Suffering, Persecution, and Christian Kindness

Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world. He lets us know that we are commissioned to go and make disciples. Paul is clear that we are to live simply and quietly where God has planted us. And all who truly know Jesus want to see people saved.

In many instances, this desire to see people saved is expressed in Christian kindness toward our communities. And this is a good thing. It is good when Christians take action to push back the darkness, to overturn the effects of the fall, and to show the world around us a better way.

But I fear that many church members and church leaders are confused about what will be the results of Christian kindness. I fear that many who are designing programs for community kindness are expecting that this kindness will make a lost world treasure the presence of the church. I fear that many pastors think that, if we are just nice enough, if we give enough, if we care enough, the world will embrace the church as a valued and welcome neighbor.

Is it true? Is it true that the church, if we are nice enough, will be embraced by the world? I would say yes, for a time. But in the long run, Christians need to understand that our acts of kindness will not reconcile us to a world that is in rebellion against the Lord.

Look at what Peter said to the church in his day.

1 Peter 4:1-5 – 1 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. 3 For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. 4 With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; 5 but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.

In that passage, Peter tells us a few things. First, Peter tells us to be ready to suffer like Jesus. Then he reminds us that we may no longer behave like the world around us behaves. WE cannot treasure what they treasure. And Peter lets the church know that, when we do not join with the world in their evil practices, the world will malign us. And Peter finally reminds us that the rebellious world will face the judgment of God.

Nothing that Peter there says would indicate that we can make the world love us if we are nice enough. Eventually, even if it takes years, the world around us will see us valuing the things of God. The world will see that we cannot go with them down sinful paths. And when they see that we do not go with them, they will have anger and malice stirred against us. But we are willing to press on and endure, because Jesus also suffered the malice of an evil world for the glory of God.

What is the application of all this? Am I suggesting that we not be kind to the world? Not at all. We are to love our neighbors. We are to reach out with the gospel. We ought to be the most kind and loving people on the planet.

What then? I am suggesting that we not be so foolish as to think that our kindness will make the world embrace the church. It may work for a bit. We may gain a good reputation in the community through activities of kindness. But, there will come a day when the world finds us standing on the opposite side of a line from them on some sort of issue. At that point, our past kindness will not avail us as much as we think. The world we now live in is completely willing to bounce in our bounce-houses, to eat our free food, to accept our community service, and then to turn against us the moment we do not support an immoral view of their activities.

Christians, don’t ever stop being kind. But also do not think that your actions of sweetness will earn you a pass in a harsh, hashtag driven world. I would suggest that you be careful shaping the focus of the local church too much toward PR campaigns. Those campaigns may earn you some time and some freedom, but Peter is clear that they will not last. The world will see you not traveling down their paths eventually, and their first response, according to Scripture, will be to malign you, not to say, “But they are so nice otherwise.”

Christians, genuinely love. For the glory of God, do good in the world. Care for your community because caring is right and looks like Jesus. But do not think that activities of kindness will keep the world from turning on you when you stand firm on biblical morality.

Christians and Commands

How do followers of Jesus interact with commands from God? This ought to be simple, but I think it becomes complicated by folks from time to time. So, let’s take a brief look at a couple principles that relate to believers and our responsibility toward the commands of God.

Romans 3:20 – For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

2 John 6 – And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.

3 John 11 – Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.

First, obedience to commandments does not save us. God’s word is clear that none of us can be saved by following any sort of law of God, as Paul tells us in Romans 3:20. This is because the perfect righteousness of God displayed in the law exposes our sin and need for a Savior from outside of ourselves. We have already sinned against God and earned his judgment. We are already guilty from the fall of man. We cannot make up for that with good behavior, even perfect behavior, from now on. No person will be saved by works. Thus, there is no Christian call to obey commands to be saved.

Second, as we see in 2 John 6, to love God is to walk in accord with his commandments. While obedience is not a part of our salvation, obedience to the commands of God is the clear fruit of loving God. Not to obey the word of God is not to love God. The one who loves obeys. Our obedience to the commands of God is not a fulfilling of legal requirements, as those requirements have already been fulfilled in Christ. But our obedience is the way that those who are changed by God display that change.

Third, disobedience is a sign of being lost. As we see in 3 John 11, “whoever does evil has not seen God.” This verse is not saying that a single mistake or fall means a person is lost. But a person who does evil, who lives in it, who refuses to obey the righteous commands of God, that person displays by his actions that he is not part of the family of God. Note that this is not a call to obedience to fulfill legal obligation that impacts one’s status before God. Instead, it is clear that a heart that is set on what opposes God and that does not desire to obey the commands of God for the love of God is a heart not changed by God.

