Persecution

You, however, have followed my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, my faith, my patience, my love, my endurance, as well as the persecutions and sufferings that happened to me in Antioch, in Iconium, and in Lystra (See Acts 13-14). I endured these persecutions and the Lord delivered me from them all. Now in fact all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
2 Timothy 3:10-12 (NET)

The least claimed promise of God – the promise to be persecuted. Paul states this as a fact – something that “has really occured or is really the case”. Facts can be verified by experience. This fact has been verified in Paul’s life and in the lives of the Apostles, missionaries and pastors all around the world. The premise of the statement is simple: if I have been living a Godly life, I will be persecuted. Persecution is to be expected; persecution is the norm.

Now comes the clincher: have I been persecuted? I cannot say for certain yes. What does that say about the life I live?

Those are hard question to ask myself, but if I am to live by the promises of God, those are one of the promises.

All Things To All Men

Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek. The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
Acts 16:1-3 (Also read Galatians)

In Acts 15, the question rose as to whether circumcision was required of Gentile believers. The council met to discuss this matter. The Christian Pharisees insisted that circumcision was needed for salvation. Peter argued that it was not required and Paul gave testimony affirming that any Law added to the Gospel wasn’t the gospel anymore. He had seen first hand the Spirit’s work in uncircumcised Gentile Christians and was fully convinced that Gentiles do not need to become Jews in order to follow Christ (Colossians 3:9-11). The debate was settled when James declared it not to be required after hearing both sides. Paul and Silas were then tasked with the duty of going from church to church and educating them in this.

However, here in Acts 16, Paul does a strange thing. He circumcised Timothy. We might be led to think that this Paul back paddled on the decision of the council, but it is obvious that he did not. He did it for Timothy’s benefit, so that Timothy could travel among the Jewish community and be accepted as one of them. This was important for Timothy because the Jews would not associate with him otherwise!

For the Jews, circumcision was an important marker that sets them apart. It was a sign of the Covenant of Abraham (Genesis 17:10-14), and thereby their own covenant since they considered themselves sons and daughters of Abraham (Luke 13:16). This important point  of separation between a Jew and a Gentile was a part of the Law (Leviticus 12:3).

Paul’s stand is that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision holds no value for Christians (Galatians 5:6, 6:15). It is very much a neutral thing. Circumcision was of no value to Timothy, he didn’t gain any spiritual benefit by doing so. However without circumcision, Timothy would have been deemed as unclean and repulsive to the Jewish community. His access to bring the gospel and minister to them would have been hindered. It was perhaps of practical importance that Timothy was circumcised.

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.
1 Corinthians 9:19-22

For a young man brought up as a Gentile, such as Timothy, this was no easy feat. His circumcision would have been painful. It requires weeks of recovery (6 weeks in this modern era) and risks infection. But to Timothy it was only a small sacrifice for a bigger cause. The temporary pain was endured so that the gospel wouldn’t be limited by him. He put the gospel first and his own comforts and security second.

  • What in my background hinders me from spreading the gospel that I need to cut off?
  • What comforts and security needs to be taken away for me to be more effective in reaching out?
  • What is my greatest sacrifice for the furtherance of the gospel?

These are potent questions. I don’t think I have given enough. There is so much in my life that is just excess and a hinderance to the gospel. I am only thankful that I don’t have to endure physical circumcision.

Death and His glory

So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.
John 11:3-5

Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
John 12:23 (see also v27-28)

After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify youI have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”
John 17:1, 4-5

The hardest question to answer when we are faced with death is “why”. Why did he have to die? Why at this age? Why now? Why is God so cruel? Jesus gives Lazarus’ death a convincing reason – “for God’s glory”. In the same way, He gives His own death a convincing reason – for His glory.

Lazarus’ death was symbolic of Christ dead in purpose. Lazarus died that God might receive glory (John 11:4). Christ died that God would receive glory (John 17:1). Lazarus was raised again that they might believe in Him (John 11:14-15, 25-26). Christ was raised again that they might believe in Him (John 20:8, 24-25, 28-29).

We often hear that Christ died for us because of His great love for us (John 3:16). That is true. But while we shout that from the mountain top, we often forget that His primary motivation was for His own glory. In fact, He loves and saves us for His own glory (Isaiah 43:6-7, Isaiah 48:9-11) and after we are saved, we are to glory Him with everything (1 Corinthians 10:31). God’s glory is central Lazarus’ death as it is with Christ death.

So what about our death? Why do we die? The simple answer is: as a consequence of sin (Genesis 3:19). And for us, our death also glorifies God.

