How to Live in a Hostile Environment
Hundreds of thousands of Christians are among those who have fled Iraq and Syria in the midst of Islamic extremism and conflict. Christians face the threat of systematic torture and mass executions. Isis has declared Christianity as the number one enemy.
Millions of Christians live in countries where they are persecuted for their faith. Many governments try to control the growth of the church. Even in traditionally Christian countries, sometimes there is hostility towards vibrant Christianity. Hostility to the people of God is not something new. People are often threatened by success, growth and large numbers.
Perhaps you are facing hostility in your workplace or even in your family because of your faith. The passages today not only highlight the reality of living in a hostile environment, but they also point out how you can survive and thrive in the midst of such hostility.
1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Study God’s revelation
God has revealed himself to the whole world through creation. David says that when you look at the universe it is obvious that there is a God: ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge’ (vv.1–2).
Francis Collins, acting science advisor to the US President and, renowned physicist-geneticist noted for his service for twelve years as the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and his leadership of the international Human Genome Project a team of over 2000 scientists who collaborated to determine the three billion letters in the human genome – our own DNA instruction book. He said, ‘I cannot see how nature could have created itself. Only a supernatural force that is outside of space and time could have done that.’
God’s revelation in creation is available to everyone. No one is excluded from this. ‘There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world’ (vv.3–4).
As we look at the world we see God’s footprint – ‘his eternal power and divine nature’ (Romans 1:20). Yet, although God has revealed himself to the entire world, much of it remains hostile to him.
Take time to study God’s creation and thank him for who he is and enjoy all the beautiful things God has made.
1 When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, 2 ‘As you know, the Passover is two days away – and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.’
6 While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.
8 When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. 9 “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”
10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.
12 ... she did it to prepare me for burial.
14 Then one of the Twelve – the one called Judas Iscariot – went to the chief priests 15 and asked, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?’ So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. 16 From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.
20 When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. 21 And while they were eating, he said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.
26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’
27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’
Understand God’s solution
Have you ever been falsely accused or betrayed by a friend? Have you had people plotting against you? Or have you ever experienced some other form of personal hostility? Jesus experienced all these things.
God has revealed himself in creation. However, his supreme revelation is in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ.
God himself has come to be part of this hostile world to do something about it. In this passage we see a glimpse of God’s solution, which he achieved through coming in the person of his Son Jesus. Yet the world was hostile even to Jesus.
We should not be surprised by the world’s hostility to Jesus and to Christians today. Jesus knew he would be ‘handed over to be crucified’ (v.2). The chief priests and elders ‘plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him’ (v.4).
Jesus says to the Twelve, ‘One of you is going to hand me over to the conspirators’ (v.21, MSG).
When a woman came to Jesus ‘with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head’ (v.7), even the disciples regarded what was done for Jesus as a ‘waste’ (v.8).
There is something deeply moving about this incident. Jesus is given for us. The cost is beyond anything we can ever imagine, and his death is imminent. A jar of expensive perfume is only fitting, and yet the disciples are fussing about waste.
Most people understand your works of social action (for example, in response to poverty) but they find it harder to understand your worship of Jesus and all the things associated with it. They regard these things as a ‘waste’ and think that surely there is a better use of your time and money (v.9), but Jesus sees things differently: ‘She has done a beautiful thing to me’ (v.10). She showed her extravagant love for Jesus.
What people will do for money! Judas waited for an opportunity to hand Jesus over for ‘thirty silver coins’ (v.15). How painful this must have been for Jesus! Judas was one of his closest ‘friends’; one of the inner circle of twelve he had chosen. He knew – ‘one of you will betray me’ (v.21).
Yet Jesus in his extraordinary love, dies for them all. During a meal together, he begins to explain the meaning of his death. He explains through the breaking of the bread and drinking of wine that his blood is to be ‘poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’ (v.28). Jesus’ answer to a hostile world was to be crucified in order to make forgiveness and redemption possible.
