Prayer for the Persecuted

Life in Tension by Stephen W. HiemstraPrayer for the Persecuted

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Eternal and Compassionate God,

We thank you, Lord, for visiting us when we are afflicted and suffer unjustly.

For you are a God who cares, who understands our grief, our wounds, our sorrows, our diseases.

We lay our afflictions before you for we cannot bear them alone.

Heal our wounds, comfort us in our griefs, and purge us of disease.

Restore us; redeem us; save us; in doing so teach us to bear the wounds, griefs, and diseases of those around us and to point them to you.

Teach us to intercede for the people around us in action and in prayer.

For you are our God and we are your people.

You are with us; you are for us; and you have given your name to us.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, let our security reside only in you, now and always.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

 

Also see:

Grief Prayer 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2vfisNa

 

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36. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webEternal and Compassionate God,
We thank you, Lord, for visiting us when we are afflicted and suffer unjustly. For you are a God who cares and understands our wounds, our sorrows, our diseases. We lay our afflictions before you for we cannot bear them alone. Heal our wounds, comfort us in our griefs, purge us of disease. Restore us; redeem us; save us; in doing so teach us to bear the wounds, griefs, and diseases of those around us and to point them to you. Teach us to intercede for the people around us in action and in prayer. For you are our God and we are your people. You are with us; you are for us; and you have given your name to us. In the power of your Holy Spirit, let our security reside only in you, now and always. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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35. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webAlmighty Father,
We give thanks for the many blessings that you have given us. Among these gifts are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. May we likewise bless others with these gifts. Sanctify us in your righteousness that we might be fit stewards of your grace. And if our sanctification includes persecution, grant us to bear it with strength and dignity and grace always pointing to source of our strength and dignity and grace which is you. And as long as life shall remain in us never separate us from your love which is Christ Jesus that we may share it with others until we meet you in glory. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Kodak Prays for the Persecuted

Kodak_review_05162016Betsey Kodat. 2015. Arise, LORD! Scriptural Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Herndon, Virginia: CreateSpace.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The annual number of Christian martyrs in 2015 has been estimated to have been 90,000 people. This estimate is a decline from 377,000 in 1970s in the heyday of world communism,[1] but it is still about three times the number (34,400) in 1900 (IBMR 2015, 29) and has probably increased since that estimate was made because of genocide reported in the ISIS conflict in the Middle East. Those directly affected by genocide and martyrdom thankfully remain a small portion of the Christians worldwide suffering persecution.

Betsey Kodat In her book, Arise LORD! Scriptural Prayer for the Persecuted Church, takes her title from Psalm 3—

O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God. But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill. I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around. Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked. Salvation belongs to the LORD; your blessing be on your people! (Ps 3:1-8 ESV)[2]

—and focuses on intervening for those affected in prayer (3). Prayer is, of course, hard enough because in order to pray for the persecuted, one needs to admit to yourself that persecution exists and believe in your heart that God both truly exists and cares enough to intervene. Intervening in prayer also requires admitting our own impotence to stop persecution, often a hard step for gung-ho Americans, so by inviting us to pray for the persecuted God is also inviting us to set aside our pride and approach Him in humility. This need of humility is aptly captured in the cover graphic displaying the disciples in the storm on the Galilee (Matt 8:23-27) which symbolized persecution and early church fathers referred to as “the ship of Peter” (7).

In approaching prayer for the persecuted, Kodat recommends a 4-part movement in prayer:

  1. Opening Prayer,
  2. Strategic Prayer,
  3. Specific Prayer, and
  4. Closing Prayer (7).

The basic prayer in 4-movements structures the core chapters in her book and the group prayer template, which functions as the book’s concluding chapter (166-168). Kodak expands these 4-movements into 6 steps in application, allowing for preliminary research and a period of spontaneous prayer just before the closing (15).   Let me turn briefly to each of these 6 steps.

Step 1: Preliminary Research. Kodat admonishes us to: “Research target needs before you pray, using reputable resources, then select prayers that meet these needs” (16) She then offers a list of websites that can be used to undertake this research. Research for prayer might seem like overkill, but in prayer we are asking God to channel His power to specific ends. By engaging both our hearts and our minds, taking time to be specific demonstrates to us and to God that we are serious about prayer.

Step 2: Opening Prayer. Kodat recommends that we open prayer employing 6 specific topics: placing ourselves in God’s hands, praising God, binding Satan, confession, thanking God, and song (17). These instructions remind me of the “harp and bowl” prayers of the saints (Rev 5:8) where music and petitions are mixed together in continuous prayer.[3]

Step 3: Scripture-based Strategic Prayer. Kodat offers a list of 7 topics for strategic prayer to select among for particular occasions. This list includes—general needs, strength, leaders, supporting churches, nations, national leaders, and persecutors[4]—and it targets topics that may prevent or correct the problem of persecution (18).

