Aug 14 2022 How to Respond to Persecution (Love Your Enemies)

As I looked at the Book of Acts, I realized one of the main themes is Suffering – and it was almost always caused by persecution.

There are those around the world who suffer persecution for the sake of the gospel, but not so much here.

One of the biggest stories of persecution is that of the martyrdom of Stephen.

Stephen tells the entire story of the Bible from Abraham to Jesus – and Stephen shows that through history, God sent prophets who were rejected by the people of Israel…

Acts 7:52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold long ago the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become…

Look – all of your ancestors have rejected God – and now you have joined them and killed the Messiah

54 When they heard these things, they became furious and ground their teeth at him.

55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked intently toward heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 "Look!" he said. "I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!"

This is referring to the Ascension. And what people are hearing is that he is making Jesus equal to God. And their response:

57 But they covered their ears, shouting out with a loud voice, and rushed at him with one intent.

They are saying he is a blasphemer. Why? He preached that Jesus was Lord and Messiah. That is why – the only reason – they came to kill him.

58 When they had driven him out of the city, they began to stone him, and the witnesses laid their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul (Paul the Apostle). 59 They continued to stone Stephen while he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" 60 Then he fell to his knees and cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" When he had said this, he died.

So, Stephen uses almost exactly the identical words of Jesus on the cross. Stephen is our example on how to respond to persecution. (Jesus, too, of course).

Acts 8:1 And Saul agreed completely with killing him. Now on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were forced to scatter throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria… 3 But Saul was trying to destroy the church; entering one house after another, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. 4 Now those who had been forced to scatter went around proclaiming the good news of the word.

I learned two new things this week – that I had never heard before. This word scatter = Diaspora. When the Jews were conquered by Babylon, they were spread throughout the world.

Speirein– to sow seeds – the word that Jesus used in all the sowing parables.

Dia – throughout

These are seeds of the gospel throughout Judea and Samaria. God still uses persecution to sow seeds of the gospel throughout the world.

All of us have been sown – somewhere – planted where you are. And God has done that as a way of spreading His gospel throughout the world.

Chris shared a few weeks back – his talents – construction/carpentry – tradesman – he talked about his service at Urban Vision – God found this place to plant him with his skills and gifts – He is also an evangelist, often getting to share the gospel. And God gave him a people at Urban Vision – a people Chris really relates to.

Cindy and I have lived in our community for 3 decades now! He has sown us there – planted us for 3 decades – and just in the last couple months… well, over the years, every once in a while, God would do something. Every once in a while, God would use us – a testimony.

There is one person whom Cindy and I have been close to – who had a negative upbringing with church – and yet, they participated with us in a couple of our 40 days campaigns… Recently – she read a book – and gave it to Cindy to read – and it is a Christian book – and as they continued talking – Cindy realized that God had been doing all this stuff in this woman’s life. There is now this open ‘talking’ going on –

When Cindy and I were out with Covid – that Sunday morning – we were out working in our yard – as was most of the rest of the neighborhood – and we were talking with one of the neighbors who coached our kids… - Their daughter recently graduated from college – and became really involved in a church – “I think she became a Baptist…” – But as we talked, it was obvious that God was working in their lives.

There are people that you are His witness to.

In Acts – the majority of the persecution came from the Jews. The reason they persecuted the Christians – they said, “Jesus is the Lord and Messiah”

The other percentage – from the Roman Empire – is because they said Jesus is Lord – and to the Romans – that meant, and Caesar is not.

There are people around the world today who are being persecuted and killed for saying Jesus is Lord.

For us, today, as Christians, we may be marginalized, or ridiculed or made fun of – and there is animosity toward the church – for numerous reasons – some our fault, some not. The time may come when we experience a similar persecution – but we can’t predict that.

How, I believe, how we respond to those who are antagonistic toward Christians and the Church is the most important thing that we can do now for fruitfulness and the gospel. I personally believe that. Our response to those who ridicule – if it is like Stephen – will do the most for the promotion of the gospel in our world.

SO the Bible is crystal clear how to respond – simple, yet profound:

Matthew 5:44 "But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. (Romans 12:14-19)

This was so radical – it was the first time it was said in the history of the world. This went against everything the world believed – and probably everything the world believes today. And Paul goes on to say, Bless those!

How do we respond? We love those who are antagonistic. We pray. We bless – those who are antagonistic.

As I was thinking about this – I don’t really have any enemies – people out there who would like to hurt me – and I’m guessing you’re in the same situation. But I do have some perceived enemies – people and groups of people – or this ‘kind’ of person. We all have that. We need to identify the people and groups that we perceive to be our enemies – it is really important to identify – I see this group as my enemy – and then to begin respond to that group of people by loving, praying, and blessing them – O what a world it would be!

Matthew comes in a context – and it is important to understand this context – I believe that doing what Jesus is saying here is important for our witness to be filled with power and the Holy Spirit.

