Christians have an enormous tendency to forget that evil is a real, powerful, every day force or to believe that evil is not a real, powerful, every day force. And you say, "David, you have to be kidding. Everyone of us knows that evil is real. We see evil all around us every day. We see evil destroying people every day. I can't believe that you would suggest that any of us don't think evil is real."

Would you focus on a specific perspective? To many Christians, evil is the great beast that makes war against us. But the war is mostly mental stuff. That war mostly has to do with minds and emotions. We tend to think of evil is not solid or real. Just change the way people think and it goes away.

We tend to see evil as a benign force. It only troubles people if they chase it. Evil is really not that aggressive. Again, it is more philosophical and theological than real.

Then we hear that thirty-nine people living in another country are arrested for studying the Bible in a private home. Evil attacked. We don't think so much of this evil being specific people or specific places. We think of it as this world wide, faceless force that exists everywhere that happened to cause problems in this situation.

And we are committed to opposing evil in the world. Our God hates evil. Our God allowed His Son to die to rescue people from evil. So we call out to God to defeat the evil. We take what initiative's are available to us to defeat the evil. It is not bad people that we are opposing. It is not a government that we are opposing. It is evil.

So we pray, as we should. And we write letters to the ambassador, as I think is good and appropriate. And we pray and we write in hope, maybe even in expectation. When good people appeal to our good God in the desire for good things to happen, we do so in hope and expectation.

Then we learn that thirteen people are facing prison sentences that could run as long as five years. And we learn about the tragedy that these individuals and their families will experience. And we realized that the situation may not be resolved in a way that will rescue these people. And we are stunned. That is not supposed to happen. The evil is real in ways that we do not often consider.

  1. I think that this is highly probable: it is easier for a person to be a Christian in the USA today than it has ever been in the history of Christianity.
    1. Again, many of my Christian brothers and sisters might strongly object.
      1. "No, David, it was much easier to be a Christian back in the 1950's than it is today."
      2. Personally, I disagree--and I confess that is just my opinion.
        1. We lived in greater isolation in the 1950's--we were far more likely to be surrounded by people who shared our thoughts and values.
          1. So the decision was made with greater ease and less need for change.
          2. In fact, there were times that the decision was simple and uncomplicated--it involved little more than your desire.
        2. We don't live in isolation today--we live right in the middle of the real world at home, at school, and on the job.
          1. And it is a evil, complicated, real world.
          2. And the decision to be a Christian is not simple; it commonly involves much more than a simple personal desire.
      3. The decision is not as simply made today, but there is more spiritual opportunity than has ever existed.
        1. The Bible translated in ways that we can study and understand has never been more accessible to any generation.
        2. Written literature that exists to increase our understanding of Christian living and Christian commitment has never been more extensive.
        3. The applications of spiritual principles to the real problems of life have never been more abundant.
        4. We have extensive information available to us in audio and video form.
        5. What is available to us through computer technology is dumbfounding.
        6. It has never been easier for any people anywhere in the world in any age to learn, understand, and apply the messages of Jesus Christ.
      4. Let me verify those truths in a very practical way.
        1. How many times have you said or heard someone say, "I wish I had know that 40 years ago!"
        2. I would hesitate to guess how many times I have heard that statement.
        3. The truth is this: we did not know or understand most of that information 40 years ago.
    2. This incredible opportunity that surrounds us, this opportunity that we take for granted, has also created a illusion.
      1. The illusion is that we can control evil.
      2. We not only think that we can control evil in our society, but we also think that we can exercise control over evil virtually anywhere in the world.
      3. We have become so comfortable with the conclusion that evil can be controlled that we are shocked when a situation occurs wherein we are powerless to control evil.
      4. We have created a serious spiritual danger for ourselves.
        1. We reason that if we have enough faith that we should be able to either defeat evil or control evil.
        2. Thus, when a circumstance arises when we can neither defeat or control evil, it very easily becomes a faith issue.
        3. We conclude that the reason evil is not defeated is because our faith is defective.

