This past Sunday, I preached from Mark 13, where Jesus is warning his disciples of suffering and persecution to come. At one point, he tells them,
But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. (Mark 13:9-10)
Do you notice the overarching priority of bearing witness to God and the gospel in Jesus’ words? In warning his disciples about trials to come, he doesn’t give them a way around or out of these trials (“10 steps to never being beaten again!”). Rather, Jesus exhorts them to faithfully bear witness in the midst of trials.
The priority here is not the ease or comfort or happiness or even temporary safety of God’s people? It’s not delivering them from suffering as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Rather, the priority is the proclamation of the gospel, the glory and grace of God, manifested most clearly in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Now, recognizing this can be quite convicting: perhaps it does not take much soul searching to realize that giving witness to God and the gospel is not consistently the overarching priority of your life. Even if it is much of the time, other things often take precedence: indulging in temporary comforts and pleasures and diversions, being accepted by and not offending others, simply trying to eke out a living and survive the stresses of this life.
In light of this conviction, the answer is not simply: try harder to care about God and the gospel, don’t care about your own happiness and pleasure, be more serious about God. No, the way you come to prioritize and love something is not by telling yourself you ought to, but by recognizing the value and loveliness of that thing (See Thomas’ Chalmers sermon, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection”).
So the way we come to prioritize giving witness to God and the gospel is by beholding God in the gospel. Seeing that the promises of God’s favor, forgiveness, presence and delight, won by Jesus, are better than anything this world has to offer. That gaining this whole world and missing out on God in the gospel is a total loss. But that gaining God in the gospel, even if it means suffering, weakness, trials and persecution for a time, is worth it.
This good news is ours, by faith in Jesus. We are accepted and favored not because we always rightly prioritized our pursuits, desires and affections, but because of the unearned and costly love of God.
But this good news is also ours to extend to others, as God sovereignly ordains situations for us to do so, just as he did for the first disciples.