Endurance, Faith, and Obedience

Revelation 14:12

Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.

What does it look like to live as a true believer in a hard world? God’s word calls us to endurance. And God’s word describes us as those who trust Jesus and follow his commands.

Revelation 13 and 14 paint for us a picture of a polarized, divided, embattled world. In chapter 13, the beast is marking out men as his own and persecuting all who refuse to be identified with him. Those who will not bow to his evil worship or take part in his wicked practices will be cut off from polite society. They will be attacked, mocked, ridiculed, ignored, persecuted, robbed, starved, exiled, and killed. Were a Christian to see that chapter alone, it would be powerfully disheartening in many ways.

But then, as the follow-up to the vision of the beast and false prophet, much like we see in other passages, our scene shifts. We see the Savior, standing strong, keeping his own. We see those bearing not the mark of the beast but of the Lamb. We see songs of worship and faithfulness among the people of God.

Then, as a transition, we read the verse that is above. What we see in chapters 13 and 14, I believe, come together, meet, and lead us to this conclusion. The beast is evil. The world will grow hostile toward those who love and follow the Lord. When the evil are in power, they will seek to ostracize those who love the Lord. But, in the midst of this all, Jesus has his own. Jesus keeps his own. Jesus loves his own. And the call for those who know Jesus is to endure. Stand strong. Do not give up. Do not be discouraged. Endure.

The call for endurance, as we see above, has a tie to marks of identity. The call is for saints, those saved by Jesus and set apart for God. All true believers are granted that label by God. All who know Jesus are set apart from the world to the glory of God. And the saints are to endure, not giving in to the temptation to compromise with the world and live like those who belong to the beast.

At this point, depending on the author of the article, a reader might expect one of two things. One might expect a bigtime gospel reminder, a doubling-down on grace and hope. Or, given another author, one might expect a passionate call to obedience to the word and ways of the Lord. In point of fact, God gives us both.

How do the saints endure? Faith and obedience are central. Let’s first talk obedience, as it is the lower-hanging fruit. To love Jesus, to stand strong, to remain faithful in this life in the face of hardship requires obedience to the word of God. What will make a believer stand out in this fallen world, especially in seasons of persecution and hardship, is the believer’s willingness to obey the Lord without compromise. When the world demands that all applaud or even experiment with forms of immorality, the believer refuses. When the world demands that families compromise their schedule to the world’s values, the believer treasures gathered worship. When the world says that worship is forbidden, the believer worships anyway. Believers obey. Understand, Christian, that obedience is part of endurance.

But never should we have a legalistic existence. WE do not earn our spot in heaven by doing what is right. No, true endurance is founded in the gospel. We endure in faith. No matter how much the world wants to make us doubt, we believe. The follower of Christ is first and foremost a believer. We are believers before we are doers. We are believers, resting in the person and the perfectly finished work of Jesus. Our hope is never in ourselves or in our ability to obey. Our hope is in Christ and in Christ alone.

In the first centuries, Christians lived in a hard world. The Roman government, from time to time, would demand compromise. Believers had to rest in their faith and choose to obey God instead of Caesar. This required endurance, bearing up under pressure. In the days of the Reformation, when the church had been so corrupted as to lose its hold on Scripture, when the church had become so tied to political powers that one could not see a line between the word of the king and the word of the Lord, Christians had to endure in faith and in obedience to the recovered Holy Scripture. And today, in a world of cancel culture, sexual perversion, and mocking of morality, we are still to endure. We are to be the saints of God. We are to keep the faith, totally trusting in Jesus alone as our hope. And we are to endure in obedience, loving the Lord who saved us by obeying his holy commands.

They Will be Shocked

1 Peter 4:3-5 – 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.

What should the church expect from the world? If you listen to some who promote many a modern church growth strategy, you will hear an expectation that the modern church can win the culture through our kindness. There appears to be a belief that the church, if she will only contribute to her community, will be beloved and treasured by civic leadership. The church that cleans up the city park, takes gift baskets to local teachers, and serves meals to families when tragedy strikes will be seen by the city as an indispensable part of the community. And, in fact, the church may be able to gain a better standing in the community and a greater hearing for the gospel for a time. Besides, doing good to all people is a right act of those who follow Jesus.

