Saturday, November 5, 2011

Speaking the Truth With Courage

by Pastor Ron Bridge of Rehoboth Baptist Church

Paul tells the church in Ephesus to speak the truth in love (4:15), and the church in Philippi that doing so will result in persecution so they must be courageous (1:27-28), and commended the Christians in Thessalonica for suffering as a result of bearing a faithful, steadfast, witness (2:14-16). Writing to Timothy Paul says that all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12).

The only time the church does not suffer is when it ceases to speak the truth and begins to compromise with the world in order to be at peace with it. Prior to the Edict of Constantine which made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, the church had suffered through numerous persecutions in which tens of thousands of believers lost their lives, often under extremely cruel circumstances. Following the Edict there was a period of peace but at the cost of the gospel. Indeed over the next thousand years the gospel virtually disappeared as the church itself took on the imperial mantle and became just like the world, albeit in religious garb.

Persecution resumed when the church rediscovered the gospel. The Reformers suffered under the assault of the imperial church, and to add insult to injury, fought amongst themselves as various Protestant movements sought to carve out their own religious territory. By the turn of the sixteenth century most of the infighting was over and the church, although separated into numerous denominations was in agreement over what we might call the fundamentals of the faith. There being essential unity in diversity, and speaking with the common voice of the gospel, the church turned once again to the Great Commission. When the church did this – persecution intensified and has been intensifying ever since. The more persistent the church, the more it is persecuted.

But, whenever the church compromises the gospel in order to have peace, persecution wanes. No one delights in persecution. While we can rejoice when it comes (1 Peter 4:13) it is not something to be sought. But neither is peace with the world. Peace (friendship) with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4). A great many churches have made friends with the world and compromised the gospel in order to avoid persecution. Even good churches and Christians can fall into this trap. We do so when we fail to speak the truth with courage. We don't want to rock the boat and so we beat around the bush and never get to the heart of the gospel in our conversation with unbelievers. We avoid the hot button issues of the day that we know will arouse opposition, or we fail to state our beliefs forthrightly. We want to be seen as loving and not judgmental so we clam up if we sense that we might offend someone. However, the preaching of the cross is offensive – it may indeed be death to some, but it is life to others (2 Cor. 2:15-16).

The Great Commission is a message of love, but love is dependent on truth, and it takes courage to speak the truth that men are sinners and God hates sin and must punish it – either in the sinner, or in the sinner's substitute. Speak this truth and you will experience persecution. But you will also experience the presence of Christ who said: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

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