Posts Tagged With: hardship

Faith, Righteousness, Rights, and Hard Times

“For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. But My righteous one shall live by faith; And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him” (Hebrews 10:37–38; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Image created using the YouVersion Bible app.

When faith is genuine, it governs our lives. When we have true faith, God’s righteousness will grow in us. We will live by God’s standards of righteousness and justice.

While Christians should be eager to see God’s justice manifested, we cannot afford to make our rights our top priority. Americans stand up for our rights. However, God calls us to do what is right, no matter what. Sometimes, we may need to place God’s glory ahead of our rights.

This is one of the main themes of the letter to the Hebrews. The original readers were presumably Jewish converts to Christianity. When persecution hit, some were tempted to return to Judaism. Returning to their former, more “acceptable,” faith offered a better chance of keeping their homes, jobs, possessions, etc., instead of suffering persecution. The author (probably not Paul, but one of his ministry partners or companions) urged them to remain faithful to Jesus. The rewards of everlasting life are far greater than any earthly possessions or privileges.

“But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one” (Hebrews 10:32–34).

The early Christians did not expect “your best life now.” While Jesus had promised innumerable blessings to His followers, He said they would not come cheaply. The Christian life begins with repentance. It leads to self-sacrifice. Suffering frequently follows.

“Peter began to say to Him, ‘Behold, we have left everything and followed You.’ Jesus said, Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last, first’” (Mark 10:28–31, emphasis added).

How do we measure up? The COVID pandemic has shown how weak we are. People thought some of the restrictions—including mask requirements—were the mark of the beast. Many ranted that we are approaching the Great Tribulation because officials urged us to wear masks in public for the past year and to get a vaccine. Jesus told us that there would be great tribulation in the end times, “such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will” (Matthew 24:21). COVID-related restrictions are minor compared to the suffering of Jews in Nazi Germany, Black slaves in the pre-Civil-War south, or countless other oppressed people throughout history. The restrictions of the past 15 months do not qualify as signs of the end times.

The original readers of Hebrews showed us how to respond to difficult times. They joyfully accepted the loss of their property. If they were not the direct victims of reproaches and tribulations, they stood by their brothers and sisters who were. Instead of cowering in fear, they stood with their brethren. When trials came, they accepted them.

Christians today must learn again how to sacrifice. We must learn how to endure trials and tribulations and how to identify and sympathize with those who are suffering persecution or injustice. We should be ready to speak out for justice for all, but we must also be courageous enough to face persecution without a spirit of self-righteousness, rebellion, bitterness, or revenge.

We do not prove our faith by twisting Scriptures to explain why we should be comfortable. Faith is validated when we persevere during trials, tribulations, and persecution. We do not prove our faith when life is easy, claim our blessings, attend church, post Bible verses online, or celebrate our comforts. We show our faith when we remain faithful to God despite hardship.

Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). If we grow discouraged or turn our backs on Him when things get tough, we do not have faith. The readers of Hebrews were tempted to give up—they had not done so yet—under pressures that would have destroyed most American Christians.

Are we strong enough to stand firm in Christ? Can we follow the example the writer of Hebrews sets before us? If not, what can we do to grow in true faith that can withstand hardship?

I would like to hear from you. Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Christians and Culture, God's Moral Attributes, God's Nature and Personality | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Best Life, NOT Now—Second Corinthians 4:16–18

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (Second Corinthians 4:16–18).

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The first time the Bible mentions St. Paul, he is participating in the execution of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, who was not experiencing his “best life now.” Painting by Rembrandt (public domain), via Wikimedia Commons.

The Christian satire website The Babylon Bee recently commemorated the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey by posting an article claiming that Joel Osteen sailed his luxury yacht through the flooded streets of Houston after that storm, distributing free copies of his bestselling book, Your Best Life Now. Another recent gem from that site imagined a Christian humanitarian relief organization responding to famine in East Africa by dropping crates of prosperity-gospel books into Ethiopia. Both articles highlighted an unfortunate irony of a popular brand of Christian thinking, that believes that faith in Jesus Christ guarantees health, wealth, and comfort in this world.