Every time you receive communion, you are reminded both of the hostility of the world towards Jesus and of his love for that same world.
10 ‘So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.’
11 But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’
12 And God said, ‘I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.’
13 Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
14 God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I AM has sent me to you.”’
Know who God is
Moses asked God, ‘Who am I, that I should go?’ God replied by telling him who He is. In the end, the answer to all our questions and problems is not to be found in who we are but in who God is.
If you asked a Jew in the first century who was the greatest person whom ever lived, they would have replied, without doubt: ‘Moses’. He was the supreme figure in their history. He rescued them from slavery into a life of freedom. He gave them the law. The book of Exodus presents us with the constitution of a new nation and introduces us to the man who was responsible for it.
A ‘new king’ came to power who ‘did not know about Joseph’ (1:8). The ‘new king’ was ignorant of the fact that Joseph had saved Egypt. The government quickly forgot the good that the people of God had done in the past. They started to oppress them ‘ruthlessly’ with forced labour (vv.11–14). They cried for help and ‘God heard their groaning’ (2:24).
People have tried throughout history to get rid of God’s people – but it has never worked. ‘The more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread’ (1:12). Even today, when the church is persecuted and oppressed, it often multiplies and spreads.
Moses was Pharaoh’s adopted grandson – a powerful prince. Money, sex and power would have been at Moses’ disposal in abundance. But he chose to endure hostility instead. He obeyed God’s call and chose to identify himself with God’s people – a group of people whom those with an upbringing like Moses’ would have regarded with contempt, a slave nation.
Through the lens of the New Testament, we see that Moses ‘chose to be ill-treated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward’ (Hebrews 11:25–26).
It was not an easy choice to make. However, in the end he obeyed God’s call and took on a hostile world.
At the heart of his obedience was the recognition of who God is. God revealed himself in various ways to Moses, and promised, ‘I will be with you’ (Exodus 3:12). The revelation of his name was particularly significant, as names were understood as a declaration of a person’s character or nature: God reveals himself as, ‘I AM WHO I AM’ (v.14). The only way in which God can be fully described is with reference to himself.
This name declares the unique greatness and eternal nature of our God. This name (in a contracted form) then becomes the name by which God is known throughout the rest of the Old Testament. In Hebrew it is Yahweh, normally translated into English as ‘the LORD’. Moses’ subsequent obedience to God was rooted in his understanding of who God is.
In effect, God tells Moses not to worry about the hostility he will face. All that matters is that ‘I AM WHO I AM’ is with him. He is sufficient for all your fears, anxieties and challenges.
Jesus said, ‘Before Abraham was born, I am!’ (John 8:58). The great, eternal and sufficient ‘I AM’, has drawn near to us in Jesus and he has promised to be with you (Matthew 28:20). When you know ‘I AM WHO I AM’ is with you, you can relax and be at peace.
Moses owed his life (among other people) to five brave women:
Shiphrah and Puah, the midwives, defied Pharaoh and saved the lives of hundreds of male babies.
Moses’ sister (Miriam) acted cleverly in fetching Moses’ own mother to nurse him when he was discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter in the reeds.
Moses’ mother passed on great faith to her three children (Moses, Aaron and Miriam).
And most surprisingly of all, Pharaoh’s daughter had compassion on Moses and she rescued him and took him in as her own.
Verse of the Day
'I will be with you.'
Thought for the Day
‘I cannot see how nature could have created itself. Only a supernatural force that is outside of space and time could have done that.’
-Dr Francis Collins, Director of the Human Genome Project, who led a team of over 2000 scientists to determine the three billion letters in the human genome.
Action for the Day
Pray that God will be with you.
Sign up now to receive Bible in One Year in your inbox each morning. You’ll get one email each day.
Subscribe and listen to Bible in One Year delivered to your favourite podcast app everyday.
Francis Collins, The Language of God, (Simon & Schuster UK, 2007), p.67.
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.