Step 4: Scripture-based Specific Prayer. Kodat offers a fairly short list of 4 specific prayers (19)—for crises, recovery from crises, ongoing oppression, and a 4-page list of specific items mentioned throughout the book (170-173). Being specific in prayer has commonly been promoted as a way to channel God’s power, but channeling is unnecessary for an all-powerful God; a better explanation for channeling is so that God’s concern for us would be more obvious (John 9:3).

Step 5: Spontaneous Prayer. Kodat advises us to “pray with Holy Spirit insight as your heart leads.” (20) This advice might seem out of place because for most people this is the only way that they normally pray, but something more interesting is at work. If we become too formal in our prayers and neglect to engage our hearts, then we pray for reasons other than love—remember the Apostle Paul’s admonition:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Cor 13:1-3)

Nothing is gained by praying without love, in part, because our love marks us as disciples of Christ worthy of God’s attention to our prayer (1 John 4:21).

Step 6: Closing Prayer. Kodat’s guidance on closing prayer is brief:

“Choose a blessing, and pray it in unison along with ‘leaving our concerns with God’ and the Lord’s Prayer” (20).

In particular, Kodat advises us to pray corporately to intensify the power of prayer (21).

Betsey Kodat’s Arise, LORD! Scriptural Prayer for the Persecuted Church is a readable and thoughtful devotional focused on interceding for the persecuted church. Each devotional includes an introduction to the topic, suggested resources, a list of suggested prayers, and scriptural resources. In addition to being a prayer warrior, Kodak writes, teaches, and is a dedicated mom,[5] but I know her best for her tireless work for the Capital Christian Writers’ club[6].

[1] Communism is an atheist philosophy and remains widely influential in secular circles even today. Over time, communist nations have been fairly open in their persecution of Christians who are often accused of representing a foreign influence. This idea of foreign influence is also an excuse used in the case of Middle Eastern persecution of Christian minorities (Iwanicki and Bailey 2012).

[2]A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son…” (Ps 3:1).

[3] International House of Prayer (http://www.ihopkc.org).

[4] This rather-unusual idea of praying for the persecutors comes directly from Christ—“You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt 5:43-45)—who essentially advised us to persecution as a ministry opportunity.

[5] http://www.BetseyKodat.com.

[6] www.CapitalChristianWriters.org.

REFERENCES

 International Bulletin of Missionary Research (IBMR). 2015. Christianity 2015: Religious Diversity and Personal Contact. Cited: 28 December 2015. Online: (http://www.gordonconwell.edu/ockenga/research/documents/1IBMR2015.pdf).

Iwanicki, Hugh and Dave Bailey. 2012. Shock and Alarm: What It Was Really Like at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. North Charleston: CreateSpace. (Review: http://wp.me/p3Xeut-1pl).

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Persecution Can Be Transformative

Life_in_Tension_web“And Saul approved of his [Stephen’s] execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution
against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the
regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” (Acts 8:1 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In my grandparents’ home, every meal began with prayer and ended with a scripture reading. During my college years at Iowa State University, I used to travel to visit them on the weekends. At one point when it was my turn to pick a scripture passage, I read the story of Stephen. Well, sort of. I could not read the story without breaking out in tears…

The charge against Stephen was twofold:

“This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” (Acts 6:13-14 ESV)

Stephen never disputed the charge and offered no defense. Instead, he accused the Jews of false worship and not keeping the law (Acts 7:48,53) effectively validating their charges. What drove them crazy, however, was when he reminded them of Jesus’ words during his trial:

“But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matt. 26:64 ESV) [1]

Jesus was paraphrasing Daniel 7:13. This was clear a claim of divinity. Stephen’s stoning was spontaneous and illegal under Roman law (John 18:31). Yet, it was approved by Saul (Acts 8:1). Persecution requires a persecutor.

