IV. A Word to the Poor and Oppressed
In closing, a word to the oppressed: we must be careful in all circumstances that no matter what comes, no matter who wrongs us, no matter how other Christians fail, we do not turn from Christ or His Word. This is our greatest responsibility.
When I spoke previously of oppression driving people to the world, this is by no means an excuse for people doing so. No matter what happens, in any measure, there is never anything in this world that is an excuse to abandon Christ (Heb 10:23). Failure to comprehend this has led to many people walking away from Christ to their peril. You may need to get away from a certain church or certain people, this is not denied to you, but walking away from Christ because of the sins in others is a great deception.
In the midst of this pain the world holds her arms wide open professing to care for you—do not be fooled, the world is no more your friend than hell is a paradise. This will be one of the hardest deceptions you will have to contend against in your pain. In the midst of it all you might not know what to do, but you can know this: your duty is always to Christ. To fight for faith in Him, and not against Him; and to be conformed to His Word (Deut 7:9). You are also called to love Christ’s people (John 15:12). While in one sense we may need to move away from those who oppress us and those who do nothing to oppose them, and while at times these people may even bear the name of brother (1 Cor 5:11), in another sense we must keep our allegiance to Christ and His church. So very many people give full vent to their anger and by it they begin opposing the church. Be very careful that you remain true to those who belong to Christ. One of the signs of falling into the world’s lap is that we begin to speak slander against the church as a whole.
The world today is licking up any failure of the church all as a means to convince people away from her. But the world is also lying about just how many failures she has. There are a great many tv shows, movies, etc that represent the church as wicked. All of this is to try to turn you from Christ, and it is absolutely the hand of the devil. Do not be deceived upon this point, “And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.” (2 Pet 2:2) It is those who follow their sensuality that cause slander upon the church, but those who are true still remain within the church. The devil will absolutely try to get you to reject the whole of the church because of the sins of a few. While you reach with one hand to hate and oppose the sins of these people, keep your hand firmly fixed upon Christ’s command to love His people, and ensure that you do not oppose the rest of His church. Do not allow the devil to convince you of lies because he distorts your suffering to mean something other than what is actually true. An example of this is when a person is cruel and loveless, and they use God’s Word as a means of judging others for their own opinion. This is a very real sin, but by this the devil will try to cause us to reject the right and good place of judgement. He will make us hate a certain sin so much that he will provoke us thereby to throw out the Word of God by it. This is one of the great deceptions of the devil. We must learn to separate the sins of others from the right and good things that they have tried to take hold of by their sins.
We must not allow ourselves to become “victims” to God by our sufferings. The world is quick to bring up any offense or imagined offense to try to convince you that Christ has failed you. The devil will take any suffering in your life to make you a victim to God, so that you turn away from Him rather than turn away from the evil being done to you by man, to God. This is why self-pity is a great danger to all people who turn to it. Your suffering may be very real, but you must be especially careful as to what you believe or conclude from it. You need the Word of God to guide you in this, because if you leave it to your own mind, you are in great danger of deception. We must maintain with Job that we will never “curse God and die” (Job 2:9) no matter how much suffering from people we endure or how confusing our circumstances might be. We need to realize that this is at the center of what the devil is after. His aim is this: that by our suffering we would curse God and turn from Him in hate. We must keep with God, even if we do so for a season only by the fear of the Lord (Jer 32:40), and in much confusion. Never abandon the name of Christ or His Word (Rev 2:13, 3:11).
Be aware of the war that is fought here. There is the Truth and there are the lies of the devil. And you can bet your bottom dollar that he’s going to try to use all your suffering to provoke you to turn from Christ. But if you are faithful to Christ in the midst of this, then you have the full assurance that He will use all of this for your good, to sanctify you and prepare you for heaven (Rom 8:28). This might not seem like much to what you want, because in truth you are looking to what you want out of this life and not the next, but God’s faithfulness to prepare us for heaven and to form holiness within us, even at greatest cost, proves how little we understand what is really at stake in life. And that regardless of our ignorance, Christ is keeping us. Do not resist God’s discipline (Heb 12:5), but diligently, desperately search out what Christ is after, what He is seeking to form in you.
Be warned: no matter what the world says, there is no excuse great enough to walk away from Christ. On the surface it may seem there is no cost to those who have walked away, yet there is unimaginable suffering in store for them (2 Pet 2:17). Notice how God is not ashamed to keep us faithful to Him by fear (Jer 32:40). In fact, in the midst of the book of Hebrews, the author spoke encouragement to these people, but in reality he spoke much warning to them in order to keep them from abandoning Christ in the midst of their suffering. Pay attention. This is the love of God keeping you. Fear Him, and remain true. There are a great, great many people who are walking away from Christ, who are cursing God and dying. And they are doing so on the “excuse” of their sufferings. There is a great lie that is coming against you by this, and you need to see what is truly at stake.
This is in no way a permission or an excuse for the church’s failures or weaknesses. But what are you if you just walk in greater weakness than even these people by turning away from Christ? They certainly fail, but you fail far more if you use their sins as an excuse to walk away from Christ and the true church. It is so wrong to walk away from God because of other people's sin. You must maintain doing good. No person’s sin justifies you committing your own. To abandon Christ because of the sins of another is to be overcome with evil, rather than to overcome evil with good (Rom 12:21).
We may or may not get justice in this life, but our hope is not in this life, it is in the next. We look to God to give justice in the next, and that is a promise. We must be careful to not fixate on anything that our will wants to demand of God, and this includes demanding justice from God. While it is right to desire justice, and right to know that it should be given by others, we should not allow this to consume us. We must not allow anything to be our focus except Christ and seeking Him. And justice can absolutely distract us from what we are meant to be entirely concentrated upon.