We could draw a neat little circle with these three points. Obedience to the commands of God does not save you. Obedience to the commands of God is required to love God. Lack of love for God, which is displayed in a lack of obedience to God’s commands, shows that you are not saved. Thus, obedience is not required to earn salvation, but obedience is a necessary result of salvation.

With all that said, how do you feel about the commands of God? Do you delight to obey? When God tells you to meet regularly with the local church for worship, teaching, fellowship and the rest, do you love that command and obey it for God’s glory? When you hear God’s command not to lie, not to gossip, not to seek personal revenge, do you delight in obedience out of love? When you hear God’s command to love others as you love self, do you delight in his word? When you hear God forbid sexual immorality in all its forms, do you delight in purity as God defines purity for his honor? When you hear how God wants the family and the church to be structured, do you delight in doing what the culture opposes because you desire to honor the Lord who saved your soul? Do you delight in obedience to the commands of God, not to earn points, but as a display of love?

A Description of God’s Commands

~I think we all know that, from time to time, it can be hard to follow the commands of God. We are sinful people after all. We struggle. Our flesh rebels against our purpose of glorifying the God who made us. And this, of course, is why we are so grateful for grace. We are not saved by being good or doing good.

Sometimes, if we are not careful, we will let ourselves go too far with thoughts about how hard it is to follow the Lord. We confuse what makes following God hard. We mistake our own sinful leanings for harshness in God’s commands. We allow ourselves to think that God really made things tough on us. But this is not and has not been the case.

1 John 5:1-5 – 1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Notice what is happening in this paragraph in God’s word. WE are clear in this paragraph that salvation comes to us from Christ and is by grace through faith. There is nothing here that indicates that we are supposed to perform to gain salvation. There is also a highlighting of the theme in John of loving fellow Christians as a mark of salvation. But at the heart of the passage, we see that a genuine saving faith leads to people obeying the commands of God.

But look even more closely at the end of verse 3, “And his commandments are not burdensome.” How about that? God is inspiring a perfect word. God’s word is more true than your experience or my feelings. And God is clear that his commands are not burdensome.

Christians, this thought should have a few impacts on our lives today. First, it should cause us to give God thanks for his commands. God could have given us commands that are burdensome, and he did not do so. Take a look at old myths, and you will see burdensome commands. You will see capricious deities commanding the impossible of incapable people. But the God of the Bible commands ordinary obedience from people he has empowered to obey by his Spirit.

That verse should also cause us to stop pretending as though God’s word is a burden. God has made it clear that his word is not a burden. God’s word and obedience to his commands is the way to joy. If we love God, we obey his commands. This is no burden, but a delight. Let us not dishonor God by mischaracterizing his commands as if they are hardships.

If God’s commands are not burdensome, we should also stop making excuses for our disobedience. God does command Christians to obey. We do not obey to be saved, but because we have been forgiven. But none of us has an excuse to ignore the commands of God because we feel like they are hard. Instead, we should see that God is kindly giving us ways that we might express love for our Lord and gratitude for his grace as we seek the joy of honoring him.

Can it be hard to obey God’s commands? Yes, but not because of the commands. What makes obedience hard is what we bring to the table. Let us remember this, turn from sin, and love our Lord in obedience to his word.

Four Thoughts from Lamentations 1 and 2

The Book of Lamentations is not often an easy book to read. The words are not hard, but the picture is so very sad. The people of Judah have sinned against God, and the Lord has, as he promised, brought judgment down on the city of Jerusalem. The Babylonians have come in, destroyed the city, and taken most of the people captive. And the prophet Jeremiah witnessed it all.

As I was reading through the first two chapters of Lamentations, a few individual verses got my attention. So, for this post, I decided that I would write a couple of brief thoughts on the verses that stood out to me, some verses which offer thoughts we want to remember.

Lamentations 1:9

Her uncleanness was in her skirts;
she took no thought of her future;
therefore her fall is terrible;
she has no comforter.
“O Lord, behold my affliction,
for the enemy has triumphed!”

The first thought that grabbed my attention is that simple line, “She took no thought for her future.” The people of Jerusalem, by the time of its fall, had simply stopped caring about the future. The people were so into their sin against the Lord that considering the days to come was beyond their scope of thought. They lived for the now, and then they suffered the consequences.

Many of us know what this is like. Around us, we find many who will plan for their financial future. They will plan for retirement and buy insurance. But the same people have no consideration for the Day of the Lord. They are not concerned about what will happen when they meet God. They have not cared about the judgment to come. This is dangerous.

