What About Persecution?

Usually, for our Sunday article, it is my practice to quote a passage from a message or book written within the past 100 years or so, and then to make commentary as to its relevance for today. Today however, it is the constant reminder, by way of the media, of stories dealing with Christian persecution which has caused me to write. Because of much unbiblical teaching, emanating from many pulpits, in “churches” which have compromised on the Word of God and are now preaching “another gospel” I felt it necessary to put forward this brief excursus on persecution.

Words of Grace for Strength

From the very beginning, the true Church of Jesus Christ has faced persecution. Acts chapters 4 and 5 speak of the very beginning of that persecution in the ministry of the apostles Peter and John, and we find at the end of chapter 5 these words:

Acts 5:34-35
Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while. And he said to them: “Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men.

Act 5:38-42
And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God.” And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.

So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.

It is estimated that between 100 million and 150 million Christians worldwide face some type of persecution on a yearly basis, and depending upon whose report you believe to be most accurate there are between 55,000 and 100,000 Christians martyred each year. Some have even estimated that more Christians have been martyred in the first 15 years of this century than all of the previous 20 combined.

Christian persecution is found on every continent, and in every country, and is perpetrated by many religions as well as atheistic and intolerant totalitarian governments. In some places the persecution is subtle while in others it is horrifically overt. Christian persecution is found in many forms; such as slander and libel, confiscation of property, false accusations, imprisonment, kidnapping, slavery, beatings, dismemberment, torture, rape, and in varying degrees of severity up to and including murder by means of shooting, stoning, and beheading, burning, and even crucifixion.

Beginning with John and Peter’s first persecution, and with Steven’s death as the church’s first martyr, the church age has been marked by suffering, persecution, and martyrdom of the followers of Jesus Christ. All of the apostles, with the exception of John, were martyred as were most of the New Testament disciples named in the books written by Luke, Peter, John, and Paul.

Throughout the successive centuries the persecution has only grown, and as we live in these last days, awaiting the return of Jesus Christ to Rapture His Church, we can expect its intensity and frequency to grow exponentially. Jesus Christ was Himself our suffering Savior, and He was persecuted even unto death. We who are His followers, should at no time be surprised when we too are persecuted. Jesus promised us; “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” John 15:20a

Looking back to our text in Acts 5, we find that those who are persecuting the apostles are the Sanhedrin. Later in the book of Acts we find the followers of Christ being persecuted by differing groups of Gentiles and most especially the Romans. Throughout the succeeding centuries Christians have faced persecution from many different religions, ideologies, and governments.

Today Christian persecution comes at the hands of Islamists and various other religions; from communists, socialists, progressives, and other political ideologies; from atheists and agnostics; and from the radical LGBT community as well as other social activists such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU. In fact, I’m certain many of you would agree with me when I say, active Christian persecution emanates from our own White House and the administration which now occupies it.

But, I believe we who are followers of Christ, His True Church, have actually forgotten who our enemy really is. In John 14:30 he is called “the ruler of this world,” in Ephesians 2:2 he is called “the prince of the power the air,” and Paul names him as the devil in Ephesians 6:11. In fact, in Ephesians 6:11-12 Paul warns us to; “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Whether it be religions, governments, or ideologies, these and the mere mortals who lead them, are no more than pawns in this great spiritual war.

Today the True Church of Jesus Christ, the Bride of Christ, is involved in this spiritual war for the universe. Satan’s goal is to corrupt, marginalize, render ineffective, and destroy the Church of Jesus Christ. It is also his goal to destroy God’s chosen people, the Jews and their nation of Israel. Ultimately, Christ Himself will win the war. But, until we are relieved of our duty by either death (which the apostle Paul calls “gain.” Philippians1:21) or Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17), we are to equip ourselves with the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18) and make a stand for the cause of Christ.

