Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Gospel in Hard Times

Last Sunday, Dr. John David Smith reminded us that the gospel advances only in the face of hardship. The gospel is spreading in parts of the world where Christians face hardship, but in countries like the United States, where it is easy to be a Christian, it is on the decline. Why? What is it about hardship that causes Christianity to grow?

I can think of a few things that might cause this. For one thing, uncomfortable people are more willing to work. Suppose you wake up and hear it raining outside. The covers are nice and warm and there’s nothing requiring your attention. It would be so easy go back to sleep for a while. But suppose you wake up and feel droplets of water landing on your forehead. You can feel that the pillow is wet. Within moments, you are out of bed and looking for a bucket to catch the water. Discomfort causes us to take action.

But churches in the United States are often quite active while still not seeing many people saved. Hardship also provided contrast. I encounter many atheists who are antagonistic toward all religion. For some reason, they take it upon themselves to troll the Internet, arguing with anyone who posts something favorable to God. No argument will persuade them and they will make fun of any argument made. Though it is their sinful nature that causes them to make fun, I think many find it difficult to believe that Christians actually believe what we teach. Think about it. We teach that a man was born to a virgin, that he died, was buried and he rose three days later. We teach that he ascended into heaven and will someday return from heaven riding on a white horse. We teach that that those who put their trust in him will be raised from the dead, even if our bodies have turned to dust. In light of what we have been able to accomplish through medical technology, it sounds ludicrous. Since (in the eyes of the atheist) no sane, intelligent person would believe something like that and many Christians appear to be both sane and intelligent, it is logical to conclude that Christians are lying about what they believe. Hardship and suffering prove otherwise.

No sane, intelligent person would continue in a lie if that lie causes them suffering. People lie because they believe doing so will benefit them in some way. Sure, a person who is dying of cancer might speak of heaven because they don’t want their loved ones to mourn, but there is no benefit to lying if a man is about to kill you if you don’t renounce your faith. I’m sure Paul must have thought about that when he saw Stephen die. There was not benefit to Stephen to lie about seeing Jesus standing on the right hand of the Father. It only helped to seal his fate.

Another reason the gospel spreads in hardship is because the hardship is not limited to Christians. We see that with ISIS. Certainly, they desire to kill Christians, but they also desire to kill Jews, and anyone else who disagrees with them. They will even kill other Muslims. What sets Christians apart is the hope that we have, even in the face of an enemy that wishes to kill us. Those of other religions compare their own reaction to that of Christians and they realize that Christians have something special.

We don’t like to face hardship and we shouldn’t seek it out, but there are things about hardship that will open doors for us to win the lost that we do not have without it.