Don’t try to defend Christians or even Christianity. Preach the love of Christ — in season and out of season!
2 Timothy 4:1-5 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and encourage with every form of patient instruction. For the time will come when men will not tolerate sound doctrine, but with itching ears they will gather around themselves teachers to suit their own desires. So they will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
I want to tell you two stories about two men. Joel Osteen and Oliver Plunkett. You heard of Joel Osteen? What about Oliver Plunkett?
Joel Osteen is the pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, TX. His father founded the church, but Joel grew up wanting to be in the television business. He was a “behind the scenes” kind of guy who knew how to get the “lights, camera, and action” just right. He helped his father and some other local television networks with this kind of work.
One day, his father fell ill, and asked Joel to preach, which Joel did reluctantly but obediently. That turned out to be not just his first time preaching, but the first day of his new preaching career. His father passed away that very week, and Joel was permanently in the pulpit.
Most of us have never been to Lakewood Church, but we’ve heard of Joel Osteen. When I lived in New York City, I saw his big beaming face everywhere on advertisements in the subway cars. He’s amassed a media empire. Millions of people watch and listen to his and his wife Victoria’s weekly messages every week. Millions of people buy and read his books. Millions of dollars have come into Joel’s family. Google says his net worth is 100 million dollars.
He could probably afford a home on Martha’s Vineyard!
Not bad, Joel. He preaches an uplifting and inspiring message that millions of Christians say helps them in their walk of faith.
Now, what about Oliver Plunkett? You may not have heard of him, but I have. There’s a funny family legend about how my Irish Granny Joan always hoped and prayed that one of her grandchildren would take his name. Oliver Plunkett! She would have even settled for a middle name! Sean Plunkett McMahon. It never happened, though.
My Granny Joan is a very devout follower of Jesus. Why was Oliver Plunkett so important to her? Well, almost thirty years ago, I found out when I finally met him. When I was about 5 years old, my family visited my father’s homeland of Ireland. And one town over from my dad’s hometown of Ardee, in County Louth, was the town of Drogheda. In that town, we visited St. Peter’s Church. And my father took me over to an area with graves marked in the stonework of the floor, and tombs above the ground, and there among them was a glass case with an ancient old skull in it.
“Meet Oliver Plunkett,” he said.
Oliver Plunkett was an Irish saint in the 17th century. He’s a distant relative on my Granny Joan’s side – that’s my father’s mother – he’s the brother of one her ancestors, if I recall correctly.
Oliver Plunkett was ordained a Priest just in time for the conquest of Ireland by Oliver Cromwell, which meant that Catholic Christianity was outlawed and all Catholic priests were executed.
So Father Oliver Plunkett lay low in Rome for some years, until some of the restrictions loosened up in Ireland. He petitioned to move back to Ireland, and soon he started the first integrated Christian college — back then, integrated meant Protestants and Catholics.
But politics are fickle, as we all know. Another wave of persecution came when the English passed the Test Act, which meant that everyone holding any sort of office, including in colleges, would be screened for treasonous ideology. And written between the lines of the Test Act was the equation “Catholicism = Treason”.
Oliver Plunkett refused to consent to such a religious test, citing Christian doctrine and common law. As a result, his college was closed, his assets were frozen – he was cancelled, in modern terms.
He went into hiding, but refused to stop practicing his ministry. He would hold Mass in the caves in the countryside. He tended to the sick and dying, administering last rites and funerals. Eventually he was caught in the act.
Because he was a Catholic Christian, he was accused of being involved in a treasonous plot to violently overthrow the English crown with the help of the French – which might sound crazy, since Oliver Plunkett had never had any contact with the French. But at the time, there was a rumor going around that the Pope was plotting with the French to overthrow England, and was using Irish Catholics as his secret agents. Hence all native Irish were subject to screening for Catholic Christian faith. Not unlike the McCarthy hearings or even the screening of the National Guard ahead of this past week’s Inauguration.
In the eyes of the tribunal that tried him, a kangaroo court in today’s terms, Oliver Plunkett’s faith alone was enough to condemn him by association. He was convicted for treason. He was hanged, drawn, and quartered. A brutal death. If you’ve ever seen Braveheart, what they did to William Wallace in that movie is what they did to Oliver Plunkett.
Oliver Plunkett, my distant ancestor, was martyred on July 1st, 1681. He was 56 years old.
