I am amused, and a little frightened, by the advertisements for pharmaceuticals on television. In bold clear language, enhanced by images of beautiful people seemingly glowing with health, they proclaim the virtues of said drug. The last 20 seconds of the add, the announcer slips into half volume and very hurriedly lists 30 life-altering and potentially fatal things that might go along with taking the drug. The emphasis is clear; hear the benefits and ignore the warnings.
These days the Church tends to emphasize the perks of being a Christian. "Come to Jesus for personal reasons and he will meet your needs," might be the slogan of today’s Christian marketing campaign. Certainly, one can find scriptural basis for Christ’s desire to quench our thirsts with living water and to give us rest and peace. However, there is another side of the message of following Jesus. It has to do with taking up our cross on a daily basis, following his example. He taught that we should count the cost, as if building a house or taking a journey. Maybe someone should have told him this is not good marketing. Could it be that Jesus, unlike the Church today, was issuing a call to commitment, not comfort?
The Apostle Paul was not a big fan of comfort. Having just laid a foundation of deep affection and agape love for the church in Philippi, he goes on to talk about something else in glowing terms—his chains! Paul is imprisoned for proclaiming the gospel of Christ. Rather than whining about his situation and questioning the goodness and presence of God, he rejoices! He wears the chains of Christ with the glory of a gold medal winning Olympic athlete on the podium for his country. Because of his chains, the gospel of Jesus has been furthered:
"Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more compassionately and fearlessly." (Philippians 1:12-14)
When you are going through something difficult, do you stop to think that the way you do so may advance the gospel of Christ? When you respond to insult with kindness, when you are ridiculed for your faith, or when life just deals you a lousy hand, do you complain, or do you thank God for the opportunity to show the world a better way? Paul’s perspective was firmly rooted in what was good for the kingdom of Christ, not what was in his own best interest. This is in stark contrast to the teachings of many today that the primary purpose of the gospel is the individual's personal fulfillment. The time may be coming when the Church will be sorted out. In fact, that may already be happening. The sorting may involve separating those who embrace comfort from those who seek commitment at any and every cost.
I have to admit that Paul’s attitude is not consistently my default mode. Nevertheless, it inspires me to find opportunities in life’s everyday rollercoaster ride. Opportunities to be light—a city on a hill or a lamp on a stand. These shine more brightly in the darkness. So should we.
“Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our current sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory the Lord will reveal in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.” (Romans 8:17-19)