July 22, 2014 Broadcast

How Then Should I Live in This World?

A Message by Derek Thomas

We live in a culture that tells us right and wrong are relative; what’s good for you might not be good for me but the Bible tells a different story. Tuesday on Renewing Your Mind, Dr. Derek Thomas builds a Biblical foundation for ethics. Listen, Tuesday, to Renewing Your Mind.

From the series: Overcoming the World: 2014 National Conference

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. article

    The Blessing of Persecution

  2. article

    Nursemaid to the World: The Church Amid Adversity and Sickness

  3. article

    Can Christians 'Do Business' with the World?

The Blessing of Persecution

Cal Thomas

"In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33; NIV).
"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matt. 5:11; NIV)

In 1997, while in Hong Kong to write about the British handover of that city to the mainland government, I visited the pastor of one of the largest house churches in China with a missionary friend who knew him. Pastor Lamb, as he was called, was in his 70s at the time. He told me he had spent half his life in prison for preaching the gospel. I asked him if the Public Security Bureau still came around to observe his activities.

"Not so much now," he replied.

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because," he said, "every time they threw me in prison, the church grew."

We Americans know nothing about such persecution. We think we are being persecuted when a newspaper editorial criticizes us, or someone uses the Lord's name in vain in our presence, or calls us religious fanatics. Most of the world understands persecution in terms of jail, torture, beheadings, and ostracism from family and friends.

Jesus said, "A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:20).

In effect, this means that if you are being persecuted, it isn't you they are persecuting; rather, it is Jesus in you who is their target. Jesus exposes sin. He is the "smell of death" (2 Cor. 2:16) to those who are perishing, as my pastor, Dr. Robert Norris, once preached in a sermon. People don't like the smell of death, which, it might be argued is their smell, not ours, because we are alive in Christ and they are dead in their sins. Some try to get rid of the "smell" by persecuting believers.

The small price I have paid for my faith—angry letters to the editor, some cancellations of my column by a few newspapers (though many more retain it), the social cost of not being invited places because as one person admitted to me, "I was afraid you would start quoting Bible verses"—is nothing compared to my fellow believers in the rest of the world today and throughout history.

If one seeks to live a life pleasing to God, one will be persecuted, according to no less an authority than Jesus. It is not something to be avoided; it is something to be accepted if the persecution is for the right reason. It validates our life in Christ and His life in us.

Note that Jesus said in Matthew 5 that we are blessed if we are persecuted by those who "falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me." If we are persecuted because of a judgmental attitude, a condemning spirit, or just because we behave in a boorish fashion towards unbelievers, then we get no "credit" from Jesus.

Suffering is a companion to persecution. Only masochists enjoy suffering, but if one is a follower of Jesus, it comes with the territory. If we seek to avoid persecution and suffering, we are denying Christ because He said we will be persecuted. By seeking to accommodate ourselves to the world in order to avoid persecution and suffering, we are keeping Jesus bottled-up inside and not allowing Him to get out where He can turn our suffering into a powerful witness.

We live in a relativistic age that says to all of us: you have your "truth," I have my "truth," and whatever makes you feel good ought to be fine with everyone else. That this philosophy has produced a social train wreck has not deterred those who believe and behave this way to change their minds.

If you presume to speak of the truth, as in "I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me" (John 14:6), you will be called all sorts of things. I have been. So was Jesus.

The price one pays for public criticism in my business is nothing compared to the rewards that are to come. I have not won many prizes or awards and don't expect to. My rewards are not denied; they are just deferred. The rewards Jesus gives are far more valuable than any framed document, gold statue, or large check the world can offer.

Deferring rewards and gratification is the antithesis of the spirit of our age, or any age. Believing there is something better ahead is viewed as fanaticism and "pie in the sky" by those who are perishing. To the rest of us, it's called faith.

Only Jesus could claim to have overcome the world, and because He did, we can accept persecution, suffering and criticism, knowing He will wipe away every tear and make all things new. Great will be the reward of those who think, believe and act this way, not in spite of persecution, but because of it.

