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Persecution

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In today’s Bible reading, Paul tells his spiritual son Timothy that Believers should pray for those in authority over them. He uses several Greek words for prayer, each covering a different kind of prayer. And he tells Timothy to pray “for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2 CSB) The emphasis isn’t so much on the kinds of prayers, but whom the prayers are to be for. He begins with “everyone” and immediately names the title of civil authorities. Yes, we need to pray for our church leaders, but that’s not Paul’s focus. Paul’s focus is on the civil authorities. Why?

In order to better appreciate Paul’s instructions to pray for those in authority, we must look at the historical context of Paul’s letter to Timothy. Paul wrote the letter around AD 63-66 after his release from house arrest in Rome. He is quite aware of the growing climate of Roman religious persecution. Nero is the Roman Emporer and he isn’t known for being friendly to Christians. Actually, Nero is known to have used Christians as street lights in Rome as their bodies were impaled and set afire at night.

It’s in this historical context that Paul tells Timothy to pray for civil authorities … including Nero. WHAT???

You may have seen social media posts decrying Christian persecution because a retail store employee was forbidden from telling customers, “Merry Christmas” or an HOA prohibited a Christian from displaying a manger on her front lawn. Now let me ask, in comparison to the religious persecution experienced by First Century Christians under Nero, how can we dare call these examples “Christian persecution”? We can’t because it isn’t.

Application

It seems that our political climate is as divided as I’ve ever heard of. When it comes to those in places of civil authority in our country, I confess, I complain a lot more than I pray.

You may really like the current President of the United States of America. Or you may think the President is unpresidential. You may think the President is a reprobate. You may feel the President is personally repulsive. You may feel the President is guilty of committing crimes.

I’m sure lots of people have voiced these opinions of most of our Presidents!

It really doesn’t matter who our civil authorities are, if you call yourself a Christian, you are obligated to pray for them. The same goes for those in civil authority on the State and community level. Paul says to pray for all of them. And so we must.

So what do we pray for those in civil authority?

For starters, pray for their salvation. Pray for their walk with God. Pray they live in integrity. Pray for wisdom. And pray for impartiality in enforcing, legislating, and interpreting our laws.

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Blind justice

Dr. Luke shares the details of Jesus “trial” before the Sanhedrin in today’s Bible reading. I put the word trial in quotes because it was anything but a proper trial. Luke doesn’t share all of the details of the trial such as the witnesses who couldn’t agree on their stories. (Mark 14:56) But he does give us the general sense of the “trial”. It wasn’t fair and it wasn’t according to the Jewish law. (Numbers 35:30)

Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived and the writer of Ecclesiastes drives home the point that life isn’t fair. Proverbs, written by Solomon and others, support this statement.

Jesus gives us the key to this section of Luke 22 (verses 66-71) when He says, “They said, “If you are the Messiah, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I do tell you, you will not believe.” Luke 22:67

People can be so blinded by their presuppositions that they will not accept the truth if it were to slap them in the face. (Matthew 13:13)

Application

Life isn’t fair. Some day you will be falsely accused. It may not be in a courtroom (with strong consequences on the line), but it will happen. What will you say? What will you do? The first thing is to live a life above reproach. But even before that, trust in a faithful, sovereign God. Let Him fight your battles. (1 Samuel 17:47, Zechariah 4:6)

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In today’s Bible reading, Paul completes his statement of what being filled with the Holy Spirit looks like as it applies to relationships with parents and children and with masters and servants (employers and employees in our context). He concludes the chapter discussing Spiritual Warfare.

Most believers think they’re being persecuted for being a believer when they can’t wear Christian-themed jewelry at work. Or they can’t wish “Merry Christmas” to customers in the checkout line.

Let me say this as strongly as I can: Most Christians (especially in the West) have no idea what real religious persecution is. OpenDoors, Voice of the Martyrs, and similar organizations give real examples of real persecution of real people. Check them out. (and pray for them)

Most of what believers call “spiritual warfare” isn’t.

So why would I make such a bold statement? Do I believe spiritual warfare doesn’t exist? Nothing could be further than the truth! Spiritual warfare is very real. Believers are victims of spiritual attack every single day. But most of what believers call spiritual warfare isn’t. Believers can be very nearsighted about spiritual warfare just like we are about “persecution”.

Most believers think they’re under spiritual attack when they get sick, or when they run out of money before the end of the month, or they lose their job, or when their car gets a flat on the way to church. Some of this may be spiritual warfare, but most of it isn’t.

Paul tells the Ephesians to put on the full armor of God: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. Most of the armor is defensive; it protects you from attack from the front. But notice that there’s no protection to your back if you tuck tail and run in heat of the battle!

But there’s one key piece of the armor that isn’t spelled out as clearly as the others. It’s easy to see that the sword of the Spirit is an offensive weapon. But if you don’t see it in this passage, you completely miss the other offensive weapon!

