Paul wrote this to Timothy from the Mamertine prison in Rome not long before he was martyred for his faith. Paul never condemned the Roman government, though it was the Romans who ended his life. Jesus never condemned the Romans, either. He stated that it’s the world that hates Him, and therefore it will hate His followers.
Nothing has changed since then. The world still hates Jesus and it hates Christians. It doesn’t matter what cultural context we are in––the workplace, ministry, neighborhood, beauty salon––if we are salt and light we will be persecuted to some degree, whether snubbed mildly, ridiculed loudly, beaten or even martyred for our faith. Persecution is inevitable. How should we then live? Jesus, Paul, and Peter tell us that we are to love our enemies, and to pray for them. Difficult to do, granted. But love them we must.
My first encounter with persecution took place while I was serving in the Marine Corps. Again, it could just as well have been at the local shoe store or Jack in the Box. As I mentioned in my last blog (Honeymoon) some of the men in the barracks ridiculed those of us who had become Christ followers. This went on for weeks. It didn’t bother us; in fact, we were emboldened by it. And then one morning I was ordered to report to one of the officers. He said:
“Joens, I want you to keep Jesus Christ behind doors on Sunday mornings, where He belongs. Is that understood?”
The way he’d said Jesus Christ, was like a curse.
I was raised in a Marine Corps family. Growing up, I loved the Marines. I was always proud of my dad’s thirty-three year service––World War 2, Korea, Vietnam. To build upon his legacy I enlisted in the Marines to prove to myself that I, too, could be one of the Few, the Proud. I graduated Boot Camp as the platoon honor man, and recipient of the dress blues award. I am still proud of the Marines. I thank God for the sacrifices they make to preserve freedom in our nation. But on that morning it was foremost on my mind that the laws of God take precedent over the orders of 1st Lieutenants. I answered respectfully:
“No sir. I serve God, Country, and Corps in that order, not the reverse.”
I was dismissed.
I don’t believe that this was typical of the Marines. When I was in boot camp I was given a New Testament, though I was not a believer at the time. Clearly the idea of religion coexisting with the military was accepted. The establishment of the military chaplaincy, dating back to 1791 by act of congress, was the basis for it.
No, this was not a Marine issue, this was a man issue.
From the morning of that interchange with my superior officer hostility grew against the tiny knot of Christian Marines. The ridicule and ostracizing was now more virulent. Handing out Gospel tracts to the men was forbidden. And added to these there was now a clear double standard when it came to barracks inspection. Non-Christians were left to decorate their rooms with contraband, pornographic and otherwise, whereas Christians were told to remove anything of a religious nature. Tension in the barracks mounted.
Matters came to a head one morning on the quarterdeck. Two other Marines and myself were waiting to be posted on guard duty, one of whom had come to Christ a few weeks earlier. He was nicknamed Lurch because of his enormous size. Another of the Marines on deck (whom I will call Tom) picked a verbal fight with him. Tom, no doubt emboldened by the recent tone in the barracks, told Lurch that he couldn’t be a Christian and a Marine at the same time. Lurch disagreed.
Tom pressed his point. He said that if Lurch was a genuine believer he would take off his gun belt and serve Christ. It was a challenge. A gauntlet thrown.
To everyone’s astonishment, Lurch removed his gun belt and set it down on the desk before the Sergeant of the Guard. Then he went upstairs to tell the CO what he had done. Tom looked at me.
WIthout giving it a thought, I took off my gun belt and set it before the Sergeant of the Guard. I am not a conscientious objector, nor were any of the other Christian Marines. We had all enlisted. Five of us put down our gun belts that day in a united stand against the anti-Christian opposition in the barracks. What we did was out of conviction for our new faith in Christ. If we could not be Marines and Christians at the same time then we would be Christians.
We would soon pay for that decision.
Speaking for myself, with forty-three years of spiritual maturity behind me, I may have done things differently. We were young. The majority of us were less than two months old in our faith and sanctification. Had I to do it over, I hope that with God’s grace and power I would have endured unto blood, that I would have borne up (Grk hupomone) under the mounting persecution. But right or wrong I did what I thought was right at the time. God is my judge. And as we shall see in future blogs, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Next blog: Special Court Martial