"The Flip-Side of Passion" (February 2004)
The whole world seems to be "abuzz" over Mel Gibson's new movie, "The Passion of the Christ". Many of you have probably already seen it or plan to see it. In this newsletter I'd like to address the subject of "passion", but it's not my intention to give a review of the movie or even discuss at full length Christ's passion. Instead I'd like to address your passion for Christ.
I want to challenge you to check your passion level for the One Who was so passionate for you. We can't truly say we have a passion or even desire to have a passion for Him until we first have a clear understanding of what it means to have a "passion" toward something or someone. First, let's define the word "passion". I thought I knew what the word meant, but when I looked it up I was surprised at what I discovered. Webster's dictionary defines passion as- 1) the enduring of inflicted pain, tortures, or the like (as in the suffering of Christ on the cross); the suffering of a martyr; martyrdom; 2) an object of love and desire, deep interest, zeal; intense, driving, overmastering feeling or conviction. The word "passion" (as defined above) only appears in the Bible one time- "To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God." (Acts 1:3) The Greek meaning is- to experience a sensation or impression (usually painful); feeling, passion, suffer, vex. Having read these definitions, it shed a whole new light for me in regard to what passion truly is. Thinking that "passion" was a deep burning desire toward someone out of heartfelt love and devotion, I have prayed numerous times as follows (perhaps you have too): "Give me a passion for You, Lord. Make my passion for You like that of a 'deer that pants after and longs for the water brook' when it is thirsty. (Psalms 42:1) Give me a heart that longs for You above anything and everything else. Cause my heart's greatest delight to be toward You and You alone. I want to be passionate in my relationship with You and burn with love for You." "And you shall love the Lord your God out of and with your whole heart and out of and with all your soul (your life) and out of and with all your mind (your faculty of thought and your moral understanding) and out of and with all your strength." (Mark 12:30- Amplified Bible) While my prayer for a "passion" for Him was based on a desire to love Him intensely with all my heart and being...as I have looked more closely into the subject I realize that this is only part of it.
The passion "of" Christ included both definitions- He "so" deeply and ardently loved us that He was willing to endure the suffering of the cross for us. "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2) The "joy that was set before Him" was the knowledge that if He would give His life in order to pay the price for our sins, the way would be made so that we could spend eternity with Him in His Father's house. The joy of having us with Him forever far outweighed the agony, shame and suffering that He would face. True passion involves both- deep love and suffering because of that love. This is what we saw portrayed through Christ.
Now that we know the definitions of the word and have seen the passion of Christ, let's see if we really have (or want to have) a passion for Him. Let's break the question down into two parts- starting with the definition that implies a deep love, a heartfelt emotion. Do you have this type of passion for the Lord? Do you love Him? Really love Him? Anyone can "say" they love the Lord; anyone can "say" they want His will in their lives, but saying it doesn't really mean that you do. "These people draw near Me with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts hold off and are far away from Me." (Matthew 15:8- Amplified Bible) For example, consider Simon Peter who walked with our Lord and had a revelation of who Jesus was, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God" (Matthew 16:16) how he missed it in the area of "passion" for his Lord. "Peter answered and said unto him [Jesus], 'Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended'. And he said unto him, 'Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death'." (Matthew 26:33; Luke 22:33) I'm sure that Peter was sincere and thought his love for the Lord was strong enough to withstand any test, yet, when it was actually put to the test we see that he denied that he even knew Jesus. "Again Peter denied it, this time with an oath. 'I don't even know the man', he said." (Matthew 26:69- New Living Translation) There is a lesson in Peter's response when he was put to the test that we need to heed. Peter was hand-picked by the Lord, he walked with Jesus on the water, he saw Jesus in His glory on the Mount of Transfiguration, he was empowered to go out and do miracles in Jesus' name, he walked in personal relationship with Jesus for three years, yet his passion level wasn't what he thought it was- had it been, he would not have denied Jesus those three times. Judas is another example; he did miracles in the name of the Lord, he was the treasurer for Jesus' ministry, yet he betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. We see in the Book of Revelation that Jesus commended the Church of Ephesus for their "good works", yet He still had something against them. "I know thy works, and thy labor, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil; and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars; and hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast labored, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love." (Revelation 3:2-4) He rebuked them for 'leaving their first love". They had good works, they didn't allow any false teachers to come in and preach, they hated evil, yet they did not love Him like they once did--- with a passion, a burning desire. He used to be their first and last- their everything. They lived, ate, and drank Jesus. Everything they did centered around Him at one time, but no longer. What about you? Is He your first love? Do you wake up thinking about Him and go to sleep with Him still on your mind? Do you make sure that nothing stands between you and your quiet time alone with Him? Do you look forward to the time when you can get into His presence? Or do you put Him on a shelf behind all your other daily task and leave Him there until you have the extra time or have a need? We must ask the Lord daily to search our hearts and show us where we really are in our love and devotion to Him. Just because we are a "disciple" of Christ, just because we are doing His work, just because we are in church, just because we once had a deep love for Him doesn't in and of itself necessarily mean that we have a passion for Him.
