But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on the prisoners, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.
Broad and Diversified Pro-Life Ministry
Let me begin by saying this morning that in the diversity of the body of Christ some Christians should be focusing pro-life energy on the enactment of legislation that will protect the unborn. Other Christians should focus pro-life energy on educational strategies that promote the wisdom of sexual chastity before marriage and heterosexual faithfulness in marriage. Other Christians should focus pro-life energy on crisis pregnancy ministries—counseling, housing, health care. Other Christians should focus pro-life energies on adoption services—counseling, foster care, new parent connections. Other Christians should focus their pro-life energy on post-abortion ministries of counseling and care. Other Christians should focus their pro-life energy on sidewalk counseling or other forms of peaceful, public demonstration. Some Christians should specialize in extraordinary prayer, some should specialize in thinking and writing, and some should specialize in public action.
We must guard against the reverse blind spot of the pro-abortion people. They talk much about compassion to women in crisis pregnancies and about the pain of being an unwanted child. But they do not talk about the pain, the indignity, the injustice, the brutality done against the unborn in abortion. And one of their primary defenses against the pro-life efforts is to say that we talk a lot about compassion to the unborn but show little concern for mothers in crisis or unwanted children after birth. To which I respond: let's not have this blind spot. Let's not be imbalanced. Let's admit (on both sides of the issue) how imperfect we are. But let's keep the ledger straight.
You need to be able to answer people that this indictment is not true. Pro-life people as a whole are very active in providing the broad range of ministries for women and children in need. See the fact sheet "Free Help for Pregnant Women" which lists almost 30 agencies in Minnesota addressing these issues. Add to that the major efforts of evangelical groups and coalitions engaged in struggling for the health and wholeness of the family at the national and state level. And add to that the impulses for personal integrity and honesty and decency and justice and purity and love that flow out into society, unacknowledged(!), from thousands of Bible-based, Christ-exalting churches. And you will see that the indictment that we are not engaged in the larger picture is not true. And that accusation is often used as a kind of fog spread over the debate to conceal the injustice of the basic pro-abortion principle, namely, that the right of a woman not to be pregnant is greater than the right of an unborn child not to be killed.
There are two million couples waiting to adopt children today in America—60 homes for every child that needs one. There are long lists of parents willing to take and love children with Down's Syndrome. There are one hundred couples on the waiting list to take spina bifida babies no matter how severe. And the reason there are tie-ups in adopting some mixed race and minority children is not because there are not enough willing pro-life parents. It is owing to complicated legal limitations and parental rights and agency policies. The resources are there to fold all children into families who want them.
Restricting the right of doctors and mothers to kill unborn children will not result in greater misery for those children. When the heart of a nation is willing to kill its unborn children to avoid having to care for them, it is hard to imagine this heart being willing to care for them. But if the heart of the nation could be turned so that it was no longer willing to kill its unborn children, then it is not so hard to imagine that this heart could care for them.
Non-Violent, Peaceful Protesting
I want to address the issue of non-violent, peaceful protesting this morning. The reason I began the way I did was simply to show that I see such protests as one of many strategies in the pro-life effort, not the only one, and not the most important one—but one among many, and a good catalyst at this time, and one that a Christian can pursue with a clear, biblically informed conscience. What I can say in this brief message is very limited, and I refer you to last year's message (January 15, 1989: "Rescuing Unborn Children: Required and Right") and to the booklet: Abortion: A Pastor's Perspective for a fuller treatment of the issue.
There is a Rescue being planned for tomorrow somewhere in the Metro area. Many of us plan to participate as much as we can. It simply means sitting down peacefully in front of a door behind which they destroy children, and saying by our physical presence: the abortions that happen behind these doors are so unjust, so inhumane, so violent, so contrary to the legal foundations of our country (the worth of life), that today we are willing to risk unjust arrest if we can but spare one child and heighten the sense of urgency in our society that these children should be loved and protected by law.
Can this kind of public demonstration of compassion for the unborn (and for their mothers!)—trespassing to save life and to expose laws that endorse killing—can this kind of demonstration be part of a faithful, biblical witness to the kingdom of Christ? Does the kingdom of God sometimes show itself in this way? I am not asking: Can we establish the kingdom of God on earth by social or political means? I have no utopian notions of a Christian America before Jesus comes. All I mean is: Can this kind of peaceful, non-violent, ready-to-suffer sit-in be one way that the truth and beauty of God's kingdom, which is not of this world, shines in this world?