Let me begin by stating that my purpose in this article is not merely to attack Osteen’s book. To be honest, I have not read any of his books. My grievance is against the school of thought that believes Christians can experience “your best life now.” This is an unbiblical worldview that would sound absurd to the writers of both the Old and New Testaments and their initial readership. Ancient Israel was a small nation with a troubled history, frequently under foreign oppression. The early church was viewed as a radical fringe sect within Judaism, during a particularly repressive period of Israel’s history. Early Christians would not believe they were experiencing their best life now.

American Christianity has bought into many of the ideals of modern commercialism. We buy cars that we think will make us look prosperous. We buy cologne, perfume, clothing, and alcoholic beverages because commercials promise that this particular brand will make us popular with the opposite sex. Then, we baptize this mentality into a watered-down gospel, believing that the promises of Jesus include not only forgiveness of sins and everlasting life, but also financial wealth, perfect health, whiter teeth, fresh breath, and sex appeal. Since we want the best things in life, we demand that God offer us His best blessings in this world.

Early in my Christian walk, I learned a method of evangelism that involved sharing “The Four Spiritual Laws” with people. This was a tract, providing a brief summary of the gospel and inviting the reader to accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. It was a great little booklet, written by Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright. According to Bright, the first law was “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” To support this claim, he quoted John 3:16 and John 10:10—

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b).

Fortunately, Bright kept a proper biblical balance here, emphasizing spiritual blessings and everlasting life. However, many modern people read our own hopes and desires into that first law. We are thrilled to hear that God has a wonderful plan for our life, but that does not mean that His plan is our plan! God’s wonderful plan for your life recognizes that we are eternal beings. After our earthly bodies die, our spirits will live on. It is in that life next phase of life—heaven or hell—where God will bring His wonderful plan for our lives to fruition.

My self-made plan for my life includes health, happiness, comfort, and wealth. Instead, like most people, I experience hard times. There are days when I am not healthy. Sometimes, the universe does not submit to my personal agenda. There are times when unexpected expenses arise and I wonder how I can pay those bills. Clearly, if God has a wonderful plan for my life, it is not “Sit around all day, taking it easy, while millions of dollars just roll in from nowhere.” Today, I know deeply-committed Christians, men and women with deep faith in Christ, who are struggling with illness, affliction, and suffering, and some who are facing imminent death. I would hope that today’s circumstances are not their best life.

When St. Paul listed his accomplishments and proof of his genuine anointing as an apostle, it read like this:

“Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?” (II Corinthians 11:23–29).

Many Bible scholars believe Paul also endured problems with his eyesight and would be considered legally blind today. Several Bible verses hint at this possibility, including the fact that the Galatians would have gouged out their own eyes to give them to him (Galatians 4:15): judging from what he says elsewhere in his letter to that church, one cannot imagine him commending such self-mutilation unless it would have served a meaningful purpose.

Thus, one can safely say that St. Paul did not expect his best life in this world. God loved Paul and had a wonderful plan for his life—but His plan was not one of ease and comfort. Likewise, God loves each of us and has a wonderful plan for our lives, but it does not match the plans we devise when we put ourselves first.

God’s plan for us does include this world, but it is not what we can take out of it. Instead, it is the legacy we can leave behind. God’s plan for our lives includes our faith in Him. It includes the people to whom we witness, who will join us when we see Him face to face in heaven. It includes the people we disciple, minister to, encourage, and exhort. It includes all of the lives that are changed for the better when we live in obedience to Him.

We will experience hardship in this world. But, that hardship is creating for us an “eternal weight of glory.” Let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles (Hebrews 12:1) so that we can take on the eternal weight of glory that God is preparing for us. God has a wonderful plan for our lives. We do not see it now, but we will see it when we behold Jesus face to face. We do not live our best lives now, but we can behold our best life by faith as we look to those things that are unseen.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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