Now, who would you rather be? Joel Osteen or Oliver Plunkett?
Maybe Joel Osteen and Oliver Plunkett are not too different from one another, but the season God put them in is different. Oliver Plunkett ministered in a season of persecution in Ireland, but Joel Osteen is ministering in a season of tolerance and even abundance for the Church in America.
Maybe if they traded places, they’d meet fates different than the ones God has given them.
I was just talking to my friend about persecution of the Church. In the USA, we’ve had a lot of restrictions put on our churches since the lockdown. But just because the chapels and cathedrals and sanctuaries aren’t full, doesn’t mean the church isn’t gathering. We have Zoom, we have house church pods — we have options. We are still fulfilling the Great Commission. I was saying to my friend that the current state of the church is a bit like decaf when it comes to fellowship – it might not have the same kick, but it’s still coffee.
We are undoubtedly in a season of restriction. But that doesn’t mean our mission has changed. Here at our church, we are doing everything we can to meet the needs of those who want to come to chapel every Sunday, and those who aren’t yet ready for fellowship. It’s not ideal, but it’s not awful either. On the face, it’s not exactly persecution.
But we’ve talked before about Christian persecution in other places. In Africa, in Asia, it’s very acute. The church there is under a season not unlike that which martyred Oliver Plunkett. We might be in a season of restriction, but not a persecution that compares to theirs.
So, where does that put us? What do we do, when our universal church is experiencing one season in one place, and a different season in another?
As always, we choose love. The true question we ask ourselves is, how do we love our neighbor? How do we help? That’s always the question, in season and out of season.
We continue our mission. The great commission. “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and encourage with every form of patient instruction.” Paul wrote these words to a newly ordained minister, but I remind you that you all are called to be ministers of reconciliation, ministers of Christ. These words are for everyone. To preach yes, but even to reprove, rebuke, and encourage, not just in the church, but in the world.
These are very important and timely words, because while my discernment tells me we’re not quite “out of season” here and today, we’re not quite “in season” either. I think many of you feel this way too.
Last week, Mr. Mike gave a great sermon that admonished everyone to examine your political beliefs under the light of the Gospel. And so you should. Do you hold politics beliefs that are contrary to the commandments of Jesus Christ, or in harmony with them?
Are you living a life that gives an aroma of the Good news of truth and grace, or a stink of the fake news of vanity and emptiness?
As I mentioned earlier, there are people and always will be people who do want to put us through tests in order to secure their power, or our security. They’ll ask, “What do you believe? Is it a threat?”
Think about where we’re at right now in our country. What are you going to do when someone asks you, “hey, you’re a Christian, so doesn’t that make you a white nationalist? Well, if you’re not white, still, you could be a Christian nationalist? All those people who attacked the Capitol are Christian nationalists! That’s what they’re saying in the news!”
Hey, even some of my oldest friends are saying this stuff on Facebook. They’re asking, they’re saying, maybe Christian = Extremist. Maybe if you’re Christian, you support what happened at the Capitol. Maybe you’re part of the problem. So let’s test you to see if you’re a threat.
I’m stretching the idea to its extreme. Maybe the government will put us in this position, like Oliver Plunkett, maybe not. But maybe you’ve been in this position in little ways yourself. I have. When I first became a Christian in my early 20’s, many of my peers disapproved. They told me Christianity is a white supremacist cult; based on a false myth that hates women; that condones chattel slavery; that perpetuates racism and hatred; and that controls the worst elements of the U.S. government. I’ve had all that projected onto me, even by people who know me better. “How can you be a Christian if being a Christian means x y and z?”
I always have the same answer: because I am a sinner, and Jesus Christ alone can save me.
Don’t try to defend Christians or even Christianity. Preach Christ.
Do what Paul did, he said, “I determined to know nothing among you except Christ crucified.” Can I excuse the sins of Christians? Not at all. But, does that mean I should pay for the sins of all Christians? Can I pay for the sins of all Christians? No. But Jesus and only Jesus can do that, and he did do that — and more than that, he died for the sins of the whole world. That’s what it means to “know nothing…except Christ crucified.”
No one else can deal with sin but Christ alone.
