Sunday, June 29, 2014

Our Disposition in the Face of Persecution

My purpose here is not to instill negative attitudes of hostility, fear, and defeat, but to encourage believers to cultivate a genuine walk with the Lord Jesus and be prepared to stand courageously in faith and love during adversity. We must listen to the words of Jesus and emulate those first believers who experienced extraordinary grace enabling them to display exemplary behavior in the face of great persecution. We see in them no signs of hate, bitterness, or even discouragement. They were as amazing in their suffering as they were in their power.   -Billy Long

The verses below describe what our posture as Christians should be during persecution.  

Rejoice and be glad; Count it as an honor
John 16: 33
These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” 

Matthew 5: 10-12
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

1 Peter 4: 12-14
Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.”

Acts 5: 40-42
And when they had…beaten them, they commanded them that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of he council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.

Acts 7: 58-60
And they cast him out of the city…and they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin,” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

1 Peter 2: 21-23
For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth, who when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.

Persevere and endure
Acts 5: 42 (40-42
And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.  

Acts 14: 19-21
They stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. However, when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city. And the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe. And…preached the Gospel to that city and made many disciples.

Worship and praise
Acts 16: 22-25
The magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. Having received such a charge, he pt them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.

Appointed to suffering: Realize it is somehow necessary (in the mystery and wisdom of God)
Philippians 2: 29
For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.

1 Peter 2: 21
For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example.

Rev 6: 9-12
And when He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” Then a white rob was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow-servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.”

Jeremiah 15:2; Rev 13: 10  “those appointed to be killed”
These two verses of scripture are of the same construction in Greek  (Jeremiah verse in Greek Septuagint, and Rev in Greek New Testament).

Acts 9: 15-16
He is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”

Commit yourself to God the Righteous Judge
1 Peter 2: 23-23
Who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.

1 Peter 4: 19
Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.

2 Timothy 1: 12
For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.

Stand in faith to pass the test (Sometimes it is a test)
Rev 2: 10
Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
Lu 22:31- Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith should not fail.”

Be courageous, Do not fear
Rev 2: 10
Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.

Philippians 1: 28
And not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God.

2 Timothy 1: 7-8
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. Therefore, do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God.

Do not be ashamed
2 Tim 1:7-8
Therefore, do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God.

1 Cor 4: 9-16
For I think God has displayed us, the apostle, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake…we are weak…we are dishonored! To the present hour we bouth hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now.  I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. ….Therefore, I urge you, imitate me.

Commend yourselves as servants of God
2 Corinthians 6: 4-10
But (contradicting what is usually expected of people when suffering) we commend ourselves as ministers (servants) of God: in ….
Being a “servant of God” you do not represent yourself, but are his ambassador. You do not react in a self-centered and self-serving way, but show yourself as His servant.

Maintain personal Integrity (so the enemy cannot justifiably assault you for corruption)
Daniel 6: 4-6
So the governors and satraps sought to find some charge against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find no charge or fault, because he was faithful; nor was there any error or fault found in him. Then these men said, “We shall not find any charge against this Daniel unless we find it against him concerning the law of his God.”

1 Peter 4: 15
But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters.

Love not your life unto death.
 Rev 12: 11 
And they overcame him by the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.

Acts 20: 22-24
And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulation await me. But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

Persecution is sometimes related to judgment beginning at the house of God.
1 Peter 4: 14-19 (v.17)
For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God….Therefore, let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.

Remember and pray for those who are suffering persecution for Christ’s sake.
Hebrews 13: 3
Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also.

1 Corinthians 12: 18,26
But God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased….And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

Most of us feel weak and unable to live up to the standard presented in the verses quoted above. I must, therefore, remind the reader that God will give grace as it is needed for those who call upon Him in faith and who sincerely follow Him with their whole heart. The writer of Hebrews tells us that "out of weakness they were made strong." Some, by the grace of God, were enabled to work wonders and do great exploits. "Others," were given grace and strength for suffering. Our Lord will give us what we need as the occasions arise.
And what more shall I say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again. Others, were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, slain with the sword. they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented---of whom the world was not worthy..."  Hebrews 11: 32-40

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Enraged and Gnashing Their Teeth

“Wild Beasts”
“I have fought with wild beasts at Ephesus.”  -1 Corinthians 15:32
 There are wild beasts that cannot be tamed or domesticated. They don’t recognize kindness, soft words, or loving speech. If you speak softly to a crocodile or tell him how much you love him, he will still eat you. If you are nice to a rattlesnake, he will still bite you. If you bring honey to a grizzly bear for her cubs, she will kill you.
Animals can be brutal and savage. They have no capacity for compassion and will kill with no regret or guilt.
The apostle Paul said that in the last days people will be brutal and times will be fierce.  “Fierce” describes the people as violent and hostile. “Brutal” describes them as cruel, savage, unreasonable, and acting on a physical and emotional level with no compassion or care for others.    
The term Paul used to describe the times is the same term the Gospels use to describe the man out of whom Jesus cast a legion of demons. He was fierce and savage, could not be tamed or controlled. He broke chains and cast them asunder, and lived wild among the tombs (Mat 8:29; Mark 5:4). This is descriptive of Satan’s goal for man. Man in this state becomes a willing tool in the fight against God and God’s people. The Apostle Paul was resisted and assaulted by those whose anger and hostility caused them to behave like wild beasts. They became instruments in the hands of the “messenger of Satan sent to buffet.”

