Representing Christ

The final words of Jesus that are recorded by Matthew are instructions for His followers to carry out while He is away: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The idea of spreading out all over the world is itself a daunting task, but for many of the early missionaries for Christ, travel and culture shock were only the beginning of their troubles. People were going to HATE them for being Christians: “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19)

This posed a real problem for the early church. Hatred can often lead to violence, and the Roman government had very little tolerance for troublemakers whose religion led to violence. So what could the church do, to maintain its credibility and its political freedom while also standing up for Christ? The book of 1 Peter appears to have been written as an answer to that question.

Peter writes the book specifically to the “aliens” who have been scattered all over the known world for the sake of Christ, and he addresses all kinds of difficult situations that they may encounter.

What if Christ’s people find themselves disagreeing with the governing authorities?
What if a Christian servant finds himself serving an unjust master?
What if a Christian wife finds herself with an unbelieving husband?
What if a Christian finds himself in an argument in which his faith is called into question?
What if there are arguments within the church itself?

All of these situations must have been common for the early church, and any of them could have ended badly for everyone involved, but Peter’s instructions contain a steady theme that runs throughout the book:

Stand up for Jesus Christ, but do so in a way that is above reproach. Do not give them any reason whatsoever to slander your character. Be respectful. Be gentle. Be humble. Demonstrate through your behavior just how beautiful and beneficial your religion really is.

As Jesus said in Matthew 7: “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.”

The world will judge our message not simply by what we say, but also by how we say it, and what we do to demonstrate it. When we argue on behalf of Christ, let us do it, as Peter says “with gentleness and reverence.”

After all, Jesus Himself is our ultimate example. He was unjustly nailed to a cross.   He could have called ten thousand angels. But instead He responded by praying for our forgiveness and entrusting Himself to the Father.

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A Nation in Great Need

I have an American friend who lives in an African country where he teaches school. He is not a Bible believer, but he asked for my help recently in constructing a Biblical argument that he could use to persuade his neighbors to stop brutally beating their children. At night he often hears their shrieks as he is trying to get to sleep.

Having traveled to various countries outside of the U.S. and visited areas of various economic status, I can understand my friend’s experience of being uncomfortably close to his neighbor’s problems. In many places around the world, people live in densely populated clusters, homes are not constructed to be even remotely soundproof, windows may not have glass panes, and the vices of your neighbors are on display around the clock. To be sure, many living in apartments in the U.S. have similar experiences.

I think this may help to explain why Americans so often feel that they are “advanced” and “civilized” above and beyond people in other places. Because we have thick walls. Or, in more general terms, because we do a good job of hiding our problems out of sight and pretending that they do not exist.

How many children will shriek tonight in America, but with no neighbors around to hear it? How many men will use their private high speed internet to view pornography from the comfort of their office, without ever having to make a risky trip to a house of prostitution? How many will abuse prescription medication until it controls their lives, while trying as hard as possible to appear normal for the sake of appearances? For that matter, how many will cry themselves to sleep, confused and lonely, and then get back up the next day and act like everything is fine?

I say all of these things as a warning, lest we forget how essential is the life changing power of the Christ. Technology, wealth, affluence, “civilization” will not save us, it will only help us to hide our vices from one another. But only Christ can make us whole.

The U.S. is a nation founded on Christian ideals, many of which remain strong to this day. But her people, like those of all nations, can be described by the words of Jesus in Matthew 7: “The gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

Paul put it this way in 1 Corinthians 5: “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world.”

Sin and its effects are everywhere, whether we see them on full display or not. Just because your neighbors seem fine as they smile at you while they briefly emerge from their houses to collect their mail, this does not mean that they are not in desperate need of the gospel.

I love my country, but it is not a utopia, nor will it ever be. We may be one of the richest nations on earth, but we are in desperate need of the truth of God’s Word. We are perishing without it, and most of us will continue to do so. Will you enter through the narrow door, and to bring as many with you as you can?