Opposition. John 15.18-25
It wasn’t just being opposed that hurt, a difference of theology is going to happen after all; it was being lied about, deliberately ostracised and misrepresented that stung and had me reeling, looking for a way back. It took a friend of a gentler, more mature disposition to persuade me to not seek a way to make the “offender” pay for what they were doing. She said forgiveness, grace, kindness was the appropriate “weapon” on this occasion. She knew, she had faced similar treatment and had taken that path and was surprised at how it helped her and brought hope of ultimate resolution for the wider situation of division in an otherwise loving church (not this one).
We have a choice when faced with experiences along the opposition-persecution-abuse continuum; we can either escalate the conflict, gather our supporters, and counter attack; or we can pour the gracious cold-water of loving response over the first attack at the outset, trusting in a greater than ourselves to resolve in His gracious timing. Because we will suffer opposition, persecution of some sort and some point in our lives as followers of Jesus.
We are so different to the rest of the world and the way they conduct communal life, the politics of existence, that we should expect to be mistrusted, hated, even rejected. We’ve rejected the way the world deals with things and, in Jesus, have chosen the way of self-giving, of humility and grace. It only makes sense; we have chosen to follow One who disabled the power of evil through His suffering and self-giving, and He it is who reminds us that those who would serve Him must expect something of the same. There’s a kind of comfort in knowing that they are doing this because of Jesus, not necessarily because of any issue with you or me. But I believe there’s more to it than even that; through this threat to our sense of affirmation Jesus is allowing our ego, our self-centredness to be challenged.When we are attacked, especially for our faith, or for attitudes and service that rise out of our faith, our ego is being kept out of the equation, and the importance of God’s inspiring and empowering role in our calling and our selflessness. In a sense it robs us of any need for congratulation for something that was all about the Lord in the first place. Faith is something will not grow unless it is tested and challenged. In the resurrection life this challenge to our sense of autonomy and of value in our achievements is what causes us to grow maturity and stability; it’s no longer about warm fuzzies and comfortable feelings, it’s about a faith that transcends external and internal affirmation; God is true and our salvation is secure whether we feel it or not, whether we feel confident of not. Such stability is like the keel of a yacht that while unseen and buried under the frothing boiling sea, is essential to the security of the boat in rough and weather and to the directional response of the boat.
From Acts to the present, followers of Jesus have been confronted with all sorts of resistance to their proclamation of the message both in words and in deeds and far from stalling the growth of Jesus’ followers, it has hastened both the outward movement of that message and the development in Christ-likeness of those same followers. Resistance should not surprise us, nor should it cause us depression, but should cause us to celebrate as it is a point of growth for us as a community and as individuals, and for the message we are called to faithfully bring into the world.
What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Paul’s rousing words to his fellow followers in Corinth assure us that this anything but the end of the story. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. [verses 8-10] Attempts to discourage or deflect us from the life to which we are called will only make us stronger, since nothing can finally destroy us, whatever comes against does make us stronger. In China the authorities found that the more they persecuted the Church the more it seemed to pop up in an increasing number of locations, in greater numbers, until those who embrace the Christian faith have become a massive segment of the population of the largest country in the world. It’s worth repeating that our biggest enemy is apathy and the complacency of prosperity and it is harder to contest that outright opposition, but it is still an oppressive and fearsome enemy of both individual and communal faith, so let’s stand against apathy and complacency and reach out in transcendent faith in the risen, present and active Lord in our midst; let’s dare what he dares, say what he says, and touch lives as he touches.