This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Bound to Be Free, compiled by Jan Pit. In the following short quotation from Naji Abi-Hashem (from Lebanon. Naji now lives in the free west), there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:44)
I met brother Jamil right after I committed my life to Christ in the mountain town of Bhamdoun. There, I saw him in action, inside the meeting place and on the street, witnessing, praying, distributing literature, and quoting Scriptures from his ever-present and well-used Bible.
Some believers labeled him an 'aggressive evangelist', for he constantly seized the moment to present Christ.
The years passed and I became a pastor amidst the unresolved political and military tensions. For the first nine months, I led the Wednesday night meetings by studying the Sermon on the Mount. Brother Jamil used to show up every week. We arrived at Matthew 5:44 and carefully examined our Lord's teaching here. Brother Jamil made his contribution as usual.
After a few days, we all were shocked to hear about Brother Jamil's death. It was not a normal death or an accident. He was persecuted, tormented, and murdered by a militant Shiite group. He died as a martyr. He was triumphant both in his life and death. He was a living example of boldly serving Christ regardless of the price. And finally, he was more evidence that martyrdom is still a vital part of church life today, as it has been through the ages.
I still hear Jamil echoing Stephen's words: 'Lord do not hold this sin against them! Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' When they spoke death, hatred, and destruction, he spoke love, forgiveness, and peace. That is authentic Christianity under severe testing.
A moment of introspection: "Get real!" "It's the 'real McCoy'". "...verifying that you have installed genuine XX print cartridges." "This is an authentic replica of the Civil War." These and more references to authenticity pop up in our attention, every now and then. Naji Abi-Hashem asks us to consider what it means to be an "authentic" Christian. Using the example of Jamil, Naji might ask each of us Christians the question, "Are you for real?" Let's explore what it means to be authentic as a believer in Christ, in today's world.
Perhaps the first test of authentic Christian belief relates to our purpose for being in this world. Faithfully studying God's Word and applying it to our daily lives, we agree with Naji in asserting that we live our lives on this world, not as mere place-holders, but as lights--in a darkening world that increasingly hates Christians. In Matthew 5:14, Jesus instructed us to share His role as light of the world--saying "You are the light of the world." So we shine our light in the world; we do so in the world (John 17:11; Philippians 2:14-16), but not as part of the world (John 17:14) or captivated by it (Colossians 2:8). John 1:5 states "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." We are not only to help spread the light, the Good News, the gospel--but we are to seek to do it effectively, so that the darkness is overcome. God sees to that. (Isaiah 55:11) We have been sent, by Christ, into the world. (John 17:18)
According to Naji, an authentic Christian might well be seen "on the street, witnessing, praying, distributing literature and, Bible in hand, quoting Scriptures." Though we might wrongly be thought of as "aggressive evangelists", our goal--as Jamil's goal was--would be to constantly (in-season and out-of-season) seize "the moment to present Christ." In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, the apostle Paul described his own type of "aggressive evangelism", in which he found means to "Relate" to those he met (in the natural world), "Create" a link to the spiritual realm, "Convict" the hearer of their sin (using God's 10 Commandments), and "Reveal" Christ's forgiveness and mercy to the repentant new believer. Check out The School of Biblical Evangelism or School of Biblical Evangelism Textbook; in these lessons, you will learn skills to reach the lost--to rescue as many non-believers as we can, and to show them the love of new life in Christ--prior to His soon return. To some, reaching lost souls is considered aggressive; indeed, in a world that denies "sin", conveying Christ's love to others and establishing their need for God (www.needgod.com) may elicit the type of negative reaction that Christ alluded to in John 15:19.
If we do elicit negative responses from those with whom Christ (and His message) is shared, how should we respond? If hearers would speak death, hatred and destruction to us, let us respond with love, forgiveness and peace. In this regards, check out Luke 6:27-36, and 1 Peter 3:13-17. In these verses, we hear perhaps the words of Jesus reflected in the approach and speech of Jamil and the apostle Peter. When hearers curse us, bless them; when some who hear abuse us, pray for them. For some who strike us on the cheek, offer the other also; and from one who demands and takes our coat, do not demand it back again--but respond in kindness. Love our enemies, and do good; lend, expecting nothing in return. Be merciful to opposers. If we suffer for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of righteousness--we will be blessed. Be patient in such suffering. Don't be afraid or troubled because of their threats--but inwardly honor Jesus Christ. We are not to threaten back, to heap derision on the heads of those who oppose, to curse those who curse us, or abuse those who abuse us. Rather, as Paul wrote to the church members in Rome, (Romans 12:20) we learn "On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Though such heaping of hurt would not be the reason for responding with kindness to aggression, responding with kindness is a behavior exemplified by Jamil, by Paul, by Peter, and by Jesus Christ--among others. Consider, too, the Old Testament prophets--as examples of suffering and patience. In James 5:10, James, the apostle wrote, "Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful."
What is an authentic Christian? Perhaps one who is triumphant both in life and in death. Perhaps one such as Jamil--a living example of boldly serving Christ regardless of the price. Perhaps one such as [Your Name]; perhaps one such as [My Name]. We too can be active for the Lord--seizing the moment to present Jesus Christ--in the church and on the street. We, too, can be authentic, real, genuine, and using your gifts/talents in service of the King--and hear Him say, "Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much." (Matthew 25:14-30) Well done, Christian. Well done!