The Persecuted Church: An Obstreperous Flower
The persecuted church in China or Iraq or Ethiopia is like an obstreperous flower, pressing up inexorably through the cracks in pavement and flagstone, sometimes in the most inauspicious places, determined to burst forth into the sunshine. When someone comes along and trods on it, it quickly lifts its head again. Persecution, rather than being a plant killer, only makes the flower more obstreperous.
Paul, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, and untold others accepted a life of suffering in a firm belief in the resurrection and eternal life in the next world. Paul was willing to die for the Gospel because he lived unashamedly for another world. How many of us today need to confess our adulterous relationship with the world? How about those parents who oppose Christian service when their children are about to give up everything for Christ? How about those of us who do everything we can to avoid sacrifice and suffering?
When our sons and daughters go off to war we honor them for their willingness to die in military service. But the minute our children tell us they want to give up career or marriage for the sake of Christ we spend countless hours trying to keep them from "going off the deep end." Much of today's popular pseudo-patriotism and flag waving is centered around a horrible distortion of Bible doctrine. It denies the very heart of the Gospel and says, "Self-denial for the sake of the nation is honorable, but before we follow Jesus we must bury our dead or bid farewell to our families or build new barns."
Is there any hope for a people who have fallen so far from authentic biblical Christianity?
Would-be disciples put comfort, nation, family, and security in this world ahead of the kingdom. But Jesus will not allow it. You cannot soften His uncompromising demands of the cross. There is no place for those who are unwilling to accept suffering and uncertainty.
This Sunday, which is both Veterans Sunday and Persecution Sunday, our local church will be honoring police officers and fire fighters and military personnel who risk their lives for others. But we will also be honoring the untold thousands of simple, everyday Christians who are working for the kingdom in dangerous places, quietly and behind the scenes, risking their lives for the sake of the Gospel, as did Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25-30). These are the real unsung heroes of today. Their names are known only to God. They are serving Christ as effectively as any frontline solider. I'm convinced that Paul had these people in mind when he wrote 2 Corinthians 4:7-8. The treasure of salvation, he said, is contained in earthen vessels. We must be willing to let our desires and wills be broken and smashed to pieces so that the treasure can be seen.
Jesus taught that unless a seed is planted and dies, there is no life. How then can we refuse to accept suffering as a normal part of our Christian life? No excuse is acceptable before God. We have no option. We must come to the place where suffering for the sake of the gospel is normal. We must arrive at a place in our lives where we learn to run to suffering and embrace it.
Nothing reveals the bankruptcy of the American church more clearly and quickly than our lukewarmness toward suffering. Because we have not yet comprehended the place of suffering in the Christian life we fail to see the terrible state of rebellion we are on. We have countless opportunities to trust God in the midst of persecution, yet it is rare to see Christians moving out in reliance upon God to the dangerous places of the world. I see dozens of famous Christian leaders preaching weekly from their pulpits who would never think of giving at least equal time to world missions. Yet we go on blindly -- holding our annual missionary conferences and talking about reaching the world for Christ without ever going ourselves.
Unless we come to a place of personal involvement we can never truly understand missions. Unless we learn to place the needs of the world above our own, we are in danger of producing a twenty-first century baby boom of immature saints. We have not learned to live sacrificially, as Jesus taught us to live, until we relate the crying demands of the unfinished missionary task to our own everyday lives and work.
The Lord Jesus never intended for us to avoid persecution. Nothing in the New Testament hints at a cozy life of cultural acceptance. The first responsibility of every Christian is to extend the Gospel to every nation on earth. The Great Commission leaves us no option. There is one harvest and one Master of the harvest. And He calls all of us to prioritize the Great Commission and integrate it into every part of our lives.
Let us, then, work together with the persecuted church -- that obstreperous flower -- and support each other in the common task. There is no longer any excuse to live mediocre lives. No longer do we have to protect our comfortable way of living. Each of us has something to do in the great task of reaching a lost world with the love of Jesus, and this includes reaching even our enemies.
November 11, 2010
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.