A number of friends and acquaintances have been deeply irritated by the recent announcement of potential Department of Defense court martials for proselytization, an announcement reportedly made earlier this week by the Pentagon, and one denied by the Department of Defense just today. Many followers after Christ were quick to point to the glaring hypocrisy inherent in the treatment of Christians when compared to that preferred upon members of other faiths. While I agree that this inequity is glaringly obvious, I also want to point out that it is expected, and any man or woman who wears the name of Christ willingly invited this treatment, and more.
Whether one believes the original Pentagon report, or the subsequent Department of Defense denial, it does raise an interesting debate within each of us regarding how we might behave in the face of a directive to speak no more in the name of Jesus. Consider Jeremiah’s take on it.
“So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long. But if I say, ‘I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” (Jeremiah 20:8b-9)
It brings to mind the question asked by Dr. Del Tackett of the Truth Project when he says, “Do you really believe that what you believe is really real?” If so, according to Dr. Tackett, no Pentagon directive is going to shut you up. Really believing what we believe is really real revolutionizes the way we look at the world.
I remember years ago, working with students at Kansas University, and teaching them that we, as believers, have only two types of relationships. First, we have a relationship with those in the family of Christ, and we interact with them on that basis and within that reality. Second, we have a relationship with those we are trying to bring into the family of Christ. That’s it.
Every relationship we have can be viewed in light of one of those two realities. People are saved and in the family of believers, or they are lost, outside that family, and we are trying to draw them in. That’s the fire in Jeremiah’s bones, and keeping silent about it was agonizing to him.
Openly confessing Christ as he has taught us to do, opens us up to a variety of abuses, and this should not surprise us. Jesus reminds us in John 15 that if the world hates us (which it does) we should remember that it hated him first, and that he is the master and we are the servants. A servant is not greater than the master, and since they persecuted the Master, they will persecute us as well. Paul told Timothy that all who will live godly in Christ Jesus WILL be persecuted. Bank on it.
Verses assuring us of such persecution abound, and it is not my intent to lay them all before you. You get the idea. Expect persecution. What I really want to encourage you to consider is the believer’s response. When persecution like this happens, the instant response from so many in the community of believers is a loud and pathetic, “Not fair!” followed by scores of comparative anecdotes that demonstrate the unfairness of it. That’s not the response we want to bring. It just makes us look weak and whiney. Instead we want to endure with patience and confidence. Bear up under the reproach, the hatred, the abuse, the unfairness. I’ll leave you with two wonderfully encouraging thoughts.
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. – However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (1 Peter 4:12-13, 16)
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12)
Victoriously in Christ!