Thoughts on the Suffering of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani – and How You Can Help

I want you to think with me for a minute. Imagine it’s Sunday, the singing portion of the service has ended and your pastor has just taken the stage to bring his message. Are you with me? Can you picture that?

Good…now imagine that as you’re listening to your pastor you hear a commotion at the back of the church. It sounds almost like a fight. People are yelling and a group of men from the government have interrupted the service and have begun arresting everybody. You try to escape out the side door, but they catch and cuff you as well.

You’ve been arrested for your faith in Jesus. Your claim to be a Christian has just landed you in jail and your only hope for escape is to renounce that faith, to deny you’re a Christian.

You might be thinking, “That’s crazy. That would never happen to us.” You might be right to think that way in America, but this is precisely what worries me.

Are you oblivious to the fact that this is happening elsewhere in the world?

Recent happenings in Iran have caused a global stir recently as pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was arrested and charged with “apostasy” from the Muslim religion because of his faith in Jesus Christ.

His sentence? Execution.

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Living on Purpose and with Passion – Philippians 1:12-14

Up until this point in Paul’s letter he has introduced himself and prayed for the Philippians. It might be easy to forget that he was writing from a prison cell if he didn’t remind us in verses 12-15 that he is in fact being held captive. 

What’s amazing is that he doesn’t ask them to pray for his release.  He doesn’t ask them to help him escape.  Nor does he lament his conditions and ask for pity.

Paul’s ability to live for a single passion, to fulfill a single purpose, and to focus on a single Person is incredible.  Thanks to Mark B. for pointing this out in Bible study a few weeks ago, but all throughout the first chapter of Philippians we see Paul’s overarching purpose in life: the advancement of the gospel.  Check this out.

  • Verse 6: he thanks God for their partnership in the gospel.
  • Verse 7: he commends them for their participation both in his imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.
  • Verse 12: what’s happened to Paul has served to advance the gospel.
  • Verse 16: Paul is in prison for the defense of the gospel.
  • Verse 27: let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel. 

Don’t miss this.  The fact that this is Paul’s mission is unbelievable.  This is the same guy who stood by while Stephen was stoned for his belief in the gospel.  Paul, the same Paul who is writing this letter to the Philippians, was complicit in the death of the first martyr.  This same Paul was on his way to Damascus to persecute and kill other Christians when the grace of God invaded his life and radically transformed him.

Don’t Miss The Point

There is a deadly difference between living your life for something that counts and living your life for something that doesn’t.  It’s possible to live your life for a singular purpose…and completely miss the point.

For Paul it was the persecution of Christians.  That was his gig and he was good at it. 

In America this doesn’t typically manifest itself as religious persecution. But it might show up as a passionate pursuit of the American Dream.  You might spend yourself in the never-ending quest for more. 

More stuff.

More money.

More influence.

More fame.

More entertainment.

More (you fill in the blanks).

Before we know it our singular purpose in life is comfort, stability, security, safety and the purpose of advancing the gospel suffers.

Once his heart was changed, Paul’s life was laser-focused for a greater purpose and this allowed him to be extremely effective.  All of his passions and purposes were filtered through one passion and purpose: advancing the gospel of Christ.

Everything was funneled through the filter, “How can this be used to advance the gospel?” 

There is extreme power in living for one thing.

We need bankers and teachers and construction workers and accountants and doctors and lawyers.  Those aren’t bad things.  But don’t let the pursuit of those things deter you from the ultimate purpose of your life: advancing the gospel.  Rather, let those pursuits fuel your ability to advance the gospel.  

Be the best teacher at your school. 

Let your excellence in construction point to the excellence of Christ.

Be truthful and open-handed in your dealings as a banker or an accountant so that you don’t jeopardize your ability to spread the fame of Jesus.

As a doctor, don’t be concerned with just the physical well-being of your patients.  Their spiritual well-being is far more important. 

But most of all, don’t let these pursuits derail you from your one true pursuit.

Circumstances Don’t Control You

Living for a singular purpose also serves to free us from our circumstances.  Paul is writing from jail and what he says in verses 12-13 is profound.

[BLOCKQUOTE] “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.”

Wow.

