A simple study of church history reveals that whenever committed Christians sought to make a difference for Christ and the Kingdom, they usually got into some sort of trouble. Radical discipleship for Jesus usually results in severe opposition from the surrounding culture.
Simply seeking to be faithful to the commands of Christ can often result in an uproar. A cursory look at the early church as recorded in the book of Acts certainly makes this clear. Wherever the early disciples of Christ went they seemed to find themselves getting into trouble and causing an uproar.
Now making a stink for Jesus can be seen in two ways. Sometimes we get into grief and strong opposition simply because we are not being very wise, very diplomatic, very tactful or very loving. We can often provoke a negative reaction for all sorts of reasons that have little to do with faithfully representing our Lord.
So I am not suggesting that we go around looking for trouble simply for trouble’s sake. But there are also plenty of times when we really are accurately reflecting him, walking in love and wisdom, and seeking to be winsome and careful in our biblical witness – and we still get heaps of hostile opposition and rejection.
Jesus of course promised that we would face such rejection and persecution. It is part and parcel of our job description as followers of Jesus. Indeed, an important question we can all ask ourselves is this: Am I causing trouble for Jesus?
Are we rocking the boat, stirring the waters, making an impact, and getting a reaction? If we are not, then perhaps it is because we really are not being much of a disciple of Jesus. If we never get any flack or criticism or rebuke, then perhaps we are just cruising along, doing little or nothing to advance the Kingdom.
Based on what we find in the New Testament and church history, it seems to be a truism that whenever we faithfully and doggedly seek to follow Jesus and make him known, we will find ourselves being opposed, mocked, criticised and vilified. That pretty much goes with the territory.
If my reader is not yet convinced of this, let me take you on a brief walk through the book of Acts. There we find that time and time again the early believers made such a stink that they were constantly getting into trouble.
That is why it says in Acts 17:6 that the early Christians “turned the world upside down”. They certainly made an impact alright. Indeed, I have already written a piece on this, looking at two instances when riots broke out as a result of apostolic activity. In both cases money-making was put in jeopardy when the gospel was proclaimed, resulting in real turmoil: billmuehlenberg.com/2008/10/27/on-being-a-troublemaker-for-jesus/
But plenty of other examples can be examined here. For example, we read about the commotion the early church caused in various places, such as in Acts 5, 7, 13, 14, 17, 21, and 22. Consider just two descriptions of the uproar which arose because of the early Christian endeavours.
In Acts 21 we read about how Paul caused a huge reaction while in Jerusalem. He was falsely accused of some rather scandalous actions (bringing Gentiles into the inner area of the temple), and chaos ensued. In verses 30-32 we read these words:
“The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.”
Paul certainly provoked quite a reaction. Indeed, he is often getting into trouble as he proclaims the gospel. Consider what happens as he tries to defend himself before the crowd at the temple in Acts 22. He is going along nicely, explaining his background as a devout Jew, and how he was converted. But when he mentions his heavenly commission to the Gentiles in v 21, that’s when things get really ugly:
“The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, ‘Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!’ As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, the commander ordered Paul to be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and questioned in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this” (vv. 22-24).
Paul and the disciples never seemed to make a quiet entry! True, often trouble makers in the crowd agitated the folks, and sought to stir up trouble. But the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ so often caused great friction and turmoil.
The question is, can we expect any less today? If we are really serious about our faith, and serious about communicating it, it would seem that we would experience some not-so-pleasant reactions as well.
But if our life is going along swimmingly and we are causing not even the slightest ripple around us, then perhaps we need to ask some hard questions about how dedicated we are as a true follower of Jesus.
If the bullets are not whizzing overhead, maybe we need to reconsider just what sort of witness we are being. As A.W. Tozer once put it, “I have observed that as long as we sit frozen to our chair, making no spiritual progress, no one will bother us.”
True, and it is no fun being bothered – or thrown in jail, stoned, or chucked out of town. But I would rather face a bit of conflict, opposition and uncomfortableness now, knowing that so too did my Lord, than simply live a very comfortable and disturbance-free life. Anyone ready to be a troublemaker for Jesus?