20 January 2019

Soaked

Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon


The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 27, sermon number 1,578, "Taught the we may teach."







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"We are to be impartial in our study of the word, and to be universal in its reception." 





Set your whole heart on the word. Some people like to read so many chapters every day. I would not dissuade them from the practice, but I would rather lay my soul asoak in half a dozen verses all day than I would, as it were, rinse my hand in several chapters. 

Oh, to bathe in a text of Scripture, and to let it be sucked up into your very soul, till it saturates your heart! The man who has read many books is not always a learned man; but he is a strong man who has read three or four books over and over till he has mastered them. He knows something. He has a grasp of thoughts and expressions, and these will build up his life. 

Set your heart upon God’s word! It is the only way to know it thoroughly: let your whole nature be plunged into it as cloth into a dye.


13 January 2019

Call upon, stir up, take hold


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Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 23, sermon number 1,377, "Taking hold upon God."


"There is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee." 
Isaiah 64:7

"We have in these days a race of time servers and word spinners to succeed the real men."

I do not know that the condition of the church of God at the present time is quite so bad as that which is here described. It would be wrong to boast of our condition, but it would be worse to despair of it. It would not be honest to apply the words of our text to the church of the present day.

Blessed be God, we could not say, “There is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee,” for there are many who plead day and night for the prosperity of Zion. Yet in a measure we are somewhat in the same plight as that which is described by the prophet, and there is much to mourn over. 

Prayer languishes in many churches, power in intercession is by no means a common attainment, and meetings for prayer are, as a rule, thinly attended, and not much thought of. Sin abounds, empty profession is common, hypocrisy is plentiful, and the life of God in the soul is but little esteemed.

Notice carefully that according to our text the prophet traces much of the evil which he deplored to the lack of prayer. After he has compared their righteousnesses to filthy rags he adds, “there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee.” 

When there is a degeneracy of public manners, you may be sure that there has also occurred a serious decline of secret devotion. When the outward service of the church begins to flag and her holiness declines, you may be sure that her communion with God has been sadly suspended. Devotion to God will be found to be the basis of holiness and the buttress of integrity. 

If you backslide in secret before God, you will soon err in public before men. You may judge yourselves, my dear hearers, as to your spiritual state by the condition of your hearts in the matter of prayer. How are you at the mercy seat? for that is what you really are. 

Are the consolations of God small with you? That is a minor matter; look deeper,Is there not a restraining of prayer before the living God? Do you find yourself weak in the presence of
temptation? That is important; but search below the surface, and you will find that you have grown lax in supplication, and have failed to keep up continual communion with God.

07 January 2019

Owing Nothing to Anyone

by Hohn Cho



or my handful of regular readers, I apologize for the extended silence. November and December are always my busiest months of the year, and this year it was even more hectic than usual. Happily, things are calming down quite a bit, and I'm determined to keep calm and blog on. And lately, I've been meditating quite a bit on Romans 13, both the first seven verses on the topic of submitting to government, and for the topic of this post, Romans 13:8, "Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law."

On a horizontal level, precisely because of this verse, my desire is to owe nothing to anyone except love. This is something which the Scriptures command and exhort us to do. And thus it is—at least conceptually—something possible for us to do, to some extent. Now, when I say that my desire is to owe nothing to anyone, I don't say this in an arms-folded, "I got mine and everyone else can go pound sand" kind of way, but rather in an earnest way that makes the paying of debts and the fulfilling of commitments an affirmative burden on my conscience.

And so it is that the (increasingly rare) occasions I have an empty inbox and task list are a source of great satisfaction for me, as is my gradually dwindling list of financial obligations. Accordingly, it is at best disconcerting when certain people point their fingers at me, and others like me, and claim that we owe them something, when to the best of my knowledge and recollection, I owe nothing to these folks. In many cases, I've never even met them before!

How and when does this happen? Well, in the United States, we often see it in the context of discussions about "privilege" and social justice. The vastly simplified argument goes something like this: Some people were born into more privilege than others, and some of the folks with the least privilege (with ethnicity being the most common category cited by many "social justice" advocates here) even have the deck systemically stacked against them by society. This is fundamentally unfair, and so the ones with less privilege are owed something, with the payors being society, or the more privileged, or both.

