THE ANSWER, ACCORDING TO PAUL, APOSTLE OF CHRIST
Wes and I recently saw the movie Paul, Apostle of Christ. In just four words, I can sum up the theme and message of the film, as it impacted me: love is the answer.
If you think it is hard being a Christian now, you may feel differently after seeing this movie. There are definitely places in the world where Christians suffer great persecution today. The USA is not one of those places. In that, we are greatly blessed. However, perhaps our growth in this fruit of the spirit, love, is a bit stunted or at least in danger of being stunted because of that lack.
In the movie, the writer, director and actors try really hard to make you passionately hate the Romans of the time. Christians are lit on fire as human torches to light the streets. Children, women, men and old people are flogged, beheaded, stoned, kicked, chained up, imprisoned and fed to the lions at the Roman Circus for the amusement of the crowds. (Note: The movie gets pretty graphic sometimes but you won’t actually see anyone torn apart by the lions.)
And then at these moments when evil is coming at them full force Paul says or Luke says or Pricilla or Aquilla (who figure prominently in the film as well) says something along the lines that the response to this must be to love them. They all drive the message home that love is the hallmark of Christianity - especially love that is the response to even the most heinous persecution. Paul, as well as Luke, Pricilla and Aquilla continually model it themselves in spite of what the Romans do to them.
The death of Stephen is an important part of the film because to how it contrasts Paul’s character when he was Saul, before his conversion, and because of Stephen’s example of love in the face of tribulation. We read about that in Acts 7:58-60 [ESV] Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
One of the most poignant scenes in the movie is when at movements of dire circumstances and eminent danger, a group about to be fed to the lions, a group hiding out and in danger of being exposed, and Paul in his dank, dark and lonely cell are all, are show to all be, at the same time (but in different locations), praying the “Lord’s Prayer” as found in Luke 11:2-4 [KJV] … Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
“For we also forgive every one that is indebted to us” has a lot more impact and meaning when you are actually facing the lions. Don’t you agree?
“Deliver us from evil” is a part of that prayer that would seem most necessary at the precipice of their lives and in facing eminent death.
Since the story is told from Luke’s vantage point, of course they used Luke 11:2-4 instead of the version found in Matthew. But that means that they did not include the last sentence as Matthew records the same prayer. Matthew 6:13 [KJV] And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
It seems to me that the acknowledgement of the power and glory being God’s is a vital point in understanding how we can, even in the face of lions, torching, beatings and death, still offer forgiveness to the persecutor. Surely, this is not possible on human strength alone. Surely, it is only possible by the divine power of God, available to us by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Love in the face of persecution goes directly to the glory of God Himself.
I think it is good to be reminded, via the scripture, via a thought-provoking movie, via news about the persecution and execution of Christians in places like India and the Middle East, that Satan has driven and does still drive brutal persecution of Christians.
However, I am not likely to face the lions or become a human torch in my life. You and I are more likely to face trails of health issues, loss of loved ones, “friends” or family who desert us, people we trust who stab us in the back or gossip about us. We may be robbed. We may lose a job for Sabbath-keeping. Even then, love is still the only way for Christians to respond.
Even with these examples in the forefront of my mind. I’ll likely struggle in the future with showing love in response to people who treat wrong. That is the way of human nature.
The evil that I will need to be delivered from is more likely to be my own human nature than a public stoning. But, our God, who was able to deliver Christians of old from their trials, delivers us too. Our God, who was able to develop in Stephen the kind of love that forgives those stoning him, can develop that is us too. We grow in love by offering it to others in good times and bad. The more you give it, the more you have to give.
Until His Kingdom comes, an important part of His will to be done on this earth, as it is also always done in Heaven, is this: respond with love. Love is always the answer.
Forgive us, Father, and help us to forgive. Grant us your power to overcome evil with love – to respond with love in the face of evil. For this, we give You the glory. Love is the only answer.
I welcome your thoughts, comments and questions. You can write to me at Nancy@DynamicChristianMinistries.org