There are 2 things you can expect about the Gospel.
The Good News of Jesus Christ, that through faith in Him wicked sinners can be made right with God (1) will make the repentant crazily joyful, and (2) will make the unrepentant, and especially those clutching idols or power, very angry.
Jesus’ letter to the 1st century church of Smyrna (present day “Izmir” in Turkey, but back then a big city in the Roman province of Asia) proves this is true. His own crucifixion does, too. And the book of Acts, Paul’s letters to churches, and pretty much the rest of the New Testament.
These letters (our house church is going through them and will write a blog on each) were spoken by the resurrected and ascended Jesus to the disciple/Apostle John in a vision on the island of Patmos. He recorded them, and more, from his vision(s). Those recordings make up the book of Revelation.
The Smyrnan church’s (probably a house church, BTW) letter:
“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.
‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.'”
Our Lord Jesus chose to use the same basic structure for each letter (a description of Himself from John’s vision, a statement that He knows the church, a promise, etc.). But two of the seven churches He sent letters to didn’t have rebukes. Two of them were not called out for flagrant sins.
The church in Smyrna and the church in Philadelphia.
(Not the Philadelphia where the Eagles play.)
So the Smyrnan Christians were beaten up for Jesus. Metaphorically and (almost certainly) literally. They were put through the wringer (tribulation), probably couldn’t participate in most of the marketplace/workforce because they wouldn’t knuckle under and worship the Roman gods (poverty), were lied about by non-Jesus-believing Jews and Gentiles (slander, Synagogue of Satan), and God was about to allow the Devil to throw them in prison for the world, Christians, and the Devil himself to see their faithfulness. And His faithfulness to them.
There’s a notion out there that if we were really like Jesus, everyone would love us.
It’s not true.
The world crucified Jesus. And even His lead disciple denied Him and ran when they did.
The book of John says that people love darkness because they’re sinners, and light exposes sin. Only God can make people love light. Only God can make people love God.
And until He does, they don’t believe or want the Gospel or Jesus. And if they’ve got a government or a power structure or a bank account or an affair they’re having that it threatens, they’ll be angry with the the Gospel.
The Smyrnan church was faithful, and Jesus encouraged them to continue to be faithful to death, which all of them experienced and some of them (He knew) may soon experience at the hands of murderers. He is the First and Last, He knew (and knows) the fate of every one of His true followers, and He is the One who saved them and cared for them and made them truly rich.
They had less money then a lot of lost people, they had a lot more flak from demons and the world to deal with than lost people, but they were truly rich.
If this church that the King of the Universe had called rich (how beautiful would it be to hear Jesus say that to your church, BTW?) had given way to idolatry or sexual immorality or false teaching, like the churches in Pergamum and Thyatira had, they would be offering less hope to the world and less glory to God.
If they had compromised they’d be less loving and less God-exalting.
That notion about getting people to like our churches? While it isn’t always wrong, and while sometimes it comes from a good place (care for those who don’t know Jesus), the problem with making it a way of life is this:
If you change your identity as a church so as to get those who have no interest in Jesus to like you, you won’t have anything to offer those who are interested in Jesus.
God gets the glory and the repentant get the Gospel when we stand faithfully for our Savior, with clean lives and Biblical teaching, despite the fact that we may not be liked for His Name’s sake.
Yes, we should be above reproach. We should have holy reputations. We should seek to be at peace with everyone. But when we get hated for the Gospel’s sake it isn’t time to recalibrate. It’s time to rejoice.
In Iraq, in Nigeria, in North Korea and China and Iran, Christians are being told not to meet, put in jail, having puppet pastors selected for them by the government, or even being killed.
Our Jesus, who rose from the dead and promises that each of His adopted brothers and sisters will do the same, offers us encouragement:
Be faithful. Rejoice when they truly persecute you for my Name’s sake. To the one who conquers I will give eternal life. Be faithful.