I’m guessing you read that title and were ready for an article about Muslims and their pursuit of violently ridding the world of all who don’t believe Muhammad is God’s greatest prophet.
As Islam takes a more central position on the world stage, what we are seeing is a collectively fearful response that doesn’t look much different than the extremist mentality we are fighting against. Many Christians are crying foul when they hear some of what Islam teaches its followers to do, but then they ironically chime into the very same type of chant. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard and read, “We have to kill them before they kill us.” It’s the same mentality: death to anyone who threatens me; death to the infidel.
There’s a glaring problem with this. Mainly, it’s Jesus. You know, that guy Christians supposedly model their lives after? The guy who said love your enemies, be a peace-seeking and sacrificial neighbor– the guy who didn’t respond out of self-preservation as he was being tortured and killed simply so His killers’ honor and standard of living would be protected?
When it comes to non-believers, there is a very important distinction between Islam and Christianity. Islam teaches a common goal of ultimate and complete eradication. Some Muslims claim Islam to be strictly about peace, but I’ve read the Qur’an and it says what it says. They want everyone to convert, yes, but if they don’t, there’s no way to logically get around the Qur’an’s encouragement of a rather gruesome death. The Islamic eschatology (their view of the end times) reveals an inarguable belief that Islam will dominate the world, involving the systematic slaughter of all non-believers. No matter how peaceful a Muslim claims to be, they cannot deny this is what they are taught and even waiting for. In the same way that basic Christianity believes that Jesus died, rose from the dead and will return, Islamic world domination through war and genocide is basic Islam.
Christianity has a much different approach to non-believers, though. The Bible teaches that those who don’t believe are precious, lost children. Misguided, deceived, and sometimes intolerable, yes. But precious, nonetheless. Not only that, but Christian eschatology teaches that we will be ruthlessly persecuted by a massive world power. To my knowledge, it’s the only religion that claims victory in the way its believers are rejected and even destroyed. Not exactly the kind of stuff you make up for your own benefit. Christianity has a lot of little unique things like this in its teaching, which to me, only reinforces its truthfulness. It’s probably the least appealing religion mankind could ever concoct, and yet it’s the most populous religion in the world. There’s something to that.
The Qur’an teaches instant and brutal retaliation to defend Allah and Muhammad’s reputation. The New Testament, on the other hand, reveals how the apostles actually celebrated after being beaten by the Jewish high council (Acts 5:40-42). They felt honored to be counted worthy to receive the same treatment their Master received. And the beating didn’t stop their work even for a moment. I can see them with lips still busted and faces still bruised, joyfully going around to anyone that would listen, in the temple and from house to house, to tell them about Jesus.
You might say, “Yeah, yeah, sure, sure. That sounds really righteous and noble, but have you seen what they’re doing?! We have to fight back!”
To which I would say, “You can’t expect to be treated better than the man you claim to follow and worship as Lord of the Universe.” That’s an uncomfortable yet completely accurate and relevant paraphrase of John 15:20-21.
There’s an American version of Christianity that equates God’s blessing and favor with protection, long life, and wealth. And then there’s the Biblical version of Christianity. That’s where we are told to prepare for persecution and even martyrdom on account of our faith. In Greek, the language of the New Testament, “witness” and “martyr” are the same word. Chew on that for a moment. Believe it or not, Jesus promised happiness– you know, that totally-elusive life goal that Americans ironically can’t seem to find?– as a result of persecution (Matthew 5). And yet we keep digging around for happiness in our massive piles of money.
Yes, this is extreme. Sacrificial love sounds noble in theory, but in the thick of it, it seems like a hopeless and completely lost cause, until you recognize that the times of harshest persecution in church history have consistently resulted in the Church being at its strongest. Counter-intuitive? Yes. Appealing? No. But also perfectly in line with Jesus’ promise all throughout scripture.