Yes, the sins of Christians throughout history are many. So are my own. The Bible is clear, it’s for my sins and my sins alone that I stand condemned, and the same for you — we all stand condemned for our own sins. “There is no one righteous, not one” – “everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory God”. Who will save me but Jesus?
Who will save you but Jesus, who died for your sins and was raised up for your eternal life?
This is what our faith is about. This is how we answer, what we confess, when we are charged. We need to be ready for this, in season and out of season.
We must be strong in our knowledge of scripture. Don’t think you need to rely on any other man-made interpretations, philosophies or ideologies in preaching and defending your faith. That can get complicated, and even misleading.
Many Christians try to learn the popular philosophies of their day in order to counter it with apologetics, but what the Bible really recommends is being direct – keep it simple, preach the Gospel. Seek to be a fool for Christ – the Bible says “God is pleased through the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe” because “the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom.”
Our preaching doesn’t need to be grandiose, melodramatic, wordy, self-righteous, complicated. Keep it simple. Be humble like Paul, who said, “I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith would not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.”
What is our mission? To be disciples of Christ — Christ and no other. No other. Mr. Mike was right, if you find in yourself any hint of politics or ideology that’s not right with Jesus, uproot it. Make every thought of yours captive and obedient to Christ, and if you are called to testify in life’s trials – in argument with a friend, enemy, neighbor, stranger — take it as an opportunity not to defend your ideology, but to preach the love of Christ.
That above all is what we’re called to do, and if you’re suffering for anything other than the witness of Jesus Christ, then you’re martyring yourself for vanity and emptiness, for nothing. You’re wasting your time.
Do I think we’re in a season where we’re under threat of martyrdom – dying for our faith? No. We are in a season of restriction. Persecution can always be around the door at any minute, but that doesn’t mean it is, either! Have faith, and stay vigilant.
Either way, we need to be humble and remember that while God appoints the seasons, our mission never changes, no matter how dramatically our lives change with the seasons. His word never changes and never fails. Whether we in our Christian witness can prevent ourselves from falling “out of season” or not, it doesn’t matter – our witness must be consistent.
And while we are “in season”, we must pray and advocate for those whose witness is “out of season,” who are being martyred today elsewhere in the world. A year or two ago on social media I posted a link to the recent findings of the British government’s commission to study Christian genocide. The numbers and stories of Christian genocide going on right now in the world are brutal and staggering.
Every single person who came out of the woodwork to comment on my post mocked it. They joked and called it Fake News; they said “Christians deserve it, karma for the Crusades”; some said that the suffering of Christians doesn’t matter when compared to the suffering of other ethnic or religious groups, somehow not only assuming that all Christians are white evangelicals, not only forgetting that the Christians suffering are religious minorities in the nations where they’re being persecuted, but also forgetting that none of these factors should make a difference at all in whether we care or not, or have empathy or concern, or compassion in our hearts for anyone who is suffering.
We should care, we should have empathy, we should have concern, we should have compassion in our hearts for EVERYONE who is suffering.
“Who is my neighbor?” They asked Jesus. EVERYONE is your neighbor. Yes, more than just Christians are suffering in the world. But what I’m pointing out here is the evidence that no one is going to advocate for Christians except Christians. Christians are fools to the world. Worldly wisdom will not advocate for us. The best way to do this work of advocacy is to drop your ideology, your politics, and preach the Cross.
And more than this, we Christians ought to be advocating for more than just Christians, the Bible says so, and the Bible says — the word of God demands — that to do this is to drop our politics and prejudices and preach the Love of God. Because God has prescribed for us one single form of advocacy that is efficacious, that works, and that is preaching the Gospel, in season and out of season, as St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preaching the gospel at all times, using words if necessary.”
This is what we’re here for: God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. We have an Advocate — the Holy Spirit — who reveals all truth, who gives us the power to preach when we preach, in season and out of season. Who gives us the power it takes to move mountains, and the power it takes to minister God’s reconciliation, and the power it takes to declare His salvation to the ends of the earth.
The power is Love. In season and out of season. Let God’s love be your superpower, in season and out of season. “Rejoice at all times. Pray without ceasing,” in the Holy Spirit — the Spirit of God, who is Love. “Give thanks in every circumstance, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
May the Holy Spirit and the love of God empower you to “be prepared in season and out of season” and to “be sober in all things, to endure hardship, to do the work of an evangelist,” and to “fulfill your ministry” as a disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.