I received this in a letter from a friend. I’m posting it anonymously with his permission.
This evening some of us got together and talked about answering questions we get asked here. As you can imagine there are wide opinions about how to respond. Some of the questions considered were, ‘Do you have a Bible you can give to me?’ ‘What does the Bible say?’ ‘Which place do you think is the best, America or *?’ Some questions are easy enough to answer. With the more ‘sensitive’ questions, however, many people, however, seem to err on the side of caution. They are concerned about physical safety for themselves, for their expat colleagues, for local brothers. ‘Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves’ gets quoted a lot.
Reading the Gospels or Paul, or anywhere else in the Bible for that matter, I don’t see the concern for extending life on this earth that we seem to often give it. Read the first few chapters of Acts. Stephen and Peter are not prioritising life on earth. True, they are not throwing it away (although it sometimes seems like it!), but their priority is proclamation of truth – testifying to the one they know and have seen and experienced.
One guy who spoke up today was like a breath of fresh air to me. I talked to him afterwards and he told me about a couple of people that he learned from. When he first came here he asked the question, ‘Who is seeing fruit?’ One or two people’s names were mentioned. They are BOLD people. One has been forced to leave the country, the other hasn’t had the easiest of times. They have been criticised here by their expat brothers and sisters for bringing trouble. But they have cast the seed wide and have proclaimed to any who would listen and now people know freedom and forgiveness and God as a result.
I read a booked called ‘Living in the Light of Eternity’. It seems to me that Jesus and the apostles lived in the light of eternity. Dying here was not a failure because life is more than what we see here today. They were living for something other than what most people live for. As the result of different priorities, as the result of living as an ambassador for Someone, status, wealth, friendships, and life itself were viewed through a different lens. Success and failure are measured differently. Not that we are driven by a need to ‘succeed’. But we can certainly say that it is not necessarily a failure if boldness results in persecution. And it’s not a failure even if our friends are persecuted as a result (if it is, Jesus failed).
This guy I was talking to has seen people come into freedom. One thing he mentioned was that local brothers would benefit from seeing us be bold. What are we modelling for them? Do they learn fear and back-peddling, and not-wanting-to-offend from us? Or do we emanate confidence, security, contentment and a reliance upon the King rather than a fear of man. How many times are we taught not to fear? I forget what prompted Jesus to say it, but he said we should not fear those who can only kill the body, rather we should fear him who can cast our bodies into hell. How many references to fear are there in the gospels? Many. When faced with ‘hard’ questions, or instructions by the authorities to be quiet, how often do we hear from our colleagues here that we should ‘obey God, not man!’. On the other hand how often do we hear that we need to think about the greater ‘good’ of the community, and just be quiet, or couch truth in more acceptable terms. I fear that these mainly unspoken expectations of silence rather than breeding security, cultivate fear. Instructions to be ‘careful, wise, discerning, not offending where you don’t need to offend, etc’ are all good instructions but I think they often mask a fear of the consequences for speaking up. Sure, be wise. Sure, make the gospel the only offense. But know that the gospel DOES offend. When Jesus was opposed almost from the outset (and not in the form of gentle, polite questions) he was not surprised and he did not draw back.
Ok, that’s my rant over.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to be speaking on street corners. Although maybe a little of that is what’s needed. Joke. (I think.) I talk the bold talk in this letter, but I’m not convinced I walk that walk. Fear is contagious, and I know I have caught some. Pray that I would walk in step with the Spirit, learning to love Jesus more, grasping all opportunities I can because they are a joy to be grasped. Pray that I’d learn to ask, ‘What liberating truth does God want to reveal to this person?’ rather than, ‘What consequence will speaking to him have for me?’