8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God,(emphasis added)
As Christians, to what are we called? Here, Paul insists that what we are called to is suffering.
Now, that sounds like fun!
This particular subject is one I have been thinking about for a very long time. Whenever I hear or read some right-wing Christian whine about the oppression of Christians in America (which doesn't really happen), or wonder why, say, Amnesty International doesn't deal with anti-Christian violence around the world (it deals with prisoners of conscience, so there is some publication of instances of this kind of thing), all I have to say is what Paul says in the previous verse: "for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control."
We aren't Christians because we want people to stop having sex outside marriage. We aren't Christians so that we can keep gay people from getting married. The Gospel isn't about keeping dirty pictures away from people, or not saying bad words. The Gospel is the good news that God has been manifest in Divine fullness in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The scandal of the Gospel is the humiliation of Jesus, a humiliation we are to follow in our own lives. We are not to be ashamed of the ways we are reviled, laughed at, mocked, or ignored, but continue on in a Spirit of power and love.
It is right here, at this very point, that I feel the difference between so much of what passes for Christianity in America shows itself to be false. Conservative Christians lament the lack of social and cultural sway the Church has; they shout in a loud voice about the deterioration of our culture (as if this were something new) and the way Christians have been sidelined in so much of our public discourse (again, a false statement, but it makes them feel besieged). I say, if these things are true, then rejoice, brothers and sisters! Instead of rejoicing, however, they demand that those who would silence the voice of the Church not do so. They demand, rather than simply keep preaching the Gospel. They condemn, rather than pray and love.
In a word, what they know is not the power of God manifest in the strength to endure, but fear. I think it's kind of funny, actually, because they refuse to acknowledge what is and has been obvious to me for so long - they are afraid that what they believe is weaker than all the horrid bogeys of this world. Whether it's dirty words, or the horrible, evil gay agenda, or people having sex - all these are so much more powerful than the Gospel of Jesus they have to stop!
Paul's admonition to remember the Spirit of power and fearlessness is a nice antidote to the whining and complaining of so many. We aren't messengers of fear. We bring the Good News of God's love and justice and power, and rather than curl up in to the fetal position when people laugh at us for our foolishness, we shouldn't be ashamed, but remember this is the price we pay.
If it's Mr. Darwin's theory, or the gay couple down the street, or the unmarried pregnant woman who attends your church who you think are the enemy, my suggestion is you aren't paying attention. If any of these things cause you either anger or fear, I suggest you remember that we are called not to condemn but to love; not to be afraid of the world, but to embrace it as God has. Even as it laughs at us, or even (like Paul) far worse, just keep laughing and loving.