Paul mentions it at the end of the list: the spear of prayer. Unfortunately, since he doesn’t spell it out like he does the others, it doesn’t make it to the picture hanging in our Sunday School classrooms and Children’s Picture Bibles. And not seeing this piece of armor in this passage prevents you from learning to use it in one of the key aspects of the very nature of the warfare!

Spiritual warfare is well, spiritual warfare. Things happening to you in the physical realm may or may not have a counterpart in the spiritual realm.

Paul says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens.” Ephesians 6:12 (CSB)

He begins the next sentence, “For this reason“. Because the war field is in the spiritual realm, we have to take up spiritual armor. A good friend of mine has rightly said, “You will never win a spiritual war with a fleshly weapon.” Elsewhere, Paul expounds on the nature of spiritual weapons.

For although we live in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh, since the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every proud thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ. And we are ready to punish any disobedience, once your obedience is complete. 2 Corinthians 10:3–6 (CSB)

Our weapons destroy strongholds, arguments, and anything else that rises up against the knowledge of God. We use our spiritual weapons in the spiritual places to accomplish spiritual purposes namely, to point our eyes to God so we can worship and obey him.

Getting sick, running out of money before the end of the month, losing your job, and getting a flat tire can happen to anyone: believers and unbelievers alike. What you do when those things happen is where spiritual warfare can occur. But most of the time, only believers are attacked spiritually when those things happen.

The spiritual warfare occurs when those things cause us to lose focus from thinking about God rightly, when they keep us from worshiping Him, and when they keep us from obeying Him.

Yes, spiritual warfare happens in spiritual places, and one of the battlegrounds is the mind of the believer. That’s why we need to put on the whole armor of God so that we can stand our ground. Note that Paul mentions standing three times in four verses. Standing in spiritual warfare must be pretty important!

Application

Whenever you feel that you are under spiritual attack, ask God if that’s what’s up. He’ll tell you. And if you are under attack, Paul tells you what to do: Put on the full armor, not just a few of your favorite pieces.

Catching a nail in your tire on the way to church isn’t spiritual warfare. But if that causes you to question the goodness of God in allowing it to happen in that place at that time, it is spiritual warfare. If it causes you to not thank God for His provision of a helpful stranger to change your tire, and if it keeps you from using the opportunity to share the gospel with him, yes, it is spiritual warfare.

So to deal with this spiritual battle in a realistic way,

  • You put on your helmet of salvation to protect your thoughts as think about God’s wise provision in the timing and location of this.
  • You grab your shield of faith to reject those attacks that suggest that God isn’t in control and that this flat tire caught Him off-guard.
  • You draw your sword of the Spirit and meditate on Bible verses you’ve memorized on the goodness and faithfulness of God; you use those verses to attack those thoughts questioning God.
  • You protect your heart with the breastplate of righteousness to keep your heart right before God in this battle.
  • You hold it all together remembering the truth that all of this is about maintaining your focus on Jesus, worshipping Him and obeying Him.
  • You put on your shoes to be ready to share the good news of peace with God with this stranger.
  • And you offer to pray for this helpful stranger; he may have a need for you to pray with him about. Also pray for the helpful stranger to respond to the call of the Gospel and you thank God for the opportunity to be His instrument of reaching out to this stranger.

God’s Word is very applicable in showing us how to win spiritual battles. If we will just step back to get our focus on God, worship Him, and obey Him.

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Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!
He has conquered sin and death!
He has made a way for us to be made right with a Holy God.

Jesus gives us good news, bad news, and more good news in today’s Bible reading from Matthew 10. He begins by giving His apostles authority over unclean spirits, and every sickness and disease. He sends them out to preach the Gospel.

Next, Matthew records Jesus giving some “bad news”. I put that in quotes because of the following good news. But the “bad news” is that the apostles (and us) will be persecuted. Note: They/we will be persecuted. (Matthew 10:16-25)

But couched in that section, Jesus gives them/us good news: His Holy Spirit will give them/them the words to say to those who persecute them/us. (Matthew 10:19-20)

Matthew concludes Chapter 10 with even better news: God is in control!

“Therefore, don’t be afraid of them, since there is nothing covered that won’t be uncovered and nothing hidden that won’t be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the light. What you hear in a whisper, proclaim on the housetops. Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s consent. But even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Matthew 10:26–30 (CSB)

Let me say that again. God is in control.

Application

There is a great deal of comfort to us in those four words: God is in control. He gives his Apostles authority over the enemy. There is no competition between God and the enemy where we wonder who will win. God wins! And by extension, we win!

Sure, we may be persecuted. We may encounter “storms” in our lives. In fact, Jesus promises that His followers will be persecuted. But He couches this “bad news” with good news because He is in control! Nothing will happen to His kids without His direct control. And Paul reminds us that He will work out all things to our good: that we would be more like Jesus. (Romans 8:28-29)

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