our faith is a public matter to be shared. And once we obey Jesus's command we will face opposition.
Suffering for the faith
In its first three centuries, the church went through waves of persecution. To stand up for Jesus and refuse to worship the emperor was life-threatening. Today, in plenty of places around the world, to be a Christian is to be discriminated against. The church may be subject to attacks by the mob; Christians are routinely assaulted.
In many parts of the world, to convert to Christianity divides the family as Jesus warned it would. In this country, we don't have to face such overt persecution.. .yet. Jesus told us to to read the signs of the times and be prepared.
There are signs that after many years when Christianity was largely met by disinterest and apathy, we are moving into times when Christians are facing outright opposition. In the past at many times and in many places, including the earliest days, outright opposition has resulted in rapid church growth. If Christians are willing to stand up and be counted then a culture of opposition is no barrier to the Gospel and may well be more fertile ground than a culture of apathy. So something to think about this month ... do I believe that Jesus is the Son of God who promises life in all its fullness, and if so am I willing to let my belief affect the way that I live and what I say whatever the personal consequences might be?
Jesus was nice wasn't he? He talked about love and peace and being there to help me when I need him. He is 'Gentle Jesus meek and mild' isn't he? But Jesus once said, as "The Message" translation puts it: 'Do you think I have to smooth things over and make everything nice? No I have come to disrupt and discomfort.'
Jesus knew that challenging the religious and social norms of his day would be controversial. He knew his message would be rejected by some and that would mean conflict, opposition, persecution.
After all, what load happened to God's spokespeople in the past? The writer to the Hebrews conveniently summarises it: 'They were tortured; suffered mocking and flogging and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two; they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented. ..'
More than a teddy bear faith
Sometimes we treat the Christian faith in the ways a small child treats its favourite teddy bear. We see faith has a security blanket; something to fall back on when things are difficult; something to call on when we need it; something to shield us when life gets tough. Faith in Jesus does provide these things. Nothing can separate us from the love of God; God will always be with us whatever life throws at us.
But nowhere in the New Testament do we read of faith as purely and simply a private matter. Jesus proclaimed the good news of God's kingdom. His final words to his friends were: 'Go and make disciples of all nations...':