My response to these arguments has been that they appear to be based (whether knowingly or unknowingly) on concepts borrowed from secular Critical Race Theory rather than drawn from the Bible. I think Kevin DeYoung said it well in a blog post last year:

I have my concerns with the term "social justice" and with all that it connotes. But what if we press for a less culturally controlled and more biblically defined understanding? Several years ago, I worked my way through the major justice passages in the Bible: Leviticus 19, Leviticus 25, Isaiah 1, Isaiah 58, Jeremiah 22, Amos 5, Micah 6:8, Matthew 25:31-46, and Luke 4. My less-than-exciting conclusion was that we should not oversell or undersell what the Bible says about justice. On the one hand, there is a lot in the Bible about God's care for the poor, the oppressed, and the vulnerable. There are also plenty of warnings against treating the helpless with cruelty and disrespect. On the other hand, justice, as a biblical category, is not synonymous with anything and everything we feel would be good for the world. Doing justice means following the rule of law, showing impartiality, paying what you promised, not stealing, not swindling, not taking bribes, and not taking advantage of the weak because they are too uninformed or unconnected to stop you (emphasis added).

Having independently studied many of the same Scriptures and concepts, I agree with DeYoung's conclusions entirely, and in considering what "doing justice" means, it's important to note that his entire list consists of individual actions and not systemic or societal or collective actions. And most of those individual actions are quite mundane, such as following the law, neither breaking the law nor taking advantage of people, and as we also see in Romans 13:8, paying what you promised, what you actually owe.

But wait wait wait, you say, DeYoung also mentions showing impartiality, aha, what about that? Well, I've written on this issue before, and the great majority of the secular attempts to address past partiality, such as affirmative action, are prime examples, in and of themselves, of unbiblical partiality.

The reality is that all of us are born with certain privileges, or to use a more biblical word, blessings. Similarly, all of us are born with certain trials. God has assigned those blessings and trials, and as a Christian, I'm called (in James 1:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, and elsewhere) to be joyful and thankful for both the blessings and the trials. Now, if God has especially blessed the circumstances of a person's birth, there's certainly a Scriptural argument to be made that that person is more accountable before the Lord for his or her blessings (see, e.g., The Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25:14-30, and Luke 12:48b, "Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more"). But being held accountable by the Lord for one's blessings is entirely different from being held accountable by a stranger who claims you owe him or her something.

And this brings us to the second half of Romans 13:8, on love. As I strive to love my neighbors, my desire will always be to do so proactively and lavishly, and particularly toward the people for whom I'm most responsible. Scripturally, that's my immediate family per 1 Timothy 5:8. It's my fellow Christian brothers and sisters even more so than non-Christians per Galatians 6:10. It's the specific believers in my own local body per Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:2. It's the people who cross my path per Luke 10:30-37. It's the people who actually ask me for help per Luke 6:30.

That last example reinforces the point I'm trying to make, I believe. An earnest request for help, genuinely needed and without expectation or presumption, is a humble act. And my loving desire will certainly be to help that person, within the bounds of capacity and wisdom. Perhaps I can meet the need fully, perhaps I can meet it partially, perhaps I can't meet it at all. Regardless, I'm going to be much more inclined to help a person like that, because God gives grace to the humble as we see in 1 Peter 5:5 and James 4:6, and in His rich mercy, God often chooses to use His servants to provide that grace.

In contrast, an angry demand, a sense of entitlement, or even a false claim that I owe someone something, when in fact I owe that person nothing except love, are all signs of pride, which God opposes with military fervor in those same verses of 1 Peter 5:5 and James 4:6. And while I might not (although perhaps I might) send even that person away with nothing at all—because after all, I am no better than that person, and God was gracious to me even when I was His enemy—anything I give would be an unmerited act of grace and mercy and charity. What it would not be, however, is an act of justice, or a discharging of a debt or obligation.