By this all will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.

When we love our enemy – the world will see God in us –

Before Jesus said to love our enemies… - He said:

Matthew 5: 38 "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'

(Leviticus 19)

We think of ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ – as something that was horrible. In their world – it was you take my eye, I take your life and all your families’ lives! This was limiting retribution.

39 But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer.

This is not pacifism – but more like, do not respond to violence with violence. He is speaking of a nonviolent response to violence.

But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well.

This is RADICAL ACTION! That seems odd. That’s the point.

The story of MLK, JR. – SOMeone came up while he was giving a speech – he punched him and knocked him down – got up, and the guy knocked him down again. Eventually the people watching subdued the man – and MLK said, we’re not pressing charges – we’re done. Which do you think had the greater impact?

40 And if someone wants to sue you and to take your tunic, give him your coat also. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not reject the one who wants to borrow from you.

Here is the next big thing I learned – and I’m almost ashamed of myself – what do we talk about when interpreting the Bible? Context! So when I read the last verse – When I come to a sign of a person asking for help – should I help them? This verse comes to mind. O no! What do I do?! There is contextual meaning vs. the contextual application. Thinking of the verse with that application is an okay way to apply it.

But what was happening – Jesus is talking to a people who have been under military oppression/occupation for 600 years! And all of these things he is talking about – the occupiers – and the Jewish collaborators, with the occupiers, are asking of them. And here is how Jesus says to respond – to those who are most violent to you.

Matthew 5: 43 "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor' and 'hate your enemy. '

Hate your enemy is not really found there.

They had developed this saying – love your neighbor – hate your enemy – but Jesus says:

"But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. 45 so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

We are most like God when we love our enemies.

Romans 5: - He loved and died for us when we were His enemy.

Let’s close off with this – it is important to identify the group. Groups can become communities of love and care where you feel appreciated – or groups can become a group of hate. There are plenty of those in our world…

46 For if you love those who love you (those in your group), what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors (the Jewish collaborators) do the same, don't they?

Do you see what He is doing? He is taking the collaborators – they do the same!

47 And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don't they? 48 So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Perfect – full maturity. Mature Christians are growing in this. They are learning to love their enemies. When they do that – they are most like God.

Let’s pray – and open for questions.

Lord, I thank You. For the opportunity to live in the world we live in – we’ve been sown here. A lot of things aren’t good about this world, but we have been sown here. Those in Acts were under a constant threat – and we’ve been sown here. Help us to be a witness to those you have placed us in.

Sue: My mind tends to go to – yeah, but… Con artists, those who exploit – what about that?

That’s the hardest one – there is someone who appears to need help – and I think that con artists are different from the person on the corner and asking – will he go and buy alcohol with what I give him… - The people in the New Testament did not have a choice when a soldier came and said carry this…

There are those who come to the church – my mother passed away and I need to get to WV… and they come back a year later with the EXACT SAME STORY… - and that’s a little different.

Patty – I saw some refugees – asking for help – and I felt bad that I was unprepared – and I remembered what my daughter who does social work said – providing information on agencies is helping. Can I direct this person to an agency who can help?

Cindy – Sue used to keep granola bars and such in her car… Another friend – would offer to go get gas for them – or I’ll take you to Giant Eagle – and that is not what they wanted. Can we print some of these street cards that have all the agencies listed.

Mike: I tend to be a ‘guilt person’ – and that is never helpful. We can discern. I’ve given money and seen them come out with beer later. If there is something amiss, I think it is okay to say, something is amiss here.

Sue A – We pull up to these people – one of us, in our family – will look in the compartment between the seats for money – but the other is not convicted in the same way – but if you are convicted – is it sin to not give?

Sue C – that makes a good discussion – asking your partner – am I free to give?

Mike – does it come from conviction or guilt? Or is this the Holy Spirit –

Sue C – or, but for the grace of God go I… But if we give, and give freely – no matter what the person uses the money for – it is from God – and who knows if God can use that in their lives… God is in charge of the result.

Suzanne – I’ve had thoughts in that situation – we all get there – pass the same corner each day – and I’ve heard people say – this is what I do…. – and that is a good thing – if that is what God wants you to do – but for me, I don’t just want a policy of what I do each time. It may be a situation where God prompts – we need to be personally involved – not necessarily becoming the person’s best friend – but what more is God asking? It might be a word, or whatever.

Dave – So what happens when someone says Christians are hypocrites… should you agree or say, not, or change the subject – when you get lumped in with bad situations in Christianity –

Henry – of course we are! We’re flawed mortals – I’m sad about that! I’m sad you’re having trouble getting past that! Can I pray for you?

Mike: Maybe saying – what happened? Why do you feel that way. Someone has been hurt.

Donna – We are ALL sinners – that’s why we have Jesus.

Mike – we hurt people – we get hurt.

Sue: A lot of us Christians have been hurt in the church – and you can say that to the person. But this is our firm foundation.

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