To some, this message is defeatist. After all, in this world there are still tears, sickness, pain, suffering and death. In my view, too many today have exchanged the hope that kept the Apostle Paul pressing onward with some sort of utopian earthly Kingdom. However, neither Paul nor any NT author believed it was necessary for God to remove their trials in order to have victory over them. I think Philippians 4:13, which makes that point, is one of the most misapplied verses in all of Scripture. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Just as Jason identified the “all things” in (which consists of a nasty assortment of unpleasantness), the “all things” in Paul’s letter to the Philippians is similar: I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. (Philippians 4:12) Most of Paul’s circumstances, as he neared the end of his earthly existence”, were in hunger and in need. To live was Christ but to die was great gain.
At some point, every futurist contends that ultimate earthly victory must be found “when Christ will step foot on the earth again, kick every wicked man’s butt and eradicate suffering, dying, danger, famine and nakedness” (Jason’s quote 🙂 There wasn’t an expectation of earthly success (fame and fortune) or easy-street living, for ANY of the NT authors… Matter of fact, that proposition was absolutely contrary to the tenor of their consistent message. How have we traveled so far off course where we consider health, wealth and prosperity the right of every believer—where one day “soon” wolves and lambs will lay side by side in peaceful harmony? Why do so many long for the day Christ will return to bring vengeance upon the wicked? Where is the love for our enemies and the hope they won’t get what we and they deserve without Christ? Why is our attitude not the same as Stephen’s as he was being stoned to death? Why are we so quick to hope people get what they deserve when God has been so merciful to us?
I believe the concept of Victory has been greatly skewed. And so has the mission of the Gospel. To me it’s a Palestinian and a Jew singing amazing grace together because they have become joint heirs in the promises of the Kingdom! It’s a former member of radical Islam being radically changed and joined in prayer with a Christian as they pray for the salvation of Muslims. This is the victory we have in Christ.
As I watched that former Hamas leader (Mosab Hassan Yousef) speak about what drew him to Christianity I was cut to the quick and I began to weep. Was it his hope of monetary gain? Was it the anticipation that God would keep him safe and healthy per Joel Osteen’s view of the abundant life? Was it vengeance, where he envisioned Christ coming back to destroy the wicked oppressors he once co-labored with? Was it because he saw Christianity as a way of escape from earthly trials? Was it even his hope of Heaven, which should be every believers’ main hope?
No, it was none of that. It was because he recognized the simple message at the heart of Christianity. While we were enemies of God, God in the person of Christ laid down His life so that we might live—and in so doing, that new life created in each of us through the shed blood of Christ, enables us to love our enemies. Of all the passages to share with a lost person, would you choose, “Love your enemies”? I never have—but isn’t that the root and foundation of Christianity. First vertical (God loved us while we were enemies) and then horizontal (we love them (neighbors and enemies) because He first loved us).
In keeping with Jesus’ Words, if this former Jihadist had attempted to “see” this enemy-loving message within the confines of the Church, what would he have found? I venture to guess that it would not have been a pretty sight. Thank the Lord he went straight to Jesus’ own words not allowing the modern day messengers of God to obscure His poignant and piercing Words.
Do the majority of Christians truly embody that message of forgiveness? In our own small theological circle I see more excuses to espouse hatred and discord than love, honor and respect. We have been forgiven of all debts yet oftentimes we show disdain for those who don’t share the same non-foundational doctrines, as if any of us are the God-appointed righteous religious zealots charged to safeguard God’s Word. How utterly sad and a testament to our depravity.
Should we lay our lives down for those that don’t share our particular theological leanings? Has God truly given us that choice? The way I read it, we have been bought with a price and our lives are not our own. God please remove the hatred that permeates the factions within your Church—all in the name of doctrinal purity. Have some become so deluded that they actually believe they are doing God’s work by ripping fellow believers to shreds? Are they like Saul before he became Paul? I pray I am not that man.
Why was this young Muslim man willing to forsake his own life for the sake of the Gospel? He said he was willing to lay down his own life that others might live. This is the victory that Jason was referencing. Victory is not a path that leads to the “good life”. It’s the road that led the only man born with the Spirit to what we view was his untimely death. It’s in the crucifixion and stoning of Jesus’ most devout followers.
The opposite of Faith is sight. Faith is birthed when the only place to turn is to Jesus, knowing that whatever comes our way, even in the midst of darkness we have victory. Friend Bill Binder is a prime example. Very little “good” (our perspective) has taken place in his life and yet he has learned to view his circumstances through the prism of wisdom that can only come from above. Bill understands the reality of Romans 8:28 and in the near term the results of God’s work it is often not the way we would choose.
The combination of seeing things from God’s eternal perspective and loving the unlovely are the mark of maturity and obedience. Just like this former hate-filled Hamas leader, we love our enemies because God first loved us. May God give us the strength to endure trials of persecution both within and outside the Church. May He give us the ability to love those who hate us to the point where we are capable of turning the other cheek only to be slapped again—where we are not compelled to return fire when we are wronged. In God’s economy, victory is the capability of loving our enemies while gaining greater humility all the while knowing that God is working all things together for our good because we are called according to His purpose.