EL CAJON, Calif. (BP) – Until recently, Christians in America felt protected by the First Amendment to enjoy the freedom to worship where and when we chose. The COVID pandemic shocked us into a new reality – as our right to assemble together was quickly and forcefully removed due to health concerns during the pandemic.
Some of those freedoms have returned, but with restrictions still in place, in a small way we are encountering the opposition Christians around the world have faced for decades. So it is timely to pose this question: If we faced severe and oppressive hostility toward sharing our faith, which may come sooner than we think, would we continue to pursue our knowledge of the Bible and our growth in grace? Another question is this: As Christians, are we taking advantage of our freedoms now to learn and grow in the knowledge of God?
The admonition to not only grow in our knowledge of God but to also be ready to share our faith is clearly stated in God’s Word. “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). “Be ready” – that is the key obligation we have. Be ready to defend the faith; be ready to tell others why you believe; be ready to be bold, to be brave, and to be firm while manifesting the humility and love of Christ in the face of opposition.
Readiness in spite of …
We often look to the examples of the early church, especially in Acts, for inspiration for dealing with persecution. In spite of tremendous odds, obstacles and opposition, the early church was braver, bolder and more beautiful in their witness than we sometimes are.
Think about it: After Pentecost, the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem immediately put Peter and John in jail for preaching the Gospel (Acts 4:3) and continued to harass them (Acts 5:27). One of the first servant-leaders in the Jerusalem church, Stephen, was stoned to death for preaching (Acts 7:57) resulting in widespread persecution against the church (Acts 8:1).
What resources did the Church have that allowed them to be “ready”? They had meetings where they pursued “the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship …, the breaking of bread and … prayers.” They met “daily with one accord,” shared “their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God” (Acts 2:42-47) And most important, they had the Holy Spirit – His gifts and fruit to build and bind the Church together.
They had to be careful when and where they met, but they proved beyond measure that they were ready to give a reason for the hope that lay within them.
Readiness as shown by …
In spite of opposition, we find the Jerusalem believers were brave, bold and beautiful as they represented their faith to their community. They demonstrated their readiness by their words and actions!
They Were Brave. Just 50 days after Jesus’ disciples deserted Him to prevent being arrested along with Him, they risked being arrested by preaching in His name. Peter stood up in Jerusalem and preached to a huge crowd at Pentecost, and thousands were converted to Christ and baptized on the spot (Acts 2:38-41). Later, the apostles were jailed (Acts 5:18) and “strictly command[ed]” (Acts 5:28) not to preach further. But they did and were flogged by the Jewish leaders (Acts 5:40).
The early believers demonstrated their readiness by their bravery.
They Were Bold. The apostles were bold in words and deeds. Peter preached at Pentecost (Acts 2:14), not hesitating to say who was humanly responsible for Jesus’ death (Acts 2:23). Peter preached again to the crowd that assembled after he and John healed a paralytic (Acts 3:12). Then Peter preached to the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:8), as did Stephen (Acts 7:2). When the Jewish leaders told Peter and the others to stop preaching, they said “No.” They would obey God, not man (Acts 4:19-20; 5:29).
But their boldness was more than just talk. They publicly baptized new believers (Acts 2:41), held house church meetings, and moved out into Judea and Samaria in obedience to the Great Commission (Acts 1:8; 8:4, 26).
The early believers demonstrated their readiness by their boldness.
They Were Beautiful. As Isaiah wrote, and Paul later quoted: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach … [and] who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Isaiah 52:7; Romans 10:15) That’s what the early church did.
They delivered gifts of healing and mercy to those in need (Acts 3:6; 5:12-16). In the midst of persecution and scarce resources, they shared their belongings with whoever might have a need (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-37). They demonstrated the love of God through their actions. And they spent time in worship and spiritual growth (Acts 2:42).
The early believers demonstrated their readiness by their beauty toward God and others.
Are you and I ready to show the world our faith in Jesus Christ – in spite of opposition and obstacles? We must be ready for the future by knowing God’s truth and manifesting it with bravery, boldness and beauty to the world.