Chains, are we talking about some kind of spiritual analogy? Does this mean that at one time we were in bondage to the world, the flesh, and the devil, and now have become the bondservant of Christ Jesus with all that might entail? Sure, but what if we were called to endure physical chains because of our faith?
"What?" you might say, "that doesn't happen anymore, we live in a enlightened and tolerant age where people respect each other's beliefs even if they don't agree with them." Tolerant, I love that word. This is one of the great new buzz words that are bandied about in our culture like a beleaguered ball in a tennis match. So many well meaning people use the words tolerant, or intolerant for that matter, to set apart or distinguish those who's attitude or modes of thought don't seem to fit with the general approach of the current society having to do with what people believe. The Wikipedia Free Online Encyclopedia defines intolerance in a social or political sense as,
...the absence of tolerance for differing viewpoints or the people who express those viewpoints.
The thing I find interesting about the above abbreviated definition is that intolerance is considered a personal affront simply because it is not only the rejection of a person's views, but it is also a rejection of the person as well. Now I most certainly believe that we are to respect differing opinions, yet what if the opinions are in absolute antithetical relationship to the very values that are the foundation of the Christian faith. Do these opinions then invalidate what we believe? The words tolerance and intolerance seem to me to have some sort of unspoken agenda driving them, albeit many times unbeknownst to the one speaking the words. Could it be that when someone claims that we are intolerant because our faith causes us to hold certain principals which set us apart from the societal norm, that the person that casts the word does not tolerate what we believe? How circular is that? We are deemed intolerant because we don't believe what someone else believes yet they in turn refuse to believe what we believe. How does this make us intolerant? The logic escapes me.
Now let's take this a step further. The danger in getting what we believe from the society we live in rather than an eternal truth is that you blink and people are going to think differently yet again. Will they now contend just as vehemently that what they believe is correct even though it may be in positional opposition to what they believed previously?
What if the whole of a society claims a truth to be a truth? Does that then make it truth? What if in ten years the whole of a society believes the opposite? Is the original truth no longer truth and the truth now maintained valid? If this were the case certainly humankind would have destroyed itself by now. The history books are filled with purges and persecutions based on a self-imposed mandate of a society aiming to cleanse itself of those that don't fit the norm of that social order at the present. We look back on those accounts and say "thank God we're not like that now" but who says we aren't. That certainly is a naive view of the nature of humankind.
The point of this whole thing is what if the general societal trend becomes anti-Christian? Would that then make our faith unsubstantiated? What if our faith is seen as a danger to society in general? What steps would society take to deal with our intolerance to purge us from its midst?
You see, we are no danger to them if we don't preach Christ, we are no danger to them if we don't evangelize, but what if we do, and the very fact of our practicing our faith becomes an offence. What if our Pastors are accused of hate crimes simply by the fact that they are quoting Bible verses? This is not fantasy, it has happened. Prejudice and persecution against the Christian faith is rampant in many parts of the world. It is the very real experience of those throughout the earth that are now in chains for their faith, in chains for Christ Jesus.
Listen to the Apostle Paul.
Php 1:12-14 12
But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, 13 so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; 14 and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
Those that live in the United States have been insulated from what has become the norm in many other countries. We go to our churches, and we hold our seminars. We follow after one wind of doctrine or another, one teacher or another, one trend or another and yet have no depth. Will the strength to stand be there when we need it if indeed the times come? Will the prosperity gospel, which is not a gospel at all, truly give substance to our faith if a time of persecution comes? How long have we been told that the Lord will retrieve us before the Great Tribulation? Tell that to our brothers and sisters that labor under persecution, torture, and death in North Korean prison camps where the tactics employed equal that of the death camps of World War Two, in severity if not in numbers. But I suppose you could say that if what so many claim is true, that the Nazi death camps didn't really exist, certainly it must not be happening in North Korea either.
For a substantial time the Christian church of World War Two Germany, either supported Hitler, or simply turned its head. Will we continue to do the same? Thank God for men such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer who chose to take the stand that cost him his life.
The following verse has been contextualized to mean empowerment to fulfill our own desires.
13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Yet the Apostle wrote the letter to the Philippians while in chains for Christ not really knowing if the outcome of the trial would result in execution or release.
We have an obligation to stand with those in chains or under threat of death, those that are our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers in Christ. What of those in North Korea, or Saudi Arabia, Iran, Somalia, Maldives, Yemen, Bhutan, or Viet Nam? How about Afghanistan, China, Eritrea, Uzbekistan, or Sudan? The list can go on. How about the USA?
"Oh" you say, "that could never happen here". Well neither could 911. Additionally why should we be forced to be tolerant of those that don't tolerate us? Forgiveness, which the Bible teaches, is not the acceptance of a wrong done but simply the refusal to hold the person that has done the wrong as guilty in our eyes. Why? It is clearly because we have been forgiven of so much more and did not deserve the blood of Christ, which obtained for us the forgiveness of our Father God.
What are we to do when subjugation comes in the subtle guise of tolerance? What if we refuse to bend, will then the pressure become more overt? Must we be forced to accept all that our faith declares is wrong to find a place in the current social scheme? There is an overwhelming undercurrent of prejudice in that mode of thinking.
We live in an increasingly pluralist society where all beliefs are seen to been equally valid but no one belief is ever to be seen as exclusive? Yet if we dare to investigate further we will find that all beliefs claim exclusivity. Certainly Islamic belief claims exclusivity. If the fundamental tenets of a faith are mutually exclusive to other faiths, certainly that faith is exclusive in its essential nature. Why is it then that Christianity is the only faith that is presently maligned in the USA for being intolerant? Why is it then that it is acceptable to shred the Christian faith on a sitcom under the pretense of humor but the writers would never dare to do the same using another belief? Why is it OK to remove a Nativity scene from a Middle School during the Christmas season when the Koran was not deemed offensive? How have we become so skewed in our thinking? It's not my purpose to denigrate the belief of another but to hold to mine in the midst of a society that condemns me simply because I do.
We must be willing to stand for Christ, we must be willing to be placed in chains for Christ, and ultimately we must be willing to die for Christ. We must also be willing to stand with those that are suffering for Him on a daily basis or our faith is useless. Why? Because a faith that is fundamentally weak and found lacking in commitment is no faith at all.
Believe, stand, and resist, or the ground swell of cultural change will swallow you and the faith that you hold dear. Believe and stand for your children or their legacy will slip from between their fingers and they'll be consumed.
Stand because Christ is worthy!