Monday, August 19, 2013

A dirty job, but someone has to do it

by Pastor Ron Bridge of Rehoboth Baptist Church

The first century Roman playwright, Seneca, described his native city as “the cesspool of iniquity.” This from a man who was a pagan. The immorality of Rome was almost beyond description, homosexuality, bisexuality and even bestiality was accepted and even celebrated. Abortion was commonplace. Unwanted babies were killed, or left on doorsteps to be taken, or left in a field to be eaten by dogs. Although the Colosseum was not yet built, gladiators fought to the death in smaller venues and it would not be long before people would be fed to wild beasts. Men and women who married and remained faithful to each other were considered an oddity, prudish, narrow and unsophisticated. When, some years earlier, Pilate had responded to the Lord's claim to be speaking the truth with the infamous “what is truth?” He was only reflecting the prevailing Roman culture in which anything was acceptable. It was to Christians living in a culture that was so hostile to the gospel and to biblical holiness, that Paul wrote his most famous letter.

No doubt, the Christians living in Rome would concur with Paul's description of godless people in Romans 1:18-32 – they saw such things every day and recoiled from them. But, Paul followed his description of godlessness with the reminder that they were once like that, and it was only by the grace of God that they had been delivered from their own wickedness. God, says Paul, justifies the ungodly, not when by their own effort they become godly, but in order to make them so (Romans 4:5-8, 5:8-10). In spite of terrible persecution and the death of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of Christians, the church in Rome grew and eventually overcame – “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” (Tertullian). The Roman Christians resisted the tidal wave of corruption and many shed their blood in so doing.

Now, while not every aspect of Roman life is mirrored in modern American life, we are well along the way to creating our own cesspool of iniquity. So, when the Holy Spirit guided Paul's letter to the Christian's in Rome, He was also writing to the American church in 2013. Like our Christian brethren in Rome, we are facing a culture that is becoming more hostile to biblical standards as it careens into the abyss of depravity. Like them, we are called upon to demonstrate godliness in an ungodly world. Like them we will be ridiculed, opposed, persecuted – and killed? Jesus suffered at the hands of the ungodly, His apostles likewise, those that followed also. We should not be surprised if our turn is soon to come. As Peter wrote: “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing had happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may be glad with exceeding joy” (1 Peter. 4:12,13).

One more thing to consider. The Church in Rome did not grow by Christians hunkering down and avoiding conflict. It grew because they were not ashamed of the gospel (Rom. 1:16). It grew because they were in contact with the ungodly, with the depraved and with the enemies of Christ – and they had “compassion on them – pulling them out of the flames, hating even the garments defiled by the flesh” (Jude 22,23). Sometimes evangelism is a dirty job, but someone has to do it. Jesus did it. Christians throughout the ages have done it. Someone did it for us. Who will do it for the ungodly of our day?

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