By Tom Carter, Associate Pastor
Last week I was asked what struck me the most when reading about early Christian martyrs. As I thought about this, James 1:2-3 came to mind. When I began to reflect on what I have read about the brave souls who gave their lives for their faith, it occurred to me that they had to endure very strong temptation.
When asked to recant, these folks were tempted as anyone would be to deny their faith and avoid not just death but the grueling torture that lead to their deaths. And some did yield and recant. But for those who held fast, the question is why?
What stands out to me the most is the willingness, no joyful willingness to accept punishment for the sake of Christ. There seemed to be a disregard for cultural concerns and worries about how others would “make it” without them. The focus of these men and women was on their individual relationship with Christ, i.e. true faith in the salvation they had each received.
I find this stands in stark contrast to modern faith that is often saturated with cultural neediness and a desire to make faith so marketable that no one could refuse its temporal benefits. What great programs! There is no comparable sense in modern Christian thought and practice that my personal existence is well used as a living or dying sacrifice to the Lord as with the martyrs of old.
It seems that in America we think that because we have “invested” so much in our abilities, training, and education that sacrificing such a useful life (of say a well-known and followed pastor, or even little ol’ me!) for the sake of Christ would be such a waste. I have so much more to accomplish for Christ! You know, stuff no one else can handle.
In contrast I see a desire among early followers to give their lives before they have opportunity to become corrupt. Oh, what wisdom! They realized that experience and knowledge can and often do lead to corruption and compromise. They were honest about their own failings I think, and not nearly so self-important as we are.
There is of course the danger (temptation) of going too far and thinking that only martyrdom is a worthy sacrifice. And some came to this point which is indeed wasteful. I think it is important though that we take a hard look at what each of us is willing to give and realize that that is exactly what Christ is worth to us.
"My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into diverse temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith works patience." James 1:2-3