How To Be A Christian And Avoid Persecution -- Part Two

Last month, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek article with the above heading. I made a list of 17 things one can do to avoid being persecuted and still claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Even though I know it is impossible for a true follower of Jesus Christ to avoid persecution, I realize that thousands of people attempt to do this all the time. This was written to get people to think about what they are doing. Yes, terms need to be properly defined such as the word “persecution”. By persecution I mean suffering that comes as a result of our faithfulness to Jesus Christ. Many passages in the Bible deal with this including words of Jesus (see Matt. 5:10-11) and the writings of Paul (see 2 Tim. 3:12 and Peter (see 1 Pet. 4:15-16). I made this list especially for “weak” souls who want to avoid suffering for Christ. I well understand that “weak” is a broad term and very well may include Christians who are either weak in knowledge or tend to be faint-hearted in making a stand for Christ (see 1 Cor. 8:9-12; 2 Cor. 11:21; 1 Thess. 5:14; Heb. 12:12-13). Such folks need a lot of help and encouragement and are trying to serve Christ and are not seeking to avoid being persecuted. I also realize that persecution can take on many forms and does not always mean physical abuse, but can include ridicule, name calling, etc. So now I am going to take up these rules one by one and show why they are false. So just bear with me.

1. Go to church occasionally, but don’t let it become a habit. This shows others that you are religious but not a radical. My answer: This is exactly opposite of what the Bible teaches. The writer of Hebrews teaches: “…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25). The purpose for assembling was to stimulate one another to love and good works. There is nothing radical about this. It is more radical to have more interest in your hobbies or sports than you do in the Lord. Lack of edification, which is the main purpose of assembling together, leads to willful sin and falling away (See Heb. 10:26). You will find that the early church stuck together and assembled often.

2. Avoid talking to others about religion, for this makes people feel very uncomfortable. They might think that you are judging them. In fact, if possible, it is best to avoid all controversial subjects. My answer: If one really loves others, he is willing to talk to them about those things which will affect their lives the most. The early Christians were not bashful in doing this even if it meant rejection. The Devil is quite active in pushing his agenda at all times in all places. These early Christians were successful in overcoming Satan because of three things: “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death” (Rev. 12:11). The role of a Christian is to be a “beacon” reflecting the true light of Jesus Christ (see Phil. 2:15-16). The Devil would be quite pleased if Christians just “shut up” and hunker down in their bunkers out of public view which is exactly what some want Christians to do. But Christians take their orders from Jesus Christ, not the government or the ACLU. Paul wrote: “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret” (Eph. 5:11-12).

3. Avoid forming strong convictions on religious topics. The best way to accomplish this is don’t spend too much time studying the Bible. Too much knowledge can be a bad thing. Even Paul said that “knowledge makes arrogant” (1 Cor. 8:1). Didn’t Festus say to Paul, “Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad!” (Acts 26:24). Even Solomon warns: “. . . excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body” (Eccles. 12:12). My answer: Again, the Bible teaches the very opposite. Psalm 1:1-3: “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!   2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. 3 He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of  water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither;  And in whatever he does, he prospers.  In 1 Cor. 8:1 Paul is saying that  knowledge, just for the sake of knowledge, is an empty thing and produces  pride, but the goal of true knowledge is love that edifies. Memorizing facts is one thing, but learning truth in order to obey God is another thing  entirely. At all times Paul prayed that people might grow in knowledge, wisdom and fruit bearing (see Phil. 1:9-10; Col. 1:9-10). Yes, the worldly Festus believed Paul to be out of his mind, but Paul responded: “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth”  (Acts 26:25). Strong conviction is never a bad thing if it is based upon truth.  Solomon is cutting through the fat of searching in all of the wrong places by  stating: “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will  bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Eccles. 12:13-14). How in the world can we keep God’s commandments if we don’t know what they are?

4. Don’t ever reprove others. If you do this, you are really asking for trouble. Some will end up hating you, and others will actually accuse you of hating them. My Answer: Yes, reproving others can be a risky business, and if we find out that a man is a fool (see Pro. 9:8; 15:12), I suggest it be avoided. Jesus warned us “not to throw pearls before swine” (see Matt. 7:6), that is, those who have no appreciation of its value. But a wise person will accept reproof and be better because of it. Reproof, properly motivated, is the evidence of love (see Lev. 19:17; Pro. 13:24). Correcting a brother should always be done in a spirit of humility and gentleness as taught in Gal. 6:1-2, and in so many other places. Yes, we will be subjected to hatred if we stand up for the truth, just as the early disciples of Jesus Christ were hated.

