In the early 1930’s Japan’s civilian government gave way to a militaristic one. The military government furthered Japan’s ambition to be the major economic power in the Asian Pacific region. In the process, years of good diplomatic relations between Japan and the United States went down the drain. This led to World War II, the atomic bomb, and then the peace. After the war ended, Japan was able to concentrate on manufacturing and has become one of the major economic powers in the world. When at one time the phrase “Made in Japan” was a signal to avoid the product, now it’s a sign of quality. It’s amazing how much happened in peace time that superseded what Japan hoped for by going to war. War left destruction in its wake; Peace brought prosperity.
The church never wanted to go to war, but it found itself in a war as the Jewish leaders fought against the spread of the gospel. Stephen was killed and persecution broke out with one of the leaders of the persecution being Saul – whom we know of as Paul. Saul was heading to Damascus to destroy the growing church there when he was amazed by grace and ended up as a follower of Christ. He became such a strong preacher of the gospel that he had to be smuggled out of Damascus because of death threats. When he went to Jerusalem, the death threats started there, and eventually they sent him off to Tarsus. With that, the persecution settled down for a bit, with great results. “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.” (Acts 9:31)
Saul’s conversion took the wind out of the persecution. What had been a general persecution of all the followers of Christ changed to a focus on Saul in Damascus and Jerusalem. Perhaps the rulers thought that if they could get Saul out of the picture, the church would fail. They marshaled their resources at Saul and took aim – and missed when the early church arranged for Saul to go to Tarsus. For a while, then, the Jewish leaders lost their focus and peace broke out for the church. The church didn’t make the mistake of thinking that this peace was permanent; they didn’t make the mistake of thinking that this peace came from them. What they did do was live in the fear of the Lord and seek God’s guidance as they continued. The result of that was encouragement from the Holy Spirit and more people coming to know Jesus.
It’s easy to look at the amazing things that happen during persecution and note that the church does grow during persecution. I believe that it grows because God’s people cling to the Lord in those difficult times. They seek guidance and their witness is evident to those outside the church. The key ingredient in that growth though, is not persecution, but living in fear of the Lord instead of the fear of man. When peace breaks out and the society as a whole prospers, the church doesn’t always seem to grow. Perhaps the reason for that is not that society is prospering, but because we live more in fear of what others think than what God does. We being to live in our own strength and act as if our prosperity is self-generated. We have too many self-made successes and not enough God-inspired successes. The formula for success for the church and for individual Christians must always begin with living in fear of the Lord. Think about your actions today – do they happen because of the fear of the Lord, or worry about what others may think. Your success as a child of God, and the church’s success as the people of God, depends on your motivation being to please God. Once you live like that, everything else, good or bad, is put into proper context.
Oh Lord, how easily I fall back into a state where I worry more about what others think than what You want. Help me to live each day in the fear of the Lord, looking for Your guidance by the power of Your Spirit. As I do that, let others see Your amazing grace and seek Your grace for themselves.