Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Over the past couple of weeks I have dealt with the question of is there persecution here in America? The interesting thing for me is that this conversation came from three different groups of people.

I dug around in my archives and fond an old paper I had written on the subject dating back to 1987. Yes, I hate to admit it I’m feeling old today. While it is not the best writing I’ve ever done I decided to post it here with apologies for my youthful scribbling. My hope is to encourage those of you who are dealing with issues that at times seem overwhelming. For those of you have not suffered for the Faith, please know that the Holy Spirit says you will in Paul’s writings.


Dr.Vallen Prest


Christians in America have been blessed with a measure of freedom and lack of persecution by and large from our government, civic and business leaders. Yet the Bible claims that “all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” 2 Tim 3:12 (emphasis added). God didn’t say that just those in totalitarian regimes would suffer persecution. Rather all who live godly would, not might suffer persecution. What about believers in America or the rest of the West? Are we suffering persecution? We are faced with three possibilities.

Option #1: God was mistaken in assuring us that all of His godly children would suffer in this world. Obviously, this option is not possible since God does not lie. He has been so specific in His Word that persecution is not an option but rather a fact of life for the godly believer. (See 2 Tim 3:12; Matt 5:10-12; 2 Cor 12:10; Rom 5:3-4; Rom12:14; John 15:20)

Option #2: There are no true godly people living in America or any other part fo the free world. It seems statistically impossible that there are no godly people in the free world. Although this option is often hinted at and occasionally voiced by believers who have escaped persecution in their home countries and now live and minister here in the West. These godly people scold and cajole us for our lack of interest in the things of the Lord (often rightly so). But does this mean that there are no righteous people in America?

I contend that there must be a few, or God would destroy this country. Consider Abraham’s conversation with the Lord concerning the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. God promised Abraham that if there were even ten (10) righteous men within the city, God would not destroy them (Gen 18:23-33). We all know that none were found with the possible exception of Lot, who is called “just Lot” in the New Testament (2 Pet 2:7). Therefore we must conclude that we have a few godly men in America or God would have destroyed this nation long ago, considering how corrupt, immoral and godless our society has become.

Option #3: The final possibility is that Christians in the free world suffer a different form or kind of persecution. Our brothers and sisters in many parts of the world suffer persecution almost exclusively from without. While believers in the free world most often suffer persecution from within.

As in any large family, brothers and sisters put on a united front when faced with a common enemy. When one of the family is attacked, the family usually rallies around this member and sibling rivalry is forgotten. But let the pressure from without stop and it isn’t long before the pressure builds up from within, and brothers and sisters are choosing up sides and fighting among themselves. We are all part of a spiritual family – God’s family. Yet in this world we still have our sinful nature with us. Often we do not get along very harmonious even though we have been commanded over and over again to love one another (John 15:17;13:34; 17:26; Rom 12:9-10; 13:8; 1 Cor 13:1-2; 16:14; Gal 5:13; Eph 4:2; Col 1:4; 1 Thess 3:12; 1 John 3:16; 4:11, 20-21; 2 John 5).

This infighting dates back to the very founding years of the Church of Christ. We see this internal persecution coming from at least three (3) different sources: Believers with differing views, Other ministers, and Believers from our own flock.

Believers with Differing Views

Paul, throughout his ministry had to deal with persecution both from without and also from within, specifically believers who did not fully understand his unique mission to the Gentiles. These Jewish believers wanted all Gentile believers to convert to Judaism. While we know that those who taught salvation through works were wrong and probably not even saved having not come to the understanding that salvation is not of works but by the grace of God (Eph 2:8-9). Others were truly saved but misunderstood God’s saving grace was being offered to all without the distinction of racial background or social status (1 Cor 12:13). Good men who were misguided and zealous in traveling from congregation to congregation caused much concern and mental anguish for the Apostle Paul, who had to deal with this problem throughout his ministry (See Gal 1:6-9; 2:2:11-21; Acts 15:1-29).

