christians ought to identify with persecution: Unity in the body of Christ. Throughout the New Testament, there is a constant urging for Christians to live in unity. Jesus famously prayed for us all to be one (John 17:19-20ff.). In John 17:23, He asks the Father to perfect us in unity so the world might know the reality of His appearing.

Christians who have the Spirit of Christ have also a longing for unity within the body of Christ. The Apostle Paul manifested this reality to the church at Ephesus. In Ephesians 4, Paul urged the Ephesians to preserve the unity of the Spirit. He continued further to say that the work of the church is directed toward building up the body of Christ “until we all attain the unity of the faith.”

On this basis of unity within the body of Christ, the writer of Hebrews commands Christians to “Remember the [persecuted] prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves are also in the body” (13:3).  The connection between persecution and the unity of the body of Christ is unmistakable. It is as plain as it is well-pictured by the human body itself. If you have a leg injury, it impacts your entire body. Drop a 10 lb. weight on the little toe of your left foot, and your entire body will respond accordingly (even if not appropriately).

So it is supposed to work within the body of Christ. There is a unity of the body which insists that the persecuted be noticed—that they be “remembered” as though we were actually in the prison cell with them. We are commanded always to identify with suffering saints in unity within the body of Christ.

Fourth, Christ is present in the midst of the persecuted—and what Christian does not long to be where Christ is? Christ, of course, is always present with His people, but the New Testament emphasizes several occasions in which Christ distinctly promises to be in the very midst of His gathered people. Christ promises His presence when His people gather together to practice church discipline (Matthew 18:20). He is present when His people gather to worship (1Corinthians 14:25). He is present when His people are making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:20). He is present when His people minister to other Christians in need (Matthew 25:40, 45). And He is present when His people are suffering persecution.

Consider the conversion story of Saul. In Acts 9, Saul—breathing threats and seeking vengeance against followers of Christ—is suddenly confronted on the Damascus Road with the reality of the living Christ. When Christ appears to Saul, He asks him a curious question:

Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?

Notice, the Lord does not ask why Saul is persecuting the church or my people. Jesus asks Saul, “Why are you persecuting Me?”  Jaroslav Pelikan explains it this way,

“Saul—together with the long line of his descendants—may have supposed that he was attacking the miserable adherents of a wretched fringe movement (14:22); but here the ultimate target of the rage and the violence (28:31) identified himself as none less than ‘Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’”

Christ is clearly one with His suffering saints. Our Lord undoubtedly cares for all humankind, but He must hold particular affection for His very own children who are harshly abused for the simple reason that they belong to Him. The martyred saints have no problem making the connection. In Revelation 6, martyred saints are pictured as being in the presence of Christ crying out, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”

And the answer they are given, apparently, is that the Lord will indeed avenge their blood on the heads of those who persecuted them, but He must first wait until the full number of martyrs is complete. One gets the sense from Revelation 6:11 that the reigns of history are at least partially held in reserve until an appointed persecution is complete. At which time, Christ will free His white horses to ride upon the clouds descending upon the earth to exact perfect justice against those who opposed Him by persecuting His body (Revelation 19). What Glory!

Finally, the fifth reason all Christians ought to identify with the persecuted is that the persecuted are blessed people! According to the New Testament, the kingdom belongs to the impoverished and the persecuted (see the first and eighth Beatitudes, Matthew 5:3, 10). Does it sound strange to call persecution a blessing?

It’s a strange and hard thought for my American Christian ears to hear, but it is true nonetheless that persecution is considered a blessing in the New Testament.

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your China Christians persecuted persecution blessing matthew 5reward in heaven is great for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12)

Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials (James 1:2).

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” (1 Peter 4:12-14)

Failure to identify with the persecuted represents a failure to recognize the blessed life in Christ. Surely, more than a few health-and-wealth, prosperity prophets have hauled in tons of followers and loads of cash by promising their hearers a “blessed” life. We know how wrong such preaching is, but are we altogether right about what it means to be blessed on Jesus’s terms?

Identifying with persecution may help us realize what abundant life really is as promised by our Lord. Don’t all Christians long for the abundant life Jesus said He came to give? Somehow, that abundant life includes both persecution and blessing. May the Lord grant us faith to embrace and receive all that He has to offer us.

Persecution for Every Christian: Why it is important to identify with the persecuted church


I seem to have a recurring disagreement with fellow Christians. I don’t like disagreements. I try to avoid them, but, when it comes to the persecuted church, I keep having them.

