There has been a fair bit of buzz lately regarding the decision of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) to raise the rents of their facilities and change the classification of religious groups who rent from them. You can get some of the details here. Things like this should not surprise believers. Whether this is an attack aimed at Christians and their faith is undetermined. It wouldn’t be too surprising to find out that some involved in the decision just want churches out of their facilities. The TDSB has substantial shortfalls in its budget and if churches could ever swing the new rates the increased income would certainly help. But in a move that defies logic, the decision is more likely to send the churches out of their buildings altogether and thereby decrease the amounts the TDSB receives in rent. “Cut that nose off. It’s getting in the way of your face”. Well, we should probably never expect a great deal from those we elect into office even as we pray for them and seek to submit to them as much as we are able with the smile of God still on us.
The question that comes to mind whenever I hear about people of faith being given a raw deal, is “How should we respond in such situations?” If the treatment can be legitimately classified as a case of persecution or opposition due to the faith, the Scriptures are fairly clear.
Matthew 5:12 – Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Here, Jesus tells us that we are to rejoice and do it for two chief reasons. 1) Opposition puts us in good company. The great prophets who preceded Jesus were opposed and God is counting us worthy to suffer alongside of them. 2) Great is our reward in heaven. In other words, maintain a long term perspective. Both of these reasons put us in mind of the Apostles in Acts 5:41
Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.
1 Peter 3:14-17 – But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,  but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you;  yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.  For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.
Here Peter reminds us that when we are opposed and threatened we should not fear, we should remember that Jesus is still sovereign, even when we are being mistreated, and we should be ready to make a defence of the Gospel in a distinctly Christian manner. Then he says a simply stunning thing. It is better to suffer for doing good than evil. Better. He does not say that it is admirable to suffer for doing good. It is better to suffer for good than evil. This is precisely the opposite of our attitude when we suffer. If we do wrong and suffer we generally accept it. After all, it was our fault. But if we suffer unjustly we do not accept it. We complain about unfairness or injustice. One thing we do not seem to think is that it is better to suffer this way than if we had done something wrong. Peter continues with this theme in the next chapter of his letter (Gee Peter, thanks for organzing your letters into chapters).
1 Peter 4:12-19 (ESV)Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.  But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.  Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.  For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?  And“If the righteous is scarcely saved,what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.
We shouldn’t be surprised when we suffer unjustly. It is not strange for believers to suffer. It should be expected and it should be received with joy because when we suffer because of our beliefs we are sharing in the sufferings of Jesus Christ Himself. Rejoicing now in our suffering means we will greatly rejoice when Jesus returns and He reveals His glory. Being insulted for the name of Christ is indication of the Holy Spirit’s presence and blessing upon us. Anyone want to not have that? It comes with suffering. We should never suffer as an evildoer, Peter says, but if we are to suffer we should not be ashamed, we should glorify God, remembering that it is time for judgement to begin at God’s household. And finally, none of the opposition and persecution should stop us from doing good. Just picture it. A person or group mistreats a believer or a church or a whole belief system and those on the receiving end of it rejoice, glorify God, and keep on having their lives marked by good works. Given what Jesus says in Matthew 5:38-48 Peter probably includes the idea that the good works we do while being persecuted is to be done for those who do the persecuting. Maybe that is what Paul was getting at in Romans 12:21.
When I was planting a church in St. John’s Newfoundland in the early 1980s, I was specifically told by the principle of a school that the reason they would not rent to us was because we were Baptist. I asked if I could have that in writing but was refused. It is probably better that it was. I would not have responded well, at least not according to what the New Testament tells us.
I know some of the leaders and churches facing the daunting task of seeking for a suitable place to hold their worship services. This is a real kick in the face and it is no doubt hard to take. You’re in our prayers guys. Thank you for not succumbing to the temptation to fight this with the carnal weapons of the world. There are some voices in the public square calling for protests and who know what else, as a response to this unfair rule and unethical manner in which it was made known to the tenants effected. They are the world’s tools. Who knows what glorious things God has planned for the church in Toronto, and those we are seeking to win to Him, if we will respond with rejoicing, good works, and thanks for being counted worthy to suffer with Jesus.