Why Persecution Is a Blessing
This year our local church will be remembering the persecuted Christians of the world on the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted (“Persecution Sunday”). Many people do not realize that Christians are still being killed for their faith. I have met personally with the father of an 8-year old girl who was beheaded in Ethiopia because her family members were followers of Jesus. I have prayed with the parents of a 19-year old Ethiopian who was stabbed to death because he was a Christian.
So what will be our theme on Persecution Sunday? Consider what Jesus said in John 15:18-20:
If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? “A slave is not greater than his master.” Since they persecuted me, they will persecute you.
Jesus is teaching us that if we live a life like His we are going to receive the same kind of treatment He endured. He is promising that His followers will be mocked, ridiculed, and worse. Persecution is par for the course for the Body of Christ. The question is, Are we going to try and avoid it? How you ever noticed how quick we are to claim God’s promises of protection? But when was the last time we claimed the promise of 2 Timothy 3:12: “All who desire to live godly lives in union with Christ Jesus will suffer persecution”? When was the last time any of us said, “Lord, today I claim that promise!”
Let us take the matter a step further. When was the last time you were actually persecuted for being a Christian? When was the last time you placed yourself in harm’s way for the sake of the Gospel? You say, “I’ve never been in places like that. I’ve never been to China or the Middle East. I’ve never been to the barrio.” Well, why not? Both Jesus and Paul teach that persecution is not something to be avoided. It is a privilege, a great honor to suffer for Christ. That Jesus would count us worthy of being His representatives and facing the same kind of treatment He faced is nothing to be ashamed of. All of the New Testament apostles were martyred save one. Suffering came to them because they lived for God and served the expansion of the kingdom. In the book of Acts we see how Paul preached the Gospel despite the fact that he knew that beatings, imprisonment, and sorrow lay ahead.
In light of this consistent New Testament pattern, I ask, “Since when did God change His plan and offer us an easier method of serving Him?” Everything in our culture is geared toward avoiding sacrifice and suffering. The same is true in many of our churches. How many of us would confess our adulterous relationship with comfort? (I’ll be the first!) But in order for the Gospel to reach the lost, somebody has to pay the price. Why should that person not be me or you? Are we willing to pay any price to see others know the love of God?
I urge all of us to remember the persecuted not only on Persecution Sunday but every day of our lives. 2 Timothy 2:12 says, “If we endure, we will also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He will also deny us.” Jesus stands up for us when we stand up for Him. He has commanded us to “rejoice and be exceedingly glad” when we are persecuted for His name’s sake (Matthew 5:12). In Philippians 1:28 Paul reminds us that opposition is proof of our salvation. And in the very next verse he says, “We have been given the privilege of not only believing in Him but also suffering for Him” (Philippians 1:19). Yet we cry out, “Stop persecuting us!” That is not only wrong, it’s cowardly. Jesus was anything but feeble. He was (and is) the Almighty God. Yet even Jesus “learned obedience through the things that He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). Should that be any less true of us?
Dear friends, persecution will come to the church. It is as certain as death and taxes. My deep hope is that, when it comes, it will be for all the right reasons, and that we will accept it as from the heart of a loving Savior who suffered at the hands of angry sinners because He loved others more than He loved Himself.
October 21, 2010
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.