The Un-Christian Culture
Grace Evangelical Free Church September 13, 2015
Matthew 5:11-12: The Un-Christian Culture
Matthew 5:1: Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
Critics of Christianity have become more vocal. This is partly because there are many people who do not believe in God with no understanding of Him at all. However, these prove the vast majority who do not care enough to actually target believers. Then there are those who are dedicated anti-Christians who truly despise Christ and prove our loudest critics. What about ‘em? Do we just ‘take it’? For the Biblical answers, we turn to:
- Historical Context: As an apostle, Matthew wrote this book in the early period of the church, probably in A.D. 55-65. This was a time when most Christians were Jewish converts, facing resistance on two fronts: 1) among former Jewish family and associates and 2) Gentiles, ranging from the Roman government to competing sects and cults. It is interesting in that while Matthew was writing this as a Christian, when Christ spoke these words He was addressing primarily Jews. He hadn’t died on the cross yet, in fact this was His very first sermon…very first words to His very first sermon. If nothing else, this demonstrates the continuity of both the Old and New Testaments as each centers exactly upon Jesus as the Messiah.
- Grammatical Usage: “Revile” or “Oneidizo” in the Greek meaning, “abusive criticism”; “persecute” or “Dioko” meaning, “harass, molest”; V. 12: “rejoice” or “Chairo” meaning, “delight; exuberance”.
- Literal Application: Blessed are you when others revile you and harass you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Delight and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
- Contextual Interpretation: Our text affirms to constants in both our spiritual and physical lives: 1) persecution is inevitable, if not the norm; 2) our view of it should prove an affirmation of our standing with God which, in turn, gives us joy instead of sorrow. Christians are, or should be, influenced by different principles from those of the world. We are motivated by the love of God and holiness, while the world is driven by the love of sin. It is our very separation from the world that arouses the world’s animosity toward us. The world would prefer that we were like them; since we are not, they hate us (1 Peter 4:3-4).
- Scriptural Comparison: As Christians, the two things we can do to stand up for Christ are to 1) grow our own knowledge of Him and 2) live according to His Word. Christ said, “Let your light shine before men…” (Matthew 5:16). This means that we should live and act in a way that supports the gospel. We should also arm ourselves with knowledge, both of the gospel (Ephesians 6:10-17) and of the world around us. First Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” It is sad that there are many atheists who have read the entire Bible looking for ammunition against Christians, and that there are many Christians who have hardly read the Bible at all. All we can do is live and teach as Christ would and let Him take care of the rest.
The typical insult from the non-religious crowd is to refer to believers as “ignorant,” “stupid,” “brainwashed,” or to otherwise suggest that those who have faith are less intelligent than those who do not. When a Christian stands up intelligently for his faith, the terms change to “bigot,” “extremist,” or “zealot.” When people who know that the believer is kind and loving hear this, the atheist starts to look like the fool that he or she is (Psalm 53:1). Most non-believers have no personal reason to see Christians negatively, but they sometimes hear so much from the loud anti-Christians that they just assume it is so. They need examples of Christ-like living to see the truth.
Of course, when someone claiming to be a Christian says or does something that is not Christ-like, the angry, loud crowd is there to identify him as a typical religious hypocrite. This is something we have been warned to expect (Romans 1:28-30; Matthew 5:11). The best thing to do is to cite a passage of the Bible that speaks against what the person did and remind critics that absolutely no one lives without sinning at all (Romans 3:23).
An important thing to remember is that no one, no matter how persuasive, can force anyone to believe anything he doesn’t want to believe. No matter what the evidence, no matter what the argument, people will believe what they want to believe (Luke 12:54-56). Conviction is not a Christian’s job. The Holy Spirit convicts people (John 14:16-17), and they choose whether or not to believe. What we can do is present ourselves in a way that is as Christ-like as possible.
As faithful Christians, we must learn to recognize the value of persecution and even to rejoice in it; not in an ostentatious way, but quietly and humbly because persecution has great spiritual value. First, persecution allows us to share in a unique fellowship with our Lord. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul outlined a number of things he surrendered for the cause of Christ. Such losses, however, he viewed as “rubbish” (Philippians 3:8), or “dung” (KJV), that he might share in the “fellowship of [Christ’s] sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). The noble apostle even counted his chains as a grace (favor) which God had bestowed upon him (Philippians 1:7).
Second, in all truth, persecution is good for us. James argues that trials test our faith, work or develop (endurance) in our lives, and help develop maturity (James 1:2-4). For as steel is tempered in the flames of the forge, trials and persecution serve to hone down those rough edges that tarnish our character – hurt our testimony. Yielding graciously to persecution allows one to demonstrate that he is of a superior quality than his adversaries. It’s easy to be hateful, but an ugly disposition throws a light upon our human weakness. It is much more Christ-like to remain calm and to respond in kindness in the face of evil opposition. Without question this is a tremendous challenge, but we have the power of the Holy Spirit within us and the wonderful example of the Lord to encourage us. Peter says of Jesus, “When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).
Third, persecution enables us to value the support of true friends. Conflict sometimes brings faithful children of God together in an encouraging and supportive way they might not have known otherwise. Hardship can stimulate the Lord’s people toward a greater resolve to love and comfort one another and lift one another to the throne of grace in prayer. There’s nothing like an unpleasant incident to help the more mature rise toward a greater level of brotherly love.
- Conclusion: It’s hard for the angry crowd to accuse a Christian of being a hateful, cruel bigot when that person demonstrates a life of kindness, humility, and compassion. When a Christian can discuss, debate or debunk ungodly arguments accurately, the label of “ignorant” no longer fits. A Christian who has read the secular arguments and can politely expose their flaws helps to deflate the stereotypes advanced by atheists. Knowledge is the weapon, and it is invincible when we let Christ direct us in how to use it through the power of His Holy Spirit. So…study, voice, stand.