So, the first point I’ll make from Lamentations is the call for us to pay attention to the future. No, I’m not worried so much here about your retirement. Instead, I am suggesting that you take care not to ignore the fact that God has made you for an eternal existence. Think to your future. How will you stand before the Holy God who made you?

Lamentations 1:18

“The Lord is in the right,
for I have rebelled against his word;
but hear, all you peoples,
and see my suffering;
my young women and my young men
have gone into captivity.

The second line that got my attention is the simple phrase, “The Lord is in the right.” Jeremiah has seen the city fall. He has witnessed people going captive to Babylon. And Jeremiah declares that the Lord is in the right.

There are, of course, many reasons that Jeremiah will give us to explain why the Lord is in the right. But what I have on my mind is the simple fact that, regardless of those reasons, Jeremiah is starting from the right place. The assumption that we must make is always that the Lord is in the right. It is impossible for the Holy One to be in the wrong. God has no evil within him. The Lord cannot do evil. The Lord makes no mistakes and is never overpowered. Thus, we must always know that God is God, and that means that God is always in the right.

Lamentations 1:21

“They heard my groaning,
yet there is no one to comfort me.
All my enemies have heard of my trouble;
they are glad that you have done it.
You have brought the day you announced;
now let them be as I am.

The line that got my attention here is the phrase, “You have brought the day you announced.” Jeremiah is here saying that God has judged the people of Jerusalem as the enemies of God looked on and laughed. Now Jeremiah is asking that God also judge those evil men for taking joy in the city’s destruction.

But notice that this day that has brought upon Jeremiah is a day that the Lord had announced. God told the people this would come. God warned against it. But the people did not care. They chose to assume that the Lord would not bring his judgment upon them as he promised. They chose to think that God would not keep his word. And this was to their destruction.

May we learn from this. God keeps his promises. There are things that God has promised that may feel too far off to matter to us. But we dare not assume that God will not keep his word. What God has said, that he will do. Jesus will return. All humanity will stand before his seat of judgment. All in Christ will be rewarded. All apart from Christ will face judgment. These are eternal judgments. But let us not assume that, because they seem far removed from us, they will not come. God will do all he has said he would do.

Lamentations 2:14

Your prophets have seen for you
false and deceptive visions;
they have not exposed your iniquity
to restore your fortunes,
but have seen for you oracles
that are false and misleading.

Here in the final verse I will include for this morning, we see Jeremiah lamenting the fact that the people have fallen for the lies of false prophets. The nation chose not to believe the clear word of God. They chose not to take the words of Holy Scripture to heart. Instead, they chose to believe their own modern teachers who contradicted Scripture with happy promises of prosperity.

Of course this is a danger for our world too. Many people are ignoring Scripture. Many people are preaching things the Bible never said. Many are telling us that God has changed his view on certain actions. But the Lord is unchanged. The word of God still stands. And we must be careful not to listen to those who say what our sinful hearts first want to hear. Instead, we need to hear those who speak to us the true, unchanging, unfettered, uncompromising word of God.

Let’s Talk Judgment

One of the worst human follies is to allow yourself to believe that present actions have no future or eternal ramifications. To live so much in the here and now as to pretend that there is no future, no tomorrow, no forever is a deadly thing. And this is an error that has gripped people through the generations.

In Isaiah’s day, he promised the judgment of God on a rebellious people.

Isaiah 26:20—21 – 20 Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the fury has passed by. 21 For behold, the LORD is coming out from his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it, and will no more cover its slain.

In these verses, God calls on his people to hide while his judgment falls on the land around them. It is a simple picture of God protecting and preserving his own while he allows his justice to rain down on those around them. This happened in Egypt, when God preserved the Hebrews in Goshen but let judgment fall on the Egyptians.

What got my attention when I read this was the wording of the end of verse 21, “and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it, and will no more cover its slain.” Part of the judgment of God on the people of the land is that he will not allow the earth to hide the sin of the people. The earth itself will disclose the blood shed on it.

Friends, we are total fools if we assume that we can sin in secret and not have the Lord know. We are fools if we believe that the Lord will allow any sin to go unpunished. And we are fools if we believe that a nation will stand under the favor of God when it is full of innocent blood shed by evil men.

Just imagine if, in our own nation, the land was to reveal all the innocent blood shed by people who assumed they were getting away with something. The blood of all the brutalized slaves would be seen. All the blood of innocent babies slain in the womb would cry out against us. The blood of the lives of those who have been consumed by our entertainment industries would stand out against us. The blood of trafficked women and children would serve as testimony against us.