Understanding this very key difference between justice and mercy is of great importance to the "social justice" debate, along with other distinctions such as the Gospel itself versus an outworking of the Gospel, and the line dividing an appropriate attempt to exhort others via Scripture from a pharisaical attempt to bind others' consciences on a matter of Christian liberty. Regardless, if I haven't borrowed from or made a promise to someone, if I haven't directly wronged someone giving rise to an obligation of restitution to that person, I don't owe that person anything, even if he or she was born in a far less advantageous position, or has fallen upon hard times of late. Even if I might have been assigned five or two talents by my Master, while the other was assigned only one. No, the only thing I owe that person is love. It's not a small thing, certainly, but neither is it a guilt-inducing debt under the law. And as we conclude Romans 13:8, we see how that very same love actually destroys the law's burden of shame, "for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law."

So when strangers try to tell you that you owe them something, a helpful question to ask in response might be, "How, specifically, have I personally wronged you?" And if the answer is a bunch of spluttering rhetoric about indirect systemic catchphrases, I can say with some degree of confidence that you probably haven't wronged them at all; they're merely trying to sell you something, specifically a sense of guilt and shame for circumstances of birth completely beyond your control, all of which has been fully paid for on the Cross in any event, for those truly purchased by the blood of Christ.

As I've written before, the Word is crystal clear in places such as Acts 23:1, Acts 24:16, Romans 9:1, 1 Corinthians 4:4, 2 Corinthians 1:12, 1 Timothy 1:19, 2 Timothy 1:3, and 1 Peter 3:16 that a Christian is capable of maintaining a clear conscience toward certain people and on various issues. By all means, ensure your conscience is properly formed by the Scriptures, take care to examine yourself, and don't just blithely give yourself a pass. But if your conscience is indeed clear on matters such as these, heed Galatians 5:1 by not letting any person subject you again to a yoke of slavery, especially when Christ has set you free.


Hohn's signature

06 January 2019

Held

Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon


The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 34, sermon number 2,031, "David dancing before the Ark because of his election."
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"Dear brethren, there is great power in the truth of election
when a man can grasp it."

Personally, I have overflowing joy in the doctrines of eternal, unchanging love. It is bliss to know that the Lord has chosen me. When I am down very low in spirit, I crave for those old books which, like the Lord Jesus, are full of grace and truth. 

You who are at ease in Zion can do with the chaffy modern theology; but when your heart is heavy, and especially when your conscience is under a sense of sin, you will want these two dishes on the tablefree grace and dying love, and you cannot do without them. 

We must have an atoning sacrifice, and free grace to make us partakers thereof. I cannot give up the doctrines of grace, for they are my life. I do not so much hold them as they hold me. The five fingers of the great doctrines of grace have enclosed my heart. 

I can die; but I cannot deny the imperishable truth. The doctrine of the eternal choice gives forth joy as myrrh and cassia give forth perfume. May you all know it! 

01 January 2019

Onward!

Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from the metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 19, sermon number 1,114, "Onward!"
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"Never mind though you have run so far, you must let the space which lies between you and the goal engross all your thoughts and command all your powers."

Some people seem to have very good memories as to what they have performed. They used to serve God wonderfully when they were young! They began early and were full of zeal! They can tell you all about it with much pleasure.

In middle life they wrought marvels, and achieved great wonders; but now they rest on their oars, they are giving other people an opportunity to distinguish themselves—their own heroic age is over. Dear brother, as long as ever you are in this world forget what you have already done, and go forward to other service!

Living on the past is one of the faults of old churches. We, for instance, as a church, may begin to congratulate ourselves upon the great things God has done by us, for we shall be sure to put it in that pretty shape, although we shall probably mean the great things we have done ourselves. After praising ourselves thus we shall gain no further blessing, but shall decline by little and little.

The same is true of denominations. What acclamations are heard when allusion is made to what our fathers did! Oh, the name of Carey, and Knibb, and Fuller! We Baptists think we have nothing to do now but to go upstairs and go to bed, for we have achieved eternal glory through the names of these good men; and as for our Wesleyan friends, how apt they are to harp upon Wesley, Fletcher, Nelson, and other great men!

Thank God for them: they were grand men; but the right thing is to forget the past, and pray for another set of men to carry on the work. We should never be content, but “On, on, on,” should be our cry!

When they asked Napoleon why he continually made wars, he said, “I am the child of war; conquest has made me what I am, and conquest must maintain me.” The Christian church is the child of spiritual war; she only lives as she fights, and rides forth conquering and to conquer.