Nursemaid to the World: The Church Amid Adversity and Sickness

George Grant

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great Victorian pastor, not only was a masterful pulpiteer, a brilliant administrator, a gifted writer, and a selfless evangelist, he was a determined champion of the deprived and the rejected. He spent more than half of his incredibly busy schedule on one or another of the sixty organizations or institutions he founded for their care and comfort.

Once, a skeptic accosted Spurgeon on the street outside a market in London, scornfully challenging both the practicality and the genuineness of the preacher’s faith. Spurgeon gracefully answered the man by pointing out the failure of contemporary “free thinkers” to put forward workable models of care for the needy thousands of the city. In contrast, he pointed out the multitudinous works of compassion that had sprung from faith in Christ: George Whitefield’s mission, George Müller’s or phanage, Thomas Barnardo’s shelter, Thomas Sutton’s charterhouse hospital. He then closed the conversation by paraphrasing the victorious cry of Elijah, boisterously asserting, “The God who answereth by orphanages, let Him be God.”

Spurgeon’s retort was hardly hollow rhetoric. The reality is that wherever the spread of the gospel has taken believers, throughout Europe, into the darkest depths of Africa, to the outer reaches of China, along the edges of the American frontier, and beyond to the Australian outback, a selfless care for the needy has been in evidence. In fact, most of the church’s greatest heroes across the centuries have been those who willingly gave the best of their lives to the sick, the hurting, the poor, the unloved, the despised, and the rejected. Service has always been their hallmark. Mercy has always been their emblem.

Whether following disastrous earthquakes and tsunamis, amid terrible plagues and epidemics, or through horrific wars and conflicts, Christians have always been at the ready to offer healing and hope. This is the natural fruit of the gospel itself.

The Lord is merciful, gracious, and kind. He works righteousness and justice for all (Ps. 33:5). Morning by morning, He dispenses His justice without fail (Zeph. 3:5) and without partiality (Job 32:21). All His ways are just (Deut. 32:4), so that injustice is an abomination to Him (Prov. 11:1). Thus, He is adamant about ensuring the cause of the meek and the weak (Ps. 103:6). Time after time, Scripture stresses this important attribute of God (Pss. 9:7–9; 12:5; 68:5–6; Isa. 41:17–20).

Because God cares for the needy, His people are to do likewise. He desires that we follow Him (Matt. 4:19). We are to emulate Him (1 Peter 1:16). We are to do as He does. In effect, we are to do unto others as He has done unto us. That is the ethical principle that underlies the “Golden Rule” (Matt. 7:12; Luke 6:31).

If God has comforted us, then we are to comfort others (2 Cor. 1:4). If God has forgiven us, then we are to forgive others (Eph. 4:32). If God has loved us, then we are to love others (1 John 4:11). If He has taught us, then we are to teach others (Matt. 28:20). If He has borne witness to us, then we are to bear witness to others (John 15:26–27). If He has laid down His life for us, then we are to lay down our He has given us healing and hope, then we are to dispense the hope of His healing (James 5:13–16).

Whenever God commanded the Israelites to imitate Him in ensuring justice for the wandering, the alien, and the sojourner, He reminded them that they were once despised, rejected, and homeless themselves (Ex. 22:21–27; 23:9; Lev. 19:33–34). It was only by the grace and mercy of God that they had been redeemed from that low estate (Deut. 24:17–22). Thus, they were to exercise compassion to the brokenhearted and the dispossessed. They were to serve.

Jesus taught that the principle still holds true for His disciples. Those of us who have received the compassion of the Lord on high are to demonstrate tenderness in kind to all those around us (Matt. 18:23–25).

The needy around us are thus living symbols of our own former helplessness and privation. We are therefore to be living symbols of God’s justice, mercy, and compassion. We are to do as He has done (John 15:1–8). God has set the pattern by His gracious working in our lives. Now we are to follow that pattern by serving others in the power of the indwelling Spirit (John 14:15–26).

