Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Enduring Hardship: 1 Peter 4:1-6

There has been a flurry of articles in the press about Christians suffering - not in Nigeria or Iraq, but in the UK.

There was the British Airways check-in girl who was banned from wearing a cross while Muslims were allowed hijabs and Sikhs allowed to wear ceremonial daggers. There was the couple with a bed and breakfast service in their own home who would not allow two men to share a bed. There was the nurse who was dismissed for offering to pray for her patients. There have been Christian Union Societies prevented from using University premises because non-Christians couldn't be members. They actually claimed that all religions don't lead to God and that it is only through Jesus that you can come to God.

As persecutions go, these are pretty small beer. Wearing a cross is not compulsory for a Christian and in any case one can be worn unobtrusively. No-one is forced to open up their house to guests and if you want to keep homosexuals out are you equally fervent about banning adulterers or mere fornicators? And no-one needs permission to pray for anyone. Just do it. The Christian Union case was overturned by a court - so no persecution there. What these instances show, though, is that the agenda of the secular world is different from that of the Christian one.

The world winks at sin, whether it be sex outside marriage, padding your CV with fictitious achievements, evading tax, lying to your spouse, illegally downloading music, 'professional fouls' at football matches, unkind gossip, abandoning one's parents, drawing benefits instead of working when work is available or simply speeding on the motorway. Christians not only recognize these as sinful, but set themselves higher standards, such as caring for widows and orphans, visiting those in need, whether from sickness or imprisonment, relieving poverty and sharing the gospel.

No wonder, when cultures clash, that Christians feel themselves to be persecuted. How should we cope?

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

This passage from 1 Peter chapter 4 gives us the answer. We should expect tribulation because Christ himself tells us to expect it. We need to arm ourselves with the same attitude as Christ. What is this attitude?

The word 'attitude' refers to a way of thinking, but it has its origins in posture. It means to see things from a particular point of view. A man hanging from a tree sees things differently from one standing on the ground. He has a different viewpoint. Christ's attitude was to see things as a sojourner; one who is passing through. He had the experience of eternity past and eternity future. He saw things not just as a carpenter from Galilee but as the creator and sustainer of the Universe. He was not tied to the here and now.

Remember James Garner in "Support your local Gunfighter"? To the concerns of the locals who were worried about lawlessness and wanted to recruit him as sheriff, his constant refrain was "I'm leaving town tomorrow." That should be our attitude as well. This world is not our home, we're just a-passing through. To have the attitude of Christ we must see things from a wider perspective. St Paul wrote "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us." (Romans 8:18) and "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all" (1 Corinthians 4:17)

As Christians we are not to seek suffering, but be assured, suffering will come. And when it comes, if we don't have the attitude of Christ, we won't survive it.

'To be done with sin' is to be holy. Earlier in his letter Peter talks about being refined by fire. "You may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith may be proved genuine." Going through refining fire is not a pleasant experience. It's not like an operation for which you are anesthetized and then sedated with morphine until the pain is gone. Like the thorn in the flesh that Paul endured, the pain may be something that never goes: a lost son in Afghanistan, a husband who betrays you, terminal cancer, or a daughter lost to drugs. There is no way to gloss over such suffering, but facing it with the attitude of Christ will sustain you. There will be an end to suffering just as there will be an end to injustice. There will be a time when "he will wipe away all tears from your eyes".

What is it about the pleasures of this world that so ensnare us? Debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing... They are portrayed as young love, passion, having a good time, merry-making, free-love, partying... To our young people it seems so terribly attractive. We oldies are portrayed as spoilsports. The consequences are hidden: venereal disease, unplanned pregnancy, cancer, liver failure, drug overdose, road accidents, suicides, guilt, inability to build a relationship, poverty... the list is endless. It is only the Devil's 'sport' we wish to spoil.

The world stands amazed that we don't want to join in. As a physician I have seen so much unhappiness caused by wrong lifestyle choices. That's not to say that lives are irredeemable, but often, as brands saved from the burning, they end up rather singed.
Nevertheless, the world mocks us. God-botherers! Mamby-pambies! Pie in the sky when you die!

If I were certain that I didn't have to face a judge I might well become a vigilante. It is certain that there is no justice in this life. Crooks and liars live in the lap of luxury. Only about 5% of crime is solved. The police don't even bother to investigate burglaries. A child soon learns to cry, "It's not fair!" They are right to do so. It isn't. In this life don't expect fairness or justice.

So don't expect that your suffering will be relieved any time soon. It is the way of things. I was watching a TV program the other night about the history of Christianity. It featured a huge church in South Korea. The Yoido Full Gospel Church is a Pentecostal church on Yeouido Island in Seoul, South Korea. With about 830,000 members, it is the largest Christian congregation in South Korea, indeed, in the whole world. It was founded and has been led by David Yonggi Cho since 1958.

Pastor David Yonggi Cho preaches Three-Fold Blessing (the blessing of the spirit, soul, and body), proclaiming that physical health and financial prosperity are as much a part of God's will for Christians as the salvation of the soul. Now it is certainly true that God does not bless those who 'walk in the counsel of the ungodly', but who is going to accuse those murdered at Jos or those persecuted by Nero, or Latimer and Ridley of living ungodly lives. Suffering does not correlate with personal sin. Rather, as the book of Hebrews tells us, God is treating us like sons. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace.

The hymns sung at the Korean church on television included 'Blessed Assurance' and 'I know whom I have believed', two of the songs I should like sung at my own funeral. Here is another one from Stuart Townend:

There is a hope that burns within my heart,
That gives me strength for ev'ry passing day;
a glimpse of glory now revealed in meager part,
Yet drives all doubt away:
I stand in Christ, with sins forgiv'n;
and Christ in me, the hope of heav'n!
My highest calling and my deepest joy,
to make His will my home.

There is a hope that lifts my weary head,
A consolation strong against despair,
That when the world has plunged me in its deepest pit,
I find the Savior there!
Through present sufferings, future's fear,
He whispers, "Courage!" in my ear.
For I am safe in everlasting arms,
And they will lead me home.

There is a hope that stands the test of time,
That lifts my eyes beyond the beckoning grave,
To see the matchless beauty of a day divine
When I behold His face!
When sufferings cease and sorrows die,
and every longing satisfied,
then joy unspeakable will flood my soul,
For I am truly home.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't illegally download music, but I have made copies of the CDs I own so that I may play them at work.

This is technically illegal I'd guess, but since I own the CD, why should I buy another copy so don't have to lug CDs back and forth?

The courts have held that you can make a cassette tape (remember those?) of a vinyl album (remember thoses?) you own, and you can tape programs from the television.

Companies would love to make you buy a different CD for every place you want to play them, but there has to be a limit somewhere, doesn't there?

Besides, Microsoft software allows you to do it with the click of a couple of buttons.

Copy-protected DVDs are another matter.