However, it is not true that the church will be able to stand strong and be beloved by the community perpetually. The word of God is clear that, as we stand on the word of God, as we follow the commands of our Lord, as we speak what the Savior commands and refuse to follow the ways of the world, we will face hardship. See what Peter wrote above. As Believers, we cannot join the lost world in certain acts that are immoral according to the word of God. But what will the world think of us when we refuse to join them? Will the world shrug it off and adopt a live and let live strategy? Nope. That has never been the way of the world.

When we refuse to join the world in affirming or participating in immorality, the world will have two reactions according to Peter. First, they will be surprised. When the world sees someone opposing what the world assumes that everybody knows or everybody does, there is a shock. How could we not go where they go? How could we not do what they do? How can we not join them in affirming and even celebrating their actions? Even worse, how can we call it immoral? You see, as the world embraces sin, the world embraces a mindset that declares that everybody knows that what the world is doing is right. There is a cultural mindset that is adopted that says that every right-thinking person embraces this lifestyle or that agenda.

Second, surprise will move to censure. Peter says that they will malign you. When the world sees the church refuse to embrace something the world loves, eventually the world will move against the church. The world will move from a false tolerance to surprise to ridicule to persecution. The world hated Jesus. Jesus says that the world will hate those who follow him too.

The church needs to gain an understanding that no amount of social improvement strategies will ever win the church the approval of the world. The church may engage in ten positive, community-impacting strategies that are all for the good. But the moment that the church stands against one of the world’s sacred cows, the world will respond first with shock and then with maligning. Again, this is not to say that the church should not do good in the community. Doing good honors Jesus. But we should not expect that our doing of good will persuade society to embrace a church that will not go with society into sin.

Is our mission hopeless? No, not at all. God will grow his church. Christ will see his glory spread all over the globe. All God intends to save will be saved. The church’s mission includes making disciples of all nations. Christ will not fail in his mission. He has never failed once in a single thing that he ever set out to do in the past, and this will not change in the future.

Peter also reminds us in verse 5 that the Lord will judge sin and reign supreme. Peter writes, “but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” God will judge. God will do justice. We need not fear. Yes, we may suffer in this life. We may be ridiculed, maligned, and persecuted. And we will also see the church grow and the gospel spread all over the globe. We need not lose heart. The Lord will win his people. The Lord will judge those who oppose him and reject the gospel. Let us be faithful to obey the commands of God without giving in to the temptation to compromise for the world’s approval.

There is Another King, Jesus

Acts 17:6-9 – 6 And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, 7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” 8 And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. 9 And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.

Here during Paul’s second missionary journey, we see Paul’s experience in Thessalonica. Many believe. Many are jealous. And those who oppose the word of God use government to persecute the church. The argument is simple. They suggest that to accept Christ as King necessarily makes the earthly government secondary.

Why this is worth taking note for us today is also simple. The church must understand both that Christ is King and that this belief of ours will always and in every way be unacceptable to the lost world. Communist rulers and Marxist philosophers hate the notion of any power beyond that of the party, the rulers in government. Though they may claim that their goal is a totally equal society, their actual practice will always be to have a class of powerful rulers in the government, rulers whose power cannot be made subject to another authority, especially not God.

Even today in the United States, we have people appointed and elected to offices who are making it clear that they demand that the church bow to their authority. In a land where freedom of religion and freedom of assembly is enshrined in the constitution, these folks will use any crisis they can to reshape society so that the government is seen as a higher authority than is the church of the Lord Jesus. Like the Thessalonians, many in America are shocked that we would claim that there is a greater King than Caesar.

What then do we do? We keep on serving Jesus. We keep on preaching. We keep on obeying God’s commands. We keep on gathering. We keep on fellowshipping. We keep on battling to save the lives of unborn babies. We keep on declaring that God created humanity in his image, making us male or female, and that this fact matters. We live boldly while we are free. And we live boldly when it brings us persecution. May we keep, as the Thessalonians said, turning the world upside-down and declaring that Jesus is King.

