For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.

1 Peter 2: 20

 

For most of us, the idea of being beaten for our faith is rather abstract. We have heard of people who have received this sort of treatment and worse, but we have never come close to anything more severe than hearing some harsh words or being dismissed as irrational or foolish by people who do not agree with us. I am not ignoring the possibility that physical harm or danger can and might come the way of followers of Christ in our world today, but I do believe that this sort of thing, in its literal sense, was more directly a part of Peter’s first century environment than it is a part of our twenty-first century one. Yet, the idea that he is expressing here still applies to us, and I think that it is valid in some important ways when it comes to our witness for Christ in our world.

 

In truth, there is much to be endured for us today. We even are exposed to beatings; however, the pummeling is just of an emotional, spiritual, and mental nature rather than being applied to our flesh. Some of this abuse is directed at our faith and comes our way as a direct result of the conflict that exists between God and His adversary, and much of it is more generally caused by the work of that same adversary in the cultural flow of life around us. The challenge for each of us who follow Christ and for His church is to remain fully and truthfully engaged in the discourse and the dialogue of our culture while not falling prey to its methodology and its hopeless self-reliance. This is a hard balance to maintain when the blows of unjust, unloving, and self-focused society are reigning down upon the lives of those who are least able to defend themselves and upon any of us who would seek to speak and to live out righteousness in the face of these various forms of rejection of Christ’s Gospel of love.

 

Thus, when we walk in righteousness, we also must be prepared to enter fully into Christ’s grace, for it is this grace that holds us up when others reject our point of view, and it is during these hard times of opposition to what is occurring around us that we also need to be prepared to enter into the conflict with grace as the foremost quality that we demonstrate. This is the point of contact where endurance is tested most severely, for this is where a very personal and rightfully heartfelt passion for what is just and holy is placed in direct conflict with ideas and values that others hold as necessary, appropriate, and even as God-honoring. Winning these discussions is really not the point, but speaking and demonstrating truth while pouring out Christ’s redemptive grace onto those who oppose our view is what the dialogue is actually about. This process often feels worse than a physical beating would, and it lasts much longer, too. Yet, Christ provides the strength to endure it all while not surrendering God’s values and our drive to see that His justice prevails in our world. In this process, Christ also pours out His grace upon us so that we can, in turn, bring His peace-making love into the center of the conflict.

Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

1 John 3: 18

 

The language of love is a complex and a very interesting thing. Most of us go through our lives trying to learn how to speak it while also trying to learn how to understand the words that others are saying to us. It can be a bit like trying to learn two complex foreign languages at the same time, for the meaning of the words can get confused and the messages can be confusing or at least perplexing. Still, we have such a strong drive to learn how to communicate at this deep level that we are willing to put an enormous amount of work into making this strange tongue our own.

 

God has made the acquisition of His love language a lot simpler; however, there is a catch. That catch is the nature of the acquisition of this new vocabulary, for it is best learned and has to be applied as we go about living our lives. It seems that the Lord is true inventor of the immersion concept of learning, for He wants us to go into our world and engage with the lives of others with our goal being to bring a living picture of Christ’s love to them. God also makes it very clear that we are to show our growing mastery of His speech by demonstrating genuine love for each other within the family of God. Christ leaves us with no means to express superiority, exclusion, separating differences, and inequality. So, when we do or say anything that leads to these sorts of divisive words or actions, we are using a vocabulary that comes to us from our former, fallen flesh.

 

Christ leads us and He calls us to live in a higher place where His righteousness demands that we take the risks and perform the sacrifices of self that allow us to embrace all people with ready openness and with willing acceptance. However, there is one more aspect to this form of love expression, and that is truth. When we love others completely and when we are able to extend the grace of God to them, we are also required to be honest with them. Yet, as Christ demonstrated, God’s truth is a compelling part of the vocabulary of His love, and giving His love to others requires us to share His truth as well.