By his own words, Saul was an zealous persecutor (Phil 3:6). Saul is introduced in Acts 7:58 with the execution of Stephen. In Acts 8 we are told that he not only approved of Stephen’s stoning, he led the persecution of the church in Jerusalem that followed (Acts 8:1, 3). Saul’s persecution is described with the word ravage (λυμαίνω; Acts 8:3) which suggests a path of self-destruction as in the proverb: “When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the LORD.” (Prov. 19:3 ESV)

In leading the persecution of the church, Saul both assists in scattering the Jerusalem disciples to the regions of Judea and Samaria—fulfilling the commission of Christ in Acts 1:8. For example, we read: Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word (Acts 8:4 ESV). In doing so, at his worse Saul still acts as an unwilling, unknowing instrument of the Holy Spirit. However, when Saul sets his course to oppose Christ’s commission in the scattering by going to Damascus, he meets the risen Lord who, unlike in the case of Judas Iscariot (Matt 28:5), graciously prevents him from self-destruction. Even before his conversion, the Apostle Paul, formerly Saul, accomplished God’s will and his own call (Acts 9:15-16).

A spiritual bond is formed between the persecuted and persecutors. Charismatics refer to it as one of the chains of Satan because turning into our pain is a clear choice to turn away from God [2]. Forgiveness breaks this bond and makes room for God’s Holy Spirit to work in our lives (Rom 12:19). Interestingly, the Apostle Paul never forgot Stephen and mentions him in his speech before the Sanhedrin when he is arrested in Jerusalem in which recounts his own conversion (Acts 22:20). Was Paul God’s answer to Stephen’s prayer: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”? (Acts 7:60 ESV)

The Book of Acts reports that the Holy Spirit worked through persecution to establish the first gentile church in Antioch. We read:

“Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews.” (Acts 11:19 ESV)

The key word here is scattered (διασπαρέντες). The only other place in the New Testament where this word appears is in Acts 8:4: Now those who were scattered [by Saul’s persecution] went about preaching the word. The word suggests an action of the wind—in English we say scattered by the wind [3]. The word for wind in the Greek is pneuma (πνεῦμα). This word is also translated as Holy Spirit. The inference is that the Holy Spirit established the church at Antioch by means of persecution. Because the apostles remained primarily in Jerusalem at this point, God went ahead of them to establish his church in “all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV), much like God has used the Pentecostal movement in our own time to reach much of the known world.

The implication here is that persecution is used by God to shake things up and to form not only individuals but also His church.

 

[1] Also see: Mark 14:62 and Luke 22:69.

[2] Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane gives us a clear template for dealing with pain (Matt. 26:39-44 ESV).

[3] The allusion here is to Luke 8:5-15, The Parable of the Sower.

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Persecution Gets Personal

Life_in_Tension_web“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and
utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (Matt 5:11 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The ninth beatitude is the capstone beatitude and it repeats beatitude eight emphatically. The parallel in Luke’s Gospel is even more explicit. The ninth beatitude also requires special attention because the first and last points in a list are in a literary sense the most important. The emphasis here is emphatic.

Tension with others is intensified in several dimensions. Notice the verbs—revile, persecute and slander (utter evil falsely)—replace persecute. And notice how the object of this vitrol shifts from righteousness to me (on my account). The tension here is intensified because what was generic persecution becomes a personal attack (Wilkins 2004, 211). The tension is also amplied by the shift from the third person (they) to the second person (you) (Neyrey 1998, 168). I suspect that Jesus was looking into the eyes of his disciples at this point. To use a military analogy, Jesus is like the commander who addresses his troops as the friends because he knows that they will watch his back as they go into battle.

The key verb here is revile (ὀνειδίζω) which means: “to find fault in a way that demeans the other, reproach, revile, mock, heap insults upon as a way of shaming” (BDAG 5316(1)). Closely related is the noun form (ὄνειδος) of the word which means: “loss of standing connected with disparaging speech, disgrace, reproach, insult” (BDAG 5318). Revile (scorn, disgrace, reproach) is used biblically in several specific contexts:

1. “She conceived and bore a son and said, God has taken away my reproach.” (Gen 30:23)
2. “If a man takes his sister, a daughter of his father or a daughter of his mother, and sees her nakedness, and she sees his nakedness, it is a disgrace, and they shall be cut off in the sight of the children of their people. He has uncovered his sister’s nakedness, and he shall bear his iniquity.” (Lev 20:17)
3. “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.” (Isa 25:8)
4. “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.” (Ps 22:6)
5. “Then I said to them, You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” (Neh 2:17)

The controlling idea here is to be left exposed to public ridicule for bareness, nakedness, or weakness—like a woman caught without clothes or a city without walls. Notice that several of these verses are messianic passages cited by Jesus himself.

Understanding the full weight of what is being said is requires a word about cultural context. Jesus is addressing disciples in a communal, honor and shame culture. Neyrey (1998, 168-169) that the beatitudes address a common theme—the poor, the hungry, and the mourning—shared by disciples having been driven out of their families and communities. The three verbs—revile, persecute, and slander—point likewise to a social stigma and explusion—someone being disinherited and driven out of the family and community.