Persecution Comes when the State Demands Supremacy

Thoughtful Christian friends, take a look at these few paragraphs on the persecution of the church in the Roman Empire. See the reasoning behind Roman persecution as it parallels the reasoning stripping Christians of religious freedom in the US and Canada today.

From: Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), chapter 7.

The church endured little persecution as long as it was looked upon by the authorities as a part of Judaism, which was a religio licita, or legal sect. But as soon as Christianity was distinguished from Judaism as a separate sect and might be classed as a secret society, it came under the ban of the Roman state, which would brook no rival for the allegiance of its subjects. It then became an illegal religion and as such was considered a threat to the safety of the Roman state. The state was the highest good in a union of the state and religion. There could be no private religion.

Religion could be tolerated only as it contributed to the stability of the state. Since the rapidly growing Christian religion was exclusive in its claims on the moral and spiritual loyalty of those who accepted Christ, when a choice had to be made between loyalty to Christ and loyalty to Caesar, Caesar was bound to take second place. This was conceived by the Roman leaders, bent on preserving classical culture within the framework of the Roman imperial state, as disloyalty to the state; and they saw Christians as those who were trying to set up a state within a state. Either the universal state or the universal church, the body of Christ, must give way. The exclusive sovereignty of Christ clashed with Caesar’s proud claims to exclusive sovereignty.

Social problems also made their contribution to the cause of Roman persecution of the church. The Christians, who had great appeal for the lower classes and slaves, were hated by the influential aristocratic leaders of society. These leaders looked down on them with contempt but were fearful of their influence on the lower class. The Christians upheld the equality of all people (Col. 3:11); paganism insisted on an aristocratic structure for society in which the privileged few were served by the lower class and slaves. Christians separated themselves from pagan gatherings at temples, theaters, and places of recreation. This nonconformity to accepted social patterns brought down on them the dislike that the nonconformist always faces in any period of history. The purity of their lives was a silent rebuke to the scandalous lives that people of the upper class were leading. The Christians’ nonconformity to existing social patterns led the pagans to believe that they were a danger to society and to characterize them as “haters of mankind” who might incite the masses to revolt.

All these considerations combined to justify the persecution of the Christians in the minds of the authorities. Not all were present in each case, but the exclusiveness of the claims of the Christian religion on the life of the Christian conflicted with pagan syncretism and the demand for exclusive loyalty to the Roman state in most instances. Persecution followed naturally as a part of imperial policy to preserve the integrity of the Roman state. Christianity was not a licensed religion with a legal right to existence. Martyrs and apologists were its answer to mobs, the state, and pagan writers.

In our day, this same issue of church and state has again been revived, and in many countries Christians are tolerated only under law. In other countries they face persecution from a state that will brook no rival. The early struggle of the church with persecution helps to point up the importance of the modern concept of the separation of the church and state. Only where people are permitted to have private interests apart from public interests can there be religious freedom.

They Tried to Kill me-I’ll Go back and Preach

If you were an early evangelist, what would you do in dealing with a city where the people tried to kill you? Understand, when I say this, I’m not using hyperbolic language. Paul had been stoned and left for dead in the town of Lystra. So, what we see Paul do afterward is somewhat fascinating.

To set the stage, Paul had come to Lystra to preach. There he healed a man, and it got the attention of a crowd. IN fact, it got so much attention that the lost people of Lystra thought that the gods had come to them, and a priest from the temple of Zeus wanted to sacrifice to them. OF course, Paul and his companions would have none of that. But when they identified themselves as mere men and not the gods, when they called the crowd to stop what they were doing, the crowds turned against them and attempted to kill Paul.

Acts 14:19-23 – 19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

It still stuns me every time I read this passage that, when Paul dug out from under the stones that the crowds had thrown at him, he got up and returned to Lystra. How could you go back? How could you ever walk through the gates of a town where the people had tried to kill you? Paul knew that his mission was not finished. HE knew that the gospel going forth was worth his own life.