5. Make sure you sprinkle your speech with a bit of vulgarity and sexually explicit language. This let’s people know that you are really human. They will more readily open up to you. However, be careful not to do this around those overly religious types. They have probably never read what Solomon wrote: “Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself?” (Eccles. 7:16). My answer: This makes no sense at all. But I have seen some who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ do this in order to be accepted as “one of the guys”. Purity of heart and of speech is to be one of the primary characteristics of a Christian. This quote from Solomon is misapplied. He is either speaking of such religious excesses as later was characteristic of the Pharisees who thought that they were the only righteous ones, or else he is simply speaking from the viewpoint of the world without any reference to God, as seen in his initial experiment of how to obtain happiness (see Eccles. 1:13). By the way, all of his experiments to find happiness failed. In spite of his great wealth and ability to explore all things (women, music, beautiful gardens, comedy, etc.) based strictly on what the world has to offer, in the end he said that “all is vanity and a striving after the wind” (Eccles. 1:14).

6. Practice all vices in moderation. Solomon also wrote that one should not “be excessively wicked and do not be a fool. Why should you die before your time” (Eccles. 7:17). So you see, a little wickedness is O.K. Just don’t go overboard. You can apply this thinking to social drinking, dancing, partying and all sorts of things. I was told, “Lindy, just have a few beers with the guys and show that you are a regular buddy.” Listen, just be discrete. Yes, that’s the key – be discrete. In baseball, a little cheating is O.K. Just don’t get caught! We might even reason, “Everybody does it”, but that might be a bit of an exaggeration. My Answer: The above is a total crock. Again, Solomon is writing from the point of view of finding happiness under the sun without being guided by God’s wisdom. There is no doubt that being a Christian is radical from the stand point of the world. A real Christian knows that he is not perfect, but as a servant of Jesus Christ and having been purchased by the blood of Christ, he strives to please Christ in all that he does. We make enough mistakes without deliberately sinning in order to win the approval of others. Can you imagine a baseball player deliberately booting the ball in order to be more accepted by the other team? No, we are trying to defeat Satan, not play his little game by giving in to temptation. The question here is integrity. Job held on to his integrity in spite of the barrage of opposition, even from his friends.

7. Try to stay clear of people who have strong convictions of right and wrong. Such people give religion a bad name, especially among the people of the worldly point of view. You have surely heard the names, “prude”, “self-righteous”, “do-gooder”, “heartless”, “square”, etc. applied to those people. Do you really want people to call you those kind of names? If people do not think well of you, how can you influence them? People tend to judge you by your associations.  My Answer: It is true that some people of strong conviction are wrong in their views. In this world, radical nuts do exist, as they existed in the world of the early Christians. Some people are all fury and no substance. Many of those who opposed the early Christians belonged in that category. But, if we do not support men and women of strong convictions based upon the teachings of Jesus Christ, we are dishonoring Jesus. Why do we think that it is strange to be called such names? The early Christians were called all kinds of names including “troublemakers”, “blasphemers of God”, “people who turned the world upside down”, “the sect that is everywhere spoken against”, etc. Jesus himself was called “a blasphemer”, “the prince of demons”, “a gluttonous man”, etc. You cannot control what other people say or do.

8. Try to stay in the middle of the road on controversial matters. Not too far to the right and not too far to the left. People will see you as being a true moderate and even as a diplomat. Stay above the fray. My Answer: Yes, spoken as a true wimp who doesn’t want to get his hands dirty. The fact is that Jesus was always controversial, and so were those who followed after his teaching as documented in the book of Acts. Right and wrong has no middle of the road. But the early Christians accounted faithfulness to Christ as being more important than life itself. Light always shines the spotlight on the works of darkness. But even in the controversial battles that must be fought, the real Christian always acts toward others in kindness and fairness, and even doing good to enemies. You do not see Christians acting with a mob mentality or returning evil for evil, but rather using the spiritual weapons provided by God.