God deliver us from the self-congratulatory spirit, however it may come, and make us long and pine after something better!

31 December 2018

Let the Church Seek God's Honor, Not this World's Acclaim

An addendum to last Friday's theme
by Phil Johnson

Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.—James 4:4



cripture forbids believers to imbibe the world's values (cf. 1 John 2:6; Romans 8:5-6; Matthew 6:19-21) or set their affections on things of the earth rather than on heavenly things (cf. Colossians 3:2; 1 John 2:15; Matthew 16:23). Christians do not belong to this world. We are not beholden to the world. We cannot legitimately court the world's admiration or approval. And it is wrong to think otherwise. Jesus told His disciples, "If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:9).

That truth is ignored or rejected by multitudes of 21st-century evangelical Christians who wrongly believe that if the church does not first win the world's friendship and admiration, we have no hope of reaching anyone for Christ. Some of today's largest and most influential churches even take surveys to find out the desires and ambitions of unbelievers in their communities. Then they plan their Sunday services accordingly, putting on a performance that caters to what people say they desire.

Popular televangelists follow a cruder version of the same strategy, promising people health, prosperity, and riches in return for money. They are today's equivalent of the medieval indulgence-sellers. These religious charlatans make their appeal blatantly and directly to "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life"—the same carnal cravings that 1 John 2:16 says are "not of the Father but . . . of the world."

Churches are full of people who are sinfully obsessed with the whims and entertainments of this world. They are desperate to keep up with various worldly fads and secular celebrities. They wrongly believe that if they embrace the icons of pop culture, the world will also embrace them and therefore be more open to Christ. So they wear the badges of worldly fashions; they echo the key elements of worldly wisdom; and they immerse themselves in worldly amusements. They cultivate an unhealthy appetite for attention, popularity, and worldly approval, convincing themselves that this is a valid evangelistic strategy.

Even in the highest echelons of evangelical academia certain scholars seem driven by an unhealthy yearning for academic renown. They become so desperate to win the admiration of their counterparts in the secular academy that they willingly compromise the truth and sometimes even apostatize completely.

The wish to be noticed and admired by other people is itself a carnal, illegitimate lust. Jesus condemned the Pharisees because, "They [did] all their deeds to be seen by others" (Matthew 23:5). They made a show of public piety to give the impression they were holier than anyone else.

Like the Pharisees, today's stylish evangelicals fancy the praise and recognition of other people. But unlike the Pharisees, most of them want to be noticed for being hip, not holy.

It dishonors Christ when Christians try to fit into the fraternity of those who hate Him. Scripture is very clear about this: "Friendship with the world is enmity with God."

According to Jesus, the only business the Holy Spirit has with the world outside the church is to "convict [unbelievers] concerning sin and righteousness and judgment" (John 16:8). Those are precisely the themes that are typically omitted when churches become too interested in winning the world's approval.

The church must get back to preaching the gospel, remembering that the message of the cross, when faithfully preached, is by God's own design "a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:23-24). The gospel alone is "is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16). Christians should not be ashamed to proclaim it.

It's true that if we are faithful, many in the world will view us with contempt as enemies—and we must be prepared for that. "Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you" (1 John 3:13). The world put Christ to death, and He said, "A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:20).

Furthermore, our Lord Himself didn't shy away in shame or retaliate in anger. Indeed, "to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. . . . When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly" (1 Peter 2:21-23).

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From 95 Theses for a New Reformation: For the Church on the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, edited by Aaron B. Hebbard (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2017), 144-45.

28 December 2018

An "Irresistible" Faith and Its "Likeable" Devotees?

The Bible Confronts a Major Modern Misconception

by Colin Eakin



"How do I know if I am a true Christian?"

Have you ever asked yourself that question? God says you should. Paul writes to the Corinthian church, "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!" (2 Cor. 13:5). So those who desire to be true followers of Jesus Christ are expected to assess whether Jesus truly lives within. How is this done?

This question was anticipated and answered by the Lord Jesus Himself. He told a group of recent Jewish believers, "If you abide in my Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31b-32). So according to Jesus, the criterion for knowing who truly belongs to Him is fidelity to His Word, which brings knowledge of truth, which brings everlasting freedom from the sin—its penalty, its power and (one day) its presence altogether.