Outside of the true and right judgement upon these people’s sins, focus back again upon your own duty to Christ. That is: repentance, devotion, faith, and obedience to Christ. Allow nothing to distract you from this. And be faithful, if Christ justifies you to be without sin in these circumstances, to seek out where He does say you have sin outside of them. Do not allow this to become a grounds for self-righteousness. This is where many people bring sin to these circumstances! Be innocent here! Therefore be entirely innocent, doing good in the face of evil. And the way to do good here is not running off declaring yourself to be without sin as a whole, but to focus again upon your own walk with Christ. I absolutely do not mean this within the relationship, as if that would repair it; that is such an oppressive idea that has been put on far too many. But I mean this to you separately. You may or may not be out of this relationship, but I still mean that within both circumstances: this work is of a separate life, and not of a mutual relationship. You overcoming evil with good is continuing to focus on obeying Christ. This work is for Christ and not for the abuser. If any person denies this to a person who is oppressed, they rob them of their own rights and dignity, and of Christ, His glory.
This is your work, you are not without accountability to this. This may seem quite harsh at first, but I assure you, this is your dignity and righteousness. True righteousness never ceases because of evil. That is what we must understand from Romans 12:21. Righteousness is not overcome by evil, no matter how great it is, but overcomes evil by good. So as it may seem so hard and so difficult, persist in good, and by this you will overcome. You will not overcome by being devoted to psychology, forums, or therapy. These can be a help and are not denied to you (though be very careful here of ideas in these that oppose Christ), but they are not what will enable you to overcome these things. That is the great reality of Romans 12:21 Christ teaches us how to overcome! And that is by continued obedience to Him, continued doing of good, which alone is defined by the Word of God. This must be specified, because we will never overcome by what we imagine is good (Prov 14:12), but only by the good that Christ alone defines.
There’s going to be much injustice in this life, and the only way through this is to hand these things over to God, trusting Him to judge. This is not to be a loss of discernment (the ability to judge between good and evil), but it is handing over to God the right to be the Judge, for judgement is His. It is trusting God to give this judgement.
It’s important in this place to see the difference between neglecting judgement and handing it to God. On the one hand, you need the right to see evil and respond correctly; this is often denied to you, even by yourself. What you are handing over is not discernment and wisdom! You are handing over punishment, the function which a judge and jury would be fulfilling in order to convict. Hand over your evidence, your eyewitness accounts, your testimony. Hand these over—not to the trash (as so many ppl define “forgiveness” demands), no, put these things into the hands of a holy God who will judge. Trust Him for this.
And besides these things, that is, in addition to these things and outside of these things, take up your own work. The blessing to you in Christ is that your life is not about what these people have done, your life is about Christ. Give yourself to that relationship with Him. And here, focus on your own work of repentance, faith, and obedience.
This relationship with Christ does not deny the reality of what has happened to you, both exist. The matter here is not denying it but is a matter of settling these things within Christ’s justice and stepping past them to Christ. It is shaking the dust from your feet (Acts 13:51). But it is also remembering this: you must not allow anything to be your occupation, no matter how hard or grievous, but Christ and His Gospel. This can be an intensely hard fight, but it is our fight. Within this you can care about the matters of truth, therefore you can care about the subject of abusand advocate for the truth in this. The matter here is this: you must not make anything, no matter what, the center of your life but Christ.
This means that in the throes of coming out of abuse or oppression that you are going to be far more occupied with it, and that is understandable. But you must still fight here to be putting Christ first. This is essential.
Many people who suffer afflictions of any kind turn around and make that what their life is about. We have to be careful of this. Christ alone is who our lives must be about. And these experiences are a part of this (that must not be denied to us), but that must not be what our whole lives are about.
Continued devotion to Christ will bring you into much wrestling, especially with how to understand these instances in relationship to Scripture. But it is here that many of our ideas of what we thought Scripture said will be corrected and purified. As stated previously, we all have many ideas about compassion or love about which we will find we were very wrong. But we will only find what is true if we are faithful to Truth Himself.
If you are not faithful to Christ, even in such hard places, then the reality is this: whatever “truth” you come out of the circumstances with will be corrupted and incomplete. You will see certain things but you will not see the truth correctly, though you will imagine you do. All of reality must still be subjected to the truth of Christ and His Word. This is what it means to have Christ as Lord: He is the head of all things. Many people come out of these circumstances, but not for the better. They of course imagine they’re so much wiser, etc. But if you do not come out of these things with a greater faith, obedience, and devotions to Christ, then you are as naked as you were at first. The purpose of all of this suffering is to conform you to Christ. Do not miss the great meaning and purpose of your suffering by giving yourself to the ideas of the world and to your own pride and foolishness, rather than giving yourself again and again to Jesus Christ. If you do not give yourself to Christ: that is, to study His Word, prayer, and to godly teachers, then you will not apprehend Christ. And only in truly apprehending Him will you come out of this with the whole truth. A “truth” that comes out of these circumstances without Christ as the head of that wisdom, but instead as the tail, a footnote, a side piece, is not truth and is not wisdom. It can get little pieces right, but real truth has Christ as its head, and all things under are in right submission to Him. For He is the Truth. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)
So remember here your dignity (Prov 31:25), and remember here your duty. Do not allow any circumstance to distract you from these. May Christ help you, strengthen you, and guide you in all things.