The year was 325 A.D. The Emperor Constantine convened the first worldwide conference of Christian churches: the Council of Nicea.
Of the 318 delegates attending the council, only 12 were whole in body. The rest of the delegate had been maimed or crippled as a result of being tortured for their faith. Some had lost an eye or a hand. Others had suffered broken or dislocated limb. Some had been scarred by branding irons. In the early days of the Christian church, no one thought it strange or unfair to suffer for Christ. Suffering was considered a normal part of the Christian life. It was expected.
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” – 1 Peter 4:12
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – Jesus, John 16:33
Theologian D. A. Carson describes the ideal church not as a place filled with perfect, like-minded people but a community that includes not only natural friends but also our “natural enemies”, that’s, those we don’t naturally gravitate toward, those who don’t naturally identify with, even those we don’t even actually enjoy:
“Ideally” writes D.A. Carson, “the church itself is not made up of natural “friends.” It is made up natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything else of that sort. Christians come together… because… they have all been loved by Jesus Himself. … They are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus sake.” D.A. Carson — Love in Hard Places, page 61.
Jesus told his followers that in order for the world around them to know that they were Jesus’ disciples, love for one another would be their mark: “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:35 (see also 1 John 3:23 NLT.)
Paul wrote the church at Thessalonica about the importance of loving each other. It was and is something we learn from God. He said: “But we don’t need to write to you about the importance of loving each other, for God himself has taught you to love one another.” 1Th. 4:9 NLT
Finally, in his second epistle, John writes “I am writing to remind you, dear friends, that we should love one another. This is not a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning. Love means doing what God has commanded us, and he has commanded us to love one another, just as you heard from the beginning.” 2 John 5-6 (see also 1 John 2:7, 3:11, 23 NLT).
By design, God created the church to be as diverse as possible. Scott Sauls, pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, tells us that church should celebrate God’s vision for a diverse spiritual family. The church he pastos describes itself as follows:
“At Christ Presbyterian Church, we are a family that finds meaning in the truth, beauty, community, and mission of God. We are builders and baby boomers, gen-Xers and millennials, conservatives and progressives, educators and athletes, struggling doubters and committed believers, engineers and artists, introverts and extroverts, healers and addicts, CEOs and homemakers, affluent and bankrupt, single and married, happy and hurting, lonely and connected, stressed out and carefree, private and public schoolers, PhDs and people with special needs, experts and students, saints and sinners.”
In his excellent book “Jesus Outside the Lines: A way forward for those who are tired of taking sides” writes: “we celebrate and learn from our differences instead of dividing over them. We believe that the best expressions of community will happens when people come together with varying perspectives, personalities, cultures, and experiences.” (page 53).
In explaining D.A. Carson description of the ideal church Sauls writes: “Sometimes it takes having differences, not understanding one another, and even being a little bit irritated by and bored with one another, to remind us that the church is a family and not a club. At it best, this family dynamic of the local church functions as God’s fertile soil for growing us beyond mere tolerance toward true expressions of love and unity.” — Scott Sauls “Jesus Outside the Lines” on page 54.
“Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8 NLT
One day, a lawyer, a member of the religious institution known as the Pharisees, asked Jesus a question to test him.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” – asked the lawyer.
Jesus told him that the greatest commandment was to love God with everything we are. And the second is “to love your neighbor as yourself.” According to jesus, everything hangs on these two commandments (Matt. 22:36-40).
The lawyer, who thought he could out-smart Jesus, asked him “And who is my neighbor?”. Jesus responded with the story of the Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37)
Simply put, for Jesus, your neighbor is anyone who is near and anyone who is in need, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, economic bracket, politics, culture, or creed. Your neighbor, according to Jesus, is every other human being.
What does it look like for Christians to live out Jesus’s Kingdom vision in our daily lives? It looks like taking care of widows and orphans, advocating for the poor, improving economies, paying taxes, honoring those in authority, loving our neighbors, pursuing excellence at work, and blessing those who persecute us. When this happens, Kings, presidents, governors, mayors, law enforcement officers, park officials, and other public servants will take notice. Those in authority will begin to see Christians as an asset to society. – Scott Sauls, Jesus Outside the Lines
As I watch the mass murder of Christians in the Middle East by ISIS I begin to wonder why no one is outraged about what’s happening.
In January 7, 2015 Islamic terrorist attacked the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo killing 12. The world, rightly so, was shocked and outraged by the attack. We quickly saw the social media inundated by “Je suis Charlie” and world leaders (except president Obama) flew to Paris to march in solidarity against the attacks.
Now, many more are slaughtered by ISIS just for their faith and the world and social media remain silent.
Franklin Graham has expressed disappointment that the world does not seem shocked and horrified by the killing of Christians in the Middle East and pointed out that “We should continue to be horrified and nauseated,” he continued. “We should make sure our government and the current administration recognizes Islam for the danger it is, and that they are doing all they can to work against it.”
On a Deeper Level…
But on a deeper level the suffering and killing of fellow believers, of brothers and sisters around the world should make is pause and consider what are we doing as Christians. Are we more concerned about the latest electronic gadget or TV show or about the fate of those around us, far and close?
And what about me? What would I do if faced with the same level of hatred and persecution? Right now we are feeling a little heat about the same-sex marriage and many of us have chosen to remain quite for far of being singled out.
But what about if the life of my kids and my wife was threatened for my faith, our faith? What would I do? I find comfort on Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:17-19:
“Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.” – Matthew 10:17–19 (ESV)
I have the utmost respect for all those modern day martyrs that are standing up for Christ. Yes, let make no mistake, they are not dying for their faith but for Christ’s sake. In Matthew 24:9 Jesus himself warned us about what we could expect to experience IF we are his true followers:
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.” – Matthew 24:9 (ESV)
Jesus goes even further and tells us that ”…many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another.” (Matthew 24:10 ESV)
Are we deceiving ourselves?
We love to quote just those promises in the Bible that speak of great and positive things for us, cannot forget that Jesus told us that IF we truly followed him, live the real Christian life, we will be persecuted and even put to death for his sake.
“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 (ESV)
Sadly, I think the modern church seems to have forgotten about our real situation and have made Christianity about us when in reality is all about Jesus.
While the calling for those brothers and sister right now is to die for Christ, until that moment we are faced with the same question “would you die for Christ”, will we live for him? “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” – Philippians 1:21 (ESV)
As I wonder what would i do if faced with the same choices as those believers in the Middle East and other part of the world who are suffering and dying for Christ’s sake I am comforted by Paul’s words in Romans 8:37-39:
“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 8:37–39 (ESV)
Every Christian knows that while he or she is saved from the consequences of sin and no longer belong to this world that we all struggle with sin.
Solomon asks that very question in Psalm 119, how can a young person live a godly life?:
“How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.” – Psalm 119:9-11
The answer? The only way we can hope to walk a triumphant Christian life is by saturating our hearts and minds with God’s Word. We need the Word of God to be bigger inside of me than I.
Paul is very clear about it in Romans 12:2-3:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Rom. 12:2-3