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.

Advertisements

It Starts with You

In Acts 1:8, Jesus told His followers, “you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

These instructions paint a picture of widening concentric circles spreading out to cover the globe. And indeed, the influence of the church spread out all over the Roman Empire and to the ends of the earth, and it continues spreading to new places to this day.

The church here in Mankato would like to see this as a model for our own efforts to spread the good news. Start in this city, then spread out all over the state, the country, and the world.

But there are times when the Bible would teach us to think smaller for a moment, instead of always thinking big.

In Philippians 2, Paul told his audience to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Some translations even say “work out your own salvation,” in order to emphasize the fact that this is a personal task for the Philippians to think about themselves.

The church has a lot of work to do, but we must make sure that we know where are we are going before we try to lead others there.

In Luke 6, a parable of Jesus is recorded: “A blind man cannot guide a blind man, can he? Will they not both fall into a pit? A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”

If we go out to halfheartedly spread a gospel that we ourselves have not been transformed by, we risk succeeding only in converting people to the same apathy and hypocrisy that we are practicing.

If we go out with logs in our eyes trying to remove specks from the eyes of others, we may succeed only in making matters worse.

This is exactly what Jesus accused some of the religious leaders of His day of doing in Matthew 23:15, “You travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”

Consider also the common scriptural illustrations of salt, light, and leaven. Salt can be spread out all over a large peace of meat in order to preserve it, but what if the salt loses its unique quality? A lamp can shine out on a hilltop for all to see, but what if a bushel is placed over it? Leaven can spread out to affect an entire loaf of bread, but what if the leaven is dead?

Let’s be a light in our city, our state, and our world. But let’s also be a light in our local congregation, our own homes, and even when we are alone in our rooms with the door shut. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, then go and share what you have found with the world.