Tuesday, January 12, 2010

People-Lovers or God-Pleasers?

[I]t is very remarkable that Christ dates the offence that men shall take at Him, from the first appearance of suffering, Mat. 24:8,10: "All these are the beginning of sorrows.... And then shall many be offended." Sorrows and apostasies commence together.
- John Flavel*

"And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in Me."
(Matthew 11:6)[1]

Part 7: Preparations for Sufferings

John Flavel, in his classic work Preparations for Suffering,[2] writes that among the multitudes of those professing faith in Jesus Christ, "few are found that are in no way offended at suffering" for Him. People may have "expected much peace, honour, and prosperity in the ways of religion, but finding their expectations frustrated, and their carnal interest rather exposed.... they go back like those [of] John 6:66,[3] and walk no more with Him." Quoting this verse, "Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them" (Psalm 119:165), Flavel expounds,

O happy soul! whom no troubles, reproaches or sufferings, are able to offend! thou mayest meet with prisons, death, banishments, yea, but none of these things shall offend, or stumble thee, but thou shalt peaceably and safely pass over them, because they are no more than thou expectedst, and providest for.

Preparing for suffering is an anomaly in our modern era, particularly since we are so offended at suffering. If we can't handle the minor stigmas, scorn, rejections, psycho-social and peer-driven mechanisms that cause others to reproach us for the cause of Christ, how can we possibly handle the rougher waters of outright persecution? If we are so readily charmed, schmoozed, persuaded and cajoled into compromises of our faith, how shall we endure? And if we fear and avoid the little darts of name-calling, ostracizing, ridiculing, and other socially punitive pressures, then how shall we stand when the real arrows start flying? Each must answer honestly: How am I seeking to avoid personal suffering? How am I offended by the Gospel? How am I seeking to distance myself from the stumbling block of the Cross?

In our era we also have to contend against systemic peer-driven, psycho-social and marketing methods, which often are quite sophisticated. Some tactics might even be considered brainwashing. See Berit Kjos's key article "Mysticism & Global Mind Change" and follow the links, for example, or her series "Reinventing the World." How can believers resist these intensive pressures, structural shifts, reinventions and mind-manipulations? Today's results-driven (outcome-based, purpose-driven) world is intent on rewarding those who are compliant and penalizing those who aren't. Again, answer honestly: How am I seeking to fit in with the group?

Those who wilt under persecution harm the cause of Christ and are a "rock of offense" to others, says Flavel: "It is a sad, and dangerous thing to be an occasion of stumbling, either to the weak or to the wicked.... 'Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!' (Matthew 18:7)." He warns of ungodly compromises and apostasies during times of temptation, saying that these are the "woeful occasions of prejudicing others against religion, and shedding the blood of souls." Our compromises, in other words, can cause our brothers and sisters in Christ to stumble or even die, a sobering thought indeed. 1 John 2:10 reminds us that "He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling [i.e., "offense," Gk. skandalon] in him."


On the positive side, however, Flavel informs us that our preparation for sufferings "hath a tendency to convince [i.e., convict] and awaken the drowsy world." In other words, people may wake up when persecution begins. They may begin to "live as people that are providing for a storm, and resolve, in the strength of God, to run all hazards and hardships for Christ." Sometimes when God gives US courage to stand, it encourages OTHERS to stand. What a blessing indeed!

Following the Lord into danger is a "very high testification of our love to Jesus Christ, when we thus shew our willingness to take our lot with Him, and follow Him wherever He goes." Flavel explains,

What an high expression of love was that of Ruth to her mother Naomi? "I will not go back, 'for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge'"[5] It is excellent when a soul can say to Christ, as Ittai to David, 2 Samuel 15:21, "Surely in what place my lord the king shall be, whether in death or life, even there also will thy servant be."[6] This is love indeed, to cleave to Him in a time of such distresses and dangers. This is "love which the waters cannot quench, nor the floods drown."[7]... If you love Christ indeed, shew your love by some fruits of it.... There are many that profess a great deal of love to Christ, but when it comes to this touch-stone, it appears false and counterfeit.... But that soul which buckles on the shoe of preparation, to follow Him through thorns and briers, and over the rocks and mountains of difficulties and troubles, loves Him indeed, Jeremiah 2:2-3.[8]

Berit Kjos, in her "Reinventing the World" series mentioned above, encourages believers that

the true "body of Christ" doesn't fit the world's pattern. Our God doesn't need the strong and proficient to accomplish His work. Instead, He "has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and... the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty... that no flesh should glory in His presence." 1 Corinthians 1:27-29

No matter how narrow the way or inadequate our strength, those who trust Him and follow His ways can count on His sufficiency. When we conform to His unchanging truth, instead of the world's shifting standards, we may face the wrath of today's "quality" managers. We may face exclusion and loss in a world that shows zero tolerance for non-compliance.
But it won't matter, for He has shown us the better way.

As He promised the apostle Paul long ago, He now assures us:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness. Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

The Truth:

"And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved." (Matthew 10:22)

"The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe." (Proverbs 29:25)

1. Works of John Flavel (6 vol set), Banner of Truth Trust (1820, 1968), ISBN 0-85151-060-4. Flavel's dissertation titled "Preparations for Suffering, or The Best Work in the Worst Times" appears in Volume 6, pages 3-83.
2. In the Greek
skandalon, "offence, stumbling block, occasion of stumbling, occasion to fall, thing that offends." http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?strongs=G4625
3. John 6:66 says,
"From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him."
4. The complete verses from Zephaniah 2:1-2 read:
"Gather yourselves together, yea, gather together, O nation not desired; Before the decree bring forth, before the day pass as the chaff, before the fierce anger of the LORD come upon you, before the day of the LORD'S anger come upon you."
5. The full verse in Ruth 1:16 reads:
"And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God."
6. The full verse in 2 Samuel 15:21 reads:
"And Ittai answered the king, and said, As the LORD liveth, and as my lord the king liveth, surely in what place my lord the king shall be, whether in death or life, even there also will thy servant be."
7. This is a slight paraphrase of Song of Solomon 8:7:
"Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned."
8. Jeremiah 2:2-3 says:
"Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the LORD; I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned."

*ED. NOTE: Emphasis added. We have taken minor liberties to reformat some of the published text by altering some of the punctuation, Roman numerals, and other obsolete forms.