  2. I want you to consider some key examples from the Bible that suggest two things: (1) evil is real and powerful and (2) people cannot control evil even when they have great faith.
    1. Example number one: Joseph (Genesis 37,39-41)
      1. Before Joseph was sold into slavery, he was a bratty, obnoxious teenager.
      2. After Joseph was sold into slavery, he became a man who had an impressive value system and great faith.
      3. Joseph learned very quickly that evil is real.
        1. His brothers sold him into slavery.
        2. As a slave, his owner's wife tried to seduce him.
        3. When he rejected her advances, she falsely accused him and framed him.
        4. His owner believed the lies of his wife and threw Joseph in jail.
        5. In jail his kindness and trustworthiness was forgotten.
        6. Joseph lived for years suffering from horrible injustices because evil was real.
    2. Example number two: Peter.
      1. Peter was an outspoken, aggressive disciple.
        1. Once he dared rebuke Jesus because he was convinced that Jesus had made a terrible mistake.
        2. Once he declared that Moses and Elijah were equal in significance with Jesus.
        3. Once he said nothing could cause him to desert Jesus.
        4. Three times he declared to Jesus' enemies that he had never met or known Jesus.
        5. Years later after he had served as an apostle in the church for a long time, he made another very hurtful mistake--he refused to have fellowship with Christians who were not Jews.
        6. Peter found out how real evil is.
    3. Example three: Jesus, the only sinless person who ever lived.
      1. Jesus never suffered any form of pain or hurt because of evil he had committed.
        1. No suffering occurred in Jesus' life as a consequence of ungodliness.
        2. However, Jesus experienced enormous suffering.
        3. Jesus suffered not because he was evil, but because evil was real.
      2. In the course of his ministry he was verbally attacked, ridiculed, condemned, and subjected to numerous forms of injustice.
      3. In the last 24 hours of his life:
        1. He was betrayed.
        2. He was abandoned by his best friends.
        3. He was subjected to enormous humiliation and deliberate injustice.
        4. He was innocent but convicted as though he were a criminal.
        5. He was tortured.
        6. He was executed in one of the most painful forms of death ever invented.
      4. All of that happened to God's own Son because evil is real.
    4. Example four: Paul.
      1. Before he became a Christian, Paul was a very religious, very sincere, very mistaken, very violent man.
        1. Paul was a powerful instrument of evil, and evil used him effectively.
        2. However, Paul did not have the slightest idea that evil was using him--he was totally convinced that he served God.
      2. After Paul became a Christian, his life was a constant experience of suffering and imprisonment.
      3. Listen to Paul's own list of things that happened to him as a Christian (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
        1. Numerous times he was whipped, and no one bothered to count the number of lashes he received.
        2. Often he was close to dying.
        3. Five times the Jews beat him with 39 lashes, the recognized legal limit.
        4. Three times he was beaten with rods.
        5. Once he was stoned.
        6. Three times he was shipwrecked, and one of those times he spend a day and a night on board the wrecked ship.
        7. He listed 8 different forms of danger that threatened to kill him.
        8. He talked about the physical sufferings produced by hunger, thirst, cold, and exposure.
        9. He mentioned the stress and struggles he endured from churches.
      4. And we can add to that list at least three times that he was in jail or prison, and the fact that he was executed.
      5. Paul knew that evil was real.

  3. I want to share something that you may disagree with; as I have often told you, it is perfectly okay for you to disagree with me.
    1. Something increasingly distresses me in the church.
      1. It distresses me that Christians spend so much time, energy, and effort fighting each other because we disagree.
      2. It distresses me that we devote so much time and energy fighting other people who are seeking to do good, often good that we have never tried to do.
      3. It distresses me that use so little effort, energy, and time to fighting evil.
      4. At times it seems that we are more likely to oppose good than we are to oppose evil.
    2. As I said last Sunday evening, God works in an astounding number of ways in our world, and many are ways that we never recognize, never know.
      1. God surely uses hundreds of thousands of different people and hundreds of thousands of different ways to work His countless purposes in this world.
      2. I certainly do not expect everyone to have my focus or my objectives--that could not accomplish all of God's objectives.
      3. But this is where I am.
        1. It is the objective of many Christians to develop the means and approaches to control evil in our society, and I certainly believe God can and does use Christians who have that objective.
        2. My passion, my desire is not focused in the mission to control evil.
          1. My passion is to reach out to the people who are attracted to evil--in and out of the church.
          2. My passion is to use Jesus to rescue people who have been trapped in evil--in and out of the church.
        3. My passion focuses on deliverance in Jesus Christ, not on the control of evil.
      4. Whenever any congregation develops into a godly spiritual family that seeks to rescue people from the reality of evil, I believe that God will use that congregation powerfully.
        1. When we redirect our energies away from fighting among ourselves and fighting those who seek to do good, and direct those energies to fighting the reality of evil, God will use us more powerfully than we have ever been used.
        2. We will help Christ rescue more lives than we have ever helped rescue.
        3. And we ourselves will more be alive in Jesus Christ than we ever have been.

It has never been necessary for godly people to control evil for God to use them powerfully. Joseph, Peter, Jesus, and Paul powerfully testify that this is true.

If your focus is to let Christ live in you, don't think that there is something wrong with your faith or that God has failed when you find you cannot control evil. God will accomplish His intended purposes through you if you surrender to Him. Evil can never destroy your soul if you are alive in Christ. Will you come to the Savior?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 1 March 1998

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