I got stuck on this post a couple months ago, and haven’t been able to write since. Thanks for your patience as I processed these thoughts. The original topic was the Great Controversy.
“For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men.” -1 Corinthians 4:9
This verse is about glorifying God through suffering.
Everyone reading this probably comes from a country with religious freedom–at least for Christians. You won’t be fined, jailed, or harassed for praying in public, attending church events, or reading this article. Many of you are probably even in the majority (which could mean you need to watch out for those you might be unintentionally oppressing). Even though we might like to look for persecution in this ultra-free society, we’re really grasping at straws. I believe that will change in the future; but I know that hasn’t changed yet.
So then, is it impossible to glorify God in our suffering, right now? Or does religious freedom actually limit our opportunities to glorify God?
On the contrary, religious freedom exponentially increases our opportunities to glorify God, because it gives us chances to display our devotion out of our freedom, instead of under compulsion. Whether we take advantage of these opportunities or not, religious freedom puts the onus on believers to model Christ. It removes external motivators like persecution, and makes room for intrinsic motivators, like love, to manifest themselves. As awesome as faithfulness under persecution can be, faithfulness–devout faithfulness–in freedom inspires the world more.
How can this be?
“But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and endure it, this is commendable before God.” (1 Peter 2:20)
“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 John 3:17)
“But a beautiful palace does not make a great king! Why did your father, Josiah, reign so long? Because he was just and right in his dealings. That is why God blessed Him. He made sure that justice and help were given to the poor and needy, and everything went well for him. ‘Isn’t that what it means to know me?’ asks the Lord.” (Jeremiah 22:15,16)
John writes again:
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” (1 John 3:16)
Without persecution, the only other thing you need to protect yourself from is the Bible, because in light of all the poverty and injustice in the world right now, a person cannot be true to these verses without giving to the point of suffering.
If you choose, in your freedom, to give of your possessions and your rights until you suffer, you can glorify God even more than you would if you were taken to court for praying in public. If you recognize that you are never the victim when you are in Christ, then you are free to look out for the rights of your neighbor instead of yourself, and glorify God in the process. If you refuse to accept the normalization of self-preservation and decide to give without regard for your own safety, God’s freedom and power become clearly evident in your life. And if you forego comfort with a smile and a prayer, deciding to give instead, you will model Christ to the world, and God will look more beautiful to somebody.
But there’s a reason why Christians can give generously. In On Christian Liberty, Martin Luther writes:
“Who then can comprehend the riches and the glory of the Christian life? It can do all things and has all things and lacks nothing. It is lord over sin, death, and hell, and yet at the same time it serves, ministers to, and benefits all men. But alas in our day this life is unknown throughout the world; it is neither preached about nor sought after; we are altogether ignorant of our own name and do not know why we are Christians or bear the name of Christians.”
We have more riches and glory through Christ than we could ever give away or give up. Just calling ourselves “Christian” is a recognition of that. Calling ourselves “Christian” means we will serve as Jesus served and give as Jesus gave; it means we’ll suffer as Jesus suffered.
Let no rationalizations get between you and your Bible, and you will suffer–even in a country with absolute freedom.
And as you suffer–and yet lack nothing–you will be a spectacle indeed.
You might already know what you need to give, but if you need ideas, here are a few programs I recommend: