By Michael E. Brooks
And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. When he had come to us, he took Paul?s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, ?Thus says the Holy Spirit, ?So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.?? Now when we heard these things both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, ?What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.? So when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, ?The will of the Lord be done? (Acts 21:10-14).
We are ?stuck? again, here on the campus of Khulna Bible College. Plans were for us to be in Mymemsingh, preaching to a group of seekers among whom we believe a new congregation of the Lord?s Church will soon be planted. But political activists have begun a huge, nationwide program of agitation and unrest, culminating with a large rally and demonstration in Dhaka this weekend. As we must travel through Dhaka the potential for violent interruption of our trip is very great. At the least there would be delays and obstruction. At the worst we could become involved in violent mob confrontations and even become targets for violence.
?To go, or not to go? That is the question? (with apologies to Shakespeare and Hamlet) often confronted by Christians in such circumstances. Is it cowardice or faithlessness to make the decision to postpone such trips? Or is it simply prudence? Unfortunately, we are mortals with no personally inspired insights into God?s will. Obviously we do have his revealed will to guide us, and that is, and must be, sufficient.
On the one hand there is Paul?s example in Caesarea, boldly proclaiming his willingness to be imprisoned or die for the cause of Christ. There is no doubt that such courageous disregard for danger is on some occasions approved and even required by God. When all other Christians ?scattered abroad? following the persecution in Jerusalem, the Apostles remained in the city (Acts 8:1). At the least this seems to have met God?s approval. They may well have been directed by the Spirit to stay (cf Acts 1:4-8). Stephen continued his confrontations with the Hellenistic Jews until they responded in uncontrollable rage and stoned him to death (Acts 6:8-7:60). Peter and John?s response to the command to cease preaching Jesus was ?Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard? (Acts 4:19-20).
On the other hand, however, the Apostles and early Christians did not always persist in preaching in a particular place in the face of imminent danger. The other Christians did leave Jerusalem. Early in his ministry Paul escaped from both Damascus and Jerusalem when threatened with death (Acts 9:22-25, 28-30). Later he left Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea and Ephesus after opposition arose (Acts 14, 16-20). In at least some of these cases it was at the request of Christians that he left for his own safety.
How do we know then when it is permissible or even best to avoid danger, and when it is essential to face it courageously? It is likely that we cannot know with certainty every time. There are guidelines however which we may observe from the various examples given above.
First, personal safety is not and must not be our primary consideration. Paul and the other apostles did not leave just from fear of their own lives or comfort. Frequently they departed after imprisonments or beatings, or both. In some of these cases it may well have been that the good which could be accomplished by their stay was already completed. There may have been no good purpose to continued risk.
Secondly, others were almost always involved when the decision was made to leave. In Thessalonica and Berea persecution from the community of Jews was threatening all the young Christians. Paul was a particular focus of Jewish hatred. His continued presence may well have provoked increased hostilities against the Church. Others could continue the work already begun, with less affront to the Jews. So Paul left companions there to work while he removed his own offensive (to the Jews) presence.
Third, work in a particular place is not the only, or even necessarily the best, way to serve God and prove one?s faithfulness. It is even possible that persecution may be a means of God?s directing his servants to other fields or tasks (Acts 8:1-3). Choosing to leave an area of particular danger and to preach where it may be more productive cannot be equated with faithlessness. Obviously if one knows that the overriding motive is fear then this may not be true, but prudence is not always cowardice.
Every such decision must be made prayerfully and with consideration for many factors. Most of all, we seek God?s will and to do God?s work, as long as we are able, and to the very best of our ability.
By Michael E. Brooks