“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19)
The Roman Caecilius used these words to describe 2nd-century Christian assemblies: "They are initiated by the slaughter and the blood of an infant, and in shameless darkness they are all mixed up in an uncertain medley."
Early church historian Eusebius describes the typical pagan view of Christian gatherings: "Thyestean banquets (cannibalism…a false perception of the Lord’s Supper) and Oedipean incest (since they called one another brothers and sisters), and things we ought never to speak or think about, or even believe that such things ever happened among human beings."
Justin Martyr, who, as his name suggests, was killed due to his Christian faith, recalled the word portraits painted of Christian gatherings by mere speculations of pagan opponents: "those fabulous and shameful deeds—the upsetting of the lamp, and promiscuous intercourse, and eating human flesh."
And ironically, early Christians were labeled as “atheists” by the Romans because the followers of Christ refused to worship any of the Roman gods, including the emperor. So these “dissenters” were seen as a threat to the unity of the Roman state.
Cannibals. Immoral degenerates. Atheists. Rebels. Trouble-makers. Christians.
The specific accusations and labels have changed, but we are still a people misrepresented, slandered, and attacked. I haven't been called a cannibal or atheist lately, but I have been labeled as a BIGOT. When people find out that you are a Christian, do they draw a caricature of you as an uneducated, misogynistic, homophobic hypocrite? If so, you're not alone. Centuries of Christians have faced the consequences of those who take Jesus's masterpiece Gospel painting, throw their own paint on it to distort its beauty, and then invite others to come and shout at the horror of what they see...demanding that SOMEONE remove this piece from the museum.
The popular culture will always look for ways to dismiss or even "demonize" anything counter-cultural. Peter warns Christians to "arm themselves" (1 Peter 4:1) for the suffering that comes as a result of labeling when your standards of morality differ from the popular culture. That culture will be "surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and THEY MALIGN YOU" (1 Peter 4:4). That means they slander you by labeling you as something unvirtuous...and therefore rationalizing their unvirtuous behavior...at least in their minds. Why? Because you do not run in the same direction as the popular culture. And that makes you a threat to "progress."
But here's the challenge for the people of God. Too often we have just fueled the labels. We have actually been hypocrites...just acting our faith. We have not treated our critics with love and respect. We have failed to reach out to those living in sexual sin or struggling with substance abuse. So Peter gives us one more thought about why our fruit...our evident virtue...our testimony of character transformation...is so essential:
"Keep your behavior excellent among the nations, so that when they slander you as evildoers, they MAY see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation." (1 Peter 2:12)
If you feed the labels, you will never change anyone's mind about the Gospel. They will still see the distorted painting. Our challenge? Never respond to insult with insult (Romans 12:14-21). Peal back the layers, and allow them to see Jesus's original masterpiece of life, light, and hope. You will not change everyone's mind. But you may change the minds of some.
To His Glory,
Preaching & Outreach Minister