Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Rock of Scandal

As we were translating the ninth chapter of Romans recently, we came across this verse:

33. As it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stumbling stone and a rock of offense, and everyone who believes on him will not be ashamed.”

I pointed out to my fellow translators that the Greek word translated “offense” in this verse is skandolon, from which is derived the English word “scandal”.  It is a word used to refer to something that causes people to turn to sin.  Jesus, himself, was the “stumbling stone and rock of offense” that God laid down in Israel.  His doctrine and manner of life became a “stumbling stone and a rock of offense” in Israel.
Religious leaders were the main culprits.  Their slander about Jesus made the people think that what Jesus was teaching was wrong and that what he was doing was evil.  Having found out that Jesus’ mother was pregnant before she and Joseph came together, they claimed that Jesus’ father was one of those despised Samaritans, thus making him what some would have contemptuously called “a half-breed” (Jn. 8:48).  Mary’s pre-marriage pregnancy was probably also the reason for the rumor they spread among God’s people that Jesus was a bastard child (Jn. 8:41).  These well-respected religious leaders also denounced Jesus as demon-possessed (Mk. 3:22; Jn. 7:20), and the slander that Jesus was insane was believed and spread by even Jesus’ own relatives (Mk. 3:21), apparently including his own mother (Mk. 3:31).  Speaking through the prophet, the Son of God foretold of his coming to earth, saying that he would be the butt of public jokes and “the song of the drunkards” (Ps. 69:12).  All that happened, and worse.  Nevertheless, God comforted Jesus so that none of the cruel slander spoken of him discouraged him (Isa. 42:4).
It has always been the case that religious leaders slander true men of God, for the appearance of a man sent by God exposes them as not having been sent by Him, and they want to maintain their status and influence over people.  Their poisonous seeds of slander cause the people’s joy at hearing the truth to wither, and changes that joy into contempt for God’s servants.  The truth of Christ is a rock upon which we may stand to gain a more perfect view of the glory of God, but slander makes people see that rock as a stumbling stone and rock of offense (scandal).
Paul was also accused of being insane (Acts 26:24), and his words were often twisted by leaders of the body of Christ to turn believers away from Paul (2Pet. 3:16).  In Romans 3:8, Paul mentions one false doctrine that he was slanderously accused of teaching.  And in Acts 21:21, James tells Paul of another; namely that among the Jews, including Jews who believed, it was being reported that Paul taught that Jews everywhere should forsake the law of Moses, which Paul never did.  By the end of Paul’s life, sadly, the slanderers had won, and multitudes of saints (Paul said all of them) in the Roman province of Asia, saints whom Paul had labored hard to win to Christ, had turned against him:

2Timothy 1
15a. All they in Asia have forsaken me. . . .

So, just as Jesus said would happen, many and varied lies were spread against Paul.  However, Jesus told his followers to rejoice when men spread vicious rumors about them.  Being spoken evil of, he said to them, is one sign that they were on the way to a great reward in heaven:

Matthew 5
11. Blessed are you, whenever people revile and persecute you, and say every evil thing against you falsely, for my sake.
12. Rejoice, and be glad!  Your reward is great in heaven, for that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

