Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Results of Evangelism – 2 Tim 2:9-10

And because I preach this Good News, I am suffering and have been chained like a criminal. But the word of God cannot be chained. So I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen. (NLT)
But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name." (Acts 9:15-16 RSV)
Paul knew exactly what was going to happen to him after he became a Christian. The Lord told Ananias Paul’s mission. How often are we told either before or immediately after we surrender our lives to Jesus what is in store for our future service? Most of us probably had no clue that suffering (1 Peter 4:16), persecution (Matt 5:10-12), ridicule (Luke 14:27-30), false accusations (1 Peter 2:12), and being ostracized (Matt 10:34-39) would be in our future because of our decision to follow Christ yet that is what the Bible says we should expect.
Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. (1 Peter 4:16 KJV)
In today’s world, as it was when Peter wrote, people are often ashamed when they suffer. They attribute the suffering to their own failures or a lack of faith. The prosperity gospel and the positive thinking gospel has permeated the Church to the extent that when hardships fall upon believers, they can expect to find well-meaning people lined up at their door to tell them why they are suffering. “You have a hidden sin and you must confess it. Your suffering is a result of a generational sin that your parents or grandparents have passed on to you. You need to have more faith, this wouldn’t be happening if you had more faith. You haven’t been praying enough or reading your Bible enough.”
While it is possible that any one of these may be true, few attribute the trials to simply trying to follow Jesus in a fallen world which is more likely the problem. Even fewer will recognize the final phrase in 1 Peter 4:16, to glorify God. While God certainly teaches us through hardships, too many of us have a mindset that it is all about me. It isn’t all about us; it is all about God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Suffering as a Christian will bring glory to God. This is a reoccurring theme in the Bible. The central message of the Bible, the redemption of mankind, is to bring glory to God. We can’t forget that or we will be ashamed of our suffering and live some very poor Christian lives.
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5:10-12 NASB)
Jesus proclaimed in the Beatitudes that persecution is what happens when we try to live a righteous life. If we are destined for heaven, to be part of God’s glorious kingdom and we are living like it, we can expect those who are not to hate us and persecute us for it. Our attitude during this should be that we are blessed. It confirms that we are on the right path. Unfortunately, many Christians have been told that blessings mean the absences of pain and turmoil in their lives. They haven’t been told that the reason to rejoice is what is waiting for them in heaven. Most likely, the majority of Christians on this dust ball will not have the blessings of prosperity and good health.
Have you ever been part of a prayer chain? If you haven’t, you can probably find some website that allows people to post their requests and read them. My experience is that most prayers are for health issues, followed by financial, then marriages and other family problems.
As you look through the Gospels, people came to Jesus mainly to be healed. Our God is very gracious and Jesus does heal, but all the miracles of the Gospels had one primary purpose, to demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah and that believing in Him we can have eternal life (John 20:30). Yes, the miracles also demonstrated His compassion and care for us, but the ultimate demonstration of His compassion was His own suffering and death on the cross so that we could have eternal life with Him.
On the prayer lists, every once in a while you will see someone asking for prayer to be a good witness through the difficulties and glorify God in them. While they would like healing, they are not asking for an exemption from the problems of life but to glorify God through them. We must not forget that this life is temporary and that our eternal home is with Jesus. Persecution now will bring glory to God in eternity especially when it results in bringing people to Jesus.
Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him. (Luke 14:27-30 ESV)
Christians are often ridiculed because the unbelieving world sees only an unfinished foundation. They see us making decisions that are not politically correct because we have a foundation (1 Cor 3:11) that they don’t understand. That foundation shouldn’t change from culture to culture or year to year because we are following Jesus and He doesn’t change (Heb 13:8).
Christians are also ridiculed because many people start well but don’t finish. They are dragged away by the cares of the world and end up no better or even worse than they started (2 Peter 2:20). While some may argue that they weren’t really Christians if they fall away (1 John 2:19), the point is lost on the unbelieving world.
We may be ridiculed but it shouldn’t change our commitment to follow Jesus and prove to be His disciple.
False Accusations
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:12 NIV)
If you want to find out what many people think of Christianity, go to the internet and search for “dangerous radical Christianity” or some other variation of the topic. You may be surprised at the number of people who have formed their opinions based on various things including personal experience, history (distorted or not), crazy preachers, or biblical preachers.
A common thread is that they perceive that Christianity is out to change the world, country, or their personal freedoms. They are right! Our goal is to change all these things, just think about the implications of Matt 28:19-20. If we follow Jesus’ command then our goal is to teach everyone to obey Jesus. That is downright frightening to people who want to do their own thing. It is very threatening to them. They will always accuse us of something, right or wrong, to protect what is important to them.
However, Peter clarifies that we should live godly lives among them so that when Jesus comes back He will be glorified. When we teach, we should do it with gentleness and respect so that they will be ashamed of their slander (1 Peter 3:15-16). Unfortunately, many will not be ashamed until they see Jesus come back. In the mean time, we keep on teaching and expecting false accusations. Rather than focusing on the false accusations, we should live godly lives and stick to the Gospel message.
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it. (Matt 10:34-39 KJV)
These are really tough words. Many people have come to Christ and started to follow Jesus only to find out that members of their own family have turned against them. In some parts of the world, it means death either at the hands of family members or when they are reported to authorities. For them, the sword is a real physical consequence of following Jesus. More often, the result is divorce or alienation from family members who want nothing to do with Jesus or Jesus followers. 
For some who are considering surrender to Jesus, this is a huge obstacle. They know their family well enough to know that there will be problems. They wisely count the cost of becoming a Christian, but they don’t always understand the consequence of not following Jesus.
