Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The danger of pedestals

One of the dangers that I have noticed in our work with persecuted Christians is the danger of putting these brothers and sisters on a pedestal, bestowing them with special spiritual fervour, maturity, and grace. We call them spiritual heroes with extreme faith exhibiting extraordinary courage. And certainly this is not without merit on occasion. And perhaps those of us who minister to our persecuted family members are guilty of portraying them in this fashion, even columbus_fallswith the best of intents. But as I have experienced even today, persecuted Christians are prone to the same temptations and failures as those of us who live in religiously free countries. Some persecuted Christians commit adultery, lie, are dishonest, slander other believers, and abandon their faith in the face of violence.

What needs to be emphasized is that Christians, regardless of where they live out their lives, are what they are because of the grace of God and how they respond to it. In 1 Peter 2:19, the apostle stresses that enduring suffering is evidence that God is at work in your life. There is no glory for the sufferer. No hero worship. No merit for those who are able to endure hardship; no boasting of one’s achievements. It is evidence of God’s grace. It is all a work of God, from beginning to end. When people can suffer horrible persecution and endure, it is evidence that God has been at work.

In the same way, he concludes his letter in 5:6, by encouraging these dear believers to, therefore,

"Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because He cares for you."

As you put your trust in God's grace to sustain you, you realize that you have no reason to fear your oppressor, because He cares for you. How tragic that whenever we desire to be self-sufficient, we end up controlled by our fears. It is impossible to stand up to the pressures of persecution in such a state. Only in a trusting, dependent relationship with Christ, can we be freed from the tyranny of fear and a troubled mind (cf. 3:14). He goes on to write:

"Be sober minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world" (5:8-9).

The example of persecuted Christians has a tremendous pastoral value for those undergoing trials and tribulations of all sorts, including persecution (but not exclusively). Witnessing the grace of God in the lives of others, reminds us that God has not forsaken us. We are reminded that if He can help our brothers and sisters to go through the most horrendous situations and keep them faithful to Himself, He can help us too. As we witness the persecution of the Church around world, we are also reminded of the truth that suffering for Christ is an inseparable part of life for as long as believers live "in the world" that rejects Christ and them. It is not always just the message of Christ that is offensive to the world; at times it is even the mere presence of His followers.

Our calling is to remember who our enemy is and to recognize that our task is not to fight Satan - Christ has already defeated him - but to resist him; to refuse to fear him and his roaring, but to be firm in our trust in God, knowing that He is sustaining others around the world too.

In verse 10 Peter writes "After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace (there is that word again), who had called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you." This is the only place in the New Testament that God is called "the God of all grace." He is the source and giver of all grace; all of His divine power, bestowed on us in great variety, supplying help for every need and occasion. He works for and in us to accomplish His purposes, being unable to do this for ourselves. Having proved Himself to be rich in grace in saving us from sin and its penalty, we can trust Him to supply all of our present needs, and a hope for a glorious future of His eternal glory in Christ.

While God’s people may suffer for a little while now, we know that we have a glorious future. This is our "calling." This is not to minimize the reality of our present sufferings; God offers encouragement in its midst. We are reminded that this world is not all that there is.

In the meantime, the work of grace that God has begun in the lives of His people will not fall short despite the suffering that they must endure. Peter says that God will:

  • Restore them in the areas where they break down and fail,
  • Confirm them, giving them the inflexibility and support needed to withstand the temptations to deny Him without toppling
  • Strengthen them to resist Satan and to endure even to the point of death without collapsing
  • Establish them, giving them a firm foundation so that they will not be swept away. Left to their own unaided strength, they would fall.

Through their suffering God produces a fully restored and confirmed personal character in His people. Though Satan seeks to destroy, God takes his actions and turns them into the means by which He graciously develops His character into the lives of His people. Just as with Christ, there was no glory without His suffering, so it is with His children. Suffering never thwarts God’s purposes. Indeed, God knows no other formula but that of self-sacrifice and self-giving. This is His means of grace in a rebellious and fallen world.

In response to all this, Peter concludes, "To Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen." To Him, who thus acts on behalf of His persecuted people around the world, to Him and to Him alone, all praise is due. May we never be found to give the persecuted Christians the glory that only belongs to God for their faithfulness and testimonies of courage. As we reflect the image of Christ in our lives, this is, indeed, "the true grace of God" in which we are to stand firm to the end. "To Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen."

In other words, let's put God on the pedestal.  He won't fall off.


Anonymous said...

Good reminder. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

this article is good in reminding our brethren to focus on to God.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article and also very inspiring. I sometimes over-admire our suffering brethren because it seems they are standing strong under unbearable circumstances and I see my daily failures.