Well, how hard could that be—staying true to Jesus' Word? One look at the modern evangelical church would indicate harder than you might think. In fact, one of the most astounding and appalling realities of our present day is how many would-be faithful followers of Christ regularly imbibe teaching that is not only not what Christ taught, but is in fact the exact opposite! And of all the topics where what the Bible teaches and what is commonly taught as true are most at odds, at or near the top is the anticipated response of the world to the Christ-led life.

Take, for example, the latest book from the pastor of one of America's largest churches. In it, he claims that if Christ-followers were to live out the faith as was originally taught and exampled by Christ, the appeal of that faith would be irresistible to a watching world. Similarly, another American megachurch pastor and popular author this past year exposited Matthew 5:20 for his congregation as follows:
To understand Jesus, we might actually translate Matthew 5, verse 20—a really core statement in the Sermon on the Mount—"Unless your 'likeability' surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven." We think of righteousness as this kind of cliché, pious thing, but really it's very much . . . to be a likable, caring, loving person.
Is that true? Is the authentically lived, Christ-led life "irresistible" to a watching world? And is "likeability" an anticipated assessment we should expect those outside the Church to attach to the genuine Christ follower? What is the biblical testimony in this regard?

Answer: it would be hard to parody what the Bible has to say more outrageously. The modern evangelical notion that authentic Christianity and its eminently "likeable" Christ-followers should be "irresistible" to the surrounding world could not be further from what the Bible actually says. This would even qualify as outrageous lampoon—such as from the Babylon Bee—were it not for the fact that these teachers are 100% serious. As it is, the only way such evangelical charlatans can get away with this scandalous deception is that their listeners must never bother to open and read the Bible.



Here is how "irresistible" Christianity was at its outset. Nearly two years into Christ's ministry, the question on the mind of one witness was: "Lord, will those who are saved be few?" (Luke 13:23). And Jesus does not contradict this assessment, but informs His followers that the path to salvation is agonizing! (Agonizing paths, it should be obvious, are not irresistible.) Then, by the end of Christ's earthly tenure, after thousands upon thousands had heard His message while eating divinely-prepared food and being miraculously healed of every condition imaginable, the sum total of believers was not many more than 120 in an upper room in Jerusalem (Acts 1:15), with 500 more in Galilee (1 Cor. 15:6). Even given generous approximations, the "conversion rate" of Christianity while the Son of God walked the earth seems to have been in the neighborhood of 0.1%—hardly an "irresistible" number.

As for the "likeability" of true believers, Jesus says to those He sent out during His ministry, "You will be hated by all for my name's sake" (Mt. 10:22). (Likeability, it should be obvious, does not induce hatred). He says of the future destiny of His followers in His Olivet Discourse, "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake" (Mt. 24:9). And in John 15:19, He declares to His Apostles, "If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, therefore the world hates you." So, according to Jesus, the faithful life of believers engenders hatred from the world, a far cry from "likeability."

Well, maybe these were ominous predictions of Christ simply because He knew that His fallible followers would fall so far short of His example. But Christ was "likeable" while here in earthly form, wasn't He? After all, if we as Christians are to be His "likeable" followers, our Mentor must have epitomized this quality, right? The answer is found in John 7:7, where Jesus says to His brothers (who, at this point, were not yet believers in Him), "The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify about it that its works are evil." And in John 15:18 and 20, Jesus provides clarification to His above warning (John 15:19) to His Apostles: "If the world hates you, know that it hated Me before it hated you . . . Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his Master.' If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you."

Wow. Jesus says He wasn't likeable because of His message, and His Apostles were given the same unpopular message, guaranteed to make them pariahs. So Jesus was hated, as were His Apostles. But maybe that all changes by the time the Church gets off the ground. Doesn't God want His church to be popular? Isn't that how it grows, through pragmatic, "seeker-friendly" methods designed to optimize the appeal of Jesus? What is the expectation of the NT writers on this topic?