In other words, the gospel calls us to live daily as if people really matter. It calls us to live lives of selfless concern. We are to pay attention to the needs of others — in both word and deed, in both thought and action, we are to weave ordinary kindness into the very fabric of our lives (Deut. 22:4). We are to “put on tender mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, and long-suffering” (Col. 3:12, NKJV). We are to become “a father to the poor” and to “search out the case of the stranger” (Job 29:16). We are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31) and “rescue the perishing” (Prov. 24:10–12), thus “fulfilling the law” (Rom. 13:10). This is, in fact, the very essence of “pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father” (James 1:27).

In writing to Titus, the young pastor of Crete’s pioneer church, the apost le Paul pressed home this fundamental truth with a clear sense of persistence and urgency. The task before Titus was not an easy one. Cretan culture was terribly worldly. It was marked by deceit, ungodliness, sloth, and gluttony (Titus 1:12). Thus, Paul’s instructions were strategically precise and right to the point. Titus was to preach the glories of grace, but he was also to make good deeds evident. Priestly mercy and self less servanthood were to be central priorities in his new work (2:11–14).

Paul told Titus he should actually build his entire fledgling ministry around works of mercy: He was “to be an example of good deeds” (2:7). He was to teach the people “to be ready for every good deed” (3:1). The older women and the younger women were to be thus instructed so “that the Word of God might not be dishonored” (2:5), and the slaves were to be likewise instructed that “they might adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect” (2:10). They were all to “learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, that they might not be unfruitful” (3:14). There were those within the church who professed “to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed” (1:16). These Titus was to “reprove severely that they might be sound in the faith” (1:13). He was to “speak confidently, so that those who had believed God might be careful to engage in good deeds” (3:8).

As a pastor, Titus had innumerable tasks that he was responsible to fulfill. He had administrative duties (1:5), doctrinal duties (2:1), discipling duties (2:2–10), preaching duties (2:15), counseling duties (3:1–2), and arbitrating duties (3:12–13). But intertwined with them all, fundamental to them all, were his servanthood duties. And what was true for Titus then has been true for Christians at all times and in all places, for “these things are good and profitable for all men” (3:8).

Whenever and wherever the gospel has gone forth, the faithful have emphasized the priority of good works, especially works of compassion toward the needy. Every great revival in the history of the church, from Paul’s missionary journeys to the Reformation, from the Alexandrian outreach of Athanasius to the Great Awakening in America, has been accompanied by an explosion of merciful service. Hospitals were established. Orphanages were founded. Rescue missions were sta r ted. Almshouses were built. Soup kitchens were begun. Charitable societies were incorporated. The hungry were fed, the naked clothed, and the unwanted rescued. Word was wed to deeds. Whenever there has been plague, famine, or devastation, Christians have invariably stepped into the gap with courage and care. The church has been the nursemaid to the world, caring for the least and the last.

This fact has always proven to be the bane of the church’s enemies. Unbelievers can argue theology. They can dispute philosophy. They can subvert history. And they can undermine character. But they are helpless in the face of extraordinary feats of selfless compassion. “And so the Word of God spread rapidly” (Acts 6:7).

Can Christians 'Do Business' with the World?

Robert Rothwell

In recent decades, a number of prominent Christian organizations and denominations have called for Christians to boycott businesses that are associated in some way with non-Christian ethics. Over the years, these groups have called for boycotts of companies and products such as American Airlines, The Gap, Burger King, Clorox, Crest, Ford, Hallmark Cards, Kraft Foods, Microsoft, the Walt Disney Company, IKEA, Pampers, Target, the Campbell Soup Company, and many more.

Homosexuality and abortion have been the major issues that have inspired these boycotts. For example, some of the boycotted companies give employee benefits to homosexual couples, advertise in pro-homosexual magazines, or donate to pro-homosexual advocacy groups. Numerous companies financially support pro-abortion organizations such as Planned Parenthood.

These calls for boycotts stem from a belief on the part of some Christians that all believers have a moral obligation to boycott any company that supports sinful behavior such as homosexuality or abortion. Their motivation is a noble one, for they are attempting to follow the biblical mandate to obey God's Word and to not love the things of this world (1 John 2:15–17; see Eph. 5:11; James 4:4).