Once again as we look back to Acts 5:41, we note that John and Peter rejoiced that they were found worthy to suffer for Christ. Peter tells us in 1 Peter 3:14 that if we suffer for righteousness sake we are blessed. And James writes in James 1:2 that we should count it all joy when we face trials. Contrary to what is taught in many “churches” today, this is the normal Christian life, to be continually facing persecution for our obedience and fidelity to the cause of Christ. Like so many saints before us, who had also counted the cost, we must be willing not only to suffer, but to lay down our life in the service of the cross.

There is an old gospel song titled “I came here to stay.” I don’t know who the author is, but I believe this song should be on the lips of every Christian as we are involved in this spiritual battle. The chorus of the song says;

Run if you want to, run if you will,
But I came here to stay.
If I fall down I’m gonna get right up.
Because I didn’t start out to play.
It’s a battlefield, brother,
not a recreation room.
It’s a fight, and not a game.
Run if you want to, run if you will,
but I came here to stay.

Know your enemy, know the battlefield, face persecution without fear, rejoice, and having done all to stand, stand therefore!

Following Hard… or finding it Hard to Follow?

So you say you are a Christian, and in fact you can point to a day in your life in which you acknowledged your sinfulness, repented of your sinful nature, and asked Jesus to be your Savior and the Lord of your life. Undoubtedly, every day since has been filled with ease and pleasure, right? What? No?

Is it possible that your faith has brought suffering rather than the happiness you expected? Have you been rejected by family members or friends? Has your relationship with Jesus Christ caused you to have to sacrifice something or someone important to you? Have you been reviled or persecuted because of your faith in Jesus Christ?

Did you know that Jesus Himself told us this would happen? In John 15:18-21 we read;

“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. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.”

Remember, Jesus was mocked, lied about, beaten, spat upon, scourged, stripped naked, and in fact, Jesus Himself was abandoned by all of His disciples except John when He was nailed to the cross.

So, there is something here that we all need to understand as followers of Christ; we need to be prepared to face the fact that in all likelihood, sometime during our life, we can expect to suffer for our faith in Christ. Many of our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ in various parts of the world today are in fact doing that very thing; suffering rejection, persecution, vile depredation, and even death. We may not all be required to face death for Christ, but the Apostle Paul warned Timothy;

“Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12)

After Christ’s resurrection and ascension, when the Holy Spirit was given to indwell the disciples, they began to recall all that they had been taught by Jesus when they walked with Him, and so began to speak boldly all the things that they had learned and witnessed. In Acts 5 we have recorded the story of John and Peter’s persecution for having refused to obey the edict of the Sanhedrin not to speak about Jesus. And Acts 5:40 records the fact that they were beaten and once again instructed not to speak about Jesus. However, in Acts 5:41 we read;

“So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.”

How does one possibly develop an attitude of thanksgiving for having suffered persecution? Quite simply, it happens when one goes beyond merely accepting Jesus Christ as Savior, and commits to doing the work that is required to become a disciple. In his letter to the church at Colossae, the Apostle Paul instructed the believers there;

“As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 2:6-7)

This is the act of Spiritual growth! Walking in Christ involves daily living by His Word; being rooted in Him requires the study of the Word; being built up in Him involves constructive growth in understanding doctrine as defined in the root of the Word; all this will establish you in your faith in Christ, enabling you to rejoice in every circumstance with thanksgiving.

Wow! You say. That sounds an awful lot like work. Well, yes it is. Becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ requires hard work, and because of the ever-present possibility of suffering and persecution, it isn’t for the faint of heart. But, the work is rewarding and the results are eternal.

So, as a believer in Jesus Christ, where do you begin to become a follower of Jesus Christ, one of His disciples? Actually it begins with your faith in Jesus Christ. The realization that you could not redeem yourself, and that by accepting God’s free gift of salvation through Christ’s finished work on the cross, you have acknowledged Christ as your Savior, and as the Lord of your life. This means you have yielded your will to His Will. When you have yielded your will to His Will you have actively begun the process of becoming a disciple. The Apostle Paul described this transformation as the “renewing of your mind.” In writing to the church at Rome the Apostle Paul encouraged the believers there;

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2)

So, Paul says after we give ourselves to God, the first work we must do is to renew our mind and by doing so, we may prove or know God’s Will. We do that by not being conformed to the world, but rather by being conformed to the Word of God. In other words everything that you learned or thought you knew before you became a Christian, must now be examined and filtered through the Word of God. This may involve unlearning some things and getting rid of old thoughts, replacing them with thoughts that are centered on Christ.

