In the previous article of Sharing the Word, Biblical examples were given of God’s providential care and grace for His own. It was because of adversity and testing that some almost faltered in standing firm for their faith – almost, but – reorienting to God’s Word, which had been learned, and then applying it to the circumstances, became the sustaining power in not falling short of the rest God promises to His own in time of trouble. The Apostle James wrote … “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4 NIV).
Peter gave the divine perspective of testing as he encouraged Jewish Christians and believing Gentiles who had been scattered throughout the Roman Empire for their faith in Christ. “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Pet. 1:6-7 NIV). At the height of persecution, some may have thought that it almost would have been easier to despair and “punt on third down,” or to renounce faith in Christ and perhaps save one’s life.
Almost down for the count, but -- John encouraged and urged the believers in Smyrna to remain fearless and trust God’s sufficiency and plan for their lives. “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10 NIV). Many of these Christians in the early Church suffered the death of martyrdom, a defeat in the eyes of their enemy, but a victory in Christ and the catalyst that took the gospel throughout the known world of that day. Almost defeat, but God.
While Scripture reveals the faith of the suffering saints, along with their failures and successes, it also records for us some of the most sobering and tragic responses of unbelievers upon hearing the gospel. The Apostle Paul, in defense of his innocence upon his arrest, stood before Felix, Festus, and Agrippa and presented to these Roman rulers the message of salvation that is found only in Christ. “As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, "That's enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you " (Acts 24:25 NIV). Before Festus and King Agrippa, the apostle defended himself … I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen—that the Christ would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would proclaim light to his own people and to the Gentiles."
At this point Festus interrupted Paul's defense. "You are out of your mind, Paul!" he shouted. "Your great learning is driving you insane" (Acts 26:22b-25 NIV). However, turning to King Agrippa, Paul asked … “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe." Then Agrippa said to Paul, "You almost persuade me to become a Christian" (Acts 26:27-28 NKJV). Almost persuaded, but not; a more convenient time that never came; almost, but lost. Each of these men had the opportunity to place their faith in the fact that Christ died for their sins on the Cross. But each found an excuse to remain in unbelief. Scripture warns … “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2 NKJV).