9. Be tolerant of what other people believe and practice no matter how odd or strange. After all, they have the “right” to their behavior just as you have a “right” to do what you do. Whether you like it or not, our world has been heavily influenced by secular humanistic thinking, and so wee ht as well go along with the flow. Didn’t Jesus teach that we are not to judge others? No one is perfect. Doesn’t that excuse just about anything people want to do? The more outrageous the behavior of others, the more this principle seems to apply. Don’t you realize some of these people get real angry and ugly if you call into question what they do? This especially applies to homosexuals, heavy drinkers and other things I could name. But this same rule does not seem to apply to those “overly righteous” Christians. If you oppose them there is little chance that you will ever suffer persecution. My Answer: I have often observed that those who pride themselves in being tolerant are often extremely intolerant toward those who disagree with them. Perhaps in this area, the teachings of Jesus Christ have been the most perverted and abused by those who think that they know the mind of Christ, when in fact, they are totally ignorant of what the Bible teaches. While we are not to judge hearts and motives, nor use hypocritical judgment (see Matt. 7:1-6), we are taught to discern between good and evil and use righteous judgment (see John 7:24). We are to become intellectually and emotional in tune with God, and therefore we are to hate every false way while also showing love and compassion for all people. God calls certain sins an abomination and so they are. We also know that it is an abomination for some fools to turn away from evil (see Pro. 13:19). God is not wanting any to perish but all men come to repentance, but in the end He will destroy the wicked, as He has promised. Warning the wicked is an act of love and not hate. Just a few comments about homosexual behavior since this has been in the news so much lately. Some place this practice in the same category as the color of one’s skin. If I were a black person, I would be very offended by this. God places this practice in the category of abomination and unnatural sin (see Lev. 18:22; Romans 1:25-27). I agree that we should not hate anyone, but let me put it this way, “How do you feel about a grown person who sexually abuses children?” Do you hate these people or do you hate what they do? If you can understand this, you can understand also how Christians feel about the other practice. There is nothing racial about having strong feelings against those who abuse children.

10. Give others as many compliments as you can, even if you have to make things up. It makes people feel good and you will have many friends. There is no down side to this, unless someone finally figures out that you use flattery to gain favor with people. Also, go to a church where the preacher is totally positive and refuses to get caught up in negative preaching. Some say that is their calling, and who can argue with that!   My Answer: I believe that deserved compliments should always be given, even if the person is wicked. Observe how Paul addressed King Herod in Acts 26:2-3. But to use undeserved praise just to win the favor of others is simply flattery and ought always be avoided. Evil people with evil intentions specialize in this deceptive art in order to entice others (see Psalms 12:2-3; Proverbs 7:21). The church of Laodicea had high praise for itself, but God’s judgment was quite different (see Rev. 3:17). No preaching can be faithful to his calling by engaging only in positive preaching (see 2 Tim. 4:2-4). Keeping your eye on polls and giving people what they want to hear may keep you from avoiding persecution, but is cowardly and a reproach to God.

11. Act one way around religious people, especially those who are overly religious, and another way around worldly people. Paul wrote: “I have become all things to all men” (1 Cor. 9:22). Don’t you think that is what he was talking about? We say, “Do in Rome as the Romans.” I like the idea that Vegas uses, “What goes on here stays here.” In baseball, we had the same signs in the clubhouse. We all need these sanctuaries where we can feel free to do whatever we wish to do without fear of being exposed. Besides, aren’t morals always situational? Isn’t that what is taught to a lot of young people today? Imagine how radical is the idea that truths are absolute and apply to all people the same all over the world?  My Answer: How does the word “hypocrite” sound to you! We do not accept such double standards with our politicians much less Christians. Unfortunately this is exactly how some people act. Here Paul’s words are taken totally out of context. He was referring to customs and other such matters of spiritual indifference. He was not referring to matters of good and evil. Nothing is hidden from the sight of God. There is no “moral free zone.” How we might address confidential and private matters is not under consideration here.

12. Don’t feel passionate about anything. That is what gets people into trouble. Of course, it is alright to feel passionate about your favorite sports team! Also, in society you must feel passionate about those things that have been labeled “Politically Correct”, if you can figure out just what those things are. But as a normal rule, don’t have strong convictions about anything. You don’t want to give people the impression that you are opinionated! Remember, there are two sides to every question and if we can actually defend all sides we come across as being unbiased and very insightful. And we will be more likely to be picked for jury duty. Well, that might be a down side. If you do get into an argument with someone, cave in a quickly as possible, for Jesus said, “Agree with your adversary quickly” (Matt. 5:25). Having an apathetic attitude about religion will never get you persecuted.  My Answer: To me if you lack passion about anything you might as well be dead. God has emotion and God created man with emotion. Certainly a Christian should feel both sorrow and joy as he lives on the earth. If we feel no passion about the things of God, this only means that we are indifferent about such things. Here again, many in the world have a double-standard. It is alright for people to feel passion for things that reflect their values, but it is wrong for Christians to feel passion for things that reflect the values of God. There are indeed two sides to many questions, but also many questions involve matters of right and wrong. People who are unwilling to make a stand remind me more of cowards than those who are just being extra careful before they take a side. If we believe something to be right or wrong, why should we ever “cave” in just because we are opposed by someone? This is intellectually dishonest.