All Christians Face Persecution The conversation typically goes something like this: We are engaged in talking about some current event related to Christian persecution. The brother or sister in Christ then says, “they have it so bad over there. It really costs them to be a Christian.” –Which of course is true.

Then I usually say, well, we are all persecuted if we follow Christ. We share the same kind of persecution—even if it is not to the same degree. That line—we share the same kind of persecution—usually provokes an almost hostile response, and I am not sure why (feel free to explain below). Rather than attempting to probe deeply into the spiritual psyche of those who revile my position, I think I’d rather lay out 5 reasons it is important to understand persecution as something which impacts all Christians–including American Christians.

First, the plain teaching of Jesus and the New Testament favors (a) calling all persecution by the same name, and (b) expects all Christians to suffer it. In other words, the New Testament promises that everyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Granted, this little promise does not make its way into the “The Book of Bible Promises” available at your local Wal-Mart, but it is clearly stated in 2 Timothy 3:12:

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

Christians in the New Testament are promised persecution. Jesus explains the reason for this persecution in Matthew 5:10-12. Basically, the persecution happens because Christ is present with His people (“on account of me” in Matthew 5:11). Just as the world hated Christ then, the world will hate him (via his people) even now (see also John 15). Whether the persecution is imprisonment (as in Acts 5) or being falsely accused (Matthew 5) or being mocked (Acts 17) or being executed by the sword (Acts 12)—in each instance, there is Christian persecution—a hostile, retaliatory action against the presence of Christ. Both Jesus and the New Testament make this point clearly.

Second, those who wish to make a distinction between torture and name-calling are correct in so doing with regard to the severity of the crime. Who could doubt that it is worse to be lacerated with an electrical cable than to be laughed at during a family meal? Nevertheless, as was just pointed out above, the difference is in degree of persecution–not in whether or not persecution was suffered.

Many, hoping to maintain the distance between “real” persecution and the “light” afflictions we suffer in America, sadly end up injecting an artificial distance between Christians in America and Christians in the rest of the world. The priestly prayer of Jesus in John 17 works against such a bifurcation within the body of Christ. It is our Lord’s desire for us to be one—even as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one.

In trying to maintain the distance between the suffering of American Christians and the suffering of brothers and sisters in Nigeria, for example, some leaders speak of persecution as though it is worthy of the name only if it is of a particularly fantastic variety: prison, torture, beatings, death.  Persecution ends up being a pertinent category only for “those” Christians over “there” in other parts of the world. This, it seems to me, artificially divides the body of Christ. Indeed, we are commanded in Hebrews 13:3 to remember the persecuted as though we are in prison with them since we ourselves are one in body with them. The New Testament calls for us to close the gap in the body of Christ by identifying in united fashion with the persecuted. We can’t do that if we separate ourselves into “those over there” who suffer persecution and “us over here” who do not. That is an artificial, unbiblical distinction.

… There are 3 more reasons to go… stay tuned

Who Really Cares About “The Least of These”? Matthew 25:31-46


What could be more obvious than the fact that Christians must take care of the outcast, the poor, and the prisoners?  Ministries of mercy like feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, and clothing the scantily clad are services expected by Christ of His followers. As Matthew 25 makes plain, the righteous will engage in these ministries, while the wicked will proved to have neglected them in the end.

Covenant paradigm social justice care for poor persecuted persecution

New Testament Concentric Care

But obvious facts don’t always capture the complete story. So it is with Jesus’s instructions concerning “the least of these” in Matthew 25:31-46.  At the end of the narrative, Jesus casts out the wicked for having neglected the care of the naked, the strangers, and the thirsty, for He says “as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” –A strong word indeed which demonstrates Jesus’s presence with the poor. But which poor, any and every poor person on the planet?

It seems to me the rest of the story is told in the positive version of Jesus’s instruction about caring for “the least of these.” Back in 25:40, Jesus praises the righteous for the ministries of mercy they have completed:

“And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

The use of the term “my brothers” is not insignificant. Grant Osborne notes, “It is unlikely that unbelievers would be called ‘my brothers and sisters.’” Osborne notes further that Jesus calls his followers his brothers and sisters earlier in Matthew’s gospel (12:48-50).  What is the significance of “the least of these” being a reference to those in the covenant community? There are at least 3 significant consequences for reading the text this way.