When the World is enraged against Christians
“The world will hate you.”  John 15: 18-21
 There are growing forces in our nation that seek to remove God and biblical Christianity from our culture.  These forces, given the opportunity, will eventually persecute Christians with the same intensity we have witnessed in other nations. The Bible and Judeo-Christian values in the founding principles of our nation produced a society in which Christians have been relatively comfortable and unthreatened. However, as our culture lays aside biblical values and removes God from its institutions, government, and education, it will begin more and more to despise Christians and hate them because of their commitment to Jesus Christ as the only way to God, and because of their stand on moral issues as taught in the Bible. During the Roman persecutions Christians were called “haters of mankind” because of their disapproval of and refusal to participate in cultural immoralities that were prevalent at the time. There are forces in our culture now moving in that direction.  Just as the devil has historically created an irrational and unreasonable hatred toward the Jews, he will also stir up and fuel the same unreasonable and intense hatred toward those who follow Jesus. 
We will find ourselves in a social context where those who hate us will not be placated nor appeased. We will not be able to cause them to like us, no matter how much we love them or try to make our message palatable.
 The following verses show us how determined and intense can be their hostility toward God, His Word, and His people.

Exceedingly Enraged.  Acts 26:9-11
Before he met Christ, Paul was “exceedingly enraged” against Christians and “persecuted” them. “Exceedingly” means “beyond what is required or necessary,” and implies extreme and zealous behavior. “Persecute” is from the Greek root word “to chase” and  implies an aggressive pursuit. It was not a simple “I don’t like them, and if I happen to stumble upon any of them, I’ll punish them.” No, it was not casual. It was an aggressive and impassioned hatred accompanied by a legally authorized pursuit in order to imprison and/or kill. The devil seeks to instill this type of attitude and behavior in those who do not know God. We are seeing signs of it in American culture today.

Gnashing With Their Teeth.  Acts 7: 54, 57
The Psalmist said that the wicked gathered, attacked him, and gnashed at him with their teeth. Luke tells us the mob that stoned Stephen cried out with loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him gnashing their teeth. Gnashing is what happens when people are in torment, or controlled by anger and hate, or in an attack mode. The term is attributed to beasts that snarl and gnash the teeth as they attack their prey. In humans gnashing of the teeth also implies a frustration that is intermingled with the hate. It is frustrating and foolish to fight God or his people. Jesus said it is like kicking a pitch fork, and I will add “with bare feet.”

David said that that his persecutors were like lions, men whose passions were set on fire in their attempts to destroy him.
“My soul is among the lions; I lie among the sons of men who are set on fire, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword.  -Psalm 57:4.

The Psalmist prophesied that those who crucified our Lord would be like wild animals in their desire to destroy Jesus.
Many bulls have surrounded me; Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled me. They gape at me with their mouths, like a raging and roaring lion. ..for dogs have surrounded me… But You, O Lord, do not be far from me; Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog. Save me from the lion’s mouth and from the horns of the wild oxen!” -Psalm 22: 12-13,16,19-21.

The book of Revelation describes the devil as a dragon enraged and making war against those who have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
“And the dragon was enraged…and went to make war with…the rest of her offspring…who have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”  -Revelation 12: 17

Why are the nations angry?
The Gospel of the kingdom proclaims God’s rule as well as His love. The nations are angry at God because they are deceived, and because they do not want His rule. Rebellion hates authority. Although God is love, He is also absolute power and authority. In Psalm 2 the nations are angry because they reject His rule and want to be free to do their own will. In Revelation 11:17-18 they are ang
ry because He has taken His great power and imposed His reign, which in this case also means judgment on rebellion and wickedness.  
Man going his own way in rebellion will resent the message of the kingdom of God. He will even reject the idea of God’s love. So how do we communicate the kingdom of God to a culture in which there are so many who are hostile to it. As Christians we must have faith that our communication when done in wisdom and love will reach those who are really looking for God. And we must also be prepared for those who will hate us and reject the message no matter how it is packaged. But still, there are those searching and waiting for the good news. May we boldly and wisely proclaim the risen Lord Jesus to a world that so desperately needs a savior, whether they realize it or not. May we remember the words of Jesus: “A servant is not greater than his master, if they persecuted me, they will also persecute you, if they have kept my word, they will keep yours also.”