Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Standing Firm in the Midst of Persecution
1Pet. 3:15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you;
1Pet. 3:16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.
Peter was writing to believers who were facing horrible persecution under the leadership of Nero. It is hard for us to even imagine what that must have looked like on a daily basis and yet in the midst of it all, he was trying to encourage those who had become followers of Jesus Christ. He begins here by encouraging them to "sanctify Christ as Lord." This language is important as we realize that the Emperor would have required people to engage in Emperor worship and therefore to declare that "Caesar is Lord." These followers of Christ had to have holy hearts, hearts that were sanctified to be able to declare that indeed it was Christ -- the Messiah who was Lord, over and above the leadership of the world. This was the hope that was to live within them -- the knowledge that their Lord was the resurrected Messiah who had come to set all of humanity free and they needed to be prepared to give that defense at any moment. It was a hope that was alive and living within them. How easy it would be to react in a defensive manner, and yet, they are admonished to respond out of gentleness and reverence, even in the face of danger! Why? So that the followers of Christ could have a clear conscience. Notice that Peter doesn't say "if" you are maligned, but instead says, "when" you are maligned. The persecution was coming, it would happen and there would be those who would abuse the followers of Christ. But the Christ-follower needed to remain connected to the holy Christ so that no matter what those around might say, the follower could not be put to shame.
We are not facing the same types of persecution today that the church faced under Nero, but there remain persecutions for Christ-followers both from within and without the church. It's sad to say that there may be those who face persecution from within Christianity itself. Why would that be? Because not all who calls themselves "Christians" are indeed Christ-followers. Our world is filled with people who could claim to be culturally Christian but they live without a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. These who like to perceive themselves as outwardly Christian are often the harshest toward true Christ-followers. They create great disturbances within the Church because they do not realize that they perceive the Church as existing for them and not as the bride of Christ. Their focus is on themselves and not on Christ. This is why the point is made, that first and foremost, we are to sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts. The altar of our heart is where we need to get things right. Christ is Lord and that means that he is above all else! But when that relationship is not in its rightful place, then we get frustrated as things become twisted around and actions emerge from a self-centered heart. In some of these instances I have observed followers of Jesus Christ suffer persecution within the very walls of the church. And yet I have also watched as Saints have been created as they have responded with gentleness and reverence.
There is also persecution which exists from outside the church and is worse in some countries of the world than in others. Amazingly where the church faces the greatest persecution we are also seeing the greatest growth. Why might that be? The people of Peter's day had to "sanctify Christ as Lord" and be prepared day in and day out to make a defense of their faith. Could it be that when we have life a bit easier we are no longer challenged to "sanctify Christ as Lord" and nor are we challenged to defend our faith on a daily basis? If we have never been challenged to defend ourselves, we have no practice in preparing our defense. We become weak and take our walk with Christ for granted.
Life will not always seem fair. Some people will face greater persecution than others. Some people will have less roadblocks than others. Some people will lose their lives for what they believe, while others will be lifted up for what they believe. In our human understanding it seems to make no sense, and yet in God's economy, while it may not be pleasing to him, he promises to never leave us or forsake us. That is why we must begin with the foundational understanding that no matter where we find ourselves in life, we must "sanctify Christ as Lord." We need cleans hands and a pure heart; a pure heart that allows for nothing else but Christ to be Lord of all things. When this is the case, then we can move forward into a world that may or may not be hostile to our beliefs, but at the same time be prepared to share our hope in Jesus with anyone whom we may encounter.
Persecution? We must be prepared for whatever comes our way and this is only possible through Christ who is in us. Jesus is Lord!
Lord, please help me to live and move forward in you daily. Amen.