Our nation has a history of many great things, but we would be fools to pretend that our nation does not also have a great deal for which to answer to the Lord. And we are fools if we believe that the Lord will not call the nation to account. The land will show what we have been. The Lord is just and must rightly punish sin, all sin, every sin.

Christians, take note. Our only way of escaping the judgment of God is found in faith in Christ and repentance from sin. All who are in Christ have our sin punished, not in ourselves, but in the Savior who died as a sacrificial substitute. Jesus, while hanging on the cross, took the wrath of God upon himself for every sin the forgiven ever commit. Our hope has never been in the idea that God will allow sin to go unchecked. Our hope is in the fact that the justice of God for our sin has already been done.

But for all not in Christ, the judgment of God is quite real and quite personal. You see, for all who refuse God’s grace in Jesus, there is only one alternative. All who refuse the grace of God and the Lordship of Christ will stand before the bar of God’s justice and receive for themselves the due penalty for sinning against the Holy God who made us. That judgment is infinite in scope, as to sin against the infinitely holy God is an infinite crime. And this is not limited only to individuals. Every nation that opposes the Lord and his ways will face the right judgment of the Almighty.

Our only hope as a nation is to receive the grace of God. As individuals, we are guilty. As a nation, we are guilty. The solution to our problem begins with the spread of the gospel. As individual after individual begins to receive the grace of God in Christ, as family after family comes under the influence of Scripture, then and only then might our nation turn from its rebellion against the Lord before it is too late.

Friends, may we as individuals and we as a nation turn to the Lord to seek his mercy. God is just. Jesus is our only hope. To ignore the coming justice of God is folly.

Two Ways to Handle Scripture

How do you respond to the word of God? There are really only two options. A person will either hear the word of the Lord, fear God, and obey, or they will turn their back on the Lord and face judgment.

In Jeremiah 36, watch the response of King Jehoiakim when the word of God is read to him. While sitting near a nice cozy fire, the king had a chance to hear God’s word and repent.

Jeremiah 36:22-24 – 22 It was the ninth month, and the king was sitting in the winter house, and there was a fire burning in the fire pot before him. 23 As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot. 24 Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments.

Depending on what one believes the word of God to be, this is either a non-event or a terrifying act of hubris.

While there are many different pieces of evidence for the accuracy, authority, and inspiration of Scripture, I’ll not go into them here. The truth is, the word of God is real. The God who made us has spoken to us. He has spoken through prophets and later apostles. He has recorded his word for us in holy Scripture, what we now call the Bible. And to mess with or ignore the Bible is a serious offense before the Lord.

The king heard God’s word, did not like what it said to him, and chose to cut it up and throw it into the fire. That was a terrible move for him. Eventually, King Jehoiakim died and his kingdom went captive to Babylon just as God had said in the words Jehoiakim cut up. But we are not super worried about Jehoiakim anyway. What we need to think about is our own response to the word of God.

Friends, may we be people who honor and respect the Lord by treasuring his word. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable (2 Tim. 3:16). The word of God tells us who God is and what God requires. The Bible tells us how to be forgiven by God and to live to please him once he has adopted us into his family. May we never ignore God’s word or dishonor God by disrespecting his word.

Do your Land Good and Live as an Exile

From 606 to 586 BC, the people of Judah were conquered by the Babylonian Empire. At different times, different groups of Jews were taken to live in Babylon. In all, the nation would spend 70 years in exile under the judgment of God. But God promised that, after that exile, he would return the nation to its land.

Of course, there are many false prophets who urged the people not to willingly go to Babylon, to try to avoid the exile. These evil men tried to get the people to believe that God would restore the nation to the land within 2 or 3 years. But God’s word for the people was a call to go to Babylon, settle down, and live godly lives.

Jeremiah 29:4-7 — 4 “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

God had a word for the people who were in exile. Build a house. Have a family. Get a job and feed your family—the whole concept of growing a garden. Pray for your new city. Do good for the city. As you help the welfare of the city, you help yourself. Even if this land is not your ultimate home, do what you can to live a godly life and do the land good.

While modern Christians are not Jews in the 6th century BC, we sometimes feel similar things. WE look around in our land, in our city perhaps, and we feel like strangers and aliens in a foreign land. The nation does not value what we value. The nation can be harsh to our beliefs. The nation participates in grievously sinful acts. What are we to do?

I would suggest that God’s word in Jeremiah is pretty close to what his word would be for us today. WE are not to run away and hide. Nor are we to embrace the sinful worldview of our culture. We are to live godly lives in the real world. Set up a home. Have a family if the Lord provides that opportunity. Work a job. Pray for the nation. Share the gospel. Bring about God-honoring change when you can. Do what you can to do your city good, for in doing your city good, you do yourself good.