As a fun side note, we will learn in Acts 16:1-3 that, when Paul returns to Lystra in a few years, he meets a young man named timothy there who will become a student and follower of his. Is Paul’s faithfulness to return to Lystra what God used to convert Timothy and give the church one of the greatest leaders of the first century?

Next, Paul goes to preach at a couple of other cities, returns to Lystra again, and does a couple of things before returning to his home church of Antioch. Look at the things that Paul did. These are the acts of a faithful apostle even in a city where the people had tried to kill him.

In verse 22, we see that Paul gave himself to strengthening the brothers in Lystra and the surrounding cities. Even when the people had tried to kill Paul, it was worth it to Paul under the leadership of God to strengthen the believers in that town. Paul knew that the church in that city was worth it. The followers of Jesus needed teaching. They needed strengthening. So Paul went back. Even though he’d had a bad experience there in his past, he returned for the good of the church, to encourage them to continue in the faith.

Notice as well that Paul said to the believers, “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” How true is this? How perfect are those words from the swollen lips of a man who had been stoned and left for dead not too long before? Paul knew. Believers need to know. God does not promise us an easy road from initial faith to heaven. The joy of salvation is real. The joy of worship and family and Christian living is real. And the truth is, the road from salvation to the gates of heaven is still full of hardships, trials, and tribulations. If you do not understand this, you will be shocked when you think that your Christian life is not working out. But God has always told us that there will be pain and sorrow amid our joy until we are in his presence forever.

Note one final thing Paul did. This is clearly a priority. And it is a thing still neglected by many churches. Paul appointed for the churches elders. The text says in verse 23, “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” In every church (singular) they appointed elders (plural). God intends that the church have multiple pastors, multiple qualified men who will share in the responsibility of leadership, teaching, and care. Paul did not appoint one pastor and some administrative board to keep him in check. He appointed multiple men to serve the church as elders, which is a role we also call pastors or overseers. It was worth it for Paul to go back to Lystra, clearly risking his life, to help make sure that the local church there had a plurality of elders.

How important is the local church? What should your commitment to your local church look like? Paul went back into Lystra, even after people had tried to kill him, for the good of the local church. He returned to strengthen the believers, warn them of the genuine hardships that believers face, and appoint for them elders in their church. He wanted them to not lose heart. HE wanted them prepared for persecution. HE wanted their church to have a biblical model of leadership, a plurality of elders. And he thought all this was important enough to be worth the risk of his safety.

IF that work was worth it to Paul, then you too should be powerfully committed to your local church. Your church needs strengthening in the word. Your church needs someone who is willing to help the body know that this life will be hard, but serving the Lord is still worth it. Your church needs someone who will call for godly men to serve as elders. Your church needs the burden to be off the shoulders of a solo pastor and shared with others who can faithfully preach and teach and care and lead. Your church needs people who will not run at the first hard experience, but who will return to help other believers serve the Lord.

Now, there are times when it is time to leave a church. If the leadership is corrupt to the point that they will accept sin and not correct it, you might need to go. If the leadership will not faithfully handle the word of God, you might need to go. But in many a case, you should stay. You should work with the elders. If they will let you help, you should help to encourage the body. And you should make it a major part of your life to be about the strengthening of the local church.

Faithful unto Death

Toward the end of the first century, Christians in the city of Smyrna were facing a very difficult persecution. It likely had to do with the imperial cult. People were commanded to show their devotion to the Roman empire by performing an act of religious devotion toward the emperor. And failing to do so could cost believers social status at minimum. Eventually, refusing to worship the emperor would cost certain Christians their lives.

Revelation 2:8–11 – 8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. 9 “ ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’

Notice a few things in the text above. AS Jesus speaks to this church, a church full of people facing death, he first identifies himself as the one who died and yet lives. Jesus wants to be sure that the Christians who face persecution do not think they are alone. The Lord Jesus has been there and done that. HE has suffered. He has died. And he has conquered death. That should give hope to believers, as we realize that our hope is in the one who already beat the grave.

