It seems common that we bristle at the thought of facing difficult people. It seems as if all of us are surrounded by difficult people and are ourselves difficult. It is not fun when we are harassed for living for Jesus. It is in those situations that it is easy to compromise our faith. Yet, the Bible reminds us that God uses those people in our lives.
If there is one truth about our faith, that most of us struggle with, it is that persecution is part of living for Jesus. Now, if we are honest, those of us in our country have it easy compared to the challenges for Jesus’ followers in others places.
I am reminded of Peter’s instruction to those facing these attacks on their faith. “having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:16–17) This may sound crazy but harassment was part of living for Jesus. It is verses like these that call us to live for Christ regardless of the pressure of others. And yes, it may come to a point of costing us our lives as culture continues to slide.
It was in the closing of Galatians that I was reminded of two blessings of those tough times. Paul was challenging Jesus’ followers not to be duped by the false teaching of culture and to live for Christ. It is in his closing words that we read, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14) It is here that Paul provides some practical application in living for Jesus. He reminds us that like himself we must find our identity in Jesus, not in the stuff of this world. His reference to the false teachers boasting is a reminder of how we do stuff to impress others. These worldly pursuits hinder our spiritual growth. The only way forward is to grasp that we only have two options: living for Jesus or living for ourselves. It is to drive the proverbial stake in the ground committing to live for Jesus.
It is in the second half of the verse that Paul reveals a spiritual secret for living out our commitment to Jesus in a broken self-focused culture. The secret is not living on the fence dabbling in both, but determining to live out Biblical truth. The first part of this secret is a little cryptic as Paul writes, “by which the world has been crucified to me.” Paul is simply stating that the path of maturity requires eliminating those things that hinder us from living for Jesus. Jesus said it this way, “And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out.” (Mark 9:47) Jesus uses hyperbole to communicate the need to take drastic measures to remove these temptations from our lives. This is the secret that Paul discovered too. I too have learned that same in my life. And while many might view this as a burden, it really is a blessing because it sets us free.
Our second blessing is seen in the last part of what Paul says, “and I to the world.” Let’s be honest, the moment you get serious about your walk with Christ, your social life will change. Those that are running from Jesus will not want to hang with you. Yes, even those that are shallow in their faith will conveniently disappear from your life. This is hard for us as social beings, but it is also a blessing. This is where our decision now protects us from unnecessary temptation. And even if these individuals get aggressive in their resistance, it too pushes us to trust Christ.
So the next time you are rejected, disrespected, criticized or talked about behind your back remember that this is really a blessing. Let it encourage you to press closer to the Jesus. This is the place of God’s blessing, “And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” (Galatians 6:16)
-Pastor Joe Parkinson