It still works this way today (something about God’s Word being eternal). Believe it or not, there are thriving, vibrant churches in the very same countries many say they’d rather blow off the face of the earth than help and risk endangering themselves. Right under the noses of ISIS and Taliban and Al Qaeda, there are men and women who practice their faith in Jesus, and as a result, never wake up with confidence of physically surviving the day. They understand all too well how martyrdom and witnessing go hand in hand, inseparable. For these believers, just making it through the night without being tortured and killed in their own homes is a reason to worship Him–and worship they do. Their Muslim friends see something different about them– namely love and ironically joy (a perfect illustration of Jesus’ promise of happiness through persecution). They’re loving and joyful despite knowing they could be snatched at any moment and killed in the most ruthless ways imaginable. Not only that, but their killers would be hailed as obedient and righteous.
I’ve done quite a bit of research into some of the history and heartbreaking current events involving Islam. And what I read time and time again are testimonials by Muslim background believers who say they finally understood the urgent reality of Jesus through the sacrificial love and other-worldly contentment they witnessed from Christians. These friends, and even strangers, were willing to die, not as an assurance of their own salvation like radical Muslim suicide bombers are taught, but for the sake of other’s learning how they, too, can be saved. It was their reckless love, not their firepower, that caused these people (who live in the same land and culture that Jesus lived in) to finally pay attention.
We are told to be ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). But this isn’t much different than the relationship between witness and martyr. If you’ve seen the movie Gladiator, you see what kind of treatment an ambassador of Jesus’ day often received from the enemy’s camp. Need a hint? It was at the beginning of the movie when the headless horseman was sent back to the Roman army from the Barbarian camp. It’s painfully relevant, especially since the ambassador illustration originated from the Apostle Paul, and he was himself a Roman citizen in the same time period as when Gladiator was supposed to take place. Paul knew all too well what kind of treatment came with the ambassador title. As a matter of fact, his own beheading came not long after he wrote the letters we study. Each one of Jesus’ apostles, His first ambassadors, were treated the same way. Yet the persecuted gospel somehow spread like wildfire under their leadership, and without war.
It’s pretty eye-opening to read current testimonies of sacrificial faith and realize that this kind of thing still happens. Parents hunting and publicly killing their own kids because they shared about how they’ve been having dreams about Jesus. It’s amazing, and it’s convicting because it’s not like persecution is a new idea. What Christian hasn’t heard of Stephen? Why has his example of sacrificial love, modeled first by Jesus, been lost by the vast majority of the Church? We’ve reclassified those parts of Jesus’ teaching as “thankfully no longer required.” But if that’s the case, a disturbingly large portion of His teaching is apparently no longer required.
Islam is on course to become the world’s most populous religion in just a few years. Depending on who you study and talk to, you may believe that the end times is near and that it will be ushered in by the Islamic faith. Muslims subscribe to that view themselves, which I’ll admit is pretty creepy.
But this raises a question. If both Christians and Muslims believe the world is going to end, why are so many Christians acting as if it will last forever? We say eternity is more important than this life, but based on our actions, it seems like many of us believe this life is all that matters. Who are we really worshiping? Our response to the spread of Islam has embarrassingly revealed how distant we are from the eternal perspective that God demands we keep. It has revealed our obsession with ourselves and the things of this world as if they are the most important thing, rather than focusing on eternity and living as if there is much more at stake than our flesh.
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn…
‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
Are you uncomfortable yet? What Jesus taught isn’t quite as outdated and irrelevant as we might wish it was. The witnessing and martyrdom isn’t done. In fact, the book of Revelation says it’s only beginning.
At least Muslims are acting on what their religion teaches them. The Qur’an clearly lays out how “infidels” are to be treated, and that is what we see tragically played out in the news on a seemingly weekly basis. It’s definitely a problem. But the greater problem is that Christians have also been told, through the Bible, how to respond to those who don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God, yet most of us are completely rejecting that teaching. The faithful Christian response is characterized not by an AK-47 or drone-guided missiles, but rather a radical, eyebrow-raising form of love that recklessly endangers our own lives simply to illustrate what our Savior has done for us. All so that God might use us to let others finally receive the life He’s given us.
That’s the gospel. That’s what it has always looked like, and will always look like, to live as a Christian. How do I know that? Because it’s what Jesus said. Not just said–it’s what He did. So are we going to follow His lead or not?
The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.