Second, notice that Christ knows what is coming. Jesus can tell the people that the persecution is coming. HE can tell the people where the persecution will come from. And he can tell them how long that persecution will last. Even if ten days is a figurative term for a short period of time, Jesus is clear that this season will come, and it will go. Do not think your troubles catch Jesus off guard. Nor should you think that, just because Jesus loves you, he will always keep you from pain. God uses our hardships to our good and his glory.

Then notice how faithful Jesus calls the Christians to be. They are to be faithful unto death. Jesus knows that the coming persecution in Smyrna will cost Christians their lives. People will die under this one. And Jesus calls on his followers to be ready.

It is good for us to recognize that our service to the Lord can cost us more than discomfort. It can cost us our lives. And when we grasp that we could in fact die for our faith, it should have the effect of strengthening us. I’m not suggesting that we develop a morbid fascination with martyrdom, or we develop an attitude of pessimism that assumes defeat at every turn. But, I am suggesting that the Lord wants us to be prepared to face death on his behalf. And when we have accepted that we could die for our faith, we will be strengthened by God to face whatever is thrown our way.

Then, at the end of this section, Jesus says that the one who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death. Christian, understand that it is not the first death that we are to aim to avoid, but the second. In Revelation, we learn that the first death is common to humanity; it is physical death. There is a day to come when all who die will be physically resurrected. There is a first resurrection, the resurrection of those under the grace of God. They will rise to life and blessing forever. They will never face death again. There is also a second resurrection, a physical resurrection of all who have never gotten under God’s grace and have died as his enemies. Those will face the second death, a spiritual death, which is to be cast into hell forever.

Jesus is telling this church that their hope is in the resurrection. There hope is in the life that Christ offers. There hope is to be found in Christ, under his grace, and to live eternally with Jesus in perfect joy. Their hope is to avoid the second death because they have entrusted their very souls to Jesus. And folks who have the resurrection and life in front of them will be willing to face physical death in the here and now, because they know that there is not a second death to hurt them.

The book of Revelation speaks much about the hardships that Christians can face in this life. Whether it be something at the end of the age, or whether it be first century folks facing persecution, the message is the same. Christ is victorious. Christ has conquered death. Christ will give eternal victory to those under his care. So we can stand strong. Even if the world tries to take our livelihood or even our lives themselves, the word cannot take from us what matters. The word and the devil cannot take from us the eternal life to be found in Jesus who conquered death and who will raise us up to live with him eternally.

A Biblical Response to Persecution

Christians were persecuted in the past. Christians are persecuted in the present. Christians will be persecuted in the future. Christians will not be persecuted once Jesus returns. These may seem like simple truths, but we forget them quite easily.

In the United States, Christian persecution is a thing that is still hard to imagine. We assume that we are persecuted if a comedian takes a snide shot at people of faith or a news reporter says that we believe in myths. Some feel persecuted if a store clerk says, “Happy holidays.” And, I suppose you might be able to work the logic around until this is persecution. But, in the US, we do not find ourselves beaten or jailed for speaking the truth of Christ or for attending a service of worship, at least not yet.

All around the world, however, there are believers who are facing genuine hardships. True Christians are pulled from worship services, beaten, and jailed. Women are suffering horrible mistreatment at the hands of men who demand they identify with another religion. And, yes, Christians are being killed for the faith in the modern world.

What impact is persecution supposed to have on us? How are we to respond? IN the book of Acts, we see a scene where the apostles are persecuted by the Jewish religious leadership in Jerusalem. I think, if we pay attention, we can see a biblical response.

Acts 5:40-42 – 40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.

There are two responses to the persecution we see here that I want us to grasp. Understand, that this was genuine persecution. These men were beaten. Most people I know have never been beaten. I know that some have been, but most have not. We are not talking about a spanking here. We are not talking about a little slap on the face. We are talking here about a genuine, blood and bruises sort of beating.