To this, we find that Peter's expectation of odium and mistreatment for faithfulness to Christ is no different from Jesus' day. He informs his readers:

"Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you" (1 Pet. 4:12-14).
Paul, too, anticipates the unpopular nature of Christianity and its converts when he preaches in Lystra that entrance to the kingdom of God is fraught with many tribulations (Acts 14:22). In 2 Cor. 11:23-28, Paul itemizes exactly how "resistible" his message was as he details the litany of imprisonments, beatings, and near-death experiences that it brought. And toward the end of his ministry, he writes to Timothy, "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Tim. 3:12).

So, the anticipation of Jesus and His Apostles is animosity and persecution for the faithful, just as Christ Himself received. They anticipate that most will reject the far-from-irresistible message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:47), and will turn on those who devotedly proclaim this gospel. In fact, the atrocious interpretation of "righteousness" as "likeability" in Mt. 5:20 is especially egregious, because not only did Jesus teach the exact opposite, but He did so only moments earlier in the same talk! He declares in Matt. 5:10-12:

"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. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
Clearly, Jesus is not on board with the idea that His message is supposed to be "irresistible" to the world and that his followers would be known for their "likeability." These specious musings are so opposite from what Jesus actually had to say that, again, the natural impulse is to assume it is all meant as satire, except for the dead-serious nature of its exponents.

So if, in reality, the biblically-expected response to gospel presentation is mostly rejection of its message and revilement of its adherents, how then are those adherents to stay faithful? After all, no one in right mind would choose a life of rejection and persecution without some compelling incentive. Without a gripping motivation to remain true, the tendency to defect would be overwhelming. In fact, even during the earthly ministry of Jesus, many of His followers deserted Him as the cost of discipleship began to hit home (cf. John 6:60, 66). As Paul writes to the Corinthians, "If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied" (1 Cor. 15:19).

But it is not in this life that the believer has hope. Rather, faithful followers of Christ are those who have relinquished all earthly attachments, including their own lives, in hope of the eternal blessing to come (Luke 14:26). They are those who have denied themselves and daily take up the cross of shame and reproach originally intended for Jesus (Luke 9:23). As Paul explains to the Galatians, "But far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." True followers of Christ are those who have already been crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20) and now consider it a small thing to forsake everything for His cause.

Referring back to Matt. 5:12, Jesus actually exhorts the maligned believer to "rejoice and be glad" for such mistreatment. Why? Jesus goes on to link suffering on account of Him with one's eternal reward. His undeniable implication is that one's experience of persecution is a barometer for how faithfully one is proclaiming the gospel, which in turn brings greater blessing in heaven. In fact, if one is not experiencing any persecution from the world, one must wonder if he or she is really living a life faithful to the Savior.

Finally, Jesus connects the suffering of His present faithful with the treatment received by His former Old Testament prophets. These "spirits of just men made perfect" (Heb. 12:24) now enjoy the incomparable bliss of holy communion and perfect fellowship with God as they await their promised resurrection (Dan. 12:2; 1 Thess. 4:14-16). Today's faithful are to look to these heroes of the past, those " . . . who died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth" (Heb. 11:13). These prophets of old—"of whom the world was not worthy" (Heb. 11:38)—desired something beyond this world, "a better country, that is, a heavenly one" (Heb. 11:16), the same heavenly dwelling Christ has prepared for all who repent and believe in Him (John 14:3).

So, to review:
  1. Christ's true followers abide in His Word, a considerable challenge given the abundance of anti-biblical notions in today's modern evangelical morass;
  2. Christ's Word promises widespread rejection—not "irresistibility"—of the Christian faith, and widespread persecution—not "likeability"—for Christ's faithful followers;
  3. One's experience of persecution is a barometer for how faithfully one is sharing the gospel message of "repentance and the forgiveness of sins" (Luke 24:47);
  4. In like manner, one's eternal reward will directly depend upon one's faithfulness in the face of persecution;
  5. Christ's faithful followers are to endure persecution like the prophets of old by anticipating the glorious reward that awaits them in the coming age.
Dr. Colin L. Eakin Pyromaniac

Dr. Eakin is a sports medicine orthopædic surgeon in the Bay Area and part time teacher at Grace Bible Fellowship Church's Stanford campus ministry. He is the author of God's Glorious Story.