读经：诗119:17-24 帖前5:1-28 耶25:15-26:24
Dare to be Different
I once had the privilege of meeting and interviewing Pastor Nadarkhani. Youcef Nadarkhani became a Christian at the age of nineteen. He went on to become an ordained pastor and lead a church in Iran. He is now thirty-eight years old and married with two young children.
In 2010 he was arrested and sentenced to death for ‘apostasy’ (converting to Christianity from Islam). Thankfully, after sustained international pressure, the decision was reversed in September 2012.
During his trial, Pastor Nadarkhani refused to recant his belief despite facing a death sentence. He told the judge, ‘I am resolute in my faith and Christianity and have no wish to recant.’ The UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, paid tribute to his courage. The Guardian newspaper described him as ‘an inspiringly brave Christian’. Pastor Nadarkhani, like many Christians around the world today, still faces persecution for his faith.
Jesus gives us a picture of true humanity. Dare to be different, by being like him. Don’t follow what the world tells you is desirable, but follow God by becoming more Christ-like.
1. Be a ‘stranger’ on earth
Psalm 119:17-24Do you ever feel like you don’t quite fit in with those around you at work or in your neighbourhood? Do your values and lifestyle seem to be a little different?
The psalmist says, ‘I am a stranger on earth’ (v.19). All the great men and women in the Old Testament were ‘strangers on earth’ (Hebrews 11:13). The apostle Peter writes, ‘Live your lives as strangers here’ (1 Peter 1:17). Like the psalmist, as servants of God they were called to be different from those around them.
Unlike those around him, the psalmist writes, ‘My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times’ (Psalm 119:20). As he reads the Scriptures, he prays, ‘Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law’ (v.18). This is a great prayer to pray when you study the Bible. We only understand what is revealed by the Spirit.
Some of those around him are ‘bad neighbours’ who ‘maliciously gossip’ (v.23a, MSG). On the other hand, God’s words are to him like ‘good neighbours’ (v.24, MSG). He writes, ‘I’m absorbed in pondering your wise counsel. Yes, your sayings on life are what give me delight; I listen to them as to good neighbours!’ (vv.23b–24, MSG).
Lord, give me courage to live as a stranger on earth. Help me to be consumed with longing for your word, to meditate on what you say. Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your word.
2. Live differently
1 Thessalonians 5:1-28You and I are called to be different from the world around us and we are given practical instructions on how to do this. Paul writes, ‘Let us not be like others’ (v.6). Dare to be different. Paul uses four metaphors to describe the difference:
- Light not darkness
The world around is living in darkness (v.4). Don’t run away from the darkness, rather, shine in it. ‘You are all children of the light’ (v.5a). Darkness implies ignorance and sin. You were in darkness. Jesus shines his light into your life. You are a child of the light. To be a child of something is to be characterised by that thing. When Christians are spoken of as ‘children of the light’, it means that ‘light’ is their distinguishing characteristic.
- Day not night
Paul writes, ‘You are… children of the day. You do not belong to the night’ (v.5). As well as the previous point about light and darkness, this also refers back to ‘the day of the Lord’ (v.2). We are children of the day of the Lord, with all that this means in terms of anticipation and participation in the triumph of that great day when Jesus returns.
- Awake not asleep
Paul writes, ‘Let us not be like others, who are asleep… For those who sleep, sleep at night’ (vv.6–7). He goes on, ‘Whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him’ (v.10). Jesus used this same language of keeping watch and being awake (Matthew 24:42; 25:13). Don’t go to sleep spiritually. Be prepared for the Lord’s coming – awake and watchful.
- Sober not drunk
Paul writes, ‘Let us be self-controlled’ (1 Thessalonians 5:8). This word literally means ‘not intoxicated by wine’. Like the other metaphors it speaks of both a physical state and a spiritual reality. Drunkenness arises from a lack of self-control and an indulgence of the senses in order to escape reality. Seek to be self-controlled in every area of your life. Put on the clothing of faith, love and hope (v.8).
Your lifestyle is to be totally different from those around you. Paul gives practical instruction about how you do this. You are to honour your leaders: ‘We ask you to honour those leaders who work so hard for you, who have been given the responsibility of urging and guiding you along in your obedience. Overwhelm them with appreciation and love!’ (vv.12–13a, MSG).
You are called to a life of respect (v.12). Always treat people with respect. Always stay peaceful (v.13): ‘Gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out for the exhausted, pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs. And be careful that when you get on each other’s nerves you don’t snap at each other. Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out’ (vv.14–15, MSG). If you want to bring out the best in people you must see the best in them.
Be kind to everyone. Kindness should be a distinguishing feature of your life: ‘Always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else’ (v.15). Even little acts of kindness are so powerful that they can change the world around you.
You are a citizen of a different world. You have to learn a new language. What Paul describes here is effectively the grammar of a new language: ‘Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances’ (v.16). Prayer should be like breathing – something we do continually, but often unconsciously. Instead of always complaining ‘give thanks in all circumstances’ – expressing your thanks to God and other people – in little things as well as big things.
‘Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil’ (vv.19–22).
All this can seem a very daunting prospect. But you are not on your own. Paul prays, ‘May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through’ (v.23), and he finishes on a resounding note of hope and help – ‘He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it’ (v.25).
Lord, help me to dare to be different. Thank you that you died for me that I may live together with you (v.10). Help me to avoid every kind of evil (v.22) and live a life of love, kindness, joy and peace.
3. Speak differently
Jeremiah 25:15-26:24People do not always want to hear God’s views. It takes courage to speak God’s words to a society that has its own views, which may be very different to God’s.
Jeremiah’s ministry required great courage. He had to dare to be different from the prophets around. They were all prophesying peace, but Jeremiah knew that the exile was coming. He was warning the people about the coming disaster.
God said to him, ‘Tell them everything I command you; do not omit a word. Perhaps they will listen and each will turn from their evil ways’ (26:2–3).
However, ‘As soon as Jeremiah finished telling all the people everything the Lord had commanded him to say, the priests, the prophets and all the people seized him and said, “You must die!”’ (v.8).
Jeremiah’s response was again very courageous. He said, ‘Change the way you’re living, change your behaviour. Listen obediently to the Message of your God. Maybe God will reconsider the disaster he has threatened… If you kill me, you’re killing an innocent man… God sent me and told me what to say. You’ve been listening to God speak, not Jeremiah’ (vv.13–15, MSG).
In fact, like Youcef Nadarkhani, Jeremiah escaped the death sentence – but both men were willing to pay the ultimate price to stay true to God. We may not face the same pressure, but the world around us will often dislike us for being different. Do not be surprised or dismayed by such opposition – as Jesus told his disciples, ‘In this world you will have trouble.’ ‘But,’ Jesus continued, ‘take heart! I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33).
Lord, thank you for the examples of Pastor Nadarkhani, Jeremiah, Paul and, ultimately, Jesus himself, who were willing to dare to be different from those around them, even to the point of being sentenced to death. Give me courage to dare to be different and to speak the words you tell me to say.
1 Thessalonians 5:10
‘He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.’
Such comforting words to know that we never stop living with Jesus. There is a continuation between this life and the next. Life on earth, as we know it, will come to an end, but the life we live with Christ will go on forever.