The "Christian Problem" in the World

Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not reckon sin.
Romans 4.8

Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus (a.k.a. Pliny the Younger) was a Roman author and administrator who left a collection of private letters that ultimately illustrated public and private life in the Roman Empire. As the Roman governor of what is now modern Turkey, Pliny wrote a letter to Emperor Trajan around 112ad and asked for the Emperor’s counsel regarding how to deal with Christians.

In the letter (Epistulae X.96), Pliny asked for procedures in dealing with the large number of Christians who were being brought before him daily on charges of:

  • Refusing military service
  • Refusing to do obeisance to the Emperor’s statute (similar to refusing to salute the American flag or refusing to sign a Loyalty Oath in the 1950s)
  • Having a strange, new, and secret religion which, although harmless, seemed dangerous to the established Roman way of life.

The letter stated: “In the meantime, the method I have observed towards those who have been denounced to me as Christians is this: I interrogated them whether they were in fact Christians; if they confessed it, I repeated the question twice, adding the threat of capital punishment; if they still persevered, I ordered them to be executed…They affirmed, however, that the whole of their guilt, or their error, was that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath not to perform any wicked deed, never to commit any fraud, theft, or adultery, never to falsify their word nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to make it good; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food — but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.”

Yet, these Christians were deemed “problems” to Roman society. Jesus was deemed a “problem” (Luke 23.5). Paul, Silas, and their counterparts were viewed as “problems” (Acts 17.6). This was not new. In the Old Testament, God’s People were frequently singled out as “problems” in society.

In the days of Elijah, there was a three-year drought in Samaria which resulted in a severe famine (1 Kings 18.1). Jehovah told Elijah to go to Ahab and tell him that Jehovah was going to send rain. We read: “And it came to pass, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said unto him, ‘Is it thou, thou troubler of Israel?’ And he answered, ‘I have not troubled Israel; but thou, and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of Jehovah, and thou has followed the Baalim’” (1 Kings 18.17-18). Both accused the other of being the “troubler.” The real problem, of course, was the one who had forsaken the commands of Jehovah.

Prior to this, in Joshua’s day, Achan was a “problem” in the society of Israel (1 Chronicles 2.7). The reason was because Achan transgressed the command of Jehovah. From this, we see that there are two ways in which God’s people can be “problems” to society:

  1. When they only outwardly appear to follow God. Only people without “eyes to see” and “ears to hear” are fooled. However, when Christians are inwardly immoral in thought, compromising in convictions, selfish, and unloving, they will be a hindrance to those outside of Christ, as well as a discouragement to those who are in Christ. Because of their hypocrisy, God will be cursed rather than blessed (cf. Romans 2.24; 2 Peter 2.2).
  2. When they expose sin. When this happens, those whiteout “eyes to see” and “ears to hear” will view them as Ahab viewed Elijah. However, Jehovah will be honored, and eternal life will be their reward. When Jesus appeared to Saul of Tarsus, he told them that he was to open the eyes of the Gentiles, that they may receive forgiveness so as to inherit eternal life (Acts 26.15-18; cf. 2 Corinthians 6.14; Ephesians 5.11; 1 Timothy 5.20).

Such allegations and any ensuing persecutions towards Christians demands of them a faith that will not be moved from staying the course of obedience (cf. Romans 8.35-39; Revelation 2.10b). Their faith must overcome fear of what may be done physically to them, even to the point of physical death. Their faith must look beyond the temporal to see the eternal. They must have “eyes to see” in the sense that Jesus meant: To perceive temptation and avoid it (Proverbs 5.3-8) and to discern good from evil (Isaiah 5.20).

Being a “problem” to society is, in reality, a blessing from God when it accords with the purpose for which Jesus was sent. Peter described that purpose in the following manner: “God, having raised up his servant, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities” (Acts 3.26).