Recently a friend confessed through tears that he was afraid of persecution. He was worried about losing his new job if people found out he believed homosexuality is sinful. He has a wife and children to provide for. What would they do?
Speaking of a wife and children, my wife is fearful that I will get arrested some day for preaching against this same sexual immorality, leaving her to care for our children alone.
This is not baseless paranoia. With recent court decisions, it is the direction we are heading. Homosexuality is a sin the whole world is waiting to punish us for opposing. And after all, Jesus warned his disciples to expect persecution. Paul reiterated in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
Persecution is when men make you suffer for doing God’s will, which is summed up in the two great commands: love God, and love your neighbor. In other words, persecution is when you suffer for loving God and loving others. So persecution punishes love. It aims at destroying love. This is why, in our quest to avoid persecution, we stop loving our neighbors. We don’t want to suffer. So we let ourselves be bullied into becoming as loveless as our persecutors.
Of course, we don’t speak about it that way. We talk about our need to not give offense. We talk about how important it is to have good relationships with our coworkers or classmates. We talk about loving our neighbors, but really our fear has killed our love.
This fear of persecution is not only crippling. It is sinful. But how can we escape it? It comes right out of our hearts. And, as I’m fond of reminding people, there’s no place on this green earth where we can go to escape ourselves. Wherever you go, there you are, fearful heart and all.
The only solution to our fear is greater love. Perfect love casts out fear. This is why my friend was confessing his fear. He saw how it was preventing him from loving his coworkers. He was having trouble even offering to pray for them when they needed it. Would he ever be bold in more difficult areas—like sexuality—when the need should arise? I told my friend that he simply needed to let people know he was a Christian and live an out-loud Christian life, showing them love. Sure, some people might take offense, but then they wouldn’t be quite so surprised later when he spoke against sin. They would know that he loved them, and his opposition to sin would flow naturally out of the love he had been demonstrating.
We must be faithful with little opportunities to love our neighbors. Then the big opportunities will come. If we’ve been unwilling to pay the price of mild persecution, we won’t be willing to pay it when the “last straw” comes along. The longer we wait to come out of the closet as Christians by loving our neighbors, the more costly it becomes.
For my friend the process played out more rapidly than we expected. Within two weeks he had spoken to the president of the organization he worked for, stating that he loved homosexuals but hated their sin. Bold? You bet. Loving? Undoubtedly. Love kicked fear to the curb and left it wallowing in its own blood. Did he lose his job? No, not this time. In fact, the outcome was a wonderful meeting with the president, where he was able to speak to him further about what it means to be a Christian.
That’s the counterintuitive way God works. He promises to bless our faithfulness. And then He promises persecution. He tells us to take up our cross and then He reminds us that His burden is light. He calls us to suffer with Him, and then He heals our wounds. He promises vengeance on the wicked, and then He commands us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
So sure, love might mean getting arrested. It might mean losing our jobs. It might also mean wonderful lunches in nice pubs that result in changed lives. There’s only one way to find out which it’ll be, though. Let’s kick fear to the curb and see what God does.