The highest honor…

Show me the way…by M. Lewis
I’ve been reading through the book of Acts, and I came across this verse: 

“Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” (Acts 5:41 ESV)

Read that slowly…again…now, read it one more time. Just let it sink in for a moment. 
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read or heard this passage of Scripture. And never before have I been stopped in my tracks by this verse. I love how the Holy Spirit makes alive the Scripture and constantly exposes new facets of its beauty and truth.

The Back Story
The disciples had just been arrested for the second time for preaching the name of Jesus. At their first arrest, they were sternly warned “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” Peter and John would have none of that: “But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20)
This, their second arrest, was accompanied by a miraculous release from prison by an angel of the Lord (5:19-20). After being beaten and released, and warned again not to preach in the name of Jesus, we come to verse 41 – they walked away rejoicing for had just happened to them.

The Question
This begs the question – why would they rejoice? The verse answers that question for us immediately: for being “counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” They were rejoicing in their persecution. I found myself instinctively turning to Matthew 5: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (vv. 11-12)

We are called to rejoice and be glad when we are mistreated for the name of Jesus. It is the highest honor to fellowship in the sufferings of Jesus. Our reward is great in heaven when we do. When we endure suffering and persecution for Christ, we are bearing witness to the surpassing greatness of our heavenly treasure in Him over against any worldly achievement or accolade. We are proclaiming that He is the greatest ambition of any human heart – that His glory is more important than our comfort, reputation, or success. We are confessing that His right to be glorified is greater than our rights, and that we will willingly lay down those rights for the sake of His glory if so called.

The Challenge
As I thought through this I began to wonder: Does my life reflect this? Would I, in the face of persecution, willingly lay down my rights, and even rejoice in the face of such humiliation?

I mean, this is the deal: I live in comfort and ease. America may be more hostile to the Gospel now than it was in the past, but for the most part, I am sheltered from serious persecution. I know nothing of the condition of so many of my brothers and sisters in other parts of the world that are closed to the Gospel. Where it is banned – where you can quite literally die for proclaiming the name of Jesus. So it is easy for me to say, from my place of comfort, that I would be willing to lay down my rights – my very life – for Jesus. But when the rubber meets the road – what will happen then?

I can’t remember where I read or heard this, but I’m quite sure it was John MacArthur who said it. He was talking about the young woman who was shot dead by the Columbine shooters after declaring that she was a Christian. The question was posed to him: Would you be able to do what she did? His response was remarkable: he admitted that he did not know in that moment; but he firmly believed that if God called him to such a sacrifice, God would also grace him to face it. In other words – God would equip him with the faith needed to stand if God called him. I would have to say that of myself as well.

So this has me wondering: Why does the church care so much that the world does not like us? Yes, there are plenty of ways in which we add insult to injury by being needlessly offensive. But, at bottom, we will not “fit in” to the world’s mold, and this should not be our goal. The goal should be to faithfully preach the Good News, to live like we believe it’s true, and to seek to bring honor to Christ.

This is getting longer than I expected, so I will have to continue this in the next post. This all has to do with that passion I spoke about last week: The passion for discipleship. What does it look like? How do we get right – and how do we get it wrong? To be continued…

Until then…grace and peace…

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