Hated but Growing?

John Piper

Can the gospel spread, and thousands be converted, and churches grow, and love abound where Christianity is continually spoken against? Yes. It not only can, it has. I say this not to discourage winsomeness, but to encourage hope. Do not assume that seasons of hostility or controversy will be lean seasons with little power or growth. They may be seasons of explosive growth and great spiritual blessing.

How do we know this? Consider the way Luke reports the state of the church in the book of Acts. When Paul finally gets to Rome near the end of his life, he invites the "leading men of the Jews" to come hear his gospel. What these leaders say about the "sect" of Christians is very significant. They say, "Concerning this sect, it is known to us that it is spoken against everywhere" (Acts 28:22).

This is not surprising to disciples who knew that Jesus said, "You will be hated by all nations because of My name" (Matthew 24:9). And: "Woe to you when all men speak well of you" (Luke 6:26). And: "If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!" (Matthew 10:25).

The early church was an embattled church. Yes, there were seasons of calm (Acts 9:31); but that was the exception. Most of the time there were slanders and misunderstandings and accusations and persecutions, not to mention internal disputes about ethics and doctrine. Virtually all Paul's letters reflect controversy in the church as well as affliction from outside. The point is not that this is desirable, but that it need not hinder great power and growth. In fact, it may be the occasion and reason for great power and growth.

This seems to be Luke's view because even though he portrayed Christianity as "spoken against everywhere," he also portrayed relentless growth throughout the book of Acts. "The Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47). "The disciples were increasing in number" (Acts 6:1). "The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase" (Acts 6:7). "The hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord" (Acts 11:21). "The word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied" (Acts 12:24). "The churches . . . were increasing in number daily" (Acts 16:5). "All the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord" (Acts 19:10). "The word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing" (Acts 19:20).

Excerpted from "The Christian Church was Spoken Against Everywhere" (used by permission).

Originally published May 26, 2010.

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