Taking a stand for Christ, for truth, for righteousness will make a target out of a Christ-follower more quickly than anything else. Any Christ-follower who would deign to verbally, publicly stand against sin must be prepared for an inevitable onslaught of back-pressure from the evil one.
The world is not friendly toward Christ-followers, and at times we respond to that reality with shock, surprise, and animus, rather than with a nod of expectation and understanding.
Last week, we distinguished between the discipline of a loving father and the attacks of the enemy. We embrace the father’s discipline while resisting the enemy’s attacks. This week, we look at the inevitability of those attacks, and our response to them.
The World’s Hatred
Abandoning the darkness of the world for the light of Christ results in a dramatic remaking of the new Christ-follower from the inside out. The apostle Peter describes the reaction to our rebirth as expressed by our former companions, those with whom we chased after our sensual passions prior to pursuing a life of purity in Christ.
They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. – 1 Peter 4:4, NIV-1973
Is the world “heaping abuse on you?” Are you mocked and belittled by those with whom you formerly indulged your senses?
There is an ongoing conflict between the spirit of godliness and the spirit of worldliness, and if that were not so, we should find it alarming. As a follower after Christ, you and I have dramatically different worldviews from those who do not follow Christ. These opposing worldviews cannot be reconciled. What the world praises, God despises. And what God exalts, the world reviles, including us.
The apostle John was quite blunt about this when he said, “Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you” (1 John 3:13, ESV). Yet we often see surprise, acrimony, and even outrage expressed at the world’s hatred directed toward the faith.
The online community is rife with expressions of lament at the unfairness of the way Christianity is attacked in unequal proportion to every other faith. “Do NOT be surprised,” John says.
Jesus expanded on this when he said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” (John 15:18, ESV).
The Inevitability of Hatred
The apostle Paul made it equally clear to Timothy that we should expect persecution.
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. – 2 Timothy 3:12, ESV
Paul did not say we “might” be, or “could” be persecuted. It is not that there is a sixty-seven percent chance of scattered persecution. No. This is a sure thing. If it is your desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus, you will be persecuted for that. If that is not your desire, then you can live in relative comfort.
If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. – John 15:19, ESV
The Incompatibility of Light and Darkness
There is endless enmity between the spirit of light and the spirit of darkness. Even within the body of Christ, those who have compromised in order to fit in with the world will take offense at those who stand firm on the foundation of truth.
It is easier to stay silent, even if we disagree with the darkness standing directly before us. But we are called, instead, to be lights shining amidst a crooked and perverse generation (Philippians 2:15).
God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5), and we are called to be light. But people are not comfortable with pure light.
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” – John 3:19-21, ESV
In the physical world, light and darkness cannot co-exist. Light will always dispel darkness. No amount of darkness can overcome even the slightest light. The most meager bit of light from a single match cannot be overcome by every unit of darkness brought against it. My suspicion is that it is the same in the spiritual world – that darkness is overcome by light.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12:21, ESV
The Believer’s Response
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, ESV
In contrast to every shred of human impulse within us, Jesus says we rejoice when these events occur. We do not merely endure them, or submit to them. We respond to them with rejoicing. The apostle Peter also added his voice to this discussion.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you…Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. – 1 Peter 4:12-14, 16, ESV
After being beaten by the leaders of the council and the senate of the people, the apostles demonstrated the very attitude Peter has called us to.
Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. – Acts 5:41
The victory is in not submitting to and succumbing to the reviling. The victory is in overcoming persecution with Joy.