  • Lazarus’ (temporary) death was glorifying to God because it brought people to believe in Jesus as the resurrection and life (John 11:14-15, 25-26, 45)
  • Christ death was glorifying to God because He was obedient even to the cross (John 17:4-5)
  • Paul considered death glorifying to God because he finally gets to be with Christ; earthly things mean so little to him (Philippians 1:20)
  • Peter’s appointed death was glorifying to God because He was crucified upside down after being persecuted for the gospel (John 21:18-19)

What about our eventual death? Will it show forth God’s glory? How?


Father, death is a hard subject and there is so much that I don’t know. But I believe that death can also be glorifying to you. I don’t know how and I don’t know when death will come, but I pray that when it does, all the glory will indeed go to you.

Amen.

To live

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.
Philippians 1:18-26 (NIV)

“Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death” – What a view of life and death! There is so much to grasp from Paul’s words. In a short passage, he models a view of life and death that offers life even in death.

Paul could afford to rejoice because he was entirely confident of his deliverance. This is because Christ was the source and reason for his deliverance. He would be delivered with “prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” (v19, See also: 2 Corinthians 5:5) so that “Christ will be exalted in his body” (v20). Although he didn’t mention what deliverance means we know that he was not deluded in reality; Paul understood that the prospect of death was just as real as the chance of his release. Even in the face of this harsh reality, he stood with “confident hope” that he would have “complete boldness” (v20) for Christ to be exalted. That was how he has always lived and that is what he desires even in the face of death. He wasn’t fussed that he had to give up this mortal body. Paul’s view of his body (and perhaps time on earth) was that it was just a tool for exalting Christ. In the use and disposal of this body, what is most important is that Christ is exalted. (See also 2 Corinthians 4, “treasure in jars of clay”)

Paul then exposes something of himself, he says “I don’t know which I prefer: I feel torn between the two.” (v22-23) Not suprising, his personal choice would have been to be with Christ, “which is better by far”. He is so confident of being with Christ and the joy that will bring (See also, 2 Corinthians 5:1-3,8) that he yearns for it. He has no fear of death like most do, instead he looks forward to that day of deliverance. But his priority  and agenda was not himself, but “for the sake of” (v23,25) the church. Being sure that there is still “productive work” (v22) waiting for him, he is certain that release is coming his way. His release did not just mean life for himself, but faith and confidence for the church. Paul’s living and walking testimony of life builds such faith, joy and confidence in Christ!

Paul sums up his life well, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain” (v21). Christ was so all encompassing in his life that living IS Christ. Christ isn’t just the reason, Christ defined his entire life for as long as he was to stay alive. To him, Jesus was the source, the sustenance, the agenda, the goal all the way to the end of life. Paul lived the reality of Jesus as his way, truth and life (John 14:6). So much so that being in prison and facing death didn’t phase him much at all!

What a view of life and surety of life after death! What an ability to lay aside his mortal body and personal agenda for Christ our Lord! And all that in such dire circumstance!

This passage wasn’t just about sharing his view and life. It was about modelling it for the Philippians. They were facing persecuting as well (v30) and Paul was revealing his secret to facing persecution and opposition with a smile. What an example for all of us to follow!

Fuel for the flame

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.
Philippians 1:12-14

Paul’s experience of being in chains has been brewing in my head for some time. Here are some observations:

“Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel.”
Paul starts off without a hint of complaining or whining, even though he is in chains. His concern is solely for the advancement of the gospel (Philippians 1:18). In that respect, he has succeeded. Paul being in prison did not slow down the spread of the gospel. It did not even come to a halt. In fact, the gospel was advanced because he was in prison. Him being in prison is the reason for the advancement. It seems that his readers (affectionately called brothers and sisters) would have thought otherwise.

“As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.”
Being in prison did not impede him from spreading the message. With his chains, he found a preaching avenue where his listeners would have no choice but to listen. He gleefully accepted the job of being the prison chaplain. Although he was physically constrained, his influence soared far beyond his physical movements. Where he couldn’t go, his story could. So he became the message. The tables seemed to have turned, it looks like the gospel was getting free publicity while the guards were in chains to Paul.

“And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.”
His chains did not just have an effect to unbelievers, it had a secondary effect on believers as well. The first thing to note here is that they became confident in the Lord. Paul effectively proved that chains do not hinder the message of the gospel and instead pushes the gospel out. He has proved what they have known all along – that God is God even in prison; the gospel is the gospel even in prison. Christians hearing of his experience now know without a doubt that the God who commands the gospel to be preached (Matthew 28:16-20) advances the gospel even while we are in chains. Indeed being in chains is not a hinderance, it is an opportunity! With that confidence, we have no more fear in speaking the Word. If chains spread the gospel, what more can freedom do!

I think I need a new perspective about evangalism. I need to put aside my petty worries about being restrained or persecuted and look at the God who uses every and any opportunity to save the lost to Himself. In a land where prayer is taken out of schools and Christian chaplains struggle to present the gospel, I want my story to go where my voice cannot be heard. I want my story to be synonymous with His message.