Having challenged you to ask yourself if you have a passion for Him in the area of your love for Him, let's move to the second part of the definition-- which was suffering. While anyone can "say" they love the Lord, the test of that love comes when it is tried. This was the passion of Christ- His suffering showed us how much He loved us. "But God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners." (Romans 5:8- New Living Translation). The proof of His love was in His suffering. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down His life for His friends." (John 15:13) It's not enough to say we love Him or say we are willing to suffer for Him, like Peter did. Suffering for Him is where the "rubber meets the road"; it's "putting your money where your mouth is" so to speak. The passion of Christ was in His suffering; so our passion for Him is evident when we show Him we love Him instead of just telling Him we do.
"Then said Jesus unto his disciples, 'If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me'." (Matthew 16:24) As Christians we all are called to carry our cross- the place of suffering and death to self. Am I suggesting that we are going to have to give our lives on a cruel cross in order to show the Lord that we really do love Him? No, Jesus was the only One who could fulfill that role as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, but what I am saying is that if you really do have a passion for Him, you ought to be willing to show it when it is put to the test. When you are called on to make a stand for Christ- your passion for Him will cause you to stand and not back down. When you are confronted about your relationship with Him- your passion for Him should make you stand up and say, "I am not ashamed to call Him Lord." Your passion for Him should prompt you to be willing to suffer rejection, ridicule, lies, hatred, whatever comes your way because you belong to Him...instead of cowing down. Passion makes and takes a stand for the one it is passionate toward. True passion will bring suffering along with it.
Many of us love the Lord (or say we do) as long as it doesn't "cost" us anything. As long as it doesn't cost us our reputation or relationships, as long as we can retain favor with man and a social status, as long as it's comfortable and doesn't require anything of us. Well, true passion will cost you everything...it did Jesus. Everything Jesus taught His disciples, He taught by example. "For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you." (John 13:15) He is our example of how we are to live in this world- He taught us how to love by example, He taught us how to forgive through His example, He taught us how to please the Father by being a living example, He told us how to walk in the Spirit, etc.- does it not stand to reason that He would also teach us by His own example how to have a "passion" for Him as well? "For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps." (1 Peter 2:21) If He suffered for love's sake, we will too- if we truly love Him.
Suffering has become a "four-letter" word in the church. Honestly, who enjoys suffering? No one does, but in the church we don't even want to hear about it. We want everything to be "happy/happy-joy/joy"; we want only good things to happen; we want to hear about the blessings. Suffering is so foreign to us, but it wasn't for the Old Testament saints and the early church.
Let's look at what the scriptures say about "suffering" for Christ. In Jesus first sermon- the sermon on the mount- He addressed the issue of suffering for Him right up front. "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake." (Matthew 5:11) Jesus said, "Blessed are ye 'when' men shall revile you...", not "if". There was no question that you will face some suffering because of your relationship with Him.
The early church knew about suffering and had a completely different outlook on it than the way we, the present day church, do. "And when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus and let them go. (Acts 5:40) "The apostles left the high council rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus". (Acts 5:41- New Living Translation) Did you hear that? They were beaten and told not to preach the gospel and they counted it a privilege and honor to suffer that sort of shame- they were actually rejoicing over the fact that they suffered because of the gospel of Jesus. How many of us would have been rejoicing? How many of us would have gotten upset and mad at God for allowing that to happen to us? The early church spoke often of suffering for Christ. "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." (2 Timothy 3:12) "But God will use this persecution to show His justice. For He will make you worthy of His Kingdom, for which you are suffering." (2 Thessalonians 1:5- New Living Translation) "For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And our hope of you is stedfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation." (2 Corinthians 1:5,7)
Let's look at a man who was well acquainted with "suffering" for Christ. "But the Lord said unto him [Ananias], 'Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake'. And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost'." (Acts 9:15-17) I am, of course, talking about the apostle Paul. When God spoke to Ananias about him, He told him that He would "show him how great things he must suffer for His name's sake". Paul did suffer greatly for Jesus' sake. As he followed the Lord in loving devotion he testified, "They say they serve Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in jail more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jews gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled many weary miles. I have faced danger from flooded rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the stormy seas. I have faced danger from men who claim to be Christians but are not. I have lived with weariness and pain and sleepless nights. Often I have been hungry and thirsty and have gone without food, Often I have shivered with cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of how the churches are getting along." (2 Corinthians 11:23-28- NLT) Yet through all this, he still cried out, "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death." (Philippians 3:10) Paul knew that you can't truly know Jesus aside from fellowship with His suffering and identifying with Him through His death. His passion for Christ gave Him the strength to face his suffering for Him. Would Paul say that it was worth it? Listen to what he did say, "Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ." (Philippians 3:8)
You can't serve Christ and not face suffering- none who call themselves His are exempt. We all have a cross to bear if we would follow Him. Don't shrink back when suffering comes, it will be the proof of your passion for your Lord. When God sees your suffering for His name sake, He will reward you for it. "And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together." (Romans 8:17) "If we suffer, we shall also reign with him." (2 Timothy 2:12b) "But rejoice inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy." (1 Peter 4:13)
After discovering what it really means to have a passion for Christ, can you honestly say you have it? If not, can you still say you want it? Christ suffered and died for you because He loved you so dearly and thought you were worth whatever He had to endure. When suffering comes your way because of your relationship with Him (and it will), will you love Him enough to face it, yield to it, and pay whatever it may cost you? If so... That's real passion.