Other Christians argue that Scripture does not place such a moral obligation on all Christians. These Christians point out that the aforementioned commands deal with love of the world's system of thinking—that is, its evil worldview. They say that boycotting any business that is associated with non-Christian ethics in any way goes beyond the biblical meaning of separation and, if taken to its logical conclusion, would require that Christians abandon the world. Christians would not be of the world—which is good—but neither would they be in it—which is not good.

What shall we say to these things? First, let us note that people on both sides of this issue believe that we may not compromise the holy standards of God. We all agree that we must not capitulate to our culture's definition of right and wrong, and that we must resist calls for Christians to redefine biblical ethics.

However, it is one thing to stand strong on what God defines as sin, but it is another to say this requires us to boycott any business that is involved tangentially with sin.

Paul gives an essential principle regarding associating with non-Christians:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. "Purge the evil person from among you." (1 Cor. 5:9–13)

Note that Paul clarifies some teaching that he had previously delivered to the Corinthians. Apparently, some in the Corinthian church took Paul's admonition to separate from immoral people as a command to separate from all immoral people without distinction. But that is not what he meant. He clarifies his point by saying that the ones from whom we must separate are immoral people who bear "the name of" brothers (v. 11). The Apostle is referring to individuals who insist on calling themselves Christians while living in grievous, impenitent sin. Separation pertains to the visible church. Paul wants the church to present a good witness to the world around her by remaining as pure as possible on this side of heaven. That means removing from the visible church anyone who claims to be a believer and impenitently bears the fruits of wickedness and not the fruits of regeneration. The entire chapter is dealing with a church discipline issue, with a problem among those in Corinth who professed the name of Christ and not every Corinthian citizen.

To be sure, we are to refrain from personal sin and to encourage godly living, but that is different than staying away from impenitent sinners who make no claim to being Christians. The only way to do that, Paul notes, would be to remove ourselves entirely from the world (vv. 9–10). Paul's clarification on the matter shows that he does not want us to remove ourselves from the world. He wants us to associate with sinners—not in endorsing or joining in their sin, but in making ourselves available to them so that they can hear the gospel. This is what Jesus did (Mark 2:13–17), and the Apostles did the same as they took the gospel to pagan sinners (1 Cor. 6:9–11). Therefore, because we are not to separate from the world into a Christian ghetto, we have to participate in the world's economy and do business with our non-Christian neighbors. There is no way around it.

That is all well and good, you might say, but should we not distinguish between non-Christians who promote immorality openly and those who do not, and then take our business to the former? Does not our purchasing from those who promote sin make us responsible for sin because our dollars might be going to the promotion of evil? There are two passages that bear on this subject. In Romans 13:6–7, Paul explains that Christians are to pay their taxes, thereby echoing the teaching of our Lord in Matthew 22:15–22. This is significant because the specific government to which Jesus and Paul commanded Christians to pay taxes was the Roman government, which supported and condoned heinous activities. In fact, Jesus commended the paying of taxes to the very authorities He knew would soon crucify Him. The Roman Empire was not merely non-Christian—it was anti-Christian. And yet, both our Lord and the Apostle Paul instruct Christians to pay taxes to that government. Since Jesus and Paul would never tell us to do anything that involves us in sin, we may deduce from these passages that Christians are not morally responsible if their tax dollars are used for sinful purposes. And if we are not morally responsible for what the government does with our tax dollars, we are certainly not responsible for what companies do with our purchasing dollars. We do not intend to support sin with our purchases; we simply need a good or service. When we buy chicken from a supermarket that supports Planned Parenthood, for example, we are not trying to fund abortion. We just need food for our families.

We are to be in the world, and being in this world means participating in the economies of this world. So, we must respectfully disagree with our fellow Christians who insist that all believers are morally obligated to boycott any company that supports sinful behavior. Therefore, we choose to do business with non-Christians. We choose to live among them. We choose to do so in order that we might call them out of darkness and into light. We do so in imitation of our Lord who did not abandon us when we were His enemies, and who came and lived among us and died for us that we might live.

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