First the Kingdom Part 37, Through Much Tribulation
Each one of us has areas of concern that are common as well as those that differ from the other. Sometimes they lead us to believe we are right and the other person is wrong when at times 2 views can be actually 2 sides of the same coin. My particular focus has for a long time been with history in mind. Because I have a general knowledge of the history before my time, I can see how things have improved in the world more than we realize.
At the same time my generation has clearly seen a steady loss of basic virtues in our culture and in the people who are shaped by it. The causes of this might appear to be many and complicated. Those who study the social sciences more than I have can look at how technology has affected us. Others, like myself tend to look at the failure of leadership in the church, and the lack of sincerity found in the the people themselves. We see at the heart of every problem a spiritual battle, and tend to focus on spiritual solutions.
At the time I am preparing this teaching, my home nation is in a great struggle. Two perspectives that existed in balance from the beginning of our political existence are now in an ideological war with one another. Some fear that it will evolve into more than that very soon. As I approach my 70th birthday I have to admit, that to me the thought of a full civil war sounds absolutely terrifying. It is a thought that I had never expected to come to mind in all my years.
Maybe I am being naive, but I still have hopes that things can be turned around, and that our country can be spared such a future. I also believe that the church of Jesus Christ could play a powerful role in a positive outcome. In my study of history I have found that war is not always avoidable, but I have also found that faith in our all-powerful God can motivate us to accomplish great things for His glory. Revivals have come to cities, counties, and countries in the past. By revivals I mean times when the Holy Spirit sweeps over hundreds and thousands to change hearts and minds for the better. Society itself can become inspired and transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit working with and through God’s people.
As the general culture in the media and in the educational world has increasingly turned against biblical Christianity, believers have risen up to defend the faith in many arenas. In the past few years and even more so in the past months the political arena has been the focus of many Christians. There is no doubt that attention needs to be given to what happens in our government and I have tried to follow events as best as I can. It would be shameful for any follower of Christ to ignore the opportunities He has afforded us here. I bless those who are called to focus on this arena and pray for them as well.
My only question is this: how is that been working out? Are more people coming to know Christ? Are more people learning the teachings of Christ and His Kingdom? Are believers themselves becoming better examples and “shining as lights in the world?” Has the environment around us become better than before as a result of these efforts?
The Chinese philosopher Confucius is said to have made this statement:
“If there is righteousness in the heart, there will be beauty in the character.
If there is beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home.
If there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nations.
When there is order in the nations, there will peace in the world.”
In the 1960’s rock song, “Easy To Be Hard,” these words were expressed:
“How can people be so heartless?
How can people be so cruel?
Easy to be hard,
Easy to be cold.
How can people have no feelings?
How can they ignore their friends?
Easy to be proud,
Easy to say no
And especially people,
Who care about strangers,
Who care about evil,
And social injustice.
Do you only
Care about the bleeding crowd?
How about a needing friend?
I need a friend.”
In history I have learned of great leaders who stood for Christ in the political arena. I have also learned of Christian preachers who spoke out against the injustices occurring in their day. I am in no way promoting a passive position when it comes to conditions in this world. I am not one of those people who see any effort to improve the lives of their fellow humans as a fools mission. I greatly resist the pessimistic message of some who believe these efforts are like “polishing the brass on a sinking ship,” or “making the world a better place to go to hell from.”
At the same time I want to address what I see as an “either/or” fallacy. Among Christians I am becoming weary of the faith vs works argument, when both are important. More recently we are debating between personal and corporate responsibility. Confucius started with the individual, and believed that the world could be ultimately changed. The song I referenced mourned the fact that during the sixties some were concerned for strangers, but neglected those who were near to them. Why can’t we have both compassion for those we know, and also reach out to those we don’t know? why can’t we have faith in God AND good works that will help others?
A war is already on and it has been going on from the beginning of the human race. In fact it is an internal struggle within every heart. Too many times this spiritual war has found expression also in families, neighborhoods, cities, and nations. Every area in which this struggle rages must be addressed. Jesus and all the prophets before Him were aware of the need to face this fact. They addressed individual sin, as well as national sin. So we are not insisting on choosing between either individual or collective issues. But we are insisting on dealing with the root problem that lies at the bottom of all.
That is why Jesus began with repentance and faith, a new birth in the Spirit. The foundation for the new world he was bringing to pass was a new humanity. This new humanity was to light the way to a better world. At the time, the early followers of Christ had almost no political power, and yet their message spread like wildfire! It was a matter of time until the Roman authorities began to crack down on Christianity. Many were tortured and forced to deny Christ. Others endured and survived, others were martyred.
The courage that unbelievers saw in the Christians and the evil actions of their persecutors had an impact on them over time. The stone that Daniel saw in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream had been rolling over and crushing the power of an oppressive regime! The tide of public opinion began to turn towards the believers and in fact large numbers joined them in the faith. The persecution ended in early in the Fourth Century and many improvements in the culture began to take place. This of course was not the final battle between the darkness and the light, but we can take great encouragement and learn from this example.
So how can modern Christians in free countries apply these lessons? I have thought about this question as have most of us. Paul defended his right to a trial as a Roman citizen and it makes sense that we should use legal means to protect our rights to worship as well. However, the same laws that protect our right to worship also must protect the beliefs of others. Those involved in the courts and in government have the opportunity to voice what they believe are God’s righteous and fair ways, while the rest us of have a voice in our families, neighborhoods, schools and churches. Paul urged meekness and humility in our attempts to encourage others to follow Christ.
Rude, obnoxious attitudes, and exaggerations of the truth might draw a large audience on social media, but I cannot see it changing any minds. In fact I only see increased hardness against the Christian perspective resulting from this approach. We are to give a reason for what we belief with meekness and respect.
1 Peter 3:13-18:
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.
No one will want to know what we believe if we are too busy convincing them that we are their enemies. And even if they are our enemies, what did Christ say for us to do to them? Love them! Pray for them and bless them! Do good for them! Why? That you might prove to be sons of your Father in heaven, who causes His sun to shine and rain to fall on the just and the unjust! (Matthew 5:44-45).
It is often necessary to expose the evil plans, purposes and actions of others, for the sake of those who are being oppressed by them. However, God has shown us that first we must check our own hearts. Without His grace we are just as capable of evil and selfish actions.
The Kingdom of God is realm of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. We cannot have true peace and joy without His righteousness. That word implies fairness and equity based upon the truth. What I am calling for is a commitment to honesty and the truth. I love our country as much as anyone else, and want to see God bless us — not because we think we are better, but because we honor Him in our thoughts and actions. If God would have spared Sodom and Gomorrah for 10 righteous men, certainly He can spare America through the intercessory prayers of millions who believe in Him!
In Acts, after preaching in new areas, Barnabas and Paul returned to several cities, “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, ” Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:21-23 NASU) It is difficult to read through a significant portion of the New Testament without learning of the many hardships the early believers endured in their pursuit of God’s Kingdom. This might sound like a “negative confession” to some, but don’t they know that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us?” (Romans 8:18)
So how well have our earthly, political weapons served us? May we be encouraged by these additional words of Paul:
2 Corinthians 10:3-4:
For though we walk (live) in the flesh, we are not carrying on our warfare according to the flesh and using mere human weapons.
For the weapons of our warfare are not physical [weapons of flesh and blood], but they are mighty before God for the overthrow and destruction of strongholds,
The real power is in obeying Christ. The real power is in His love. The real power is in humbling ourselves as he did and serving others out of genuine compassion. The real power is in praying for all people, including our enemies. In this way we truly shine as lights in the darkness of this world!