Renewing your mind, and becoming a disciple is a process not an event. When you accepted Christ as your personal Savior, your Salvation resulted in Justification in the sight of God. Discipleship is the process of Sanctification, which is daily endeavoring to grow more Christ like. Discipleship is a lifelong process, one never completes the process this side of heaven.

Discipleship is doing the work of learning to follow Christ. What does that work involve?

  • Jesus Christ discipled the 12, and hundreds more, in fact at Pentecost there were no less than 120 of His disciples present. Paul discipled Timothy, Titus, Tychicus, Luke, Phoebe, and countless others; Peter discipled John Mark among others; John discipled Ignatius, Polycarp, and others, Priscilla and Aquila discipled Apollos as did Paul, Polycarp discipled Justin Martyr and Onesimus (who was also discipled by Paul). And so down through the centuries this process has continued. I have been discipled by Dr. Jimmy Moody, Dr. Charlie Dodd, Dr. Mal Couch, Dr. Eliseo Solorio, Doug Pabody and others. What is the point here? If you truly desire to become a disciple of Jesus Christ find a more mature disciple of Christ’s and be discipled by them.
  • Discipleship is disciplining yourself to learn the Word of God and making yourself accountable to a discipler who loves you and Jesus enough to encourage you to do the hard work.
  • Daily read and study the Word of God and in so doing ask the Holy Spirit to guide and teach you. As you learn the Word of God be obedient to what you learn. Obedience is part of the hard work.
  • Memorize passages of Scripture. Committing them to your mind will not only allow you to share them with others, but more importantly they will become the foundation on which you stand and the compass by which you navigate through life.
  • Pray. Pray for understanding, knowledge, wisdom, and others. The Scripture tells us to pray without ceasing. In other words we should always be in an attitude of prayer, ready to talk to God about anything and everything. Remember in your prayers to give thanks for all that Christ has done for you and is doing in you.
  • Develop a Scriptural understanding of stewardship, realizing that all you have and all you are belongs to God. This will allow you to properly allocate your time, talent, and resources as God leads.
  • Involve yourself in a local Bible believing, gospel preaching church (here’s a hint, the more intimate and family like the congregation and staff are, the more likely it is that you will find true disciples and disciplers there). Get involved in every Bible study available to you in the church, and look for ways to serve the body of Christ in and through your church.
  • Oh, and one more thing! As you grow as a disciple, become a discipler. Make yourself available to a believer who is less mature in his or her walk with Christ than you are and begin to teach them the things you have learned from the Word of God as a disciple.

Discipleship is more than just learning how to follow Christ, it actually involves following Christ no matter what the cost. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said; “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Bonhoeffer was martyred for Christ. I think I mentioned before that discipleship is not for the faint of heart. In fact, are you aware that all of Christ’s disciples who became His Apostles were martyred with the exception of John? I have often wondered if John was spared martyrdom because of his appearance at the cross during Christ’s crucifixion. Among the other disciples I named above in this article; Timothy, Titus, Tychicus, Luke, John Mark, Ignatius, Polycarp, Apollos, Onesimus, Justin Martyr, and Dr. Eliseo Solorio were all martyred for the cause of Christ.

Remember, Christ promised we would suffer, but He also said;

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Matthew 28:19-20)

I like that promise, “I am with you always.”

Let us be busy as Disciples following hard after Jesus Christ, let us not fear those things which may befall us because we, like Paul, can say;

“For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.” (2 Timothy 1:12)

Even when the following gets hard… Especially when the following gets hard… Follow Hard after Jesus!