First, the disciples left rejoicing. Stop and see that again. They rejoiced. Why? They rejoiced that they were counted by God as worthy to suffer for the faith. They saw the beating they faced, the persecution they endured, as an honor. They knew that, if God would let them suffer for the genuine preaching of the genuine gospel, he was trusting them to minister in his name. They knew that they were suffering, not for being obnoxious in general, not for their personalities, but for genuine faithful proclamation.

How does this response compare to most of our thoughts when we think about persecution? In our culture, we face less than beatings. WE face ridicule. We face harsh words. We may eventually face government opposition. A few, a very small few, have faced financial opposition through aggressive and illegitimate lawsuits in an attempt to make them comply with the culture’s embrace of sexual immorality. Some businesses have been vandalized or made the unfair targets of social media smear campaigns. But, at present, up until the point of this writing, most of us have not faced physical violence.

The disciples, who faced something worse than the vast majority of you who read this have ever faced, rejoiced in the face of persecution. They did not whine. They did not cry and start questioning the goodness of God. They did not scream, “It’s not fair!” They saw that the Lord was allowing them to enter a new phase of service, that of persecuted saint, and they rejoiced that they were counted worthy. Perhaps we should learn from that, stop whining if we are made uncomfortable, and rejoice that the Lord would count us worthy if he lets us suffer for his name.

I am not here saying that we do not engage in the legal system or the political process to try to make our nation more just. The idea of not whining about your discomfort is not a recommendation that you allow people to attack without recourse. If a person violates your legal rights or commits a crime against you through persecution, there is not a prohibition against you using the court system to seek justice. Neither is there any sort of prohibition against you voting or even running for office to try to set up a system that is more friendly to the things of God. My point is simply not to act as though you have been mistreated by the Lord if he allows you to face discomfort.

Then, the second thing we see the apostles do, they kept on preaching. Verse 42 tells us that they did not cease preaching and teaching. Yes, they knew they faced the threat of persecution. Yes, they knew that they faced potential beatings or death. But they kept at it.

Christians, when we face persecution, we too need to keep on preaching. We need to not compromise to meet the world’s standards. WE need to obey God instead of man. WE need to rejoice if we are allowed to suffer for the name of Christ, and we need to keep on preaching. If they call us names, keep preaching. If they try to shut down our businesses, keep preaching. If they tell us that they will take away our license to practice in our chosen profession if we keep preaching, keep preaching. If they pass a law that says no more preaching, keep preaching. If they throw us in jail, keep preaching. If they threaten our lives, keep preaching.

Christians, I expect that we live in a nation that will make things harder before they ever get easier. It is surely possible that persecution will come. If it does, will we respond as the Lord shows us here? Will we receive persecution with joy as a sign that the Lord has counted us worthy to suffer for his name? Will we stand strong and keep preaching, even when the world threatens its worst? May we honor Jesus by being faithful to the gospel.

Teaching Affliction

There are many running themes in the Scripture. When we study, we see that certain ideas find their way into book after book. These ideas are important, because they show us that God is completely consistent in his word to us. Examples of this include the true deity and true humanity of Jesus, the importance of the local church, the call to sexual purity, the need for Christians to love one another, the necessity of focusing on eternity, etc. You see the same principles of right thought and righteous conduct in book after book, author after author.

One recurring theme in the New Testament is one that we do not love, but which we must understand. Repeatedly in the New Testament, we see that the church of the Lord Jesus is destined for affliction and persecution in this world. I find that, as I prepare sermons or do personal devotions, I see a regular reminder that the lost world will not love the church.

1 Thessalonians 3:2-4 – 2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, 3 that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. 4 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.

In the book of 1 Thessalonians, Paul tells of his concern for the church in Thessalonica after he was forced to leave the city. IN fact, Paul’s concern for those believers became so strong that he sent Timothy back there to check on the believers in that infant church. Thankfully, when Timothy arrived in Thessalonica, he found the believers standing strong, even in the face of worldly hardships.

Notice what Paul says about his teaching when he was in Thessalonica. Paul says that he repeatedly kept telling the young believers that Christians will suffer afflictions. During his time of preaching and teaching in Thessalonica, preparing believers for persecution was a commonly repeated theme.

