How are we leading others to call on the name of Christ? I want you to think a bit about your commitment, specifically in regards to our commitment to Christ in comparison to things of this world. It’s easy to say we’re dedicated to Christ while we’re sitting here in worship, but what does that dedication look like outside these walls? There are so many things that can and do distract us from our Christian walk, and we might think we’re involved in a noble pursuit while straying from His plan for us. If we are truly committed to Christ, we will be focused on Him and determined to do His will. This focus and determination may not make our lives easier, but they will give us peace that passes understanding.
Commitment Against the Odds
In Acts 5:17, we find the apostles being put into prison, charged to not speak the name of Jesus, and yet remaining focused nonetheless. Throughout Acts, we find Christians beaten, taken from their homes, imprisoned, and even executed for professing their faith. Regardless, those early Christians had a clear idea of their mission, and they did it. Life, however, pulls us in multiple directions — we have a continual stream of news and gossip distracting us. We feel we have too much too keep up with, but we don’t see those early Christians worried about all of those distractions. They were focused on Christ alone.
Nor did they did get caught up in the political climate or of the day. They weren’t distracted by secular issues — trying to end Roman occupation, seeking better rights for Jews, fighting for freedom of religion. They worried about nothing but the message of Christ, and this single focus led to determination. Those Christians knew what they were getting into and what they were doing it for. They had a mission, and they were determined to do it. Every inch of our Christian life is an exercise in determination. External obstacles test that determination, and the extent to which we let those issues sidetrack us speaks to the level of spiritual commitment and peace we have in Christ.
Peace in Our Focus
Hebrews 12:1 – 2 calls on us to look at the great cloud of witnesses who came before us. The author encourages us to lay aside the weights of this world and to share Christ’s purpose and single-mindedness. When the Hebrew writer talks about us laying aside every weight that entangles us, he’s not talking about sin. He points out sin separately. Instead, those weights are everything that can make our spiritual journey tiresome and difficult. He’s talking about all of the seemingly urgent distractions that pull us away from Christ. These damage our peace. We have a goal that is separate and apart from the things of this world.
When we know we are pursuing Christ’s mission with determination of heart, we have peace. Peace and joy were ever present in the minds of the apostles, regardless of whatever they were facing. Again, these were people being imprisoned, beaten, and executed, yet the end of Acts 5 tells us the apostles rejoiced that they were worthy to suffer for Jesus’ name. Suffering brought joy because it testified to the fact that they were living for Christ. They knew the consequences, yet they continued to push on, with peace of heart and joy of spirit. And the church grew.
Peace in the Face of Trials
We see this peace in the likes of Stephen, who prayed for those killing him to be forgiven. Never do we see faithful Christians demanding representation, rights, or even fairness from their leaders. Regardless of all else, servants like Stephen had peace. That’s because he and others like him were focused on things above rather than the things of this world. They were more concerned about being a voice for Christ than having a voice in the Roman Senate. We too need to have such a heart. In our culture, we have grown very used to our faith costing us nothing. We have grown used to Christianity being easy in a climate that has historically catered to us. It has led us to a place where we might value our American rights and values more than we should.
We have come to the conclusion that our individual rights are the most important thing we have, but Jesus had no rights. Paul and Peter had no rights. And none of these fought for Christian rights in Rome either. Instead, they fought for souls despite marginalization and persecution. We’ve forgotten how to trust in freedom in Christ and have instead come to rely on the freedoms of this land. Because of this, we have lost peace and have replaced it with struggles for influence and authority. Take a look at this quote from an article called “Christians Don’t Need Rights:”
…Since when does your relationship with God depend on your rights as a human being? In the book of Daniel, when Darius made a law prohibiting prayer to any deities for a month, Daniel went back to his house and prayed anyway.
And then he went to a lion’s den.
And when Darius came back to get him the next morning, the first thing that Daniel said to him wasn’t, “Give me back my rights, jerk!” It was, “Oh king, may you live forever.”
That’s an Old Testament example that we see mirrored throughout the lives of New Testament Christians in the Bible. Jesus and His apostles accomplished all they did without freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to vote, or the right to bear arms. Yet we have seen Christians become more and more concerned with these things at the expense of time spent on spiritual things and at the cost of Christian conduct. Jesus’ church thrives in times of trials. Yes, our lives may become harder. Yes, we may feel marginalized and treated unfairly. But that is what being Christ-like is about. Let’s get our eyes focused on things above, commit to focusing on spiritual things, and get to work with joy and peace in our hearts.
lesson by Donn Koonce