We Wrestle Not Against Flesh and Blood…
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood…
This series has focused upon the necessity of Christ’s disciples to experience suffering. In perhaps a majority of circumstances the sufferings of Christ’s disciples come to them through the hands of other men and women. There is a natural enmity between the natural descendants of Adam and the spiritual descendants of Christ. This enmity was viewed as far back as the strife that existed between Cain and Abel, and between Ishmael and Isaac. This enmity continues on to this day.
The disciples of Christ should not be surprised that it is those who confess faith in Christ who are their chief persecutors. It was those who swore allegiance to Yahweh who crucified the Son whom He loved. Yahshua said this same state of things would persist throughout the church age.
“These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues (churches); yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.”
Who is it that thinks they offer God service except those who claim to be His servants? Yahshua is declaring to His disciples that the very ones who profess obedience to God will become their persecutors. It is Christians who will arise more than any others to inflict reproaches and suffering upon Christ’s disciples in this day. They will quote Scriptures as they do so, and present evidence that what they are doing is the will of God.
Yahweh has revealed to me that He has called me to serve as a pioneer and explorer for others of His sons and daughters. He has led me down an afflicted path for these past 12 years that I might serve as a guide, instructor, and encourager to a much larger number of His children who must walk a similar course in these last days. I do not share my experiences to boast of those things I have passed through. Rather, I share them to reveal to my brothers and sisters what Christian discipleship looks like in this hour in a nation such as America.
There are no experiences that the Spirit of Christ has led me through that were not common to the early church. The first disciples’ experiences are recorded for us in the New Testament. We have previously read that Christ’s disciples suffered many things. They were made a reproach and spectacle before religious and secular people. Some had their possessions confiscated. Others were imprisoned. They were put out of the synagogues. Some suffered beatings, while others were put to death. The sufferings of Christ were shared abundantly among those who accepted Christ’s invitation to “Come, take up your cross, and follow Me.”
Over time the church at large has drifted away from discipleship, having replaced it with confession of Christ as Savior. The Lordship of Christ is no longer observed in the lives of most who profess to be Christians. There is no surrender, no yielding of one’s life to “follow the Lamb where He goes.” Because of this, very little of the sufferings of Christ are known to this generation.
Part of the value of Christ having me share the experiences I have encountered since I yielded in 1999 to follow wherever He should lead, and to do whatever He should ask of me, is to demonstrate to the saints that such a walk will result in affliction. Many find it hard to imagine being persecuted as a Christian in a nation such as America. The vast majority of professing Christians get along remarkably well with the society around them. Causes of conflict are difficult for many to imagine.
The lack of suffering among Christians in American society, when compared to the very substantial suffering of those early saints in Roman society, is not due to the world having changed. It is the result of Christians having abandoned the call to be disciples. The following statement is a universal truth throughout all nations and societies during this kingdom age.
II Timothy 3:12
Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Yahshua will be persecuted.
During the past 12 years I have experienced tremendous resistance from men and women in American society. There have been reproaches, condemnation, rejection, even attacks and unveiled hatred. The greatest part of this has come from professing Christians. Adamic man has not improved since the days of Christ, nor have the natural affections and passions of the flesh become more accepting of the spiritual. There remains a natural antipathy in the hearts of natural men toward those walking as spiritual. Indeed, there is great hatred, even to the point of murder.
“Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations on account of My name. And at that time many will fall away and will deliver up one another and hate one another… And because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.”
James writes to the people of God and reproves those who have an abundance of the world’s goods with the following words:
You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.
I have found, both in Scripture and in personal experience, that it is those who have much of the world’s goods who become exceptionally antagonistic toward the disciples of Christ.
Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?
Those who love money, comfort, and material possessions find that a natural enmity exists in their hearts toward those who are Christ’s disciples. A man cannot serve God and mammon. Despite this clear declaration of Christ, the vast majority of Christians today are trying to do that which He testified to be impossible. Most Christians are attempting to serve God and to pursue material prosperity at the same time. Little do they realize that in doing so they are adopting a mindset that is antagonistic toward Christ and His disciples. Such ones are at risk of becoming the persecutors of the righteous while thinking they are doing God a favor.
“No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other, or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things, and they were scoffing at [Yahshua]. And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts.”
There are many pharisees in the church today. Many of them appear as the most righteous and devoted of all believers. They sit in the best seats, and are given honor, for the leaders of the churches favor those who exude a material prosperity and worldly success.
The Scriptures, personal experience, and the witness of the Spirit of Christ, all lead me to conclude that much of the suffering, reproaches, and persecution that will accrue to those who surrender to follow Christ in this hour will arise from those who profess to follow Christ while pursuing material prosperity. Christ will lead many of His sons and daughters to embrace a path where most, if not all, of their material possessions must be left behind. Having a house, or a nest of their own will no longer be a certainty. Those who follow Christ will of necessity need to manifest a contentment with whatever God chooses for them. There will be periods of lack. Food will not be present in the same abundance as former days, nor the comforts of life that so many take for granted.
Those who esteem such things will become critical of those whose pursuit of obedience to Christ has replaced a pursuit of the material. Family members, church leaders, fellow saints, and the members of a materialistic society will all scorn those whose lives appear to be cursed with poverty. Men and women will receive condemnation for not giving themselves to a pursuit of mammon. They will be vilified as lacking compassion for their family members, of being lazy, prideful, or spiritually deluded.
I am at this very moment aware of saints who are entering into times of material lack as they labor to follow Christ with all their hearts. God has certainly ordered their steps. He has promised not to forsake them. He will provide them their daily needs, but what God has defined as man’s need is very different from man’s definition.
