“Anyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” —2 Timothy 3:12
I returned home last weekend after spending two weeks in Israel, where I observed their recent elections firsthand. As you know, a coalition led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won enough seats in the Israeli parliament to form a new government.
What you may not know, however, is why this story matters to every evangelical Christian in America.
The problem above all other problems
The popular vote was evenly split with around 49% for Mr. Netanyahu and 49% for his opponents. However, as my Israeli friends explained to me, Mr. Netanyahu’s victory was mainly fueled by the rise of a political partnership led by two men who are unfamiliar to Americans but dominate the news in their country. .
Bezalel Smotrich leads a political party called Religious Zionism which, as Israeli political commentator David Horovitz explains, “ultimately seeks an Israel ruled by the laws of the Torah.” Itamar Ben Gvir heads Otzma Yehudit, which “advocates the annexation of biblical Judea and Samaria for an expanded sovereign Jewish state in which Palestinians in the West Bank would be denied equal rights.”
The two parties formed a coalition with Mr. Netanyahu’s secular Likud party to win a majority of sixty-four seats in government out of the 120 seats in parliament. This coalition, according to my Israeli friends, is fueled less by popular support for the real agendas of Smotrich and Ben Gvir and more in response to the security threats facing Israel. Violence in the West Bank escalates dramatically; Iran continues to arm Hezbollah in Lebanon while pursuing nuclear capabilities that pose an “existential threat” to Israel.
As last week’s election showed once again, a small nation surrounded by enemies will always put its defense above other political issues.
Kyrie Irving’s suspension and the rise of anti-Semitism
Why is this fact relevant to you and me?
For the answer, we must briefly explore the global rise in anti-Semitism that contributes to the political situation in Israel.
NBA star Kyrie Irving was suspended last week by the Brooklyn Nets after posting a documentary with anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and lies on Twitter. Nike also suspended its relationship with him following the controversy. Irving then apologized to the Jewish community.
Meanwhile, the Jewish advocacy group Anti-Defamation League (ADL) warns that anti-Semitism is on the rise on US college campuses at a time when violence against Jews in America has reached record levels. Last year, the ADL reported 2,717 incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism against Jewish people, a 34% increase from the previous year and the highest number on record since the group began tracking anti-Semitic incidents in 1979.
Anti-Semitism has been called “the oldest hatred in history”. Many factors explain this tragic tale, but one is particularly relevant to Christians in America: the Jewish commitment throughout history to maintaining their unique religious identity.
The Jews refused to worship the gods of Persia (cf. Daniel 3 and 6), Greece (hence the revolt of the Maccabees) and Rome (hence the revolt which led to the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D). They have held fast throughout their history to the truth and morality expressed in their 613 commandments (mitzvot in Hebrew) from the Old Testament that govern all dimensions of their lives.
Should the Bible govern morality?
Why is this commitment relevant to you and me?
George Barna and the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University have just released (PDF) a new report studying morality in the United States. Here’s the good news: “Most Americans, regardless of religious faith, uphold traditional moral values.”
Here’s the bad news: 71% now “hold that human beings rather than God should be the judges of right and wrong.” Forty-two percent said “what you feel in your heart” is the best moral guide, followed by 29% who said we should base morality on majority rule. Only 29% said the principles taught in the Bible should guide our morality.
In contrast, 66% of American adults who hold a biblical worldview said the Bible should be the primary source for determining right and wrong.
As the history of anti-Semitism shows, if you do not bow down to the gods of your culture, you will face the wrath of your culture. Paul warned us:All those who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12, emphasis added).
We can therefore determine the degree to which we follow Jesus by the degree to which the world opposes us.
If worshiping God yesterday does not differentiate us from those who did not worship him, have we really met God? If you and I don’t live in a way that sets us apart from our secularized post-Christian culture, how can we truly follow Jesus?
“An overwhelming sense of wonder”
The more we experience Jesus, the more we will become like him (Romans 8:29) and the less we will be like those who oppose him (cf. 1 John 3:1).
Gordon Fee has been called “one of the most influential New Testament scholars who ever lived”. A manual he wrote with his colleague Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, was the main textbook I used to teach Bible interpretation classes in seminary. It is now in its fourth edition and has sold approximately one million copies.
Fee died recently at the age of eighty-eight. In a 1988 article on Bible study and spirituality, he concluded (PDF) that to properly study God’s word, “We must hear the words with our hearts, we must bask in God’s own glory. God, we must be moved with a sense of overwhelming dread before the riches of God in glory, we must think back to the amazing wonder that these riches are ours in Christ Jesus, and then we must worship the living God in song praise to his glory.
By this measure, did you “worship the living God” yesterday?
Do you want today?