How strange would this be? Some cops and robbers are having a shootout from opposite ends of a warehouse like portrayed in hundreds of TV shows and movies. Suddenly there is the sound of clicking and one robber yells to the other he is out of bullets. The other robber replies that he has fired his last shot. A police officer yells, “Here you go!” and slides a box of bullets down to the robbers. Foolish, yes? Yet Christians can sometimes give the enemies of Christ ammunition with which to attack.
The Bible tells Christians to expect persecution. Jesus experienced it, warned His apostles it was coming, and they warned Christians who followed the truth to anticipate opposition and be amazed if it is not present.
- John 15:18-25 – Jesus told the apostles the the world hated Him before it hated them because He told the truth and exposed its sin. The world would hate the apostles for their association with Him.
- Matthew 5:11-16 – The Sermon on the Mount includes an admonition that believers are blessed when they are maligned and persecuted for teaching the truth and they share the fate of the prophets before them. Despite this, they should reflect God’s light and be salt and some would glorify God for this display of holiness.
- Luke 21:12 – The apostles would be persecuted by governments and individuals.
- 2 Timothy 3:10-13 – Christians will be persecuted
- 1 Peter 4:12-19 – Those who suffer as Christians should not be ashamed of persecution but none should suffer for sinful actions.
Jesus, the apostles, and early Christians demonstrated grace and strength under the harsh hand of oppressors who ignorantly and hatefully opposed Jesus and those who followed His teaching.
- Isaiah 53:1-9 – Prophetic anticipation of the persecution of Jesus
- Matthew 27:13-14 – Pilate was amazed that Jesus did not revile His accusers.
- 1 Thessalonians 2:1-4 – Paul and his companions preached despite conflict.
- 1 Corinthians 4:9-13 – Apostles endured abuse and demonstrated how believers should respond to such treatment.
- Matthew 5:44 – Jesus taught His followers to pray for their persecutors
- Romans 12:12-14 – Be patient in tribulation and return blessing for persecution.
- As previous passages taught, we must endure patiently and demonstrate trust in God and love for our enemies.
It is natural that Christians who imperfectly reflect Christ in a dark world, pursue holiness in a defiled society, and teach the truth in the midst of a web of lies and ambiguous beliefs will be persecuted. As Jesus said, we are not of this world. Though some will join with us, most will pity us, consider us a curiosity, while others will revile us and violently oppose us. Instead of retaliation, we must respond in love so that our enemies might see their dark hatred and perhaps glorify God. As Peter said, “keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation,” 1 Peter 2:12.
Arming our attackers
However, Christians can be guilty of supplying weapons to their enemies and hardening their hearts, not by brightly reflecting the light of Jesus but by practicing a worldly version of Christianity that does not reflect the self-sacrifice and holiness of Jesus and approaches the practice of faith, worship, and Christian community with political maneuvering, pettiness, and works of the flesh (anger, rivalries, dissension… of Galatians 5). Such actions confirm the cynicism of the unbeliever, reinforce their reasons for repudiating the faith, and increase their resentment of the interference of hypocritical Christians into their lives. Unbelievers can cite these encounters as reasons Christianity should be rejected.
On a flight from Tacoma to Dallas, there was a couple behind me talking to a friend. They were from a denomination and were talking about the political wrangling in their church and some related churches, disparaging the pastor, describing power struggles within the choir (?), and wondering where the young people were going (I had an answer!). These believers also pontificated on how some Old Testament accounts were obviously not accurate because “God is love” and some of the sayings of Jesus weren’t really accurate. I was glad the lady beside me who was obviously very worldly (her shirt indicated behaviors clearly condemned by Jesus) had her headphones in and slept the whole trip. I imagine if she heard such trash it would reinforce her desire to find fulfillment in the sensual passions of this world since, from this discussion, she could conclude that Christians are obviously political backbiters who don’t even believe everything in the Bible. Such ignorance about the scriptures and worldliness in the denomination would reinforce an unbelievers perception that Christians have nothing different to offer and they are a bunch of worldly hypocrites preaching from a book they discredit themselves.
Likewise, I’ve lost count of the times that Christians have spoken ill about other Christians on social media to be supported by unbelievers who demonstrate, by their comments, that such behavior represents their cynical dismissive view of believers. We will not help people wear robes of white when we air our dirty laundry.
Christians know things the world often doesn’t know
Christians are not perfect. We’ve all known the “holier-than-thou” believer who is quick to judge and slow to recognize their pride. But most Christians I have met are well acquainted with their faults and strive towards perfection in Christ. Until we are glorified we will be imperfect in our decisions and how we handle situations. For a people to teach and embrace grace, we need to show a lot more grace towards fellow believers. You will be hurt by others, not because they are Christians but because we are human. Christ tells us to try to work it out amongst ourselves. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul points out the shame that believers were taking other believers to court because of the impression it gave unbelievers and would prefer to suffer wrongdoing than to demonstrate such behavior before the world: “…but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?”
Not all who claim to be Christians will be saved. The parable of the dragnet and the wheat and tares in Matthew 13 teach that the kingdom will be filled with wrongdoers who will be separated out in the judgment for their punishment. Some will be surprised in judgment that despite their actions that appeared righteous, Jesus will dismiss them saying He didn’t know them, concluding that not all who call Him “Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven, Matthew 7:21. Unbelievers often think that all Christians, regardless of their beliefs, are the same. We have to shine as lights even against those who claim to be Christians but whose lives do not reflect godliness. We should not give unbelievers another reason to dismiss Christ but provide a stark contrast between those who profess Christ and those who practice Christianity.
This world is not our home. When we seek to advance our cause through the political system and turn our local church into a place of power struggles, palace intrigue, and the satisfaction of worldly appetites we indicate more allegiance to this world and its ways than with our heavenly citizenship. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t vote but regardless of the laws about bathrooms and marriage, we can still follow the teachings of Jesus and teach others to do so as well. It is bad enough that local churches have power struggles but it is worse when they are shared in the local community. In our Christian fellowship, let us heed the words of Paul in Philippians 2: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…” Such behavior allows drives politics from the church building and pride and selfishness from the Christian’s heart.
Our brethren do much good despite their faults. This is the greatest tragedy of airing dirty laundry among brethren before the world: we don’t praise the great qualities of self-sacrifice, holiness, and loving service that characterize so many brethren. Remember, the unbelievers lump us together and will just discount such behavior as the rare deluded believer or the hypocrite who hides their duplicity very well. How often do you see people post on Facebook or mention in conversation about people who came afterwards to confess their wrongdoing, apologize for an insensitive remark or action, or declare that they misjudged their fellow believers? People see the sensational and miss the retractions or corrections, if they are even mentioned at all.
Our relationship with Christ will incur the derision of unbelievers who do not care to investigate the truth or have been turned away either by its brightness or stumble having been offended by those who claim to be believers but do not live the word. We will not convince them as they are like those in the parable whom the truth has been snatched and it will not take root. But there is still hope for those who might consider the truth if they saw it in action.
Let us be sincerely devoted to the truth and holy in our lives (Titus 2:11-14). When there is conflict, let us take up the matter privately with our brethren our up the chain to the church (Mt. 18:15-17) but not into the public in plain site of unbelievers. When we highlight the failings of fellow Christians we do not draw them to Jesus, but provide more reason for their resistance to Him. We know that some who claim to be Christians will be lost but the world does not know this. We will be persecuted and attacked by unbelievers but let’s quit giving them ammunition.