The Encourager

The Encourager

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The Faces of Persecution

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Faces of Persecution

by Jeff Curtis

     Paul said that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2Timothy 3:12; John 15:20; 1Thessalonians 3:3-4). Jesus mentioned in Matthew 5:10-11 several different types of persecution that may be directed against Christians.

     Christians may be physically persecuted. Many early Christians were crucified, burned at the stake, herded into Roman arenas to be killed by wild animals for the mere amusement of the bored public, or burned alive as human torches to provide light in the arenas at night.

     Christians may be “insulted.” If we lead righteous lives, we will be objects of insult and persecution at the hands of those who live in a worldly manner (John 15:18-20).

     Christians may have lies told about them. Rather than speaking openly, evildoers often whisper behind Christians’ backs. As hurtful as public attacks can be, they at least give us the opportunity to defend ourselves against them. When the attacks are “stabs in the back,” they can do serious harm to our reputations before we have any knowledge of them.

     We may sometimes suffer because of our own lack of good sense, foolishness, or blundering. Some believe that they are being persecuted because of their beliefs, when they are only facing the earthly consequences of evil deeds (1Peter 4:14-16). Such people act as if they are martyrs. This type of “victim” behavior may itself invite persecution on some people. Robinson said of such people, “They are very zealous people, label grabbers with a religion that probably never goes beyond the shirt pocket. They may think that they bear the offense of the cross, but they are just plain offensive.”

     We should be careful not to behave offensively, dress offensively, or speak offensively. If we conduct ourselves in this way and offend others so that they reject us or look down on us, they are not persecuting us. Rather, we are suffering because of our own improper behavior. That is not the circumstances that Jesus said would be a blessing.

     How should we react to persecution? Jesus said, “Rejoice and be glad” (Matthew 5:12). He did not exactly mean for us to “grin and bear it.” He reminded us of the reason for rejoicing; the fact that our “reward in heaven is great.” Our ultimate reward will be our eternal home in heaven, but not all of our reward is in the future (Mark 10:29-30). We have abundant life and all spiritual blessings now in Christ (John 10:10; Ephesians 1:3).

God's Providence

Sunday, July 19, 2020

God’s Providence

by Jeff Curtis

     In the book of Esther, the Jews were slated for annihilation. Using the language of a mystery novel or play, someone might ask, “Who did it?” Who was responsible for bringing them to the point of being destroyed? That question could be answered in a number of ways. Of course, Haman did it. He was responsible, he was the person who got so mad at Mordecai that he had to find a way to not kill him, but all of the Jews.

     In addition, Ahasuerus did it, though he might not have wanted to be counted guilty. He allowed himself to be tricked, once Haman possessed the signet ring, he had authority to do whatever he wanted to do to the Jewish people. The king didn’t have to be so gullible. He could have investigated the situation for himself and discovered the truth instead of trusting Haman.

     Besides that, the king’s servants did. Haman had not even noticed Mordecai’s insolence until they brought it to the king’s attention. If they had not been talebearers, Mordecai might not have come to Haman’s attention and the Jews might never have been endangered.

      In a sense, Mordecai himself did it. He probably could have acted respectfully toward Haman without breaking God’s law. In a sense, he was responsible for his own (and his people’s) danger.

      What should we conclude about who was responsible for this sequence of events? The answer is “All of the above!” In the providence of God, all three various elements worked together to produce the result God desired.

     As we read this story, we are reminded of the story of Joseph in Egypt. Joseph, a former slave, became the prime minister of Egypt. Then Joseph and his family moved to Egypt. After Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers were afraid that he would take vengeance on them. Joseph said, “Do not be afraid, for I am in God’s place? As for you, you meant it for evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Genesis 50:19-20). To think of all that was involved in bringing about the result is amazing. A father’s unfortunate favoritism, Joseph’s lack of wisdom in bragging about his dream, the brothers’ enmity and sinful act of selling Joseph into slavery, the lust and the lie of Potiphar’s wife. The dreams interpreted and fulfilled, the cupbearer’s forgetfulness, “natural” prosperity (seven years of plenty) and a “natural” disaster (seven years of drought), and Joseph’s own faithfulness to God.

     All these elements combined in the providence of God to draw the Jews into Egypt and prepare the way for their deliverance and becoming the chosen people of God. Who did it? God! In the case of Joseph, all these things worked together to bring about “good” (Romans 8:28).

     In the case of Mordecai and Esther, we might still wonder. If God wanted the Jews to be saved, why did He just not prevent all these troubles from happening? We don’t know the mind of God, so we can’t answer with any certainty. It is possible, that God didn’t want to just save the Jews from destruction. He wanted to see them elevated. That, in fact, was the result of the story told here in Esther. The Jews not escaped destruction, but they ended up better off than they were before! Maybe, that is the answer as to why God allowed it to be done.

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