Friday, January 11, 2013

Behave Like a Roman

Being a Roman citizen and being a Christian in the first century would have proven difficult. Those who were against Christianity would make a sport of killing Christians: throwing them in the Colosseum and watching as gladiators and lions ripped them apart. Nero, renowned for being one of the most awful Roman Emperors of all time, was in power, and it is said that he lit his gardens with crosses on which hung Christians who were burning to death (The Church in History, by B.K. Kuiper, p.8.)  Of the faithful of old, the Hebrews writer tells us that some were "mocked, scourged, imprisoned, stoned, sawn in two, tempted, and slain with the sword" (Heb. 11:36-37). Truly, being a Christian was a difficult thing.

And yet, I find it fascinating that it is to the Christians in Rome that Paul pens the following:
"[be] patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep...Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men...Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Rom. 12: 12-15,17-18, 21)
These people were experiencing hurt and torture and grief first hand! No doubt some of them had family members who were already murdered. Perhaps some of these had already been tortured and mocked and scourged for their belief in Jesus. And yet, Paul tells them to bless the ones who are persecuting them. Don't repay evil for evil, but only do good to those who want you dead. Do you think any of these Christians would have wanted to talk all kinds of evil against Nero? Sure! Did Paul tell them to go right ahead? Of course not, because that's not what Christianity is about.

Christianity is about being like Christ, "who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness -- by whose stripes you were healed" (1 Pet. 2:23-24)

Jesus is our perfect example, as He was to the first century Christians. When He was falsely accused and beaten and murdered without cause, He did not complain, did not rebuke, did not threaten and did not destroy. If the Son of God -- deity incarnate -- did not shut the mouths of those who were senselessly mocking and torturing Him, those Romans didn't need to either. And if these first century Christians who were being murdered and tortured and persecuted were to bless the ones who were doing it and were not to repay evil for evil, how should we act as Christians today?

There are going to be people and social groups and governments and pop stars and news reporters and celebrities and foreigners who are going to persecute Christians. They are going to belittle us and say harsh things against us and mock us and put us down. They are going to make life harder and enjoy every second of it. Jesus Himself told us that the world would hate us and persecute us (Jn 15:18-19) and Peter told us that we should count it as a blessing and glorify God (1 Pet. 4:16). Regardless of how people act toward us, we have a responsibility to behave as a behave as Christ Himself would--and we already know how that is:

Be patient in tribulation. Continue steadfastly in prayer. Bless those who persecute you. Repay no one evil for evil. Live peaceably with all men. Overcome evil with good.

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