I was asked to preach at a church where I chose as my text 1 Pet. 4:12-13. Afterwards, many approached me with words of appreciation for the message. One person, however, made a comment that I have pondered since. The comment was, “Your message was difficult to apply since my life is not filled with the persecution that you spoke of.” If you are a Christian who lives in America, then you may find the words of the Apostle Peter difficult to appreciate also. After all, he describes Christians suffering due to their faith in Jesus Christ (see 1 Pet. 2:19; 3:14). Although the church in America can be described in many ways, I am not certain that “persecuted” is the one that would immediately jump out at us. At least, not when compared to the frightening reality of so many of God’s churches in other parts of the world where they follow Christ while literally fearing imprisonment, torture, even death! We find such experiences absolutely shocking and we must remember these churches regularly in our times of prayer.
The church is at war. It is impossible not to come to this realization in light of the atrocities committed against Christians throughout the world. While we should be thankful to the Lord for providing a secure place for us to grow in our spiritual disciplines, we would do well to remember that the church in America is also at war. Whether we acknowledge it or not does not change this theological fact. When we reflect on the strategies that Satan would implement against the church, we should keep in mind that the evil one is shrewd. Just as he manipulated the situation in the Garden so many millennia ago to lead God's people astray, so he remains devious in his tactics today. Militant oppression against the church would not be effective in silencing the preaching of the gospel in our society which is already horrified by the brutality of ISIS and other terrorist organizations. This would lead to greater outcry and sympathy for the cause of the church in America.
Consider this thought: a strategic method of Satan in America is to engage in a "silent war," one that is so subtle that the church can easily forget its true nature and the identity of their true enemy. In other words, one way in which the evil one persecutes the church in American is by not persecuting the church in America! Allow the American dream of prosperity dominate the values of the average Christian. Provide a way so that they indeed achieve success as the result of their years of education, hard work, and countless hours spent in their professional area of expertise. Their success is not seen as a blessing that results from the Lord's sacrifice, but a result of their own sacrifice. Then give them a craving for more success that can only come by working even harder. Let them focus on these things as the goal of their lives and lose focus on the central doctrines of grace. Let them lose perspective of the greater homeland that awaits them (Heb. 11:10, 16) and become more interested in their own domestic concerns (Hag. 1:4). Notice how God is slowly yet methodically removed from the consciousness of the church. At best, He is viewed as the means to a greater end – which is by definition idolatry. At worst, He is effectively absent in the daily life of the Christian. God is not given any recognition for the blessed life that we have. Satan has achieved his goal—sever the individual from the reality of God in life and lull the church into a state of complacency—and he has done so passively and silently.
Perhaps my thoughts are due to my personal interest in C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. That is very possible. However, there are texts in Scripture that may hint at such strategies. Deut. 8:17-18 warns the Israelites as they enter the blessed land that the Lord promised them, "Beware lest you say in your heart, 'My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.' You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day."
To appeal to our vanity is so strategic. After all, is it not true that the success of Christians in their professions comes as a result of years of dedication and study? Indeed it is, but is it not also true that without the Lord such accomplishments would never have been possible? The Apostle Paul encourages us that if we boast we should "boast in the Lord" (1 Cor. 1:31; Gal. 6:14). John the Baptist, in the midst of his celebrity status, says that Christ must increase while he must decrease (John 3:30). We lose focus and forget that our accomplishments do not provide salvation for others. That only comes by faith in Christ (Eph. 2:8-9). Should that not be the focus of the church? Whose agenda do we promote when the church preaches anything other than the gospel? Our society grows increasingly hostile to the Christian foundations that it may have been originally built upon. This poses an opportunity for the church—to be resolved to know nothing more than Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2); and to encourage others to know the truth…they also need Christ in whom is the "hope of glory" (Col. 1:27) and a "inexpressible joy" (1 Pet. 1:8).