“But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: ‘These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.’ When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go.
As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.
But when the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, some of them went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up. The believers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea. Those who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible. (Acts 17:5-15 NIV)
I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that things politically in our country are growing more unstable by the day. We the people are increasingly breaking into factions with little regard or respect for others. For followers of Jesus, it can be very disheartening to be stereotyped into hateful, bigoted people. Our instinct, my instinct, is to fight back and join the battle for our “rights” and begin hating those we perceive wanting to take them away.
During the past few days, I’ve been reading Acts and the example of the early believers, such as Paul, in facing much greater opposition, has been a reminder and an encouragement to me. Time and time again, Paul and the other believers faced persecution. They were harassed, ridiculed, beaten, and jailed for being associated with Jesus. What impresses me is it did not stop them from continuing to proclaim the gospel and they did not respond to their opposition in kind. Most of the time, in fact, they just moved on to other audiences. They sought to reason with their detractors, but they never sought to retaliate. One doesn’t get the sense they hated those who hated them. They just continued to proclaim the message.
Sometimes, we American believers get too caught up in the fact that our country was founded on religious freedom, and, thus, we focus on demanding that freedom more than on loving those who might seek to deprive us of it. That’s a problem.
Love is the essence of the gospel message because God is love (I John 4:8). When we’re more inclined to stand up for our rights rather than loving those opposed to us, then we remove ourselves from the line formed behind Jesus.
I am seeing this more and more among fellow believers. Reacting out of fear rather than in security of the Lord, they are lashing out at those who are against them and the message of our Lord. They are adopting the same tactics as the ones used against them—political maneuvering, hateful speech, and no demonstration of grace. Temptations, really, to all of us who are lined up behind Jesus, but ones that need to be resisted at all costs.
The believers of the 1st Century endured more persecution than almost all of us and the way they handled it should be an example for us in these politically and morally unstable times. Face opposition with love and grace, attempting to reason with those opposed to us, and, if unsuccessful, moving on to others with the message of the gospel. But never, ever being filled with hate or resentment. Rather, asking the Lord to fill us with His Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:19-25), whose fruit will lead us to respond very differently than our enemies.
Today, if you disturbed by what is happening around you and how people are treating you as a follower of Jesus, reflect on how the early Christians responded to their detractors and ask the Lord to fill you with His Holy Spirit, so that you will not respond in kind.
© Jim Musser 2016