I Timothy 6:8
And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.
Remember once more the Scripture we reviewed in the previous chapter.
And turning His gaze on His disciples, He began to say, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and cast insults at you, and spurn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for in the same way their fathers used to treat the false prophets.”
Christ is revealing to those who will follow Him that they are going to have a very different experience from those who are full and satisfied, those who are comfortable and full of happiness. If you surrender to follow Christ, you will know lack where others know plenty. You will be reproached when others are honored. You will face difficulty when others are at ease.
Joseph, the son of Jacob, is a type of those who are forerunners in suffering. Joseph knew suffering and reproach when his brothers were living lives of ease as the sons of a wealthy father. Yahweh must have some sons who will embrace suffering that He might bestow promotion upon them. At this hour, many are being called to surrender their lives to follow Christ wherever He would lead. A desire to obey their heavenly Father will lead these sons and daughters into Egypt where they must undergo the furnace of afflictions. For a season they will be separated from their brethren. All natural affection toward them will appear to have disappeared. Great is the reward that awaits those who endure to the end.
The point I want to address in this chapter is that the source of your suffering will very often be people. It is rarely some nameless circumstance that leads to our suffering. There is usually a human hand behind it. When we encounter reproaches and persecution from human sources there is a temptation to enter into striving with man. In counseling with others I have frequently encountered a wrong focus. Many of Christ’s disciples seek to deliver themselves from suffering by contending with those they view as their persecutors. It is never the will of God that we strive with man.
Consider the example of Joseph. After he had matured through many years of suffering in Egypt, this man of God came to understand Yahweh’s purposes in his suffering. Although his brothers had acted with evil intent toward him, Joseph perceived that God had ordained all of his experiences of suffering with good intent. Speaking to his brothers, Joseph declared:
And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.
If you surrender your life to follow Christ wherever He would lead, you will find yourself brought into experiences of suffering. Those who you counted as brothers will treat you as their enemy. Some will act with great hatred, seeking to cause you much harm. The reflex of the natural man is to defend oneself, and to strike back. Those who are spiritual must not do so. We have Christ as our pattern.
“He was led as a sheep to slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so He does not open His mouth.”
These words that describe the response of Christ to His attackers are applied to those who would follow in His steps.
Just as it is written, “For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
The apostle Peter testified that Christ did not strive with man. Instead, He entrusted His soul to His Father when enemies arose against Him. Peter presents Christ to the saints as the pattern we are to emulate.
I Peter 2:21-23
For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously…
As we observe the life of Christ we find the following pattern. When He was faced with persecution, even crucifixion and death, Christ was silent before man. When He was threatened, He did not threaten in return. When He was reviled, He did not defend His own reputation. When brought before man’s courts Christ was silent.
And the chief priests accused Him of many things, but He answered nothing. Then Pilate asked Him again, saying, “Do You answer nothing? See how many things they testify against You!” But Yahshua still answered nothing, so that Pilate marveled.
The counterpart to this silence before man is that Christ DID make His petition before the Father. Yahshua pleaded with the Father to deliver Him, if it be His will to do so. Ultimately, Christ surrendered to whatever the Father chose for Him to experience.
“Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Thine be done.”
“Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Thy name.”
Yahweh has shown me that this is the pattern His saints are to follow when they are facing persecution. He has directed me repeatedly to not strive with man. Even when I have been brought before the courts of this world, I have been instructed to not argue, accuse, nor to present a defense. Like Christ, my petition has been lifted up to the Judge who sits on high. I have made my plea to Yahweh, and I have accepted whatever He should choose for me before I have faced those who judge on earth.
This is a most important matter. As sons of God we must always discern that the experiences of suffering we face are ultimately chosen for us by our Father in heaven. Did not Christ reveal this when He prayed to His Father in Gethsemane? He understood that the cup of suffering presented to Him was chosen by God. It could only be honorably removed by the same. Christ could have delivered Himself in the courts. He could have mounted a defense. He could have confounded His accusers with His wisdom as He had done so many times before. Yahshua had legions of angels at His dispatch, and could have called on them to deliver Him. Yet, He did none of these things.
As we come to discern the necessity of suffering, and its role in our perfecting as sons of God, we will enter into this same place of rest that was demonstrated by Christ. We will not act out of fear, seeking to deliver ourselves from the suffering we see before us. Those who trust Yahweh will know that He will not ever permit anything to truly harm them. Though our outer man may perish, our inner man will be preserved alive.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Yahshua our Lord.
It seems strange that the church can read a passage such as this and not understand that it is appointed to the sons of God to suffer many things. Yet, through deceit, often embraced willingly, the church has come to believe that these words speak of someone other than themselves.
If you have embraced the understanding that YOU are called to follow Christ down an afflicted path, you will not think it strange when you encounter difficulties and difficult people. It is my hope that you would perceive that adversaries must come, and many will appear from within the household of God. If you are not afraid of suffering; If you stand in the confidence that it is Yahweh who holds your life in His hands and not man, then you too will be able to resist the urge to enter into contention with flesh and blood. You will be able to bless those who curse you, and to walk calmly to the slaughter as a sheep that is silent.
It is as we quiet our souls in the face of many threats that we begin to experience the release of the Spirit within us. That gentle, patient, forgiving, and longsuffering nature of Christ is revealed in us. Perhaps we too will find that some will be brought to marvel at the peace in which we abide. Such is the faith that overcomes the world.