For the Sake of Christ

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  2 Corinthians 12:10

A pastor recently wrote in a church newsletter about the jarring discovery that while she had vacationed for the joy of it to a faraway beautiful place, back home, in the town where she lives, 35 people were killed. This truth about the evil in the hearts of men reminds us that the evil that befalls Christians on account of their faith is really just part of the big picture. Satan runs loose in time and space, and he is viciously angry, because he has been eternally defeated by Christ on the cross. Evil has lost the eternal battle, and only here in temporary quarters is Satan able to exercise his malevolent purposes. In the book of Revelation, Satan is described as a great dragon who lashes his tail in frustration, sweeping a third of the stars out of the sky.

Knowing that he is on the loose in this world, so free to do harm that he presumed to offer Jesus the kingdoms of the world in return for Jesus’ worship, should put every Christian on alert. There is nothing personal in the evil that destroys families, kills children, addicts, talented artists, and so forth. Even the evil that files suit to remove crosses from public buildings and silence church bells and end the use of the words “Merry Christmas” is not directed at Christians personally. It is all about the fact that Satan wants to be God. All the assaults directed at Christians by cultures, by governments, and even by other religions are instigated by Satan for his ultimate purpose of either luring or clubbing people away from God. Sad to say, violence between groups of Christians is also part of Satan’s destructive work, because he delights most of all in perverting the faithful to fight with the faithful.

Paul knew what it was like to face all these things. A list of all the misery he endured is daunting to contemplate. It certainly makes “The War on Christmas” sound trivial. Unfortunately, none of it is trivial. In the US, when a family decides to host a weeknight Bible study only to have the homeowners’ association send the police to notify them that their guests are violating a parking covenant, that is just as certainly the work of Satan as when the government of Laos revokes the citizenship of six Christian families and confiscates their land because they refuse to recant their faith. It is evidence that Christians who live their faith are shaking the defenses of Satan’s kingdom, the kingdom of hell.

Satan hates it when the kingdom of God draws near. When Jesus began his ministry on earth, Mark records that this was his opening message: “The kingdom of God is at hand.”(Mark 1:15 ESV) Eugene Peterson best captures the revulsion of the demons Jesus met who growled, “What business do you have here with us?” (Mark 1:24 THE MESSAGE).

From that day to this, Satan has busily stirred antagonism against anyone who loves and serves Christ. Every Christian, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, brings the kingdom of God near to every person he meets. Those who believe Satan’s lies about sexuality, marriage and family think they have evolved to a place where they know more about sexuality than Christians who are “mired” in biblical rules. The dangerous part of this situation is not the disagreement. Satan knows that we can deal with disagreements and go on living side by side in peace. That is why Satan ratchets up the conflict by instigating spoken and written words that belittle Christians and their faith. A mild version of this attack says, “You are as irrelevant as your deluded belief system.” The strong version cannot be printed, even if I were of a mind to write such words. No matter what form the words take, they are intended to grate and grind and beat down people of faith who are encroaching on the territory Satan claims for his own.

In the US, at the moment, the attack is mostly limited to words. However, the federal government has served notice in lawsuits against the HHS employer mandate that it considers people to have forfeited the right to exercise their faith when they enter into commerce. Christians must recognize that stating this position in these lawsuits is an issue for people of faith, even if the government loses one or more lawsuits. By taking this position the federal government is serving notice that it considers the exercise of religion to be something that takes place in a worship space during a worship activity. The federal government of the United States is telling Christians that their voices must be silenced during any other sort of activity – such as education, commerce, political campaigns, and so forth.

Before there were radios and internet, combatants lined up for warfare received their commands by means of a bugle call. The federal government’s stated position with regard to the exercise of religion that is protected by the First Amendment must be interpreted the way soldiers interpreted the bugle call to “Charge!” That sound signaled the onset of a struggle. For Christians in the USA, the federal government has signaled its intent to shove religious practice into a building and lock the door. The Constitution was written by people who believed that every person has the obligation to live his faith in every part of his life, not just the part inside a church building. The struggle between these two conflicting views will be fearful.

Paul fought just such a battle in the Roman Empire. Christians over the past two thousand years have fought this battle with cultures and governments many times. Christians in countries like Uzbekistan and China are fighting this battle today. Weak though we may be in the face of the might of the US federal government, there is One who stands with us in this battle who is mightiest of all. We cannot fight this battle with our wits and our courage. We can only fight this battle by acknowledging that our wits and courage are worthless unless we fight in the strength of God’s power, because “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  2 Corinthians 12:10