Wednesday, September 23, 2015

In Christ…Persecuted

            Ananias was afraid to go meet Saul, the man who was infamous for persecuting Christians, even at the command of Jesus. But Jesus was determined to have Saul. He told Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:15-16) This was not a threat from Jesus rather it was an acknowledgement that Saul would become a mighty spiritual warrior.

            Fast forward three decades and you find Paul (the man formerly known as Saul) writing to his ministry partner, Timothy: “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted!” (2 Timothy 3:12) Paul’s summary of his experience on the frontline of spiritual conflict echoes perfectly the words of Jesus to Ananias. If you are engaged with Jesus in the spiritual struggle to bring people to God you will experience what both Jesus and Paul experienced – opposition and persecution.   

            Timothy was a young man who lived in the town of Lystra, where Paul had once been stoned and left for dead by an angry crowd. Paul’s encounters with persecution and opposition were already legendary and Timothy’s heart was drawn to this great spiritual adventure. He decided to accept Paul’s invitation to join the mission team. If he was looking for adventure, he was not disappointed by the events of the next few years! Paul, Silas, Timothy, Luke and others faced imprisonment in Philippi, riots in Thessalonica and Berea, a court challenge in Corinth, another riot in Ephesus and finally imprisonment for Paul in Jerusalem. Telling the story of Jesus was not something for the faint hearted!

The almost constant danger that followed Paul and his team was the direct result of spiritual warfare – Jesus used Paul and his team to bring many people from darkness to light, and the darkness fought back! It still does.

The sources of opposition to Paul’s ministry included jealous Jewish men who despised his message of including the Gentiles, angry silversmiths who understood that devotion to Jesus would kill their idol making business, upset slave owners who lost their fortune telling business because Paul healed their slave girl, and people who felt threatened by Jesus either religiously, politically or socially. Paul and his team were persecuted because they made a difference in the spiritual battle between good and evil.

Why would anyone want to be part of a team that would face relentless attack for nearly three decades? Why not just play it safe and live a live of peace and calm at home? I doubt Timothy knew that he was signing up for a lifetime of intense spiritual warfare; but more importantly, he did not want to waste his life seeking security and peace while the world around him was engulfed in darkness. He wanted his life to make a difference, to be used by Jesus to defeat the darkness and usher in the kingdom!

As Paul approached execution in Rome, he wrote to Timothy, encouraging him to keep on fighting the good fight! “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” Paul passed the baton of leadership on to Timothy and Timothy carried it well.

Is your faith causing you problems? If you answer no to that question, then you need to lay down your safe and secure faith and follow Jesus (and Paul and Timothy) into the battle!

- Kenny Payne     

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