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Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
2 Corinthians 1: 3, 4
. . . THEN WE’LL BEGIN. Once upon a time (and this is no mere legend), being a Christian called for great courage and determination. The experiences of the early Church recorded in The Acts of the Apostles and in the New Testament Epistles reveal a people so inspired and dedicated to the ministry begun by their Lord, that they learned to count other things worthless and gladly forsook all for His sake.
The mandate Jesus had entrusted to His disciples to go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation was a challenge not to be ignored. The days of uncertainty following His ascension to the Father would surely have tested their resolve and magnified their fears of reprisals at the hands of the ecclesiastical authorities who had put their Lord to death. Though risen from the tomb, His physical absence from their company left them bereft, but in eager anticipation of the power that the promised holy spirit would bestow upon them they prayed unceasingly men and women called to be the first missionaries to a world in desperate need of deliverance from sin and death. (Acts 1: 8).
But the magnitude of the mission was not immediately apparent to them. While the man Christ Jesus had been with them, their ministry, like His, had been confined to ‘the lost sheep of Israel’ (Matthew 10: 5, 6). And even after the baptism of the holy spirit at Pentecost, the Apostle Peter needed a special revelation from the Lord before he and the emerging Church of Christ would welcome Gentiles into the faith.
It was that fiercely determined defender of the Jewish Law, Saul of Tarsus, whom the Lord appointed to be the pre-eminent Apostle to the Gentiles, and to witness for Christ before kings and to the people of Israel (Acts 9: 15). After his life-changing conversion, as the Apostle Paul his mission was to win the Roman world. The provinces of Greece and Asia where devout Jews and pagan Gentiles lived, presented an extensive field where the Gospel seed could be sown and Christian churches established.
Tradition holds that other apostles took the Gospel to distant lands, some suffering martyrdom in their zeal for Christ. And since those early times many thousands of consecrated disciples have carried the good news to ‘all creation’, sowing seed that sooner or later sprang to life and prospered as God gave the increase.
The witnessing continues, and so does the persecution. It is believed that more Christians have been martyred in the past 100 years than in the entire 1,900 years before. In many nations even today Christians are persecuted, tortured, imprisoned, and even martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ. In the last century, communist countries such as Russia, China and North Korea were the main persecutors, but these days extremist Islamic states bear chief responsibility, from Africa, through to the Middle East, Central Asia and Indonesia.
Yet even in so-called Christendom, the collective body of believers found historically in Europe, America, and their dominions, a more subtle but none the less vindictive practice of ridicule, exclusion and control is evident today. Personal evangelism is discouraged, or even forbidden, and while physical violence is usually avoided, the false accusations and insults experienced by Christians are often painful. An increasingly secular society, the influence of popular evolutionist teaching, and a fear of offending immigrant populations, may prompt such hostility toward the more outspoken Christian, and examples of such conduct appear often in the media.
The assurance of Jesus recorded in Matthew 5: 11, 12, is still relevant:
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Such sobering accounts of courage and faithfulness, even in face of death, for Christ’s sake, must surely prick the consciences, or more seriously, question the dedication of many of us who consider ourselves to be His disciples. St. Paul spoke from experience when he reminded Timothy that ‘everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted’ (2 Timothy 3: 12).
Everyone? Does that include me? What persecutions can I recall? Probably most of us will have little to report of a serious nature. So isn’t it a cause for concern that so many of us appear to be comfortable Christians, having little in common with those we may rightly regard as saints, laying down life itself along with Jesus? While we may perhaps have been ostracised, shunned or ridiculed for Christ’s sake, that could scarcely be regarded as serious suffering, and lacking such evidence of the Lord’s approval, a worse possibility comes to mind: have we reneged on our original commitment to serve the interests of the Gospel by preaching the Word to others? Having ourselves been blessed by the God of all comfort in receiving the good news of salvation through Christ, has our zeal to bless the world through that Gospel become lukewarm?
Too much comfort may be a stumbling block to active service, and efficiency of mind and body depends on regular exercise. The zeal of youth, of those early years when we first knew the Lord, is challenged by the distractions of life among an increasingly ungodly society, and we may grow weary. The somewhat cynical view of Solomon tells us that ‘A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest – and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man’ (Proverbs 24: 33, 34). Our spiritual poverty is the Adversary’s aim, and his tactics may include spurious words of comfort and rest.
In recent years, hundreds of churches have closed their doors for lack of support. Even the many groups of serious Bible Students who in bygone years held ‘parlour meetings’ in their own homes, doing a splendid witness work in their communities, now have little to offer that appeals to the needs of today’s unbeliever. Disappointed hopes, nagging doubts, differences of interpretation, failing energies and a sense of discouragement, all test the faithfulness of those once appointed as the Lord’s evangelists. So it is comforting to gather together for fellowship, hear a pleasant discourse, talk of the old days and warm one another with that Christian love that identifies the Lord’s true disciples. And why not? There is real sincerity, undoubted consecration, great love for God’s Word, and joy in the prospect of the blessing of all mankind in due time.
As modern missionaries, messengers of the good news, it is no longer essential that we travel on foot, horseback or sailing boat to distant destinations. As this world has moved on, so has the Divine Plan kept pace with the needs of the ministry, and we are called upon to expand our methods of witnessing to the world. But while travel to every land is possible in today’s advanced society, it may not be affordable or practical. Nor is it strictly necessary, as a powerful witness can be given by such means as radio, television and the World Wide Web. Such technological means of preaching the Gospel may be costly to finance, and require a suitable level of ability, but word of mouth and face to face contact remains the most acceptable and the most successful means of passing on the good news to others. And we need no university degree to do this work.
Our numbers of years in the Lord’s employment are not specified and there is no plan for retirement. We are not to be pensioned off at three-score years and ten or later, and not until laid to rest, or otherwise rendered incapable, is our service in this life complete. While life remains, we have the responsibility of letting our light shine for the blessing of others. And as we are destined to deal with all sorts of people in the Millennial Age so near at hand, a little practice now will not come amiss.
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Scriptures not quoted in the text:
Acts 1: 8: But you will receive power when the Holy
Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,
and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Acts 9: 15: But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go!
This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the
Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. . . .’
Copyright November 2010 ukbiblestudents.co.uk
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