13. If the church where you attend starts to have problems, leave as quickly as possible so that you are not forced to take sides. The last thing you need is to have to determine who is right and who is wrong. Just leave and find a church were there are no problems. Good luck with this.  My Answer: What church doesn’t have problems. This is like saying, “Don’t bother me, I don’t want to get involved!” Christ has given us clear instruction as to how to solve problems, but non-involvement is not an option. Would you apply this same principle to your family? Having God’s wisdom means solving problems God’s way. Guess what? God is a lot smarter than we are.

14. If some well intentioned person tries to pressure you to be more diligent in your service to Jesus Christ, just tell them that the Bible teaches that we are not saved by our works. That should cool his/her heels. After all, if we “have” to do anything, doesn’t that mean that we are trying to earn our salvation?  My Answer: Well, I would hope that would not cool his heels. In this case, “not being saved by works” if we are using that expression in a Biblical way has nothing to do with encouraging people to be faithful to Jesus Christ. Those who teach that obedience has nothing to do with salvation are ill-informed. Just a simple survey of a few passages would put that baby to bed (see Romans 1:5; 16:26; Heb. 5:8-9). Recently I spoke to a friend who claims to be a Christian and attended a seminary school. I asked him if he though he had to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in order to be saved. He said, “No!” “Being a disciple is a choice and has nothing to do with salvation” because, as he put it, “salvation has nothing to do with works.” He thinks he is saved, but he need not worry about being persecuted for his faith, because being saved has nothing to do with how you live. I am amazed that so many people buy into that bit of garbage.

15. If someone insists that courage means that we always do the right thing regardless of the cost, just quote this to them: “Surely a live dog is better than a dead lion” (Eccles. 8:4). I know that some say that leadership and courage go hand in hand, but can’t we just get along?  My Answer: Here we go again quoting Solomon without understanding any of the context. The Bible teaches this: “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake of fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8). Yes, nothing gets done without leadership and that requires great courage. If we are unwilling to be courageous and support courageous leaders, then we are ashamed of Jesus Christ and the gospel of Christ. When the going got hot, many, even in the days of the apostles, left the church.

16. Follow everything your religious leaders tell you to do, unless of course they are one of those extreme people who place truth above everything else, and make demands on your own behavior. This could lead to suffering. Just passively going along with everything that you are taught will keep you out of trouble. This will also keep you from taking personal responsibility for what you believe. How can you be held responsible for what believing that these highly paid professionals are teaching? My Answer: It is never good to follow everything your religious leader says unless he can show that what he teaches is in harmony with the word of God. That is what many people were doing during the personal ministry of Jesus Christ, but in too many cases they were teaching things contrary to what God revealed. Of these Jesus said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if a blind man guides a blind men, both will fall into a pit” Matt. 15:13-14). The Bible warns that the world is full of false teachers. If we do not check things out for ourselves, how can we determine whether or not we are being deceived? Yes, we need to love the truth and always demand that it be taught, or else we are setting ourselves up to be deceived (see 2 Thess. 2:9-11). I admit that many who follow blindly their religious leaders will never experience persecution in the name of Jesus Christ for all they hear is spiritual pabulum (baby food) and some social message rather than God’s truth.

17. It is best to attend a very large church with a very fancy building. You can sort of blend in among the multitude. Since they usually have a policy of not judging anyone, and offer all sorts of social activities and contacts. This can help both your religious and social status. I could go on and on with more suggestions, but these will be sufficient for you to stay out of trouble. After all, it’s your choice. Do you really want to suffer persecution?  My Answer: I am not suggesting that there is any thing wrong with a large church if they are actively engaging in the Lord’s work and have been built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. But here I am speaking of mega churches, often under the control of one man, which has never practiced true discipline or provide real oversight, and offers to the people every social activity that can be thought up, but receives no strong Bible teaching. In such a setting, people can drift in and out with no consequences, and need not worry about being persecuted.

Folks, in Pitching For The Master I play “hard ball” when it comes to religion and sports. My purpose is to please Jesus Christ rather than man. Some dismiss what I write as being out of the mainstream, and are not willing to discuss the arguments involved. I am willing to engage in an honest communication, no matter how much you might disagree. The search for truth is never a waste of time for sincere seekers. I am willing to put the best construction on what people say and give them the benefit of the doubt, unless they show by words or actions that they have a “closed” mind. I have changed my mind a number of times, even on some highly controversial matters. But I need to be convinced from the word of God. I expect the same treatment from others. Thanks a lot of reading the articles in Pitching For The Master.

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