The funny thing for us to remember in all this is that Paul was only in Thessalonica for around three weeks. He then had to move on. The apostle had only three weeks to try to pour into the Thessalonians important doctrine. And in that time, Paul says that he not only mentioned the possibility of persecution, but he repeatedly pointed out to them that hardships would come.

Now, believers, if you only had 3 weeks to teach a new Christian what they needed to know, what doctrines would you include? Of course you would teach them the gospel and the significance of Scripture. You would teach them about evangelism and the local church. Hopefully you would point them toward the return of Jesus and our hope.

But if you want to be consistent with Scripture, you also would need to be abundantly clear that a lost world will strive to bring hardships to believers. You would not do a young believer any favors by pretending that God will protect us from pain in this life. Instead, you would be wisest to help them know that persecution is part of following Jesus until he returns. Even in a 3-week crash course in the faith, you would, if you followed Paul’s pattern, speak against any notion of a prosperity gospel or an escapist theology. Instead, you would strive with Scripture to weave steel into the character of young believers so that they would be ready to stand in the face of worldly affliction.

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.

A Trite Accusation

The strategies of the enemies of God against the church of the Lord Jesus Christ have not changed much. The devil and his minions have a fairly thin playbook. Sadly, humanity is often so blinded to history and logic that the old plays work time and time again.

Consider the way that the people of God have faced destruction and persecution in times past. In Exodus, the Pharaoh ordered the murder of Hebrew infants in order to keep his government from being threatened by the people of God. In Daniel, a faithful man was throne into a den of lions for praying, because some wicked men convinced an emperor that prayer was a threat to his governmental power. When the Jews clamored for Jesus’ crucifixion before Pilate, they argued that Jesus was a subversive even as they declared, “We have no king but Caesar.”

We see the same strategy used in the book of Acts as Paul has preached the gospel in the city of Thessalonica.

Acts 17:5-9 – 5 But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. 6 And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, 7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” 8 And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. 9 And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.

See the same accusation. When the people of the city could not get hold of Paul, they dragged some of his friends before the authorities. And what words did they use as a weapon? They said of the Christians, “They are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” The Jews claimed that the Christians were subversives because of the authority of Jesus.

It is worth recognizing that this move is the very same play in the enemy’s playbook that we have seen used time and time again for thousands of years. Why? Because he will use it again. Look at our present culture. Watch the way that political winds are blowing. Watch for an Orwellian move in our government to strip people of their rights, to persecute, to punish, to imprison, to shame people based on our thoughts. The secularizing forces in our government cannot abide a genuine freedom of religion. There will be, if the Lord does not move in a massive way, a stripping away of the freedom of Americans to live as genuine Christians. And the argument that will be used will look like the one in Thessalonica, Jerusalem, Persia, and Egypt. It will be an argument that says that a devotion to the Lord is dangerous for society, because followers of God value their relationship with God more than they value the political leadership of the day.

The funny thing is, in all of these cases, the argument, besides failing to actually work, is patently false. Daniel was a faithful servant of the king. Jesus did not intend to threaten Pilate or any Roman government. Paul even wrote to the church in Romans 13 to submit to government and in 1 Timothy 2 to pray for all our leaders. In general, followers of Jesus are faithful citizens of the countries where we live. There are, of course, certain commands we cannot obey, commands that violate the law of God. But unlike people without a clear moral compass, Christians recognize that we are under the authorities that the Lord has set over us and will follow their lead so long as their lead does not violate the higher authority of the word of God.

But, Christians, be aware of what the strategy is. You and I will be seen as dangerous, subversive, backward. And a large part of that argument will be that we are submitted, not to the atheistic worldview of our society, but to Jesus. The world hates the Savior. And the world will not tolerate his followers.

What then do we do? We remain faithful. We pray for the opportunity to live peaceful and quiet lives in Christ as Paul commanded: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:1-2). We trust our God. And we continue to take the gospel to the nation. Jesus has all authority. He has commanded us to make disciples. And that is what we do, even in the face of a false and trite accusation that we are somehow subversive elements in society.