When we think about a culture that opposes Christianity, we might imagine a foreign nation in which believers are imprisoned, exiled, or even killed for their faith. However, persecution comes in many forms and although most of us may not experience these specific challenges, we may undergo persecution from our society. This can come in forms of hate speech, legal suppression, and a society that censors our freedom to share of the faith that we have in Christ.
The natural response can easily be anger that leads to ungodly actions and misrepresentation of the Lord. However, as we look at the life of Jesus, we can learn ways to love in a culture opposed to Christianity. Today I am going to share three practical ways to love when you live in a society that is against the Christian faith.
Take a minute and think about your relationships with people of different faiths. Can you count those people on one hand? Are you so surrounded by unbelievers that you are getting discouraged? Do you see those individuals every day because they live in your house?
If there is an area of spiritual growth that I have experienced over the past year, it has been pressing into relationship with people who are of different faiths than me. It was not always my fault that I was around a lot of Christian communities, I held certain jobs or I had groups of friends that also shared the same faith. However, as my husband and I have worked with international college students from around the globe, we have become friends with Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus. As we have gotten close with neighbors, we have built community with Atheists and Agnostics. This is a much wider range of beliefs than I have ever been in close relationship with, but I believe a model much closer to that of Jesus Himself.
One reason I can have a hard time getting closer to a person of different beliefs is that I know of the reality of hell. I have a deep hurt in my heart knowing that if this friend rejects Jesus’ sacrifice for her, then she will not be in heaven one day. This can cause me to want to pull back because of the pain of a tight bond with someone heading in a very different direction. It can also put me in more gray situations spiritually that can be harder to navigate. However, I have the Holy Spirit and I can follow His convictions and His leadings in when to say yes and when to say no. There is abundant grace from God. If I allow the fear or selfishness to prevent genuine community with unbelievers, I am ultimately stopping them from getting to know Jesus.
The disciple Matthew (Also known as Levi) in Scripture was beautifully called by Jesus. His calling led to Jesus dining with him and at his house with many other unbelievers.
Luke 5:27-32 says “After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’”
Ask yourself, “Am I only spending time with Christians?” “Am I investing in the lives of others who do not proclaim Jesus as Lord in their lives?” If we are following the example of Christ, and He took time to eat with and get to know those who did not believe in Him, we sure enough should be loving people of different faiths too.
It can be a challenge trying to understand others who oppose the Christian faith or the Bible. We may be tempted to share all about the Lord and why we believe what we believe. Often we desire to tell our reasons for why they need to believe in the hope that we have in Christ. However, even if what we are saying is good, if we cannot listen well, we will never understand others. If my family members are reading this, they are probably laughing because in all honesty, I am not the best listener. However, I know the value of hearing people and am growing.
James 1:19 says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” If we want to gain respect from others, it is important to listen to their stories and perspectives. We can set a tone of peaceful discussion. If we become aggressive in our views, this creates chaos and causes others to get defensive. I think about how if someone comes at a believer in a harsh tone, the Christian has a choice to fight back or to “turn the other cheek.” When we can rely on the inner strength of the Holy Spirit and restrain our emotions, we can be a more effective witness. If we respond in love, then we honor the Lord and we set the tone of the conversation.
If we take time to listen, we take time to gain understanding. A person may have been abused by a church member, had a negative experience with a pastor, or maybe has never heard a correct teaching of Jesus before. Praying for compassion and a heart of care can go a long way. Be the kind of person who others want to be around.
Bible.org shares, “Jesus asked questions in more than half of the conversations He had. This is similar to God’s first response to the first sinners in history, when He asked four questions of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:9, 11, 13)."
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Ephesians 4:15 says, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”
We are not called to be silent. Jesus did not hide who He was, and neither should we. In John 3 we find Nicodemus asking direct questions to Christ. He asks, “How can someone be born when they are old?” (John 3:4). “How can this be?” (John 3:9). Jesus does not hesitate to give him direct answers that led to the famous John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
Maybe you feel like if you are honest about your beliefs that you will be rejected. Remember that you are not called to be silent. If Esther had kept quiet about her faith, a people would have been murdered. If Paul had kept his conversion silent, we would not have many books of the New Testament today.
1 Peter 3:15-17 clearly says, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil."
This tells me that we need to always be prepared to give an answer about why we believe in Jesus. We need to share in gentleness and respect. Even if others are vicious, we stand firm. Suffering for the sake of Christ is worth more that bowing to evil.
As we learn to love in a culture against our faith, it is important that we remain true to who we are in Christ. We need to live by the Spirit and not our flesh. We need to represent our Savior well because others are always watching. Pressing into relationships with people of different faiths is so valuable to sharing the love of Christ. Becoming a good listener will be a lifelong gift to others and our witness. Sharing the truth in love will be the moments when the Holy Spirit takes over and we leave the results to God, unashamedly telling of the hope that we have in the Lord.
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Emma Danzey’s mission in life is to inspire young women to embrace the extraordinary. One of her greatest joys is to journey with the Lord in His Scriptures. Emma is a North Carolina resident and green tea enthusiast! She is married to her husband Drew and they serve international college students. She enjoys singing, dancing, trying new recipes, and watching home makeover shows. During her ministry career, Emma recorded two worship EP albums, founded and led Polished Conference Ministries, ran the Refined Magazine, and served in music education for early childhood. Currently, she is in the editing stages of her first two writing projects: a Bible study on womanhood and a non-fiction book on singleness. You can visit her blog at emmadanzey.wordpress.com