Bible Haters Are Not Ignorant

hate.jpgChristians tend to write off their spiritual opponents as uneducated Neanderthals. But not all men and women oppose the gospel because their gospel experience mimics a cave-men’s interaction with fire. The idea that morality is directly linked to knowledge originated with philosophers like Plato who advocated for better education in his various dialogues. The Scriptures paint a different picture of bad behavior. In 1 Samuel 18, Saul fears and attempts to kill David because he understands revelation. He gets the David has been appointed to succeed him by the special revelation of God and he tries to kill David.

Non-believers often hate Christians precisely because they understand the gospel. They understand that their Bible says they are sinners in desperate need of a savior. They understand that Jesus is good, loving, and all powerful. But instead of selling out and following the savior like Jonathan did, they attempt to kill and overthrow Jesus. They become Jesus’s enemy for the same reason, “Saul was David’s enemy continually (1 Sam 18:28).” The want to rule their life and will not submit to the God of the universe whom they have seen from afar. The great Welsh pastor of yesteryear, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said,

The Pharisees and other others hated [Jesus] because of His utter, absolute holiness and righteousness, and truth. And this is why you find gentle, lovingly, lovable people…suffering terrible and bitter persecution sometimes at the hands of ostensible Christians.

The world often hates Jesus, David and ultimately us because it understands our gospel. Jesus says in John 15:18-19, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

The world despises us precisely because it knows us, our savior, and our message.  Our kids mock our faithful church attendance because they don’t think the cross really can save sinners. Our coworkers right us off as goodie-goodies who can contribute little the rugged business world because they think Jesus’s methods of peace and holiness demonstrate weakness. And, our friends deride us for not getting drunk with them because they despise Jesus’ teaching that joy comes through obedience to God. People can quote the Bible and still hate it.

Persecution is not some anomaly driven by ignorance of the divine. It is the norm for the people of God because they live in a world dominated by those who understand and hate God. The solution for persecution is not knowledge. Getting your persecutor to Sunday school will not make them believe.

Faith is the answer. Faithfully bear witness to the truth and pray for God to open the eyes of your persecutors. Faith comes through knowledge accompanied by spiritual enlightenment through the Holy Spirit. The spirit opens dark eyes through words on the printed page. When life is full of persecution do not depend on education programs, depend upon the Lord! Mimic David and faithfully love and obey others, trusting God to defend you. God saved David from Saul’s Spear and he will keep your soul from destruction. Even educated anger cannot separate you from the love of God!

Lloyd-Jones: The Christian’s Response To Persecution

studies on the sermon on the mount“The Christian must not retaliate….he must also not feel resentment. That is much more difficult. The first thing you do is to control your actions, the actual reply. But our Lord is not content with that, because to be truly Christian is not simply to live in a state of repression. You have to go beyond that; you have to get into the state in which you do not even resent persecution. I think you all know from experience the difference between the these two things. We may have come to see long ago that to lose our temper over a thing or to manifest annoyance, is dishonoring to our Lord. But we still may feel it, and fell it intensely, and be hurt about it and resent it. Now the Christian teaching is that we must go beyond that. We see in Philippians 1 how the apostle Paul had done so. He was a very sensitive man – his Epistles make that plain – and he could be grievously hurt and wounded. His feelings had been hurt, as he shows quite clearly, by Corinthians, the Galatians and others; and yet, he has now come to the state in which he really is no longer affected by these things. He says he does not even judge his own self; he has committed to the judgement of God.

But we must go further…When you are persecuted and people are saying all manner of evil against you falsely, you ‘rejoice’ and are exceedingly glad.’”

Studies in the Sermon on the Mount Pages 122-23 

Do You Know How to Suffer Well?

sufferingThe Christian life is a life a suffering. One Russian pastor who suffered much under the old Soviet Regime remarked to Nik Ripken, the author of The Insanity of God:

Persecution is like the sun coming up in the east. It happens all the time. It’s the way things are. There is nothing unusual or unexpected about it. Persecution for our faith has always been – and probably always will be – a normal part of life. 

But such glum sentiments hit many American Christians like a punch in the gut. We are seeking to find our best and most satisfying life now through Christ. We are following Christ in part so that we can have nice kids, a stable career, fun vacations, and the occasional spiritual high that comes via a powerful sermon, a great choir special, or a short-term mission trip. We are not embracing Christ because we want something hard and messy. We want our best life now.

The Normalcy  Suffering and Persecution

But despite our thoughts, the Scriptures actually affirm the Russian pastor’s understanding of suffering. Jesus repeatedly tells us to take up our cross and follow him.

 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. – Matthew 16:24

While such denial obviously consists of the spiritual realities associated with battling the flesh, they also have physical consequences as well. Jesus says:

And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved…if they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. – Matthew 10: 22, 25b.

To identify with Christ, to call Christ our savior, and to follow Christ, we must be willing to suffer persecution. We must be willing to first fight against our flesh, to battle our desires, and to deprive our sinful hearts. And, we must be willing to endure snide comments from our mother-in-law, embrace a pink-slip from out boss, and to suffer death at the hands of our neighbors. Those who embrace Christ and who refuse to abandon the gospel when the world labels them foolish, hateful, and bigoted will suffer.