Today we have much the same thing with zealous misguided Christians who are intolerant to any view but their own. They malign and tear down any ministry that is not in 100% agreement with their own views. They have forgotten our Lord’s rebuke against Sectarianism found in Mark 9:38-41.

Other Ministers

Paul also had to deal with envious preachers who were critical of Paul’s motives and ministry. They sought to cause strife and division. These preachers were actually reveling in preaching the Gospel, believing that they were helping to cause Paul additional anguish during his imprisonment and perhaps hastening his demise (See Phil 1:15-17).

It’s interesting to note that even back in the First Century we had men of God who were envious of each other. Each one was trying to be the leader in the Christian community. Christian leaders were jealous of the popularity of one another, of the scope of another’s ministry and of another’s apparent success. These “godly” men were trying to tear each other down to build themselves up. They seemed to have forgotten that Christian leaders are called to be slaves to God and to one another (Mark 9:35).

What is wrong with many of our leaders today? 1 Corinthians 3:3 tells us “For you are yet carnal; for where as there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are you not carnal, and walk as men?”

Their wisdom is earthy, sensual even demonical for James 3:14-14 states that this kind of wisdom produces envy and strife. If this carnality is not checked it leads to further downward spiral to confusion and ultimately every evil work imaginable (James 3:16).

Notice how we are to react

God commands us in His Word to “not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another” (Gal 5:26) Paul praises God that the Gospel goes forth whatever the reason is (Phil 1:12-18). Paul further goes on the say “Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better then themselves.” (Phil 2:3).

Our Own Flock

Paul suffered persecution from his own flocks. Some of his very own converts, perhaps even close personal friends, were frustrated with Paul and certainly let him know their opinion. Throughout his ministry and born out trough his various epistles he was constantly defending what he was doing and even his very calling (1 Cor 9:1-27; Gal 1:10-2:21; Acts 14:26-15:1-12).

Today we have people in our own local churches that attack our motives, our actions, our calling, and even our ministry. Sometimes out of envy, sometimes out of fear and sometimes out of a failure to understand the body of Christ they try to destroy the very body that they claim to love. They are caught up in petty rivalries and jealousies. In our local churches we have become so used to having a maimed and crippled body that when God attempts to heal our bodies by giving us our missing parts we reject them as unneeded and unwanted. Often our flocks don’t realize that they are crippled and incapable if performing at the level God has called them to perform at. We persecute the very help that God has sent us (Matt 21:33-46)

We must be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading in our lives and we must be tolerant of all believers as the attempt to serve God in the ministry to which they have been called.

A final thought, we need to open our arms wide to the sheep God has led to our local flock, realizing that the godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution in this world both now and until our Lord comes again. Let us therefore rejoice when we are counted worthy to suffer for His sake! “And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.” Acts 5:41!

The End

A caveat about suffering persecution, when dealing with persecution from within always take the situation to the Lord for verification that what you are going through because of Christ’s sake and not because of your personal agenda or own failings.

Too often I have seen people suffer because of their own pride or misapplication of Scripture believe they are “suffering for Jesus” when in actuality they brought it upon themselves.

Remember if we suffer for doing right, so did Christ…for us! The acceptance of the high cost of righteousness was inherited by Christianity. Jesus repeatedly warned of persecution, even from within households, and promised the Spirit’s assistance when answering charges (Mt 5:11–12; 10:16–23, 34–36; 23:34; Luke 6:26).

Pastor Val

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth

Over the past few weeks I’ve had a number of issues that I’ve had to address. It concerns me that many believers are not careful with their interpretation of passages of Scripture. In some cases they pull a verse out of context to miss-prove a point. In other cases, they grab random phrases and make grand assumptions of doctrinal proportions.

An example of the latter would be a blog I read by a wonderful young believer who after reading the first chapter of the book of John claimed that all of the living Word was contained in the written Word. To some this sounds very religious, to others it sounds questionable, and to the theologian it is heresy.

First of all we need to be reminded that theology is simply the study of God. Therefore every believer should be a theologian. After all it is God’s will for us to get to know Him and have a relationship with Him. Unfortunately, most believers have grossly neglected their study of God and His Word. They have left it to “professional” Christians to do the study to create and protect orthodox doctrine.

