Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Are Christians the Antibody or the Contagion?

Bill Muehlenberg has written a good piece reminding Christians of how the world responds to Christ and his church.  He rightly reminds us that by virtue of believing and obeying the gospel we cause trouble because the world does not want to hear it, but most Christians go out of their way to dispel any confrontation with the world system.  He relates this biblical example that includes a great quote from J. M. Boice that explains how the apostle Paul and the early church were viewed.
In Acts 24 we read about Paul’s trial before Felix. In the opening five verses we finding this amazing discussion: “Five days later the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor When Paul was called in, Tertullus presented his case before Felix: ‘We have enjoyed a long period of peace under you, and your foresight has brought about reforms in this nation.  Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude. But in order not to weary you further, I would request that you be kind enough to hear us briefly.  We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world’.”

Everything there was nice and quiet, until this Christian troublemaker came along.  And he seemed to have the habit of causing riots wherever he went!  Even if we understand that this is not exactly a friendly witness giving testimony here, there is nonetheless heaps of truth here.

The unbelieving world could only see trouble when they encountered the followers of Jesus. Wherever they went they seemed to stir up trouble–even causing actual riots on a number of occasions.  But Paul and the disciples of Jesus must of necessity be seen as troublemakers, because of their revolutionary message.

I like what James Montgomery Boice has to say about this: “A literal translation of ‘troublemaker’ would be ‘pest,’ but it was stronger than what pest usually means for us today.  For us ‘pest’ usually means a nuisance.  But in earlier days of the English language, ‘pest’ meant ‘plague,’ an idea that we preserve in the stronger but somewhat archaic word ‘pestilence.’  What they were saying was that Paul was a plague of mammoth proportions.  He was an infectious disease.  He spread contagion.  Tertullus was suggesting that if Paul were set free, he would spread turmoil, disorder, and maybe even rebellion throughout the empire.

“This was the charge the Jewish rulers had brought against Jesus Christ at the time of his trial, and for the same reasons.  They knew that the Romans were not interested in religious matters but were intensely concerned about anything that might stir up trouble.  Before Pilate the Jews accused Jesus of making himself a king to rival Caesar, and here before Felix they accused Paul of causing turmoil.”
The question to answer is clear: are you considered a plague for spreading the truth and light of Christ, or are you trying to "live and let live" between the church and the world?

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