Saturday, September 13, 2008

Losing and finding

Even a cursory reading of Revelations is an eye-opener. The whole tone of it is different from what is commonly heard or even thought of in 21st-century America. The prevalent concept of overcoming, which is very popular in some Christians circles, quotes Rev. 12:11a as a mainstay:

They overcame him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony (Rev. 12:11a).

The last part of the verse is usually omitted. It is one of those ideas that just doesn’t compute with most of us (in the US). Here is the verse in its entirety:

They overcame him

by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death (Rev. 12:11).

This is downright puzzling to Christians who have been led to believe that the main reason for believing on Christ is so that life will become better for them. It seems like failure—not overcoming—to believers who are convinced if one has faith, calamity cannot happen to them—or at least not for long.

It seems to me that the dividing point between the popular conception of what an overcoming life is, and the Bible’s portrayal of the overcoming life, is this: What is it that Christians are expected to and equipped to overcome?

· Popular Christianity says that Christians are to overcome all sickness, poverty, unhappiness, discomfort, and the like.
· Biblical Christianity is about overcoming sin, heresy, hardships, and persecution.

· Popular Christianity wants to overcome anything that stands in the way of personal happiness and blessing.
· Biblical Christianity strives to overcome anything that stands in the way of the advancement of the Lord’s kingdom purposes.

Big difference!

In partnering with the Holy Spirit to spread the gospel, the apostle Paul had many unpleasant experiences:

Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? (2 Cor. 11:24-29).

Wow! Inconceivable, perhaps, to you or me, but—how about Paul? Did he find that following Jesus was not so cool? Not what he had expected? Actually, what he thought was:

What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord . . . I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil. 3:8, 10-11).

Paul thought that following Christ—including the “suffering” and “death”—was so wonderful that he considered everything else worthless.

Perhaps we have—to some degree—lost our way as Christians. We have tuned out Christ’s clear message:

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it (Mark 8:35).

We want to keep our lives the way we want them to be, instead of spending our lives for Christ’s sake. Don’t say “But I’m just an ordinary person. I want to be a light to a few people, but I don’t aspire to be a hero of the faith. I’m not that courageous or self-sacrificing. I’m just not made of the same kind of stuff as Paul.” The early churches weren’t made of it, either. That's why Revelations was written. Those who heeded its message and appropriated God's grace, rose to the occasion—and in the process, they found LIFE and infected others with a hunger to know it as well.

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