Vol. 6, No. 7
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As the apostle Paul closed his letter to the churches in Galatia, he said, "From now on let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks [stigmata] of the Lord Jesus"(Galatians 6:17). The word "stigmata" (translated "marks") means, "a mark incised or punched (for recognition of ownership), i.e. (figuratively) scar of service" (Strong's Concordance). The "marks" or "scars" in Paul's body evidently were due to 195 stripes he received from the Jews, the 3 times he was beaten with rods and the many other abuses he received (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:24ff), all because he preached the Gospel of the crucified and risen Christ. Although these were literal marks or scars in Paul's body, which were evidence of his being owned by the Lord Jesus and his being a faithful servant, yet they also reflected the "stigma," i.e., the "mark, label, or the like" (Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary) that he bore because of his deviation from the norm of that day's religious and philosophical thought.
The Gospel that Paul preached, the Gospel predicated upon the crucifixion, resurrection and coronation of Jesus Christ, incited great physical opposition from the Jews who rejected Jesus of Nazareth as being their expected Messiah. The Gospel had hardly begun to be preached when the Jewish leaders tried by physical violence to stop its spread (cf. Acts 4 & 5), and the persecution became so severe "...against the church which was at Jerusalem; that they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria..." (Acts 8:1). A great stigma fell upon all who believed the Gospel and were baptized into Christ. And when Paul, who was an instigator of that persecution, was converted and commissioned to preach that Gospel to the Jews and the Gentiles, it was as if a double stigma fell upon him. Not only did that stigma originate from the Jews but also from the Gentile philosophers of that day. When he preached Christ crucified, it was "...to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness" (1 Corinthians 1:23). So, when the "marks" and "scars" were inflicted upon Paul's body (as it was with multiplied thousands of other Christians), it was because of the stigma they bore for departing from the norm of their day by speaking and standing for the truth of the Gospel.
Those who are of the world, who yet refuse to receive and obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ, have made that stigma stand to this day, and by all indications it shall be so as long as this earth and time shall last. But that is simply a burden that those who faithfully serve God will have to endure, if they expect to be confessed by Jesus before the Father (Matthew 10:32). Jesus said, "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:18-19). The world never did accept or understand the truth and the ways of God, and it does not to this day. Therefore, all who follow and walk in the "righteousness which is of God" will be ridiculed, persecuted and stigmatized by religionists and philosophers alike. But it is he who endures to the end who shall be saved.
In the eyes of the worldly wise, both religious and non-religious, those who solidly stand upon the inspiration of the Bible, who do not believe the eternal Word should be reinterpreted and/or modified to harmonize with current cultural concepts, they shall be stigmatized with many epithets intended to "mark" and "label" them as radical, bigoted and uneducated people who are out of step with the times. Radical because they hold to a "thus saith the Lord" without addition or deletion. Bigoted because of their biblically-based conviction that "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; on God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, an in you all" (Ephesians 4:4-6). Uneducated because they have not fallen in line with the liberal theologians who believe the Bible is the work of redactors who simply are expressing their personal understanding of matters pertaining to eternity. Out of step with the times because they refuse to compromise morality and allow every person to "do his own thing," which involves the kind of lifestyle that elicited the wrath of God in times past. Christians must not allow this world-induced stigmatism to cause them to "draw back to perdition,"but rather be counted in the number "of those who believe to the saving of the soul" (Hebrews 10:29) and to faithfully do this whether the "marks" or "scars" be inflicted upon the "outward man" or the "inward man."
Very often when preachers preach, teachers teach and elders elder, it becomes their God-ordained duty to "reprove, rebuke and exhort" a fellow-Christian who fails to live by the divine mandate, "But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct" (1 Peter 1:15). The precious body of Christ cannot, must not, tolerate and/or fellowship a person who deliberately and intentionally violates the moral or spiritual codes of the "law of Christ" (cf. 1 Corinthians 5; 2 Thessalonians 3:6). Preachers, teachers and elders who fail to keep the church pure (so far as it is their instructed responsibility) are in big trouble with the Lord Jesus Christ. But what a stigma inflicted by disgruntled members and their worldly-minded friends often falls upon them when they exercise their duty, a duty that will cost them their souls if they fail to do it!
There is a growing attitude that says, "What I do is none of your business. I will do what I please." But there is a failure to recognize that there is a big difference between what truly is one's personal business and what is the business of the Lord. Christians are characterized as the Lord's flock who have been "entrusted" to elders whom the Holy Spirit made to be shepherds (pastors) under the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:1-4; Acts 20:28). So, what is the Lord's "business" becomes the elders' "business," and they dare not shirk taking care of that "business," giving no regard as to how many "marks" and "scars" they get for doing so. And "stigmata" they will get when they attempt to rescue a child of God from the error of his way, who, if impenitent, will go about concocting false statements to enlist the sympathy of worldly-minded people (religious and non-religious) who will join in the effort to stigmatize the Lord's servants and his church.