Beliefnet
Mark D. Roberts

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Jesus says that we who follow Him are to let our light shine into the world, so that people might see our lives and give glory to God. Shining the light of God into the world sounds like a safe, praiseworthy task, the sort of service for which one eventually receives the key to the city. After all, who wouldn’t be thankful for the light of God? Jesus shows us who:

The light from heaven came into the world, but [those who don’t believe in Jesus] loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. They hate the light because they want to sin in the darkness. They stay away from the light for fear their sins will be exposed and they will be punished (John 3:19-20).

Being the light of the world, therefore, turns out to be much riskier than it first appears.
Earlier in this series I used as an example of holy behavior what many Christians do on Sunday mornings in contrast to non-Christians. If you are faithful in church attendance, most of your nonbelieving friends won’t worry about it much. They may think you’re a little too zealous. They may wonder when you’ll get over it. But they won’t be too upset with you. You might get some jesting, perhaps some pity, but probably not anger.
Consider, however, another situation that has become increasingly common in our day. What I said about leisurely Sunday mornings won’t ring true for many people because they find themselves sitting, not on their couch watching TV, but on hard bleachers watching their children play soccer, or baseball, or tennis, or you name it. Sunday morning, once reserved for church-going and dilly-dallying, is now prime time for youth sports.
Many parents in my church have confronted the question of what to do about athletic events that conflict with church attendance. Their answers differ, but many have taken an unpopular stand out of commitment to the Lord. When one young soccer player was told by his coach to show up for a Sunday morning game, he dutifully reported the assignment to his parents, Jim and Donna. They graciously but firmly told the coach that their son could not play on Sunday morning because of the family’s commitment to church. The coach was miffed, and tried to persuade Jim and Donna to change their mind. When they held firm, he made several threats concerning their son’s future in soccer. Undeterred, the boy’s parents stood their ground. From that point onward their relationship with the coach was strained. He resented their “unrealistic” priorities. Other parents of boys on the team also were critical of Jim’s and Donna’s decision and their “lack of commitment to the team.” Sadly, even some Christian parents disapproved of their actions. I have a suspicion that Jim and Donna, by putting Christ so obviously before soccer in their priorities, shone a bit too much light into the lives of other Christians whose values were more worldly. Jim and Donna didn’t say anything about the behavior of others, but the light of Christ shone through their actions. (In the photo above, my daughter kicks a soccer ball, but not on Sunday.)
Social conflict stemming from Christian holiness is nothing new. In his first letter, Peter writes to Christians whose distinctive living got them into hot water with their pagan neighbors:

Of course, your former friends are very surprised when you no longer join them in the wicked things they do, and they say evil things about you (1 Pet 4:4).

Though Peter doesn’t spell out in detail what the believers had stopped doing, he notes that their new abstention created tension with old friends. It’s likely that the behaviors now avoided by the Christians were pagan religious practices that permeated the ancient world. For example, if those living in the first-century Roman world wanted to go out with their friends for a nice steak, they would go to the local pagan temple. Not only would there be an excess of sacrificed meat there, but the temples were often set up like restaurants, and were places where friends met for food and fun. Suppose, however, that some who once hung out at the local temple of Apollo became Christians and realized that eating meat offered to idols in a pagan temple contradicted genuine fellowship with Jesus as Lord. What would their friends say? Some might have dismissed their behavior as innocuous religious enthusiasm. But others might have been hurt, even insulted. Genuine holiness can often seem like “holier-than-thou-ness” no matter how humbly and graciously we try to explain our actions to others.
In the case of the recipients of Peter’s letter, their former friends did more than express surprise. They also began to say evil things about the new Christians, accusing them of wrong doing (1 Pet 2:12; 4:4). As a result, the believers experienced social ostracism, perhaps even a measure of local persecution. But Peter urges them to keep on living holy lives, even if they must pay a painful price:

Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak evil against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong! (1 Pet 3:16-17).

Suffering, as it turns out, is not an abnormal and avoidable aspect of Christian living, but something to which God calls those who follow Jesus: “This suffering is all part of what God has called you to. Christ, who suffered for you, is your example. Follow in his steps” (1 Pet 2:21). When we experience criticism, false accusations, or harassment because of our commitment to Christ, we should not be surprised. It’s all a part of our Christian vocation.
In my next post in this series I want to consider another real-life example in which a person’s Christian commitment led to costly choices.

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