Saturday, June 11, 2011

Overcoming the World

You don’t have to look very far to see the injustices happening in the world today. All you have to do is read the news or look out your window. Most thinking people realize that there are plans being carried out by wickedness in high places on our economy, our environment, and many other areas.

I don’t deny these things are happening, and I realize that it can be wearisome trying to cope with these things, when you know about them and cannot do anything to stop them. In fact, some of you reading this blog right now may be in a place where evil plans are being carried out against the disciples of Jesus Christ, and you yourself may even be a target. So I’d like to encourage you with a few insights from the Word of God on overcoming the world.

Recognize it as oppression
The first thing to do is to recognize it as oppression. After all, that’s what it is! This is the easiest thing, in my opinion, because it is so obvious. But what does a disciple of Christ do under oppression? Pray! Just look at the Psalms and you will see how a child of God prays under the weight of oppression.

Asaph, the psalmist, prayed to the Lord: “Your adversaries have roared in the midst of Your meeting place; They have set up their own standards for signs. It seems as if one had lifted up his axe in a forest of trees. And now all its carved work they smash with hatchet and hammers. They have burned Your sanctuary to the ground; They have defiled the dwelling place of Your name.” (Psa 74:4-7)

He continued, “Let not the oppressed return dishonored; Let the afflicted and needy praise Your name.” (Psa 74:21)

“Let the groaning of the prisoner come before You; According to the greatness of Your power preserve those who are doomed to die.” (Psa 79:11)

There was often a sense that God had forsaken them, as when Asaph prayed, “Will the Lord reject forever? And will He never be favorable again?” (Psa 77:7) “O LORD God of hosts, How long will You be angry with the prayer of Your people? You have fed them with the bread of tears, And You have made them to drink tears in large measure. You make us an object of contention to our neighbors, And our enemies laugh among themselves.” (Psa 80:4-6)

Look at the Israelites and how they cried out to God when they were under Egyptian bondage. And look what the Lord did in response to their cry. He said to Moses, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings.” (Exo 3:7). The Lord hears our cry in the midst of oppression. So the first thing to do is recognize it for what it is and cry out to the Lord about it.

Recognize God’s judgment
God sometimes uses oppression to bring judgment. Although oppression is not always God’s judgment, there are plenty of historical cases where it has, in fact, happened. For example, God did this when he allowed the Midianites, the Babylonians, and the Romans to oppress his people, the Israelites. We can see this in the book of Exodus, when they were under Egyptian bondage for four hundred years. We can see it in the book of Judges when the Israelites endured many repeated cycles of judgment in the form of oppression.

The Midianite oppression is an excellent example. The historical record of Scripture tells us, “Then the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD gave them into the hands of Midian seven years.” (Jdg 6:1). So Israel was brought very low because of Midian, and the sons of Israel cried to the LORD. Now it came about when the sons of Israel cried to the LORD on account of Midian, that the LORD sent a prophet to the sons of Israel…” (Jdg 6:6-8). Later the Lord spoke to Gideon through an angel and called him to deliver Israel from the Midianite oppression.

Just as in this example, the same cycle was repeated all throughout the period of the judges. The cycle went like this: sin, oppression, repentance, and deliverance. They would walk in sin, as “every man did what was right in his own eyes,” and God’s people “did evil in the sight of the Lord.” Then God, in His righteous judgment, would send their enemies to oppress them. Afterward they would cry out to God in repentance, and He would send a deliverer in the form of a judge. They would be set free from oppression, only to return once again later right back to their lifestyle of sin.

So as we see the oppression in the world today, we need to understand that this is sometimes a form of God’s judgment. We should cry out to Him in repentance. We should ask Him to deliver us from evil, as Jesus taught us to pray. (Mat 6:13).

But I want to be very clear that when disciples of Christ are persecuted, this is not usually God's judgment upon them. In fact, quite the contrary! If we are living a righteous life for Jesus Christ, then it is an honor to suffer disgrace for his name and for the sake of the gospel. Jesus said, "Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Mat 5:11-12). As the apostle Paul wrote: "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted." (2Ti 3:12). So this should be the normal experience for a believer.

Recognize our unseen opponent
The apostle Paul lived during the age of Roman oppression. Yet he did not focus on the evils being perpetrated by the Romans. None of his letters spoke about what the disciples of Christ needed to do in the natural to overcome the Roman oppression. On the contrary, he taught that our real enemy is not the one we can see. As he wrote to the Ephesians, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph 6:12)

Martin Luther, who faced persecution in the sixteenth century, also saw things the same way. He saw a flood of mortal ills prevailing in the world, and our ancient foe seeking to work us woe. He saw the world filled with devils that threaten to undo us. As he wrote in his lyrics to his famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”:

A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.

And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.

So it’s important to understand that our real enemy is not the people perpetrating the oppression or persecution. Our real enemy is the devil and his hordes of hell. And when Jesus disarmed the rulers and authorities, he made a public display of them and triumphed over them by the cross (Col 2:15). He is a Mighty Fortress, a bulwark never failing.

Set your mind on things above
The Word always teaches us to keep our focus on Him, not the enemy. Paul wrote to the Colossians, “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.” (Col 3:1-4). We should encourage each other to do this, and remind each other, as Paul did, of the future glory that awaits the faithful. This was Paul’s message to the Corinthians when he wrote, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2Co 4:17-18). He taught them not to look at the things which are seen, but the things which are unseen, because those are the things that last forever. No matter how bad the oppression or affliction may seem here on earth, it’s only temporary.

