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Posts Tagged ‘persecution’

The Christian Calling

September 26th, 2016

For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know. (1 Thessalonians 3:4)

The Christian calling to believe and follow brings us into conflict with this fallen world. Christ said, “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours” (John 15:20). It is our experience of rejection and even affliction in the name of Christ that more often than not proves our sincerity and leads to our fruitfulness for Christ. If we suffer affliction like Christ then people will listen to our teachings.

Earlier this morning I shared emails with a friend who has felt rejection by others because of her ethnicity. There was genuine pain in her heart because the ones who rejected her were Christians. She had experienced the rejection of the world when she decided to trust in and to follow Christ as her Lord and Savior. But sin does not stop at the door of the church, but rather it creeps across the threshold and infiltrates the thoughts and actions of believers. So even within the walls of the church, even in a community that should feel safe for believers, we may feel rejection and suffer affliction.

Our response in such situations is quite clear from the biblical teachings – we are to graciously bear up under it as Christ gives us strength. Through our patient endurance and gracious responses we share a message that has the potential to touch hard hearts. The carnal or fleshly Christian may think that if he shouts the Word of God loud enough others will hear, but it is the soft answer that turns away wrath (Prov. 15:1), it is the soft tongue that can break a bone (Prov. 25:15), and it is the gentle speech that is a tree of life (Prov. 15:4).

Christ is the “Shepherd and Overseer of our souls” when we go through times of rejection (1 Peter 2:25). We find His presence is dearer and His love is felt more strongly when we quietly and graciously endure rejection because of Him. There are times when we as Christians have an obligation to speak up and to speak boldly for the truth – to preach the gospel, to defend the rights of the poor and needy, to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves (Prov. 31:8-9). We have an obligation to protect the helpless and to defend the rights of the vulnerable (Psalm 82:3; Isa. 1:17; Jer. 26:16).

But there are other times when we must graciously in the name of Christ endure affliction and rejection. But in those moments our relationship with Christ is deepened, and our witness to the world is made much more effective. Do not feel that rejection is useless in your life – it will increase your intimacy with Christ and sharpen your spiritual service to Him.

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Sharing Real Love

September 19th, 2016

For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12)

Paul and his companions came to Thessaloniki as God-sent apostles. They had the highest calling given among men and divine authority to teach and proclaim and manage the churches. Yet they did not demonstrate a haughty attitude. They were instead humble, passionate, and loving – providing for all Christians an example of how to reach others and influence them for Christ.

They lived as persecuted evangelists and brothers, 1 Thes. 2:1-2: They had not come in vain – that is, they had not come for vain or selfish purposes. The word in Greek, kene, like the English word “vain” or “vanity,” could mean both empty and selfish motives or unsuccessful and fruitless ventures. From the following verses, Paul apparently meant the first – that they came to Thessaloniki not for selfish purposes but under the compulsion of God’s Spirit’s calling and urging. “Not as pleasing men … Nor did we seek glory from men” (2:4,6 NKJV).

But this also led to the success of their mission and the fruitfulness of their witness. Paul wrote similar words to the Corinthians, where he went shortly after Thessaloniki, that they came not with “excellence of speech,” but were determined “not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:1-2). They came “in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3). This endears us to Paul and his companions, that they had no tricks up their sleeves, no super effective methodology or strategies of mass communication that would “guarantee” their success. Their method was found in their utter sincerity of heart – even to displaying their own fear.

Courage, it is said, is not the absence of fear but the conquest over it, and they demonstrated true courage, and a true sense of calling. They spoke plainly and preached plainly and lived plainly – and did all in the utmost sincerity of heart.

They loved as nursing mothers, 1 Thes. 2:7-8: Though they spoke plainly, without deceptive flattery, they were “gentle” among them, nurturing and loving. As a nursing mother feeds her child with her own milk, so they had nourished the new believers in Thessaloniki from their own souls. They taught not just doctrine but shared with them, in the word of Paul, “our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”

John Calvin wrote:

A mother in nursing her children manifests a certain rare and wonderful affection, inasmuch as she spares no labor and trouble, shuns no anxiety, is wearied out by no assiduity, and even with cheerfulness of spirit gives her own blood to be sucked. In the same way, Paul declares that he was so disposed towards the Thessalonians, that he was prepared to lay out his life for their benefit.

This is the divine method of God in reaching new people, that He puts people in our lives whom His Spirit gives us the grace to love. On a pure human level we would have to admit that some people are easier for us to “love” than others, perhaps “easier to like” would be a better choice of words. But in the divine work of God, if we will let Him, God will put into our hearts a unique love for others. People who we had never seen before suddenly in Christ become very dear to our hearts.

And we share with them not just theory or doctrine, but we share with them the way God has dealt with us – from our very souls, as it is, like a mother feeding her child with her own body. There is in this illustration a wonderful picture of intimacy in discipleship. We do not preach ourselves – we preach Christ, we preach the Bible – but neither are we able to effectively share Christ without in some manner revealing how Christ has dealt with us.

Every preacher and every Christian should be wise and prudent in telling our story, that we do not become self-centered, or distract from Christ or mistreat biblical truth. Christ is the hero, not us! But yet, like the disciples, we must also say, “For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

They led as loving fathers, 1 Thes. 2:11-12: Here Paul masterfully – by the inspiration of the Spirit – displays the difference between mother-love and father-love. The mother feeding her child from her own body depicts the nurturing and gracious aspects of comfort and tenderness. The father, however, leads the child to show what he can and must become and he depicts leadership by instruction and example.

Paul, like a spiritual father, “encouraged and charged them” that they would “walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” There is not less love here than in the example of mother-love. Father-love and mother-love are alike in importance and in the reality of both being real love. But they are different in how they are expressed.

So in what we do with one another, in how we serve under the Lordship of Christ with each other, we are to be sincere, nurturing, and encouraging – not doing anything for ourselves alone, but doing all for the glory of God and good of others. This is, by the way, the method Christ gave to us and demonstrated for us as well  – denying sin and self and following Him. And this is the means by which we experience true life.

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