CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Are You Causing a Bit of Trouble?

Mar 4, 2010

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?

[1005 words]

10 Responses to Are You Causing a Bit of Trouble?

  • Well said Bill! It’s a sad fact that a lot of the “opposition” comes from other Christians. It seems like I am expected to be tolerant and gracious in the face of persecution and personal attacks from other believers. I can handle the fiery darts of the enemy just fine, they are to be expected, but I do find the unexpected attacks from within the body of Christ far more disturbing.

    Thanks for speaking the truth in love with boldness, be blessed!

    Lynn Nerdal

  • Thanks Lynn

    Yes I agree. You expect fierce opposition from non-believers, but when it comes from those who claim to be believers, it can be quite worrying.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Can we look on these attacks from fellow-Christians as the pruning Jesus spoke about in the parable of the vineyard? I believe we can – as long as we make certain we are being attacked for standing up for the pure faith “once delivered.” I guess even if we are not, God’s pruning can be used to put us back on track.
    Lindsay Smail

  • Hi Bill,
    I agree with your position. Do you have any further comments on these thoughts within the context of the standard working office environment?
    The reason I raise this is because there are a number of Christians who spend a good portion of their lives in the office work environment.
    I am one such (for this season in life anyway), and find that the nature of the work and the culture of the workplace leave little opportunity for ‘rocking the boat’ as it were.
    Of course I can work diligently, live a holy life (avoid gossip, swearing, etc) – but it seems that these are not explicit challenges to people.
    Largely, focus is on the work in the workplace, and it just seems that the things of God are the last thing on anyone’s agenda (except mine).
    Lord willing, I hope to be positioned to do some serious ‘rocking’ in the future (in areas where I think the most work needs doing I suppose…), but it seems that it’s pretty limited in current work culture in my (and presumably others) present situation.
    Any thoughts?
    Many thanks,
    Isaac Overton.

  • Thanks Isaac

    I think that in many ways you are already doing the right thing. The Bible does not offer us a false dichotomy between the sacred and the secular, and one’s work should be seen as a vocation, a holy calling. And we have responsibilities to our employers to be diligent workers, as Eph. 5 and Col. 3-4 point out. And we need to recall the biblical admonition that whatever we do, we are to do it for the glory of God.

    Of course one can pray for openings to share one’s faith, and even if those verbal opportunities may be few, in some ways of more importance is the life one is living in the workplace. One can be a vital witness for Christ simply by being a good worker, and having Christlike attitudes and responses which may stand in marked contrast to one’s fellow workers. Being a conscientious, honest and hard worker is a witness in itself in many respects.

    As I say, we certainly are not to go out of our way looking for trouble. Indeed, Scripture says we should seek to live a quiet and peaceful life. But situations may arise where simply remaining true to your Christian values and convictions may get you into trouble, or earn the disdain of your colleagues and/or bosses.

    If God has called you to that particular job, do it the best you can, always praying and seeking opportunities to share the gospel verbally as well.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks for that Bill – I completely agree with your comments on the dichotomy seperating sacred and secular being false. It’s just that the ground seems to be very hardened in the workplace, and in Australian society generally.
    Your thoughts are encouraging. I guess I tend to forget the impact that conduct that is faithful to the Lord may have. Continued prayer for opportunity is a good reminder too!
    I know He’s called me here (for now at least) – so i’ll continue to seek to be faithful with what i’ve got.
    Blessings,
    Isaac Overton

  • Great post and so true! Jesus told us, “In this world you will have trouble – but take heart! For I have overcome the world.”

    In order to share with others the fact that Jesus’ death and resurrection to life has proven who He is and that He has “overcome the world,” we need to counter any preconceived notions and religious beliefs that others previously shared. Of course there will be those who will object – and very strongly (like the Muslims) for that matter! This causes conflict. There is no way to avoid it!

    It has been my experience that even the most positive approach when sharing Jesus with others can be viewed by the receiver (who rejects it) as “hostile.” This is especially true when dealing with the topics of homosexuality and abortion.

    I have also found that it is very difficult to witness to extended members of my family. They reject what I write at my blog and probably label me in a derogatory fashion. I don’t care. Perhaps the Lord intends to use me to reach others and not those particular family members.

    All that we can do is share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with those whom God places in our path. He does the saving! Last May, my mom’s male friend raised his hand in our church (they were visiting from N.J.) to accept Christ as Savior and Lord. He had attended our church about 5 or 6 times (while visiting us) over the past 10 years. It was a joyful day – to say the least!

    All of the rejections from those whom I have tried to share the Gospel with are worth it when even just one person comes to the saving grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ!

    Christine Watson

  • Thanks Christine

    I’ll have to give you a hearty ‘amen’ for those wise words.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • In response to Isaac, if your workplace is anything like mine, I am sure that, if anything, there are ample opportunities to speak up when our Lord’s name is taken in vain – even if nothing else is really obvious. Generally at my workplace, things are reasonably ok as I work in an environment that supports and cares for people and gives them hope for better things- even though it is not Christian based. Misusing our Lord’s name becomes an issue in my workplace each time a new worker comes on board. I usually don’t respond at first, but wince at hearing it, and then pray over a few days about how to raise it with each individual colleague. So far the Lord has been gracious in giving me wisdom and all that I have spoke too have apologised for their words and take great pains to avoid it in future. I have been treated with the utmost respect. We are a service who works over 7 days and I declared from the beginning that I had no wish to work on Sundays and explained my reasoning and was still hired. No other worker has cried “Unfair!” as I think they love the lovely bonuses which come with Sundays which I have cheerfully given up. It appears that I am fortunate to be in a place where my Christian faith is accepted. We have some clients at work who profess that they are Christian and 2 have specifically asked for me to be assigned to them as they want to be supported by someone of like values. So Isaac, I don’t know what type of work you do, but I know that the Lord will give you ample opportunity if you pray and ask Him. He wants us to grow and always answers these prayers that seek the exercise of spiritual muscle. I will be praying for you.
    Kerry Letheby

  • I may be wrong but I don’t think so, my experience is that church leaders in Australia in the main, will do almost anything to be innoffensive and meek. Anything which might rock the boat even if it is the Lord saying it should be done is shunned.

    As a result the church is nothing more than a religious social club intended to keep its members happy and unchallenged. As long as the money keeps rolling in to keep the club going, that’s all that matters. 95% of that money by the way is spent on ourselves. Nuf zed.

    Of course one of the reasons why we don’t need to rock the boat is due as much to the fact that evangelism is the last thing on the agenda. It is very diffcult to rock the boat if we never engage with society.

    Last week it dawned on me that Jesus didn’t tell us to meet on Sunday morning to have a good time bless me club. He said we were to go into all the world and make disciples.

    I wrote a paper outlining the formation of an evangelism task force to enable all the churches in the town to work together on evangelism projects. I presented it to the ministers and their response was “We haven’t got time for evangelism, we are too busy running the church.” Sorry Jesus but you will have to go to the back of the queue.

    In all probabilty most ministers don’t even go into all the street, let alone the world. I know in my own church, every request to engage in evangelism has been rebuffed.

    Roger Marks

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