Again, our focus should always be on Christ, as we keep Him central. The writer of Hebrews wrote, “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Heb 12:2-3). When your eyes are focused on something or someone, you are not distracted by anything else going on around you. If we’re focused on Jesus, we won’t be majoring in all the oppression going on in the world.

Instead, we should consider how He endured such terrible opposition against Himself from sinners. He endured it without growing weary or losing heart. In fact, throughout His entire earthly ministry, this is the way He walked. He never focused on the evil Romans, who were oppressing the Jews. Even though one of His own disciples was a zealot, focused on changing the political situation and overthrowing the Romans, Jesus did not approach life that way. He taught people to seek the kingdom of God, to enter the kingdom of God, to see the kingdom of God, and to grow in it, rather than focus on the oppressive kingdoms of this world.

And when He spoke to the authorities on earth, He did not try to bring them down or fight them in the natural with words or actions. In fact, when King Herod interrogated Jesus, the Lord didn’t say a word in response to his questions (Luke 23:9). Neither did He respond to the Roman Governor, Pilate, when asked about the many charges brought against Him by the Jews (Mt 24:14). Nor did he answer the chief priests and elders of the Jews while they were accusing him (Mt 27:12). When Jesus did speak to the authorities, He told them about His authority. He affirmed that He is the King of the Jews (Mt 27:11). And when Pilate tried to intimidate Jesus with his authority, Jesus told him that he would have no authority over Him unless it had been given to Pilate from above. So God does give authority to the rulers of the earth and there are times when He allows them to oppress His own children, just as they did to His Son Jesus. What a perfect example Jesus was for us when He was treated with hostility!

Pray for your enemies
Perhaps one of the greatest hallmarks of faith among those who have been persecuted for Christ is that they prayed for their enemies. We find this in many accounts of people persecuted for Christ in Eastern Europe and Russia, during the period of communist domination, in that they prayed for their cruel captors. This is how our Lord taught us to live: "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Mat 5:44-45).

This is how our King instructed us to cope with our oppressors – with love and prayer for them. So instead of complaining about the world leaders who are oppressing us, we should love them and pray for them.

Have endurance and patience
The Lord showed the apostle John what it would be liked in the last days under the oppression of the final world ruler, the anti-Christ. This is found in the thirteenth chapter of Revelation. It is difficult to read about this coming period when the world will be under the cruel domination of this ruthless dictator. Scripture tell us that “It was also given to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority over every tribe and people and tongue and nation was given to him.” (Rev 13:7) Not only will he be given worldwide authority to rule, but also he will use that authority to make war with the saints and overcome them! And remember that, just as Jesus said to Pilate, he would not have this authority unless it was given to him from above.

And the part that is so difficult to comprehend is how all those who live upon the earth will worship him, except those whose names have been written in the book of life. “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.” (Rev 13:8)

During this period, some of the saints will be killed and others will be imprisoned. Scripture says, “If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints.” (Rev 13:10). This means that some saints are destined for these things; therefore it will require that they have patience and endurance. Faithfulness will be necessary and they will need to trust in the Lord with all their hearts. Their very faith will be tried, but they should take heart, knowing that God is in control and the end will still come at the appointed time.

Take courage
Finally, Jesus warned us we would have trouble in this world. He said, "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." (Joh 16:33)

The Lord wants us to have peace in Him, even in the midst of the troubles we encounter. Because we know that He has overcome the world, we can be courageous and rest in Him. There’s no need to fret. This is the only way to experience the peace He intended for us. It’s a peace that’s found “in Him” – through our relationship with Him.

Putting it All Together
Living in this world, if we have our eyes open, we cannot help but see oppression and injustice, including at the very highest levels. Some oppression and injustice occurs in the economic sector, some in the political sector, some in the healthcare sector, some in the military, and still others in the environmental and religious sectors. There’s no sense in denying that it exists.

But to live an overcoming life, we should first recognize it as oppression, just as we find throughout the records of history. Oppression is nothing new to mankind. And just as God’s people did in days of old, we should cry out to God in prayer about it.

We should also learn to recognize God’s judgment when we see it. Sometimes God allows oppression to come as a form of judgment. In that case, we should take responsibility for our own sin and repent, asking God to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. When we do so, we can be sure He will be merciful and forgive, and then we should dedicate our lives to Him to live only for Him.

Let's remember that persecution against disciples of Christ is an honor and a blessing, because a great reward in heaven awaits those who suffer for His sake and for the sake of the gospel.

As disciples of Christ, we should recognize our unseen opponent in the world, seeking to work us woe and threatening to undo us. Remember that he is doomed, because Jesus Christ has triumphed over him by the cross, and the devil already stands condemned. Focus on Jesus Christ in the midst of it, not on the oppression itself. Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things. Look at the things that are unseen, not on the things that are seen, since the things you can see are only temporary and the unseen things are eternal. Keep Christ central in your life. Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.

Love your enemies and pray for those who despitefuly use you and persecute you. This will have the affect of changing the world from the inside out, one heart at a time.

Be strong and courageous, and walk in the peace that comes from knowing Jesus.

Finally, have endurance and patience to stand in the midst of it with the help of our Mighty Fortress, Jesus Christ. Trust in the Lord with all your heart. The end will come at the appointed time. He will come soon and bring about justice. Then the righteous will shine like the stars in glory with Him. It will all be worth the wait!

Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.

Author's note: If you enjoyed this post, you may also like the other posts in this blog available through the Home page for this blog, and you can also find my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."

Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus.  Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15).  He preached that we must repent and believe.

Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"

Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission.

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