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.

A Surprising Source of Persecution

Why does the world persecute believers? That is happening around the world at a surprising rate. But, why? Why would you want to attack a person, doing them physical harm, casting them from your society?

I think, if we stop to really put some thought into this, we will see that we are not as sure about why people persecute believers as we think. For example, in most countries, Christianity is not a political movement that is endangering the present governmental power structure. Genuine Christians have not historically been militant or physically aggressive. (Yes, I know about the crusades, and I reject that those had anything to do with genuine Christianity.)

At the end of the day, the world will oppose Christianity because the world opposed Jesus. The Savior told us that in John 15 and Matthew 5. But you are unlikely to get the world around you to say that directly either.

What has me thinking about this is the strange reason that Peter tells the church that the world will oppose the first century believers living in Asia Minor.

1 Peter 4:4-5 – 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.

Peter says that the world will oppose the church because Christians will not join with them in their evil actions. Can you imagine? Is it possible that a major source of problems for believers is not that we stand and fight against the world, but simply that we will not join in with things we cannot morally approve? Isn’t the battle cry of the present culture one of tolerance?

I think, if you have watched anything from the political realm over the last few months, you know that tolerance has little-to-nothing to do with the world in which we live. In the US, there are groups who will only be satisfied with the full assimilation or elimination of groups who oppose them. You either join in with the new morality, or the new morality will try to destroy you.

In the book of Revelation, we read about the 666, the mark of the beast. You know that many people have debated that mark in many ways and drawn many conclusions. But one thing is often not said about it which should be said. Something about that mark, that stamp of belonging to the world, is the key to commerce. If you will not wear that badge, you will be put out of business and starved out of society. Ignoring whether or not that number refers to an individual person or whether or not it is a visible marking on the body, is it not telling that John wrote of a time when, if you will not be able to be marked as one of the society at large, the society will try to drive you from the very marketplace?

Christians, the world around us will not think that we are great friends of theirs who just don’t go and do all the things they go and do. If you think that your church will grow big and strong by convincing the world of our goodness by telling them, “We are just like you guys except for our faith,” you are missing the clear promise of the word of God. The world does not look at the church as a collection of nice men and women, treasures to the community, who just happen to lean right morally. No, they are shocked and offended that you will not leap with them into sin, and they will malign you. The world will see us as a threat, not for attacking, but simply for not applauding them. And If you do not see that, you are not reading much in the news.

But Peter also reminds us that the Lord is in control. Our God reigns. Our God is the righteous judge. Our God will call all people and all deeds into account. Our God calls all people everywhere to repent and come to Jesus for salvation. And our hope is not in becoming popular in the world today. Our hope is in being faithful to Christ and living under his lordship for eternity.

My goal here is surely not to leave us thinking all negative all the time. Not all who are not Christians will hate and malign believers. Nor are all towns destined to immediately become bastions of persecution. But we are foolish if we do not see that there are trends of this sort of persecution flowing through politics and higher education all over our land. There are corporations where Christianity and Christian values would get you fired. There are cities where businesses run by openly Christian families are unwelcome. Social media is full of virtue signaling and morality testing that growl to the world that if you do not agree with them, if you do not give to their cause, if you do not applaud their agenda, they will bring the wrath of the Internet down on your organization, shame you, boycott you, and put you out of business. (Note, Christians, I will also say to you that many of us have earned this behavior by practicing it first when Christians held more political sway in our country, so I’m not after us playing the victim here.)

Our point is that we must be ready to live in a hard world. Our lives need to be faithful. But we cannot expect acceptance from a world that is shocked that we will not leap with them into the same pool. But we trust our Lord, we know he will set the world right, and we live to his glory even when it costs us.