Guest Post by Isaac Shrum
As Christians living in this increasingly secular age, we’re called to graciously endure suffering from unbelievers when it comes our way. We never go looking for trouble or wish to partake in foolish quarrels, because we’re instructed “to put no obstacle in anyone’s way” to come to Christ [2 Cor. 6:3].
But when we stand for truth, righteousness, and the Gospel, we can expect the majority response from this [post-modern] world to be detestation. This should not surprise us, since we ourselves once walked in their shoes, even scorning and mocking the message of the Gospel like the Apostle Paul did before his conversion [Acts 9:1; 22:4]. Why the hostile response you might ask?
Simply put, the Bible tells us that apart from the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, men naturally hate the Light [John 3:19], are hostile towards God [Rom. 8:7], and are enemies of God through their wicked deeds [Col. 1]. In stark contrast to the humanistic-progressivism of our day [i.e. ‘man is basically good’], the Scriptures teach that men are depraved through and through. Instead of walking in fellowship with God, men shake their fists at Him while running the other way.
As a result of this deep-seated hatred for God flows distaste towards Christians. Jesus warned us, “If the world hates you, know that it hated me first” [John 15:18]. This sense of hostility should grieve us [Phil. 3:18], but it should not be surprising [1 John 3:13]. If men hate God, should it really shock us when they despise His followers too?
Looking to the example of Jesus in 1 Peter 2:23, we see that Jesus himself suffered unjustly in order to save sinners - in fact, He suffered worse than any person in history, even being “hated without a cause” [John 15:25]. Yet His reaction to such mistreatment is convicting and inspiring.
“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.”
Christ was sinless, but He was treated as the vilest of sinners [2 Cor. 5:21]. He was blameless towards the Law, but was mistreated as the worst of lawbreakers [Gal. 3:13]. He spoke truth, healed the sick, and performed miracles; but eventually was maligned as a madman and lunatic [Mark 3:21-23].
At the climax of his ministry, Christ suffered at the hands of wicked men who beat, mocked, and crucified him by hanging him on a tree. Far from being caught off guard, Jesus knew what was coming, for he himself had predicted it [Mark 10:33], and God had predestined it [Acts 2:23]. Christ walked the road to Calvary with joy [Hebrews 12:2], offering himself as the perfect sacrifice for his people [Hebrews 7:27]. Now in heaven He reigns as the risen, living, victorious Savior. We would do well to heed the example of Christ.
Oftentimes our first response to those who malign us is to seek personal vengeance, harbor bitterness in our hearts, or even hurt our enemies back. But instead of returning evil for evil, or an eye for an eye, we’re called to “pray for those who persecute us, and bless those who curse us” [Matt. 5:44].
Knowing that it was Christ who voluntarily suffered for us [John 10:28], we are therefore empowered to suffer freely and willingly for the sake of Christ. Instead of giving our opponents “what’s coming to them”, let us silence our critics by standing with resolved demeanors in the face of suffering, thus “heaping burning coals on [their] heads” [Rom. 12:20]. When sneering comes, we remain levelheaded, always giving answers for the hope that we have with “gentleness and respect” [1 Pet. 3:15].
Further, we’re liberated to suffer for our enemies because we know eternity is at stake. We’re willing to endure temporary scorn to ensure their eternal salvation. Who cares if in the moment we’re not “liked” by everyone? We’re not people pleasers after all [Gal. 1:10]; we’re called to speak the truth plainly and lovingly. Even if it wounds them, we must be willing to take the heat while speaking truth to our friends and enemies; because through these words God uses His power to save people [Prov. 27:6].
Plus we know our own sinful estate before Christ - so we don’t come to our enemies as superior or condescending. If we had gotten what we deserved, we ourselves would be in hell. But thankfully what we deserve from God we don’t receive [i.e. mercy], and what we receive from God we don’t deserve [i.e. grace]. So we say with the Apostle,
“What do [we] have that [we] did not receive?” [1 Cor. 4:7]
“By the grace of God I am what I am” [1 Cor. 15:10]
Being humbled by this, we come to our enemies as beggars, knowing full well that we deserved God’s wrath prior to salvation as the same rebellious sinners. In light of this, we endure suffering from them with solidarity, in the hopes that Christ will quicken them [John 6:44,63,65], open their eyes to see, and give them new hearts to believe [Ezek. 36:26]. But no matter the outcome, we can rest assured and leave the results to our just and righteous God - knowing that the “wicked will not go unpunished” [Prov. 11:21], and that “vengeance is the Lord’s” [Rom. 12:19]. Amen.