"Christianity doesn't advance through killing, it advances through dying."
I heard these words in a sermon at my sister's church several weeks ago (said by their pastor, David King), and they have been mulling around in my head and my heart ever since.
In a world where the headlines tell us stories of children being raped, of Christians being killed and beheaded, of slavery still stealing the freedom and childhoods of too many...in a world that wages war on faith, and in a culture that glorifies selfishness and greed...the Good News of Jesus still brings life, still gives hope, still rescues and saves and redeems.
Because Christianity doesn't advance through killing, it advances through dying.
It's a great paradox of our faith - that death is really what brings life, that the thing that seems to be utter defeat, is actually ultimate victory, that what seems like the end of it all is really only the beginning.
Worldly wars are fought and won by killing the enemy. Battles are won by destroying the opposition. Doesn't that seem to be how it works?
The world's way to advance and to win is to fight your way to the top. But God's way is a cross...sacrifice.
The world's way is the kind of killing that brings death. But God's way is the kind of death that brings life.
To win the war with Satan, the ultimate war over sin and death, Jesus gave His life. To advance the Cause of Christ, we lay down our lives.
Killing Christ did not stop His plan - it fulfilled it. And killing Christians will not stop Christianity - it advances it.
Christians throughout the centuries have been persecuted and killed for their faith. But that did not stop the spread of the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ. And it won't stop it today. Those 21 Coptic Christians who were beheaded for their faith, martyred for Jesus? They made the ultimate sacrifice...a sacrifice that does not make Christians shrink back in fear, but that has spurred countless Christians to be bold and brave in their faith. Their death did not weaken Christianity...if anything, it strengthened it. Their death was not a defeat, it was not the end...it was actually only their glorious beginning. While others may try to weaken the message of Jesus or defeat the cause of Christ by killing Christians or attacking the message of the Bible, Christianity continues to advance not through attacking back or returning killing for killing, but through selfless sacrifice, through sacrificial love...through dying.
You see, I don't believe that we advance the cause of Christ by trying to kill all the people and ideas and the groups who are opposed to Christ. We advance the cause of Christ by giving up our lives, by dying to ourselves, by laying down our lives for the sake of reaching souls who don't know the love and forgiveness and salvation of Jesus.
We won't advance the cause of Christ by picking fights, but by picking up our cross...by laying down our lives, by reaching out in love, through humble obedience to the call that Jesus has given us.
This does not mean we don't stand up for what we believe in, or that we are weak or that we don't speak out for justice and righteousness. Quite the opposite. It is in dying to ourselves and trusting in the power of God in us that we are able to stand up and stand firm and have courage to do the hard, dangerous work that God calls us to do. But we fight differently than the world fights, because we recognize that the battle we are fighting is not against flesh and blood - it is a battle for souls. "For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:12, NLT)
And we arm ourselves, not with swords or guns to kill, but with the Armor of God:
We arm ourselves with truth, with righteousness, with peace, with faith, with salvation, with the Word of God...and with prayer, persistent prayer at all times in everything, which gives us the courage to die - die to self, die to selfishness, die to our own agendas and our own expectations, die to all that isn't Christ so that we can really live, though we may die. We don't advance the cause of Christ by picking up the sword of our own personal opinions and slashing another down with personal attacks. We advance the cause of Christ by picking up the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God and sharing the truth in love. And when the enemy doesn't fight fair, when he strikes to wound and to harm and to destroy...we stand firm, and we count it all joy. Because what the enemy intends as harm, God intends it all for good. Jesus said, "Blessed are you, when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my acccount. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:11-12)
There's a war being waged for the souls of mankind...a real and dangerous battle that goes beyond what we can see. It's easy to see the headlines and become angry or disheartened or overwhelmed. My heart aches and breaks for the children who are raped and abused, for the families who have lost fathers, for the communities that have been destroyed, for the bitter fighting and the untold horrors of this world. But I must not turn away or put on blinders and pretend that the suffering of those on the other side of the world (or even on the other side of the street) have nothing to do with me...not when the Bible tells me to "Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere."
This world is a mess, full of evil and pain and killing and sorrow. But Jesus. Jesus is life and hope and peace, even in the middle of the mess of this world. And the Good News of Jesus is too good to keep to ourselves. And though it may cost us our plans or our comfort or even our lives, reaching out in love to share the truth of Jesus and the Good News of salvation through His death and resurrection...that is always worth the cost.
Will you pray with me today for the persecuted Christians around the world? We may not be able to hop on a plane and physically go to them to hold their hands and wrap our arms around them in love, but we can all wrap them in fervent and persistent prayer. We may not know their names, but God counts every hair on their heads, He knows them each intimately and He hears our prayers. And He will be glorified, whatever may come.