I suspect we’ve all had people tell us that anything negative that comes into our lives is there because we’ve allowed ourselves to think negative thoughts. While it has a certain logic to it, I believe the concept is flawed. Bad things happen to everyone. Job, one of the most righteous individuals who ever lived, claimed: “Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7) . Many of us have observed this in our own lives and in the lives of those around us.
Going back even farther, to the dawn of time, we learn of the earth falling under the curse of God because of human rebellion. That’s why, despite how hard we may work, we fail to get ahead; we aren’t satisfied; we always feel that we are climbing up-hill. Just when we think we’re at the point of meeting our goals, something bad happens: ill health, an accident, mental illness, a crime committed against us, (it could be anything), and we find ourselves struggling to regain lost ground. This is true for the vast majority of people on the earth today.
However, our particular interest on this program is in those who believe in the name of Jesus. Let’s look at some passages of scripture which remind us that Christians are singled out for some specific problems.
Matthew 19:29 gives us these words of Jesus: “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.”
Acts 15:26 speaks of Barnabas and Paul as “men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In Acts 21:13 Paul spoke to friends who were weeping at his departure from them: “What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
We do well to focus on the end of Matthew 19:29 where we read about believers receiving an abundance of blessings and the inheritance of eternal life. However we are naive if we don’t consider the first part of the verse —where we read of those who have left property and relationships for the name of Jesus. This echos another saying of Jesus found earlier in Matthew’s gospel where we read that “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:37-39).
The fact is that those who identify themselves with the name of Jesus belong to Him. They are no longer their own. They have a Master who sets the agenda for their lives. Too often, we forget this. We get caught up in the love of the world and the good things it seems to offer. We forget that all of its benefits last, at most, for our lifetime. Yet I see people who put the vast majority of their time and energy resources into the pursuit of acquiring and maintaining things which do not last.
Am I calling all Christians to take vows of poverty, owning nothing and depending on the generosity of others? Of course not. That isn’t Biblical, though it is the alternative that worldly Christians hold out at a time like this. In their desperation to hang onto the possessions and pleasures they’ve worked so hard for, they offer an exaggerated response hoping to silence the voice which calls them to “not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him,” as 1John 2:15 puts it.
I know, as much or more than anyone, what it is to be distracted by the good things of the world: music, art, travel, possessions, relationships, and so on. What I have learned is that while these things will always be there as a distraction to the believer, and while the believer may legitimately enjoy them as a sojourner in this life, loving them is entirely at the will of said believer.
Consequently, I stand in judgment of no one on this. I can’t see into your heart. If your conscience is pricked by what we’ve been thinking about, it isn’t because I have some special insight into the state of your spiritual life. All I’m doing here is helping you to see that claiming the name of Jesus calls us to affections which are different from those of the people around us who do not know Him and claim to love Him.
The verse in Acts 15 we read, reminded us that Barnabas, Paul, and thousands of Jesus’ followers since, have risked their lives. We’re not talking here about depriving ourselves of the good things of life for the name of Jesus, but the potential to lose our own lives. I’m aware that there are both literal and figurative applications of this example. Choose the one that fits you today. The question is the same: Are you willing to risk your life for the name of Jesus?
In Acts 21, Paul was bold enough to confess to his grieving friends that not only was he willing to be put in jail for the name of Jesus, he was prepared to die for it. There was no question in his mind about his priorities. His affection for his own life was nothing compared to his love for his Lord and doing His will.
So, while we love to think about the benefits we get from being associated with the name of Jesus, let’s not forget that there is, seen from a purely human point of view, a downside as well. There are rewards, yes, but there are costs, too. Now we’re going to look at one of the most hard-to-bear examples of those costs: persecution. Let’s look at some verses which remind us that taking the name of Jesus will provoke some others to hate us.
In the gospel passages the words we’ll read were all spoken by Jesus. Matthew 10:22 “And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.
Matthew 24:9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.
Luke 21:12 “But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake.
Luke 21:17 “And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake.”
John 15:18-21 “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ’A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.”
In Acts 5:40-41 we read about the Jewish high council “and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.”
In Acts 9:16 We read of God speaking to Ananias regarding Paul: “For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
In1 Peter 4:14 The apostle wrote: “If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.”
Hate, reproach, harm. These are things we would all prefer to avoid if we could, yet for those who identify themselves with the name of Jesus, they are the norm. Of course, in some contexts, it is more severe than in others, yet no Christian can really expect to avoid these things indefinitely, no matter how positively he or she thinks. I don’t propose to look at each of these passages individually, but rather to draw out the main themes and look at each one briefly.
The first thing we notice is that our claiming the name of Jesus causes some people to hate us. Some may be able to articulate a reason, though it may not be the real reason. Sometimes, they hate our failings and weaknesses, but that is different. Just as some people hated Jesus, who was perfectly righteous, some people will hate us for our imperfect righteousness. Christians, even in their weak attempt to live as the Lord has called them to live will serve as great irritant to those who benefit from injustice and unrighteousness. When those Christians take on an activist role in society, so much the more.
No one enjoys being the object of another’s hatred. God designed us for community and to be pushed away, rejected, and wished ill is hurtful for us. On one hand being despised by the enemies of God is nothing compared to having His approval, yet, it is not pleasant. It is even more unpleasant when that hatred is acted upon.
You’ll remember that Peter, in particular, spoke of the reproach that comes upon those who identify with the name of Jesus. By reproach here, I’m thinking about expressions, verbal and non-verbal which communicate the contempt and disapproval of others. Some social values are moving further and further away from what followers of Jesus can accept. The response of others is to condemn them for this. This can take a variety of forms from mockery to legal action. It is my observation that society is speeding up in its disapproval of Christians and what they stand for.
While reproach in your community, workplace and family can be almost unbearable, it pales in comparison to the effect of harm. Followers of Jesus not only need to be prepared to be hated and reproached, like the apostles, they need to be ready for physical harm. Sometimes this is at the individual level, one against one, if you like. Yet in some contexts, it is at the community level where mobs and sometimes even the legal system attempt to punish a believer primarily because of his or her faith. Often there will be some kind of inciting incident which serves to kindle the group hate, but all it takes is for one person to raise his voice against the believer to attract others who were waiting for a little leadership.
In John 15:25, Jesus told His disciples that the words ‘They hated Me without a cause’ found in Psalm 69 applied to Him. Frustrating as it may be, some will hate Jesus’ followers “without a cause.” Christians stand out as “different” and that, for some people of other religions and philosophies, is very irritating. Their very presence of a believer is enough to put them into a rage. Through the years, and even today, countless believers have been hated, despised, tortured, and killed for no other reason than that they are committed to the name of Jesus.
Many Western Christians have successfully blocked this truth about their association with the name of Jesus from their minds. Most others are unable to avoid it. In several countries it is “open season” against Christians, and while governments may not officially condone persecution of believers, they look the other way while it is being done. Judicial responses, when they cannot be avoided, are half-hearted.
The communication technologies we have today have made it difficult to remain ignorant of what is happening to our Christian brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. Once we know about it, we have to respond. Those responses range from denial to activism. We’re all different. We have different resources. We have different things to offer. But may I encourage all of us, at the very least, to acknowledge that persecution of our brothers and sisters in the faith is happening.