This Wednesday night’s Bible Study (6/28/06) has us in Acts 16, where Paul and Silas plant a church in Philippi and subsequently get thrown in jail. It’s amazing to see the ups and downs of Paul’s life and yet see in him an almost constant outlook of praise. Keep in mind that Paul had already been beaten with rods unjustly (not only was he innocent of the charges, he was also a Roman citizen who had a right to a fair trial), he had been physically drug into court, he had been attacked by a mob, and he had been placed in the stocks in the most secure part of the prison. Roman jailors were known to be as ruthless as possible with the stocks, usually spreading the prisoner’s legs as far apart as possible to ensure cramping. Why is Paul going through all of us? Because he preached the gospel, and cast a demon out of a slave girl. Yet what is Paul (and Silas’) response to all of this?
What would your response have been? I find that oftentimes we are ready to shake our fist at God if we have to wait at a stop light or if our air conditioner breaks down. How would we handle “real” persecution? Paul was suffering tremendous physical pain and was scorned by all in town. His response? “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God.” (Acts 16:25 NASB) How on earth could they be praising God? The answer is that they loved God and treasured God more than anything and saw it as an honor to suffer for him. This was the same attitude that Peter and John had earlier in Acts. After being flogged they, “Went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.” Acts 5:41 (NASB) Did you hear that? They rejoiced at being “worthy to suffer” for Christ. Why is it that we see suffering for the faith as God’s punishment when the apostles saw it as God’s blessing? I think its probably because they remembered and believed the words of Jesus: “Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.” (Luke 6:22-23 NASB)
Could it be that the apostles were living for Heaven more than we are? Could it be that they lived everyday knowing they would stand before the Lord and give an account? (see 2 Cor. 5:10) Perhaps if we were getting flogged for our faith it would help us to long more for Heaven. Suffering usually loosens our grip on Earthly things; and persecution usually separates the true believers from the phonies. What we need to do is break ourselves free from our love for the world and teach ourselves (by God’s grace) to long for Heaven when things are going “good.” That way, when the day comes and things go bad (we get flogged for being a Christian, or made fun of, or ridiculed, etc.) we will already be in the right “Heavenly” frame of mind.
Interestingly, I think our Wednesday night Bible Study plays right into our Sunday morning sermon. This Sunday I will be preaching about Judgment Day for the Christian. We will all stand before the Lord to be judged for what we have done on earth. Works will not determine our salvation because we are saved by grace alone through faith alone (see Ephesians 2:8-9). But God will judge us based on what we’ve done since our conversion. Love God above all things, and live for the reward, which awaits in Heaven. Don’t embrace the junk of this world, which will one day rust and burn (see 2 Peter 3:10). Live for the eternal crown which you will receive for your works done out of love for Christ. And then think of that glorious day in Heaven when you shall cast that massive (or minute--depending upon your works) crown at the feet of Jesus.
P.S.--To read about REAL Christian persecution click on this link http://www.persecution.com to be taken to The Voice of the Martyrs website.