TIMES SUCH AS THESE
As we journey through this life, it seems (to us, anyway) that many Christians, primarily in America, are living in a fairy tale land. If you will be patient, we will explain what we mean. Life in America has been good – very good! We have not only taken that goodness for granted, we have come to expect it and, yes, at least in some cases, we have come to believe that we deserve it and are rightfully entitled to it.
Reconciling that attitude and mindset with that which the Bible teaches and with that which history cries out to remind us, seems to us to be an impossible task. Furthermore, the question is posed as to what impact that attitude has on the faith of Christians in their God. We ask you to consider those issues with us for the next few moments. We will first consider some historical examples in an attempt to put today’s times in a more proper perspective. Then we will present Biblical New Testament teaching regarding the issues at hand.
HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE –
Knowing that what the Bible says is sufficient in itself, we dare to ask you to also consider some historical examples and perspectives.
For openers, journey with us back in time, say, 4,000 years or more, into a pluralistic, polytheistic world, where a group of people may have worshipped a certain god. In time, another people group conquered the first people group. The latter group worshipped a different god. The “obvious” conclusion could easily have been (and often was) that the god of the latter group was stronger than the god of the first group, seeing that the former group has now been defeated. That being the case, one of two things was likely to occur: either the former group’s god was tossed aside and replaced by the more powerful god of the latter group; or, both gods were worshipped, but the stronger god was worshipped and given more honor than the weaker god. In our day, we might put a label on this process and call it expediency – or, going with what works. Or perhaps, “To the victor belongs the spoils” – i.e. the god that proved himself more powerful deserves to be worshipped. If a god blesses me, he must indeed be god. But if he fails me, he must not be god. Notice how the entire focus – even in this matter of “gods” - turns out to be man (us)! In other words, we want, and expect, a god who works for us, serves us, gives us what we need and/or want! Sadly there are parallels here with the prosperity, or health and wealth, “gospels” that are popular today. (But that’s a topic for another day).
In Old Testament Bible times we read about “Israel”, the descendants of Abraham who collectively are referred to as God’s chosen people, or God’s people. We can even read in Genesis, in Deuteronomy and in many other Old Testament books, promises of blessing to those people. Yet in those same books we read:
Israel spent 400 years in Egypt and was in slavery and under great bondage and affliction.
Israel fought many battles – and lost many battles.
Israel was defeated by Nebuchadnezzar and most of the people of the land were taken to Babylon in captivity.
There are many more Biblical examples – we hope to add more here at a later date.
Jeremiah wrote in Lamentations 5:4-6: “We must pay for the water we drink; the wood we get must be bought. Our pursuers are at our necks; we are weary; we are given no rest. We have given the hand to Egypt, and to Assyria, to get bread enough.”
People may “lose their faith” when their “god” does not perform as they feel he should. What kind of a god would god be if he wasn’t ABOVE man? Contrary to popular thinking, man is NOT god! (But God DID become man, that He might redeem man!).
In the New Testament, in Hebrews 11, we read about great people of faith – faith in God, the God of the Hebrew people - the God of the Bible. We are often encouraged by these fine examples of great faith. Yet, many, when reading that portion of the Bible, either stop short, or ignore the second part of Hebrews 11 which reads as follows:
“Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated - of whom the world was not worthy - wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:35-40).
Notice that they were commended for their faith! But, look at what happened to them BECAUSE OF THEIR FAITH!
BIBLICAL TEACHING –
Please consider some sobering Bible truth.
“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (2 Tim. 3:12) Notice the expectation which the Apostle Paul lays before preacher Timothy! It is NOT an expectation of an easy life, with health, wealth, pleasures of this life, etc. (which would be all about “us”). It is rather an expectation that, in the end, it is all about God to Whom we are to be loyal and faithful NO MATTER WHAT COMES OUR WAY, and in particular when that which comes our way is the result of persecution for being loyal and faithful to the only God Who is worthy of such devotion.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39).
As Paul writes to the Romans, notice how he uses this sandwich –
1. He opens with the question – what can/shall separate us from the love of God?
2. He ends with the declaration that NOTHING shall separate us! (Hallelujah)!
3. But, in between, he mentions tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword.
If we only believe in God because of what He does for us in this life, then we have no hope, for we will ALL be disappointed at some point in our lives.
In Matthew 13, Jesus gives the parable of the four soils, and of the one He explains to His disciples in verses 20-21: “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when [not “if”] tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.”
The early New Testament Christians knew all about persecution!
In Acts 7 we read of the stoning of Stephen. Chapter 8 of Acts opens this way: “And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” (Acts 8:1-3) and in Acts 11:19 we read that “Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch,…”
Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure: Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer:” (2 Thes. 1:4-5).
Paul reaped what he had sown – as he himself subsequent to his conversion suffered persecution:
“And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district.” (Acts 13:49-50).
“…my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me.” (2 Tim. 3:11).
And so Paul learned a proper attitude toward such suffering – not an expectation that it would not ever happen again, but rather:
“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor.12:10)
What are YOUR expectations? Are they realistic based on Bible truth? Or are you living in a fairy tale bubble which one day will burst.
Does YOUR faith extend beyond the circumstances and “things” of this brief and temporary life on earth?
Do you believe in/trust God in ALL things? – even when you “suffer loss”? Can we say with Paul “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8)
Selah – meditate on this.