This has happened to me, and I can tell you from experience that it requires a lot of faith to obey Jesus and rejoice when it happens.  Slanderous reproaches hurt; Jesus’ heart was broken by them (Ps. 69:20), but Jesus prayed through the pain and received the comfort that God alone can give.  Jesus learned by painful experiences on earth that he could rejoice in persecutions, and Paul learned to do that, too (Col. 1:24), both of them trusting God to have prepared for them a very great reward in heaven.
I paused recently to make a mental list of the scandals that have been spread about me, which have no doubt turned many a soul away from the truth Christ has taught me.  I thought it might be good to list them so that you can see how truly Jesus spoke when he said that men will speak “all kinds of evil against you”.  Here are some of the many different evils that I have been accused of, none of which were true:
  • In my hometown, the rumor was spread by Christians that I and my congregation secretly sacrificed children at night in a field east of town.  (Just so you know, there were no reports of missing children during the time this was supposed to have been happening.)
  • Also in my hometown, a highly-regarded pastor and two members of his congregation spread the rumor that I had molested a little girl.  One of those men even said he had been an eyewitness to it.  (He did not explain why he only watched the purported crime and did nothing to stop it.)
  • Another rumor was spread in my hometown that we have home prayer meetings so that we can use the bedrooms.  (This rumor was spread, in one case I know of, by a man who was repeatedly unfaithful to his wife, and who finally drank himself to death on one of those nights when he was away from home.)
  • By chance, on a remote job site in the middle of the state, a Church of God pastor met a relative of mine, Bob, without realizing that Bob was my relative or that Bob even knew me.  Somehow during their conversation, my name was brought up, and the minister told Bob that three women were living with me in my house.  (Amused and curious, Bob kept asking about the situation until he learned from the pastor that one of the women with whom I was supposedly living was Bob’s wife!)
  • A newspaper in the town where I now live ran a large, front-page article about me that included a Christian minister’s accusation that I routinely break up marriages.  (Ironically, the minister in this case was a brother whose marriage I played a key role in putting back together after his wife left him.)
  • In the same article, I was accused by yet another Christian minister, this one from the other side of the country, of teaching that whoever does not live in North Carolina will go to hell.  (Yes, this actually was printed in the newspaper.  Actually, however, I am not sure that anyone can go to hell from outside of North Carolina, or even inside it, for that matter.  What I teach is that the place from which people go to hell is the place God calls “sin”.)
  • Also in that newspaper article, I was accused of phoning a lady out of the blue and for no reason whatsoever, coldly telling her that she was evil.  (The fact that I did not even have the woman’s phone number and could not have called her even if someone put a gun to my head was not reported.  Nor was it reported that what this woman was really angry about was that I refused her offer of a donation to my ministry because of her filthy conduct, in particular, taking indecent pictures of her own adult daughter and showing them to visitors in her home.)
  • I am routinely accused by Christians of being after money.  (Odd as it is, the three people I know of who have accused me of being after their money are three people whose money I refused because of their ungodly conduct.)
  • A brother who abandoned his godly wife told his relatives that one reason he had to leave my congregation was that he found out I was planning, through my “underground international connections”, to move the entire congregation to a foreign country.  (The only international connection I can remember having at that time was with a man in Australia who has since moved to the United States – which would explain, I suppose, why I am still here.)
  • A brother brought a lawsuit against me for what is called “alienation of affection” because, he said, I had turned his wife’s affections away from him.  That was humiliating for his godly wife and me because “alienation of affection” suggests to the public that there was a love triangle, which was absolutely not the case, as even that brother’s attorney admitted.  (What the public did not know is that just two months after his marriage – and a number of times after that – this brother’s despairing wife came to me, wanting out of the marriage, saying that marrying him was the biggest mistake of her life.  I begged her to stay and try to make it work, and she went back and gave it her best effort, but his increasingly ungodly conduct eventually became more than she could bear.)
  • Besides all this, there has been the usual Christian slander, calling me a false prophet, a heretic, a money-and-power-hungry cult leader, and a manipulator of people’s minds, among other unimaginative things.  The more intelligent and more theological-minded Christians call me such things as a “Pneumatomachianist” and “Binitarianist”.  But don’t laugh.  They will call you those same names if you do not believe their doctrine of the consubstantiality of three co-equal and co-eternal hypostases in the Godhead.  Really, they will.
The list above of the slander that people, especially Christians, have spread about me should give you a good idea of what Jesus was talking about when he said that people will “say every evil thing against you falsely, for my sake.”  Yes, it is embarrassing, and yes, such rumors can hurt the heart, but if we will humbly pray for the Christians and others who spread such slander, and if we seek God’s comfort, we will at some point be able to do as Jesus said and as Paul learned to do, and “rejoice and be glad” for it all, knowing that our reward up in heaven is great – but also knowing that down here on earth, God is using even that slander for our good!
God uses the scandalous slander surrounding His servants in order to keep certain people away from them.  The people who believe the lies of the slanderers are the same people who are a headache to God’s servants whenever they are close to them.  They are a distraction and a burden to God’s ministers, and when slander trips them up and turns them aside, God’s ministers are spared the burden of having to deal with their foolishness.  “God is not mocked,” my friend.  God is so wise and cares so well for His servants that when the foolish are turned away by slander, even that brings glory to Him and relief to His ministers.