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Persecution

“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering”. Poured out like a drink offering, Paul had given it his all during his time on earth. We first encounter Paul or Saul as he was known, as a Pharisee, tasked with the persecution of the Christians. His first victim was Stephan, a man full of GOD’s grace, power, faith and Holy Spirit. He was persecuted because he spoke the truth of the bible. The Pharisees couldn’t accept what they heard because what he said went against their world-view, so the Pharisees stoned Stephan to death. Saul next proceeded to dismember the church, rounding up the scattered Christians and throwing them, man and woman into prison. This didn’t silence those that managed to slip through Saul’s fingers for they still went on preaching the word for how can you in good conscience stay silent when you know the truth. Next Saul headed off to Damascus where he encountered Jesus and Jesus asks “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?” He didn’t ask why Saul was persecuting the Christians, Jesus asked “why are you persecuting me?” When you are made in the image of GOD and you choose to follow Jesus, baptised in the Holy Spirt, you become apart of the body of Christ. To attack a Christian is to attack Jesus. Trembling and astonished Saul said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” and dazed and blind he was lead to Damascus to be baptised by Ananias. With the scales falling from Paul’s eyes he immediately went into the synogues to preach the truth of Jesus and the Gospel. Starting Paul’s astonishing crusade to bring everyone into the body of Christ.

The persecution continues. The persecution for being a Christian continues. Just last year Islamic terrorist in Nigeria killed 5000 Christians and kidnapped 3000 more but still the Christians keep worshipping in burnt out churches for they know the truth. In India converts to Christianity are severely beaten by Hindu nationalists but their numbers continue to grow and they continue to worship for they know the truth. Around the world Christianity is under attack, it is under attack close to home in our own country. Only recently a CEO of a football club lost his job because of his association with a church that holds to the biblical truth. A truth that is finding itself out of step with modern society but modern society is in the wrong for truth by it’s very nature is timeless. Paul was beheaded, Peter was crucified and Timothy was stoned to death for preaching the truth; what persecution are we Christians in this church willing to endure for knowing the truth.

Where will this persecution take us? Well the world we find ourselves in is seeking to change our truth. They are seeking to change the bible as the Chinese government is doing so that the bible begins to serve the state instead of GOD. They have changed the incident described in the Gospel of John from where Jesus stops a crowd from stoning an adulterous women by telling them “Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone” then finally telling the woman to “go and sin no more”. Here we see the forgiving nature of Jesus but in the Chinese government’s version Jesus stones the woman to death. Why because justice is served by the state not by GOD. There is even a move to change the ten commandments to quotes from chairman Xi. Christianity is bent to serve the state not GOD.

In the west we are seeing Christianity seek to prioritise serving man over GOD by changing problematic words. The New Revised Standard Version undated edition has change 1st Corinthians 6:10 from condemning homosexuals which is problematic in these modern times to the far more innocuous “men who engage in illicit sex”. It is up to you to to come to an honest, GOD centered understanding of that verse but there is something sinister in changing words in the Bible, our source of truth, to support an agenda. That it is the New Revised Standard Version is doubly concerning because this is the version used academically and will be the version that informs future Ministers. If we are not careful we will have a government approved bible used in a government approved church, run by government approved clergy. All else being illicit.

It may seem that GOD has left us defenseless to the lions that circle us for when Jesus instructs us to love our neighbour and to turn the other cheek it can feel as if Jesus has left us unarmed. The sword may have been removed from our hands but we still have the shield of GOD’s love revealed by the truth that is contained within the bible. It is sound doctrine that will make a shield strong. How do we know what is sound doctrine? Sound doctrine places GOD at the center of our world-view and when we are reading the bible we are submitting ourselves to GOD’s will and not our own. If the bible conflicts with our own world-view than we must let go and accept for we can no more make two plus two equal five than go against the truth that GOD has revealed to us. Following sound doctrine puts us on the path that leads to Christ. It devotes our thoughts, actions, the feelings of the heart towards holiness and sets us apart as GOD’s people for as John wrote, Jesus prayed “Sanctify them in the truth; the word is truth”. The path that sound doctrine puts us on weaves it’s way through the entire bible, from Genesis to Revelations. It reveals a coherent unity; from our creation, to a fall in to sin, to Jesus’s saving work on the cross and the eventual restoration of GOD’s rule over all creation. Sound doctrine allows us to love GOD, for to love GOD we must first know GOD. To know GOD we must guard against interpretation that breaks the coherent unity and leads us off the path and away from GOD. We must not reject what we find difficult to accept and accept only what we find easy for that is to make an idol of our own desires. We must guard ourselves against false authority that wishes to seduce our itching ears. We must always ask ourselves, is what being said putting GOD in the center of our world-view or is it placing man there?

We have Paul at the end of his life giving encouragement and advice to Timothy but he is also talking to us when he writes “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry”. For there are hardships ahead for us and we will often have to “keep our heads”. In this reading we see a mirror of the great commission from Matthew 28:19-20 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Let us be determined to learn the scriptures with sound doctrine. The path that GOD has given us that leads to him, the bible as our map we will study so that we may share with others as we would share with anyone needing directions when they are lost. Let us pray for conversions and trust in GOD as the one who gives life to the dead and sight to the blind and the saver of sinners.

Paul passed on the good fight to Timothy as he has passed the fight onto all of us. When we all face the end of our mortal days will we look back, confident that we have fought the good fight, we have finished the race and we have kept the faith so that we may take those final steps towards GOD, towards Heaven and towards a new adventure. They may try to persecute us, the body of Christ, but where-ever Christians are persecuted, China, India, Iran, Africa or where ever you live the church grows for as the early church father Tertullian said “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”. Stay on GOD’s path and death will illicit no fear for death is GOD’s guide to bring his children home to him. “He is not a GOD of the dead but a GOD of the living.”

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