My answer is yes. And I would like to look at just one inspiring passage of Scripture with you to stir up your thought and prayer about this matter.
Hebrews 10:32–34 and Kingdom Compassion
Hebrews 10:32 says that in the early days of this Christian community there had been "a hard struggle with sufferings." "Recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings." Some kind of persecution had fallen on the church. It was evidently an official kind because in the next verse there is a reference to prison. This is not just mob violence or harassment at work. It is official, state opposition.
Verse 33 shows that there are two groups in the church, the first one suffering abuse and afflictions, and the second one suffering because they somehow identified with the first group. " . . . sometimes [or better: "some"] being publicly exposed to abuse and affliction, and sometimes ["some"] being partners with those so treated." So some get the first brunt of the persecution, and others choose to come forward and show solidarity (as we might say today) with them: "being partners [sharers] with those so treated."
Then verse 34 explains how the second group showed their solidarity with those who were being persecuted in prison: "For you had compassion on the prisoners and you joyfully accepted the plundering [or the confiscation] of your property." The first group had been put in jail for some reason. That may have meant in that culture that they would be given no food or that they would be beaten and left untended. So the rest of the believers faced a moral dilemma: "Shall we take a low profile in the present controversy and work through indirect channels, or shall we go to the prison and kindle the anger of the authorities and risk losing our possessions and maybe our lives?"
They chose to take the risk of public, compassionate identification with the prisoners and the result was the confiscation of their property (v. 34). So it was a great risk to go to the prison to stand up for those who were suffering unjustly. It cost them their furniture and their homes it seems. Perhaps more.
But it says they accepted this loss with joy: " . . . and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property." How could they do that? Where do they get the freedom and courage to risk losing everything for the sake of compassion?
The answer is given in the last part of verse 34: " . . . since you knew that you had a better possession and an abiding one." Hebrews 12:28 says, "Let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken." What the writer means is that the Christians were so confident that they had received the kingdom and that the kingdom was so unshakable, and that it was so much more glorious than all earthly possessions, that it was no ultimate loss to lose earthly possessions on the Calvary road that leads to this kingdom. "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven . . . Rejoice in that day and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven" (Matthew 5:10).
Do you see then how the truth and beauty of the kingdom of God broke into that situation? Since it was the certainty and glory of the kingdom hope that gave the freedom and courage to risk and suffer and love, that risking and suffering and loving is the light of the kingdom breaking into the darkness of society. Love that is willing to suffer in hope of the kingdom is the power and the light of the kingdom breaking into this world. Since the kingdom is the source of the power to love, the power to love is the light of the kingdom.
One Possible Objection
Now how would you have responded in that situation if some of the Christians opposed the visit to the prison and argued like this: This is going to antagonize the government officials who put our friends in jail. God has ordained the government and we are supposed to be submissive to it. Not only that, there is no explicit biblical command that says we have to risk animosity in this way to visit our friends in prison. We are only commanded to love them; and there may be other safer ways to work for their release. And not only that, if we publicly identify with prisoners in this society, it's going to stir up so much anger that the witness of Christ will be hurt in the city. And not only that, the officials could confiscate our property and we could lose everything we've got. Then how are we going to do the work of the ministry? This is not a prudent strategy.
There is no biblical command that says tomorrow's Rescue is the way you should love unborn children. It will antagonize some officials. It will irritate some in our society. You would risk losing some of your earthly possessions. There are other safer ways to work for the unborn. Getting thrown in prison or losing possessions through fines has never seemed to the world like an effective church growth principle.
But there they went, off to visit the prisoners—with the blessing of Almighty God. And tomorrow many will rescue. Why? Because when the compassion of Christ for people who are suffering unjustly combines with the confidence of kingdom hope, the power of courage and freedom and meekness is unleashed, and some (not all) are called to let the light of the kingdom shine through peaceful, public solidarity with the unborn, and if necessary, through suffering.
I invite you all to meditate on this text this afternoon and to seek the Lord as to whether he is calling you in this way. You won't know if you don't ask. And if he is not, he is calling you to the tremendously crucial role of intercession tomorrow morning.