First, it means the world will be judged for how it relates to Christ and Christians—particularly those in need. Jesus cares for, loves, and has committed himself to his followers. When the world rejects, despises, persecutes, and oppresses his sheep, He rightly assigns them to a proper judgment. Osborne sums up clearly this point concerning the thrust of Matthew 25:

“So Jesus’ message is that the world will be judged on the basis of how it treats those ‘little people’ whom God is sending to it.”

Second, it means Christians, too, will be judged not just for their ministries of mercy to the poor but for their concern explicitly for the persecuted poor. Christ, obviously, is concerned for His sheep. Why would Christians neglect them? The New Testament expects Christians to care for family first and then extend that familial love to the strangers and aliens among them. Too often we skip over the Christian family in our witness to evangelize the needy in the world. Is it not possible to accomplish the latter without neglecting the former? Jesus did not neglect his own in his extending mercy to the world. Neither should we.

Third, it means that the presence of Christ abides in the midst of the persecuted church. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus first framed the kingdom people as the poor and the persecuted. The first Beatitude states that the kingdom belongs to the poor. The last Beatitude completes the thought, stating that the kingdom belongs to the persecuted. The poor, persecuted follower of Christ is the one with whom Christ—himself destitute and persecuted—identifies (cf. Matthew 5:1-12 and Beatitudes). The summary of the Beatitudes is a “Beatitude reprise” in which Jesus proclaims that those persecuted on account of Him are the blessed in the earth who ought to be rejoicing.

So the conclusion of the matter is that if we care for Christ at all, then we will care for the impoverished and persecuted church in whose midst He dwells in love.

What Is the New Tolerance (and why does it matter)?


D. A. Carson is a great blessing to the Christian church! He recently published another very important book titled The Intolerance of Tolerance.[1]

Carson Intolerance new tolerance  persecutionIn this significant work, Carson details the shift in meaning the word tolerance has undergone over the last century. Building from the work of S. D. Gaede, Carson distinguishes between the “Old tolerance” and “New tolerance.”  Understanding the New tolerance is simpler if one understands how it departs from the Old tolerance.

The primary distinction between New and Old tolerance is the foundation (or lack thereof) for determining what ought to be tolerated. No one is purely tolerant. Even if there were someone whose laissez-faire approach to life would convince him to tolerate such evils as child abuse, wife-beating, airport bombing, and terrorist beheading—chances are, that same person would almost certainly not tolerate such behavior against himself. It may be okay to tolerate stealing in the culture at large, but it surely is inappropriate to steal from me. What’s the old saying? There’s honor even among thieves.

No one is purely tolerant (thank God!).  Yet, tolerance as a theme permeates our culture. Carson shows how damaging the New tolerance definition is. As I said, the main distinction between the New tolerance and the Old tolerance is that the foundation of the Old tolerance appealed to truth obtained through reason and rationality.  The New tolerance is based solely on its opposition to intolerance. Listen to Carson,

…The old tolerance draws its limits on the basis of substantive arguments about truth, goodness, doing harm, and protecting society and its victims, while the new tolerance draws its limits on the basis of what it judges to be intolerant, which has become the supreme vice.”

If Carson is right (and I do believe he is), then the new tolerance is nothing short of a thought police force. Those in power have the force to enforce what is tolerable and what is not. Carson goes on to explain how the New tolerance operates as a “defeater belief.”[2]  The New tolerance assumes that Carson Intolerance new tolerance persecutionits definition of tolerance is good and right and, thus, superior to lesser beliefs about tolerance. If the New tolerance judges acceptance of gay marriage as the essence of tolerance, then any belief in opposition of gay marriage is automatically defeated as inferior. There is no appeal to truth and no reasoned argument necessary. The “superior” New tolerance by definition defeats the “inferior” (and thus intolerant) opposition.

The result is obviously a loss of harmony, a loss of community, a loss of dialog, and—ominously—a loss of the freedom to speak and even to think in ways contrary to the New tolerance. As Carson notes, the New tolerance tends to avoid serious engagement over difficult moral issues and simply excludes those moral opinions contrary to its own as non-virtuous and intolerant.

One need not think long about such an approach to see the danger lurking for Christians. The exclusivity of the way of Jesus Christ and the exacting nature of Christ’s commands for sexual purity will undoubtedly be expected to bow before the throne in allegiance to the New tolerance.

 

[1] D. A. Carson, The Intolerance of Tolerance (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012).

 

[2] Carson gives credit to Tim Keller for his use of the term defeater belief.