This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled Extreme Devotion, compiled by the Voice Of the Martyrs. In the following passage, a Russian Christian who reflects on a kindness he received from an unexpected source. May this account provide us with fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
So it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable. (1 Corinthians 15:42)
"I spent many years in Soviet gulags," began the handwritten letter. The text was neat, yet evidenced a small shake in the hand--a reminder of old age and years in prison.
"In the camp, I was forced to work under the ground in a mine. The labor was hard, and our guards were without sympathy or human decency. One day, in the mine, there was an accident. My back was injured, and since that day I have been a hunchback."
"One day," the letter continued, "there was a boy who would not stop staring at me. 'Mister,' he asked, 'what do you have on your back?'"
"I was sure that some harsh joke at my expense was coming, but nevertheless I said, 'a hunchback?'"
"The child smiled warmly. 'No,' he said, 'God is love. He gives no one deformities. That is not a hunchback you have; it is a box below your shoulders. Hiding inside the box are angels' wings. One day, the box will open, and your will fly to heaven with your angel wings.'"
"I began to cry for joy. Even now," the letter concluded, "as I write to you, I am crying."
Many persecuted Christians bear the marks of their experience on their bodies. Sometimes God must remind them, even through the voice of an innocent child, of the hidden blessings beneath those scars.
A moment of consideration: Trademarks, brand names are symbols of distinction in our carnal world. In the spiritual world--in our life of faith in the Risen One, we would perhaps be harder pressed to identify similar emblems. But in our thoughts for today, in our increasingly dictatorial world, we consider the marks of tested faith, the signs of faithfulness to God often in the scars, the wounds, the bruises, and the broken lives received at the hands of tormentors. These differentiate between the experiences of the apostles and many of us Christians, today certainly, but also reflect the experiences of millions in the world today who struggle to worship God, to pray, to praise the Lord--before the mob appears, the tormentors arrive. Persecution is normal for most Christians around the world. And we pray that they would rejoice that they bear in their bodies the 'brand marks of Christ'. In the scars, the bullet and machete wounds, the burn marks, and more, we see the apostle Paul's own scars as he wrote to the church in Galatia. (Galatians 6:17)
Do we know fellow Believers who are hurting because of their faith? In the example cited above in Russia, what might we have said in catching sight of the one's disfigurement? The disfigured person expected no more than derision and sneering from others; yet a young lad looked gently beyond the scar, to encourage and lift the hurting person up. Proverbs 15:4a was demonstrated, that day: "A gentle tongue is a tree of life". In the first letter of Peter, we are exhorted, "You should be known for the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God." (1 Peter 3:4, NLT) In the book of Hebrews, we are asked to encourage one another, especially in these days (Hebrews 10:25), and we too can make a big difference in the lives of others as we look beyond ourselves and our preoccupations, to bear others up (Philippians 2:3-4). The apostle Paul's letter to the church at Thessalonica urged them (and us), "And we urge you, brothers [and sisters], admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. (1 Thessalonians 5:14) His letter to the church in Corinth attested to his understanding of gentleness: "We have worked wearily with our own hands to earn our living. We bless those who curse us. We are patient with those who abuse us. We respond gently when evil things are said about us. Yet we are treated like the world's garbage, like everybody's trash--right up to the present moment." (1 Corinthians 4:12-13)
In God's Word, we are told to be as wise as serpents, and as innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16) The child in the above story was both wise and innocent. He asked a question innocently, and then encouraged a suffering believer wisely with his words. Henry Ford believed in encouraging people. "Henry Ford once said that the ability to encourage others is one of life’s finest assets." [Tan, P. L. (2004). Encyclopedia of 15,000 Illustrations: Signs of the Times]. Indeed, in five minutes, we can send an encouraging word, we can express appreciation. We can write a cheerful note, make a phone call, or pray for someone not expecting it. And that five minutes will burn a light in our heart. It will also brighten the life/lives of those who have been cheered. We may never find ourselves in the situation described above (in Russia). But we live in an increasingly difficult time when people of all sorts need encouragement--and more significantly, need Christ. To encourage others to look at troubles differently (as instructors), to bear up under stress (James 1:2-4), to cope with disappointments, to survive betrayals and tribulations (Romans 5:3-5)--these and other opportunities are ways we can help and encourage one another.
One of the most vivid ways the Lord Jesus reveals His intention for the church is by a series of statements given about our responsibilities to one another. It is interesting that the phrase "one another" usually represents the Greek word "allelon," and a consideration of the allelon principle in the New Testament provides us with a tremendous study of what quality friendship will look like in action. Here is a list of those allelon statements with duplicate references omitted, and what a list it is! In the Body of Christ, we are to:
- wash one another’s feet (John 13:14)
- love one another (John 13:34 and many other times)
- be devoted to one another in brotherly love (Romans 12:10)
- give preference to one another in honor (Romans 12:10)
- be of the same mind toward one another (Romans 12:16; Romans 15:5)
- stop judging one another (Romans 14:13)
- pursue the building up of one another (Romans 14:19)
- accept one another (Romans 15:7)
- admonish one another (Romans 15:14)
- greet one another (Romans 16:16)
- wait for one another (1 Corinthians 11:33)
- care for one another (1 Corinthians 12:25)
- serve one another through love (Galatians 5:13)
- bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)
- be humble and gentle, patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults (Ephesians 4:2)
- be kind to one another (Ephesians 4:32)
- forgive each other (Ephesians 4:32)
- speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19)
- be subject to one another (Ephesians 5:21)
- regard one another as more important (Philippians 2:3)
- not lie to one another (Colossians 3:9)
- teach one another (Colossians 3:16)
- comfort one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18)
- encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
- be at peace with one another (1 Thessalonians 5:13)
- pursue good to one another (1 Thessalonians 5:15)
- consider one another (Hebrews 10:25)
- not speak against one another (James 4:11)
- not complain against one another (James 5:9)
- confess your sins to one another (James 5:16)
- pray for one another (James 5:16)
- be hospitable to one another (1 Peter 4:9)
- clothe yourself with humility toward one another (1 Peter 5:5)
[Tan, P. L. (2004). Encyclopedia of 15,000 Illustrations: Signs of the Times]
In these, we glorify the Lord; in these, we humbly build up the Body of Christ here on earth. Times will be hard in the days to come. Stresses and hurts will grow more frequent and more traumatic. If we can bear one another up, pray for and serve each other, maintain our trust in the Lord, see to it that our service to Him remains intact and joyful, and keep our eyes and our minds centered on Jesus (the Founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2)) we will know unexpected peace (Isaiah 26:3; John 14:27; John 16:33; Philippians 4:4-7) and we will rejoice. We will persevere, and we will not grow weary or lose heart (Hebrews 12:3). For this, we praise God, exult in Him and exalt His name. Let us look back and thank Him. Look ahead and trust Him. Look around and serve Him. Look up and expect Him. Jesus is coming again! Maranatha!