The passage about the early church in Acts often cited as an example of unity—

And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. (Acts 2:44-45)

—may actually have been time of significant stress for the disciples. Still, persecution marks one as a Christian and is therefore also a mark of salvation (Rev 22:4)

REFERENCES

Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v.9.>.

BibleWorks. 2015. Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, LLC. <BibleWorks v.10>.

Guelich, Robert. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding. Dallas: Word Publishing.

Neyrey, Jerome H. 1998. Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Wilkins, Michael J. 2004. The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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Blessing Those that Persecute

Life_in_Tension_web“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” (Romans 12:14 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Increasingly even in America, Christians find themselves the target of isolation, persecution, and even murder. During 2015 alone, a woman was jailed for publically espousing Biblical views on marriage [1], a church was the site of a mass shooting [2], and Christians were publicly beheaded by Islamic extremists [3]. These were only the most recent events. Few of us will forget the shooting of Cassie Bernall at Columbine High School for professing faith in Jesus Christ in 1999 [4]. Persecution of the faith is part of everyday experience.

From the cross, “Jesus said, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34 ESV)

Persecution reminds us of who we are, who we belong to, and what we are about.

Who We Are. Jesus links persecution directly to our identity saying: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt 5:12 ESV) In effect, persecution for righteousness sake validates our faith and puts us in league with the prophets.

Who We Belong To. We are citizens of heaven (Phil 3:20) and undocumented workers here on earth. The Apostle Peter writes:

“Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (1 Peter 2:10-12 ESV)

If our identity is in Christ, people look at us differently expecting to see Christ in us [5]. If we behave like everyone else, then we bring shame on Christ and on ourselves.

What We Are About. Again, the Apostle Peter writes:

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:13-17 ESV)

Persecution is part of the mix of trials that we should expect to suffer [6].

Persecution also helps us establish priorities. Poorly focused objectives divides scarce church resources to the point that almost nothing at all is accomplished. Persecution helps us focus on Christ’ mission, not our own.

When Jesus talks about us being salt, it is attached to warning. Listen again to his words:

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” (Matt 5:13 ESV)

Trampling is a good analogy for the persecution of a church that has lost its way. Its better to be persecuted for righteousness sake (1 Peter 3:17).

 

[1] http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/07/politics/kim-davis-same-sex-marriage-kentucky-governor.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charleston_church_shooting.

[3] http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/19/africa/libya-isis-executions-ethiopian-christians.

[4] http://www.cassierenebernall.org.

[5] “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the LORD: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.” (Isa 51:1 ESV)

[6] “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died– more than that, who was raised– who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
(Rom. 8:34-39 ESV)

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Prosecute Righteousness

Life_in_Tension_web“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:10 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The eighth beatitude continues our look at tension with others. Persecution is probably the most obvious form of interpersonal tension. Yet, it is sometimes more obvious to third parties than it is to us because we are prone to practice intense denial about such things. Denial is a strong component here, in part, because we have trouble admitting to ourselves that we are being persecuted and, in part, because of our tendency as Christians to think aspirationally. If we truly have the mind of Christ, we see others as Christ sees them—the person that God created them to be, not as they actually are.

As the Apostle Paul reminds us:

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Phil. 2:4-7 ESV)

James also provides important insight into our attitude about persecution:

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4 ESV)

In effect, persecution for righteousness’ sake is part of our sanctification. So we are sometimes strangely blind to the persecution that we experience and even surprised to hear about it. For example, Billy Graham (1955, 98) poses a somewhat paradoxical question: “Why are good people persecuted?”

Here the word, persecution (διώκω), means: “to harass someone, esp. because of beliefs, persecute” (BDAG 2059(2)). Often persecute is used in the context of a military engagement vigorously pursued (e.g. Deut 11:4). Guelich (1982, 93) notes that the perfect participale form of the word is uniquely used here and no where else in the Bible and it suggests actual community experience, not a hypothetical possibility. The word, righteousness (δικαιοσύνη), means: “the quality or characteristic of upright behavior, uprightness, righteousness” (BDAG 2004 (3)). Where a would-be king might hunger and thirst to acquire a kingdom, we are to hunger and thirst for righteousness and expect to have others hunger and thirst to persecute us. The Bible reminds us that being called a Christian was often associated with suffering and not always considered an honor (1 Peter 4:16) [1].

Jesus’ association of persecution with righteousness was prophetic. Luke’s Gospel records these words from the cross:

“One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us! But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong. And he said, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. And he said to him, Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43 ESV)

Notice that each of the elements of the eighth beatitude are present in Luke’s pericope: the idea of righteous persecution followed by the reward of heaven.