Here is a man in prison and, because his life is dedicated to the pursuit of a single passion, even his imprisonment serves to advance that cause.  He says that his imprisonment has actually worked out for the better because now all the inmates and all the guards have been able to hear about Christ!  Not only that but in verse 14 he says that all his imprisoned brothers in Christ have been emboldened to spread the gospel without fear. 

What seemingly insurmountable circumstances in your life are keeping you from fulfilling your purpose?  Why are you allowing this to happen?  It may be that God has placed these circumstances in your life for a reason.  It may be that those circumstances could be used to advance the gospel.  But if your purpose in life is anything else the spread of the gospel will suffer. 

Making It Personal

How can your sickness be used to advance the Kingdom?

How can your job be used to advance the Kingdom?

How can your passions be used to advance the Kingdom?

How can your influence be used to advance the Kingdom?

What about your house?

Your money?

Your family?

Your vehicle?

I have a feeling these verses will resurface in our study on Philippians, but the Bible says in Genesis 50:20, “…you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good,” and again in Romans 8:28, “God works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.”

There’s no limit to what God can use to advance His cause.  There is a revolution happening.  God is on the move.  He wants you to be a part of it.

Don’t miss it.

-Kevin

To Your Love, Add Knowledge and Discernment (Philippians 1:9-11)

[This is part of the Blogging Through Philippians Series]

Have you ever had a relationship with someone in the past that you knew wasn’t right?  Maybe they weren’t right for you, it wasn’t a good fit, or you weren’t “equally yoked” with that person.  Looking back it probably seemed like everyone was aware of this but you 

Why?

Because love has the ability to do crazy things to us, even to the point of blinding us from reality.  You may have fooled yourself into believing the lie that “it felt right.”

Paul’s next prayer for the Philippians in verses 9-11 is that their love would abound more and more, but with the caveat, “with knowledge and all discernment.”

Paul was very clear in his writings about the importance of love in the life of a believer.  In 1 Corinthians 13 he says,

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give away all I have, and if I deliever up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

There aren’t two ways to interpret this text.

Love is huge.

So why would Paul pray for them to abound in love, “but,”?

For the same reason you were convinced you’d met the love of your life in the earlier example but everyone else saw the situation for what it really was. 

Because love can do funny things.

Without proper knowledge of the object of your love (Christ, in this case) you may end up loving someone else entirely.  You may end up loving a Christ that demands nothing from you.  Your Christ may be a fluffy, genie-in-a-bottle type of Christ who only exists too make you happy.  You may end up loving a Christ that is OK with sin in your life.

In short, you may end up loving a Christ that doesn’t really exist.  Also known as an idol.

Look at Paul’s reasoning in these verses for why knowledge and discernment should accompany their love.  “So that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ…”

This isn’t some gushy, pre-teen kind of puppy love.  This is real love, based in real life, built on a real foundation. 

And lest we get too overzealous in our quest for knowledge we would do well to heed Paul’s warnings in 1 Corinthians.  Just as dangerous as love without knowledge is knowledge without love.

Forget about the relationship in the past that didn’t work.  Think about the one you’re in now that did (or the one you’re hoping for).  Think about your relationship with your wife or husband.  What kind of love would it be if you were only interested in loving her according to knowledge?  In other words, what if passion, zeal, or emotion didn’t play a role in your relationship?  How boring would that be?  How loved would your wife or husband feel if you only loved them because you had to or because it was the right thing to do?

Jonathan Edwards said, “He that has doctrinal knowledge and speculation only, without affection, never is engaged in the business of religion.”

This is what the Bible means when it references worshipping in spirit and truth.  We need to be very sure we are truly worshipping (in spirit) and we need to be very sure we are worshipping the correct person (in truth). 

Lastly, the point of all this, the point of our loving and our knowing, is rooted in a passion for the glory of God (Philippians 1:11). 

A passion for our lives to count for His glory.

A passion for our lives to be fruit-filled accounts of His righteousness and the joy that is to be found in Him.

“God’s purpose for my life was that I have a passion for God’s glory and that I have a passion for my joy in that glory, and that these two are one passion.” ~ Jonathan Edwards

What do you think?

– Kevin