Paul makes this point clear in 2 Timothy 1 and 2. Verse 1:8 famously says,

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in the suffering for the gospel by the power of God

In 2 Timothy 2:3 Paul revisits the subject writing, “Share in the suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.”

Christians who are unashamed of the gospel are those who share in suffering. Suffering and persecution happen all the time. They are like the sun coming up.

rome-2350633_1920The question quite naturally becomes, “How do we do this?” How do we suffer well? How do we avoid  seeing suffering and falling away from the gospel like Phygelus and Hermogenes did and stand firm like Onesiphorus (2 Tim 1:15-18)? How to we prepare for and then suffer well?

Paul gives us three analogies or three pictures of the Christian life that help us prepare for and survive suffering.

1. Avoid Civilian Pursuits

First Paul tell us to avoid civilian pursuits and to keep our focus on Christ. “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him (2 Tm 2:4).” We must not allow God’s good gifts to dominate our lives. We must not peruse a spouse to the point where we become entrapped in sexual sin and cease to live for Christ. We must not pursue our kids athletic of theatrical skills to the point we seldom attend church and we regularly neglect our and our children’s spiritual life. We never or seldom read the Scriptures, prayer and serve with others in the church because we are always at the field or at the auditorium. We must not become so devoted to our job and financial success that we neglect family worship and praying with our spouse. We must not allow civilian pleasures, the cares of the world to undo our faith.

We must live to please God. We must live to glorify Christ with our speak, our eating, our drinking our everything ( 1Cor. 10:31). As James McDonald said,

Our decisions do not boil down to meaningless preferences about food, drink, and other minutiae; they boil down to giving glory to God.

We must bend our kids’ sport’s careers to the gospel, we must bend our work schedule to the gospel, and we must bend all of our ambitions to the gospel. We must live as soldiers devoted to their heavenly Lord. And when push comes to shove, baseball, careers, and the world must be shoved aside for the gospel. If we shove the Gospel aside for the world, we will only despair and spiritual ruin. If we hope to be ready for suffering and if we hope to suffer well today, we must live as soldiers who sacrifice all civilian pursuits for Christ.

2. Compete According To The Rules

Second, we must compete according to the rules. Paul writes, “An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules (2 Tim 2:4).” Brother and sisters we must abide by God’s revealed Words. We must obey the Scriptures if we hope to finish well. The Russians were recently kicked out of the Olympics because they repeatedly used illegal drugs to give their athletes and unfair advantage. And instead of winning more medals and accruing fame and fortune, the Russians were kicked out the competition and won dishonor and condemnation.

If we attempted to live the Christian life by breaking the Word of God, we too will awake to find our lives filled with dishonor and condemnation. If we lie about the health of our church budget to attract deceive people into giving more gifts, if we refuse to report sexual abuse in an attempt to further the gospel, and if we promote non-Christians to assume positions of leadership in our church to gain fame in the community, we will end in ruin. If we hope to survive persecution, if we hope to find spiritual hope in the midst of cancer, and if we hope to find the power to continue loving our unlovable great grandmother whose in hospice, we must compete according to the Word. We must obey God. We cannot expect to experience spiritual blessing while breaking his reveal Word. We must compete according to the rules.

3. Labor Faithfully

Thirdly, we must labor faithfully. The last word picture Paul employs is that of a farmer.  “It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops (2 Tim 2:6).” Farming is not going to get you notice. Farmers who daily work their farms planting crops, tending to their animals, and working on tractors do not get reality T.V. shows. The world does not stop and notice the farmer who painstakingly plants field after field with soybeans. No, the world is attracted to mid-twenty somethings who wear tank-tops and short skirts while the get into bar fights on the beach and to powerful men and women who gain power through quips, brides, and flashes speeches.

Paul mentions farmers for exactly this reason. The Christian life is hard and often unnoted. The persistent hardships of caring for young children, of counseling teenagers, of taking senior adults to the doctor rarely earn the praise of others. No one asks us to write a book about the many unseen things that we do. But this unseen things are the crux of our spiritual life. The faithfulness that comes from loving unlovable kids, that comes from bearing with unbearable teenagers, and that comes from helping unhelpful seniors is what makes us into the Christians we are today and into those who can suffer well in the future. The boring, plod-along things of life are precisely the things God uses to shape are form us. God is in the mundane. God cares greatly about our interactions with our children, the grocery clerk, and out next door neighbor.  The mundane things of our lives are vitally important to our spiritual formation. Embrace those thing through the power of Christ. And as we live out the gospel in the little things, we prepare our hearts for future hardships and sufferings.

If we do work out our live faithfully in the little unnoticed things of life, we will reap. We will not get the leftovers. We get the first fruits. We get salvation; we get heaven; and, we get eternity with Christ!

Final Thoughts

Suffering, persecution, and hardship are not exciting words. But until Christ comes or until we go to him, they will be constants in the Christian’s vocabulary. Are you ready for the sun to come up in the East?