When I was growing up in the UK, in the nineteen-fifties and sixties, Pastors and Ministers of the Church were generally well respected. Even if people didn’t believe for themselves, they recognised that foundational Christian teaching was central to what it means to be living a good and godly life. When people were in trouble, even unbelievers would turn to a Christian leader for help. I will never forget being with my Dad at the doors of Maidstone Prison at 6.00am one morning, to welcome back into the world a young man who had got into wrong company, broken the law and had served his time behind bars. Dad became his pastoral bridge back into society.
But the world in which we are now living is radically different to what it was like in those far more innocent times. We have just seen how a volunteer Christian Prison Chaplain, of twenty years exemplary standing, has been dismissed from his role in a UK prison. For all those years he had worked unpaid, using his day off, every week, to spend time with prisoners, helping them with life’s issues and sharing with them the good news of the Gospel. But because he has been introducing prisoners, who voluntarily asked for more information about being a Christian, to the Alpha Course, he was considered an extremist and denied any further access to the prison as a volunteer Chaplain.
There are many instances today of Christians being marginalised or losing their jobs because of their beliefs. This is no surprise to God. When Jesus spoke the words of our text to the disciples, He was spelling out a present reality for His own life, but also declaring for the rest of time that when Christian beliefs and practice are at enmity with the world’s standards, respect for Christians will quickly fly out of the window and be replaced by the hatred of those who sense that the truth of God and His Word is in opposition to the way of the world.
Hatred of believers and subsequent persecution for holding to Christian beliefs has been part of Christian history. When we are hated for Christ’s sake we are part of an unbroken line of believers that stretches right back to the days when Jesus walked this Earth with His disciples.
So how are we to respond when we experience personal hatred and antagonism to our faith? Jesus only gave us one thing we can do – pray for our accusers and bless them! In Matthew 5:44 Jesus said, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for those who despitefully use you that you may be sons of your Father in Heaven.”
This is how Jesus, the Son of God responded and when we follow in His steps we are true sons of our Father in Heaven. This is the only way that those who hate us can ever respond to the Gospel for themselves. Unless they experience God’s love first hand, they will never know that there is a Father in Heaven who loves them, who had a Son who died for them.
Prayer: Thank You, Jesus, that You showed us how to respond to those who hate us because of You. Help me to remember to pray for those who would oppose the truth and for people such as this Prison Chaplain who are at the forefront of being hated for Christ’s sake. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.