This lack of knowledge of our God and His Word is what allows well meaning believers to make pronouncements like the one in the aforementioned blog. The living Logos (Word) could never be contained in a page, a book, a library or every book in the universe. He is God the Son, the second person of the triune God; in communion with the other two persons of the Trinity. At the incarnation He became fully human in addition to being fully God. We do him not only a disservice but we minimize His Godhood and His death payment for our sin and ultimately His resurrection by diminishing Him into a book.

The same author, John, tells us at the end of his book, named from him, that if all the deeds that Jesus did and all of the things He said were written down that all of the books in the world could not contain all of the information.

As far as miss-proving a point, a church leader recently used Philippians 3 to assure his church that the mistakes (read sins) of the past should be ignored and that they should start over doing things right from now on! You can read the passage below he used to “prove” his point.

12 I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.
13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead,
14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
15 Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you.
16 But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.
Philippians 3:12-16 (NLT)

So is that what this passage means? Are we to forget the past, ignore the sins of the fathers and go on? Is that Biblical?

Well before I address these questions let me start with how we should interpret Scripture. I call this the “Time Method.” Interpretation must always begin with what the passage meant to the original recipients of the message from God. I call this the “one time.” Scripture will always mean what it meant to the people it addressed. This is why 2000 years later we must work hard to understand the people of the time, the political situation, economic condition, geographical location and religious reality that they faced. This allows us better understand the message as they did.

Next, we must extrapolate what the universal implications are from the message. I call this the “all time.” Both of these “times” are part of what theologians call exegeting the passage.

After understanding the universal truth it must be applied to our current situation. This means that we must also exegete our society to know how the Biblical message applies today. I call this “now time.”

Another step in exegeting a passage includes reading the specific passage in context. Many mistakes can simply be avoided if we keep a specific passage in context. Finally, God never contradicts himself. For example, God doesn’t say one thing in the Old Testament and another thing in the New Testament.

By doing what at times is difficult work we arrive at what God wants us to know and how to apply this to the situations of our lives.

Now back to the passage in Philippians. We need to figure out what the things of the past are that are referring to. A cursory reading of the preceding verses provides us the answer. Paul speaks of his pedigree and his tenacity in obeying Scripture as he then understood it. He also tells us that the things that he formerly valued, he now considers refuse (actually Paul is very graphic in the original language!). So the past that Paul is talking about is the good that he thought he had previously accomplished. One commentator put it this way “Paul is saying stop resting on your laurels.” We need to strive until the very end of the race. Endurance is the key to finishing the race strongly.

The next question we need to address is: How important is the past? Should we forget the past? Hope for a better future?

God tells us that when he forgives us that our sins are forgotten. So in a sense the past becomes unimportant in regards to our relationship with God. But the past can not be ignored. Nehemiah prayed for forgiveness for the sins of the past and asked that The Lord forgive and restore the nation. (Nehemiah 1:4-11) The wrongs of the past can not be ignored until we are obedient in repentance, restitution and restoration. (For a fuller look at this issue see my blog “The 3 ‘R’s’ of Christian Living”)

Additionally God himself commands us to remember the past. In the fourth chapter of Joshua God commanded the nation of Israel to take 12 stones out of the Jordan River and pile them up as a testimony of God’s faithfulness in bringing the nation into the Promise Land. The memorial was to stand as a reminder for future generations of the Goodness of God.

The above is a positive reason to remember the past but what about negative treasons to remember the past? God commands Moses in Deuteronomy 31:19-21 to teach the nation of Israel a song that is used to remind them of the punishments of forgetting the past and its lessons. Historians tell us to ignore the past is to condemn ourselves to repeat it again and again.

In conclusion, let me say that Jesus promises us that the Holy Spirit will be our teacher if we allow him to edify us. We need to be Bereans in our approach to what our spiritual leaders teach us. Do the work of a theologian. Search the Scriptures to see if these things are true.

Good reading,

Pastor Val