Religious persecution is as old as the story of Cain and Abel. Cain killed Abel out of jealousy for Abel’s sacrifice being accepted by God when his own was not. In effect, Abel was righteous while Cain was not so Cain persecuted his brother unto death (Gen 4:3-9). Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was similiarly stoned for, among other things, pointing out the persecution of the prophets (Acts 7:52-53)[2].The Apostle Paul admonishes us:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:35-37 ESV)

Jesus reminds us that a student is not better than his teacher. He was persecuted; we will be persecuted (Matt 10:24-25). But Jesus did not stop there. He admonished us to: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44 ESV).

In doing so, we turn our enemies into our friends.

 

[1] “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” (1 Peter 4:16 ESV)

[2] “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” (Acts 7:52-53 ESV)

REFERENCES

Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v.9.>.

BibleWorks. 2015. Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, LLC. <BibleWorks v.10>.

Graham, Billy. 1955. The Secret of Happiness. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc.

Guelich, Robert. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding. Dallas: Word Publishing.

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Tension with Others

Life_in_Tension_web“You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 5:43-45 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

We depend on other people; they depend on us.  When we become Christians our mutual interdependence with others is complicated in two distinct ways which work in tension.

First, success in sanctification creates a perceived holiness gap between ourselves and other people because biblical and cultural values differ. When I started seminary, for example, I discovered one day that some of my friends had stopped using profanity when I was around—an interesting measure of this gap.

Second, God loves people.  If we are truly to draw closer to God and begin to take on the mind of Christ, we need to love the people that God loves [1].  Emulating God’s love, we want to share all that is precious to us with them—especially our faith.  Consequently, if sanctification creates a gap between us and others, then our mimicking of God’s love works to bridge this gap.  God’s love compels us to practice sacrificial love—we simply do not want to leave our loved ones, friends, and neighbors to perish in their sin.

After blessing Abraham, God revealed his plans to Abraham including a plan to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their sin (Gen 18:17-20). Abraham then prayed to God to spare the cities for the sake of the righteous found in them (Gen 18:23-32), presumably knowing that his nephew, Lot, and his family are in Sodom. Lot, whose judgment was often flawed, found it no problem to live in Sodom and only left Sodom on the urging of angels sent to retrieve him (Gen 19:16). Lot’s wife found it even harder to leave Sodom.  She disobeyed the angels by looking back at the flaming city and was turned into a pillar of salt (Gen 19:26).

Reflecting on the story of Abraham and the cities, how does the church today position itself relative to culture?  Are we praying to redeem the culture like Abraham, attracted to the culture like Lot, or fatally attracted to the culture like Lot’s wife? In the New Testament, the church is described as the one’s called out[2] suggesting perhaps that we, like Abraham, want to pray for our neighbors, but, like Lot, find ourselves attracted to the culture.  The Apostle Paul writes:  “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Rom 7:19 ESV) Like Paul, we are a confused bunch. Consequently, our salvation rests on no merit of our own, but is only available through atonement of Christ (1 Cor 15:3).

In his life and atoning death, Jesus offers us a way out of this dilemma, a fourth alternative—serve the culture faithfully and sacrificially leaving final judgment to God [3].  He instructs the disciples:

And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.
(Matt 10:11-15 ESV)

Those unwilling to accept the Gospel, are left to their own devices—a kind of New Testament curse for rejecting the new covenant in Christ which is echoed, for example, also in the writings of the Apostle Paul (Rom 1:28).  Clearly, sacrificial ministry has its limits (shaking off the dust from the sandals for those unwilling to listen) and is certainly not a capitulation to the culture!

Three of the Beatitudes deal specifically with this gap with others:

  • Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. (Matt 5:9-11 ESV)

Here, Jesus offered consolation for disciples suffering persecution.  He neither denied that the gap exists, excused it, or told them to run away from it.  Instead, he likened them to salt and light, and directed them to: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44 ESV).

For the Christian disciple, tension with others is the norm, not the exception. We are citizens of heaven who are in the world, but not of the world. And our tension is motivated by love.

 

[1]  Love defines who God is:  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 ESV) Love also defines the church, as Jesus commands: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 ESV)  When we sacrificially love people outside the church, we emulate God.

[2] The word for church in Greek is ekklesia (ἐκκλησίᾳ) which literally means ones called out (1 Cor 1:2).

[3]  Find an example of this lesson in the Book of Luke.  Luke writes:  “And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?  But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village.” (Luke 9:52-56 ESV)

 

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