Have you ever heard someone complain about a long layover from a recent flight that took them across the country in a matter of hours? How about complaining about their old phone that lets them talk to anyone they want from wherever they are. If you know someone like this they might be suffering from First World Problems. You know, problems only rich people have?
Our society is full of problems that aren’t really problems at all, but just side effects of living in a prosperous nation. We’re not worried about hunger, but we are worried about the slightest inconveniences. Sometimes I think that attitude about the world has seeped into church culture. The church lost its edge and become a little soft and passive. There was a time when the local church was all about one simple thing: everyone lives forever somewhere and God has sent us an answer to that dilemma. The answer to that dilemma was Jesus Christ. There was a time when the early church was completely open-handed and generous and the last thing they worried about was themselves. Their response to persecution or to being left out and ostracized was much different to how the church acts now. They had favor in their community and their culture because there was something so unusually wonderful about them.
Part of the reason we have lost that is because we are so blessed. We live in the richest and safest nation in the world yet we are still afraid of everything. We’ve let our wealth and comfort insulate us from having to live a life of boldness. Instead of loving and generous we tend to act scared and over sensitive. When we pray “Bless me” I think Christians in other parts of the world must think “Don’t you have enough already? You have extra money in your ash tray.”
In contrast, the early church lived in poverty and faced persecution from all sides, yet continued to grow and flourish. In the book of Acts, which chronicles the very beginning of the church, the apostles were constantly faced with arrests, beatings and death from religious leaders and the Roman Empire, who were colluding to squash this new threat to their power called Christianity. In one instance, the apostles were arrested for telling people about Jesus, the man who months earlier had been killed, buried and miraculously had come back from the dead and ascended into heaven and was now gaining more followers than ever. In Acts 5:27-30, the author Luke accounts the threats against the apostles from the religious elite: “The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. We gave you strict orders not to teach in his name. Peter and the other apostles replied: We must obey God rather than human beings!”
After challenging the Jewish leaders’ authority Peter goes on to say in verse 32: “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
Peter and the other apostles could not stay silent about what they had seen, that Jesus had been who He said He was and even risked being tortured or killed death for speaking about it. In fact, their response to being tortured in verse 41 is astounding:
“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the name of Jesus.”
Not only did the Roman Empire and religious elite fail at keeping the message of Jesus from getting out they could even get the reaction they wanted out of the ones they persecuted. Since most of us won’t ever have to face that kind of violence for our own faith, it’s pretty amazing to think about the kinds of things that squash our own boldness.
You may feel like your life is a world apart from the passion of the early church, but I would like to suggest some boldness baby steps. Compared to what the apostles went through, it may seem like nothing but at least it’s a start. Bold is deciding to say or do something when it would be easier to do nothing at all, so maybe we start to do that in the normal every day parts of our lives. If you start to think this way, you’ll find there are lots of little opportunities for boldness that we can take advantage of.
Pastor Eric Partin is the lead pastor of Shoreline Church in Destin and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.