Consolation in Persecution
Wednesday of Pentecost 12
30 August 2017
The devil never gives up. He is always seeking a new way to disturb the church and her children. As Luther says, "Wherever God builds a church, the devil builds a chapel." When the ancient church was triumphant over the pagan worship of the Greeks and Romans and the old temples were converted to places where the people worshiped the Lord Christ, the devil rebuilt his chapel in the portal of the church itself. He came in by enticing people with depraved minds to bend the Christian theology to suit their own desires and to entertain those who had itching ears (2Ti 4:3). Heresy camped on the front stoop of the church, attacking the church's children and those who would, when considering the church's gospel, be offended by "factionalism." St. Paul warns us that there will be a constant battle against heresy in the church, "When you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions (Gk: heresies) among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized" (1Co 11:18-19). The Lord calls us to be faithful to the true revelation of His mercy in Christ, not to parties, or programs, or names, or factions. If the Word of God takes its place in the church, the devil will have no room to pitch his tent among us.
 
However, that is a big "if." Persecution will always be the lot of the church hidden under the cross of Christ, where suffering, weakness, and death are the signs of her glory. Persecution is one of the sufferings that she must face, if she is the genuine church. Sometimes, people frustrated by what they consider to be internecine bickering, plaintively ask, "Why can't we all just get along?" Why? Because the devil will never get along with us. Why? Because we dare not ignore error in the preaching of the church. Why? Because our Lord commands us to preach only His truth and all of His truth. Why? Because the Word itself conveys salvation to the children of the church. Why? Because poison in the cup of the Lord is deadly. The devil will get along with us as long as we are taking his strychnine without complaint. Otherwise, there is war.
 
Even though persecution only rarely includes physical suffering here in North America, the devil still is killing Christians, but far more insidiously. Physical persecution, such as incarceration or attacks against churches, gets Christians' backs up. They tend to react with greater confessional fervor. This is the natural human reaction of "Oh, yeah, well I will show you!" The devil has learned. Surreptitious persecution slips in to disturb our faith and sap our confident confession of the divine truth. The worst persecution of this surreptitious sort occurs at the hands of those who claim to be the church, and who sow the seeds of false doctrine in the fields plowed by the Lord with the plowshare of His truth. Great learning stands in the hands of these "churchmen." Yet they offer confusion instead of confession to the church. How troubling this is to the quiet child of Christ, who seeks nothing but the will of the Lord in humble study of God's Word and quiet prayer. What disrepute this false teaching brings upon the name of Christ and Christian. But we must not despair of the truth, but exult in it all the more when it appears that the devil would love to stamp it out. What the devil hates we should love and treasure. His attacks force us to trust none but Christ our Lord, so that He alone is our consolation.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Augustine of Hippo

"The devil, seeing the temples of the demons deserted, and the human race running to the name of the liberating Mediator, has moved the heretics under the Christian name to resist the Christian doctrine, as if they could be kept in the city of God indifferently without any correction, just as the city of confusion indifferently held the philosophers who were of diverse and adverse opinions. Those, therefore, in the Church of Christ who savor anything morbid and depraved, and, on being corrected that they may savor what is wholesome and right, disobediently resist, and will not amend their pestilent and deadly dogmas, but persist in defending them, become heretics, and, going without, are to be reckoned as enemies who should be disciplined. For even thus they profit by their wickedness those true catholic members of Christ, since God makes a good use even of the wicked, and all things work together for good to them that love Him (Rm 8:28).
 
"For all the enemies of the Church, whatever error blinds or malice depraves them, exercise her patience if they receive the power to afflict her physically; and if they only oppose her by wicked thought, they exercise her wisdom: but at the same time, if these enemies are loved, they exercise her benevolence, or even her beneficence, whether she deals with them by persuasive doctrine or by serious discipline. And thus the devil, the prince of the impious city, when he stirs up his own vessels against the city of God that sojourns in this world, is permitted to do her no harm. For without doubt the divine providence procures for her both consolation through prosperity, that she may not be broken by adversity, and trial through adversity, that she may not be corrupted by prosperity. Thus each is tempered by the other, as we recognize in the Psalms that voice which arises from no other cause, 'When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul' (Ps 94:19). Hence also the apostle says, ' Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation ' (Rm 12:12).
 
"For it is not to be thought that what the same teacher says can at any time fail, ' all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted ' (2Ti 3:12). Because even when those who are without do not rage, and thus there seems to be, and really is, tranquility, which brings very much consolation, especially to the weak, yet there are not wanting, yes, there are many within who by their abandoned manners torment the hearts of those who live piously, since by them the Christian and catholic name is blasphemed. The dearer that name is to those who will live piously in Christ, the more they grieve that through the wicked, who have a place within, it comes to be less loved than pious minds desire. The heretics themselves also, since they are thought to have the Christian name and sacraments, Scriptures, and profession, cause great grief in the hearts of the pious, both because many who wish to be Christians are compelled by their dissensions to hesitate, and many evil-speakers also find in them matter for blaspheming the Christian name, because they too are at any rate called Christians. By these and similar depraved manners and errors of men, those who will live piously in Christ suffer persecution, even when no one molests or vexes their body; for they suffer this persecution, not in their bodies, but in their hearts. Therefore, is that word, 'According to the multitude of my griefs in my heart;' for he does not say, in my body. Yet, on the other hand, none of them can perish, because the immutable divine promises are thought of. And because the apostle says, 'The Lord knows those that are His' (2Ti 2:19); 'for whom He did foreknow, He also predestined [to be] conformed to the image of His Son' (Rm 8:29), none of them can perish; therefore it follows in that Psalm, 'Y our consolations cheer my soul ' (Ps 94:19)."
 
"But that grief which arises in the hearts of the pious, who are persecuted by the manners of bad or false Christians, is profitable to the sufferers, because it proceeds from the love in which they do not wish them either to perish or to hinder the salvation of others. Finally, great consolations grow out of their chastisement, which imbue the souls of the pious with a richness as great as the pains with which they were troubled concerning their own perdition. Thus in this world, in these evil days, not only from the time of the bodily presence of Christ and His apostles, but even from that of Abel, whom first his wicked brother slew because he was righteous (1Jn 3:12), and thenceforth even to the end of this world, the Church has gone forward on pilgrimage amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God."

Augustine, The City of God, 18.51
2 Timothy 4:1-18

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
 
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
 
Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.  
(ESV)
Prayer
Almighty and everlasting God, You would have all people be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. By Your almighty power and unsearchable wisdom break and hinder every evil counsel and will of those who hate Your Word and who, by corrupt teaching, would destroy it. Enlighten them with the knowledge of Your glory that they may know the riches of Your heavenly grace and, in peace and righteousness, serve You, the only true God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 
For all those who are offended by the warfare of the church on earth, that they might be able to see that her earthly war presages a peace with Christ in heaven
 
For the Lutheran pastors in Scandinavia and Finland who suffer persecution at the hands of the bishops, that the Shepherd and Bishop of all souls would bring them tenacity and rescue at the proper time
 
For the people of the LCMS, that the Lord would lead the people into the paths of righteousness
Art: BOTICELLI, Alesandro,  Augustine of Hippo (1480)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
©  Scott Murray 2017