Jesus summed it up in verse 39. Whoever decides to have a life that doesn’t risk losing everything for Jesus will end up actually losing that life. Whoever is willing to give up everything to follow Jesus will find real life now and in eternity (Luke 18:29-30).
It boils down to surrendering your will to Jesus. Who or what do you love the most? God made it very clear in the first commandment that He is to be first (Ex 20:3). He commanded His people to love Him so completely (Deut 6:5) that any other love naturally has to take a second place. This is what Jesus was reiterating.
Not all are called to lose family members over Jesus. Many come to Jesus after one family member is brave enough to follow Jesus. Sometimes there is a single holdout. Not all people are persecuted, ridiculed, or accused. Sometimes neighbor, friends, and co-workers come to Christ as a result of one person’s conversion. We don’t know what will happen, but the point is that we need to make the decision to follow Jesus regardless of the consequences. Are you willing?
Bound or Not
Paul was willing to suffer the consequences of preaching the Gospel. He took the next step in following Jesus to urge others to do the same. So here’s Paul sitting in prison with chains on him so that he couldn’t escape. Does he get all depressed and want to die? Not at all. He looks at his bonds and sees them in contrast to the Word of God.
So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. (Isa 55:11 KJV)
Why can’t God’s Word be chained? It is because of Him who sends it. God is Sovereign. When He wants something done, all He needs to do is declare it. Look at the first chapter Genesis. Look at the first chapter of John. Jesus is the Word. Jesus is God and He created all things (Col 1:16). Whether we are talking about Jesus or the Bible when we speak of the Word of God, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference because God is accomplishing His purpose.
People in all parts of the earth have tried to destroy the Bible. One of the earliest recorded events is in Jeremiah 36. The Lord told Jeremiah to have his servant, Baruch, write on a scroll then read it in public. Some of King Zedekiah’s officials heard it and were scared because of the prophecy of destruction on Jerusalem. They knew it was God’s Word through Jeremiah even though it was read by Baruch. King Zedekiah heard the words and cut the scroll in pieces and burned it. Was the Word destroyed? Was that the end of the matter? Not at all. God simply had Jeremiah dictate the same to Baruch and added to the prophecy because of Zedekiah’s disdain for the Word.
It is important to see in this account that Zedekiah’s officials recognized the authority of God’s Word even though it was not given to them directly by the prophet. This is the same thing that we see in the Bible. We don’t have the very original writings, but God’s imprint is on it. We see His authority when we read the Bible.
It is also important to see that even though the original was destroyed, God was able to provide another copy. The original wasn’t diminished and in this case, more of the same was added to it (Jer 36:32). The message didn’t change. God didn’t consider that Zedekiah didn’t like or ignored what he heard and therefore decided to say something different. While the Bible hasn’t changed, His servants continue to preach the Word from pulpits around the world and in books. Faithful preachers don’t change what is written, but use additional words to explain and proclaim the truth of what God has said. As long as there are people who know the Lord, His Word can’t be destroyed, even if it were possible to burn every Bible, take down every web server, and wipe every memory device in the world. There would still be people who know God’s Word and would be able to faithfully recreate the Bible.
Look at Paul’s words. He said he was willing to endure everything so that the people God has chosen for salvation would be able to hear it. He isn’t alone and most importantly, God is working through faithful people today.
Jesus promised that nothing of the Law would pass away until it was all fulfilled (Matt 5:18). Peter reiterated that God’s Word will remain forever and that the Word is the good news (1 Peter 1:25). The heart of the good news of the Bible is God redeeming His people from the slavery of sin through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross and His resurrection to prove that we can be reconciled to God through Jesus.
Endure for the Elect
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations … Because everywhere I send you, you shall go, And all that I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, For I am with you to deliver you," declares the Lord. (Jer 1:5, 7-8) NASU
Jeremiah was a prophet who endured persecution to faithfully bring the message of God to those God wanted to hear. There are only a handful of people mentioned in the book who were attentive to God and sympathetic to Jeremiah. He watched as Jerusalem was destroyed just as God said it would be. He was rescued from those chained to be exiled to Babylon only to be forced to go to Egypt by the remnant who were still disobeying God. Through it all, he was obedient to proclaim the Word of God.
I wonder how many listened and put their faith in God. I wonder the same about people today. It seems that there are fewer and fewer Christian who are being heard. It used to be that if Billy Graham came to an area for a crusade, people would come from all over the area to hear him. People would even tune in on his television specials. I know because I was a volunteer on the telephone banks talking to people who called wanting to know how to be saved. There were many before him, some of whom would go from town to town and spend a week preaching every evening. They were faithful to endure whatever it took to reach those whom God had called.
Those days are gone, at least in the U.S. they are. But there remains one thing and that is God’s elect. There are still people God has called for salvation in Jesus Christ with eternal glory. However, as it was in Jeremiah’s time, the remnant is smaller and smaller. How many of us are willing to endure everything in order to bring the Gospel to a few people? I’m not talking about going off to some small village in a remote area of the world, though there are some who will go. I’m talking about going to those who are practicing pagans right in our own neighborhoods.
They are people who grew up in homes that never went to church or who rejected Christianity and were taught that whatever spirituality or even no spirituality was fine and acceptable. They believe that whatever truth you have is personal and the next person’s truth is just as valid even if it is completely opposite. There are also many who have immigrated and brought their religion with them.
Some worship other gods, some worship things, others worship self. None worship the one true God. They are like the remnant of Judah that asked Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord. They promised to do what God said, which was not to go to Egypt. Instead, they went to Egypt and when they were there, they heard from the Lord to turn from idols. They said they would continue to worship the queen of heaven and whatever else they wanted (Jer 42-44).
People today are no different. Yet God want us to endure everything because among them there are some people who will be saved. I pray that I may reach a few that they may have eternal glory with Jesus.

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