Coming to Grips with Persecution7 min read
From a large-scale perspective, revival and persecution are very close in purpose for the people of God. Revival restores them to spiritual vitality and an impactful collective testimony. Persecution purges them to spiritual purity and singleness in affection toward God. Revival positively raises us toward spiritual maturity. Persecution negatively cleanses against spiritual complacency and immaturity. Persecution pushes Christians together; revival draws Christians together. Often, however, we like to think about revival and not the alternative, persecution. God has used both in sanctifying His people, and we need to be prepared for whichever we may be entrusted with.
Persecution: A Christian’s Blessing – Matthew 5:10-12
Too often we associate persecution with the mentality that “This is the end of the world as we know it. All we have left is to hang by our fingernails until the Lord takes us home.” But Scripture never approaches the subject like that. The reality of persecution is intrinsically tied with the Christian’s hope, and if we view the subject rightly that hope will only increase.
Notice how the Lord calls the persecuted “Blessed.” Why? Because these are people who are living out their Christian profession. It is “for righteousness’ sake” that they are opposed. Wonderful for the world to confirm our testimony by hating it! This leads to the heart-searching question, though, of whether it really is for righteousness’ sake that we are persecuted. Peter describes the kind of affliction that is for wrongdoing and says “What glory is it, if sinning and being beaten you endure? But if, doing good and suffering, you should bear it, this is acceptable with God.” The key in Matthew 5 is, “they shall say all kinds of evil against you falsely.” If the world is accurate in their accusations, we have a problem! Persecution only leads to blessing when it is actually for our righteous life.
This righteousness is consistent with where our hope is. “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven… great is your reward in heaven.” Citizens of heaven love to please the God Whose throne is there. Their treasures are there, because their hearts are there. Believers who settle down in the world will not survive persecution: only believers content with heavenly prospects will see suffering for righteousness as a blessing. Thankfully in this struggle of striving for heaven we are not alone. We have the benefit of examples, men of God in the past who have endured and found the Lord to be faithful. We are in good company when the world is against us: it has been against many worthies who sold themselves out for God. Wonderful to be in their shoes now and have the promise of their same reward as well. Persecution certainly brings blessings we would not have otherwise.
Persecution: A Consequence of Christian Identity – John 15:17-25
Whereas Matthew 5 speaks of our reward in heaven, John 15 outlines our lack of reward or even comfort on earth. However, before the Lord outlines any hatred of His people from the world, he gives this command, which is especially touching in light of Calvary’s immanence: “Love one another.” The simple but important lesson is this: when the world stands against us, we desperately need to stand together with our own. If we are going to be persecuted, let us be persecuted together!
As to the hatred of the world, we need to understand a few things so we know what is happening when persecution strikes. The first premise the Lord gives is this: “The world hated Me before it hated you.” The world hates God, anything instituted by God, and anything associated with God. And it cannot bear to lose a convert to God’s ways. It is essentially a system of rebellion that cannot thrive except it keep the lost under its grip and ways. So then, when we not only stand with God by name, but also repudiate any association with this system, it must attack. Over the years, the attacks have taken various forms (usually under one of two categories: infiltration or oppression), but the central issue is this notion that a holy God has taken a soul from the world’s grip and set him apart for the Master’s service. Let it be conversion to any dead religion, and the world will make no protest. But let it be unto the Lord Jesus Christ, and then there will be a battle. We as believers are objects of God’s choice – a choice that brings us out of the world. Therefore, we would be foolish not to expect some sort of persecution. To the Lord it is an obvious consequence of serving Him: “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” It is as simple as that.
But there is one thing which is not so simple: those from whom the persecution comes. It is easy to generalize “the world” as a system, but we must understand it can take various forms, even religion. The Lord warned the disciples about persecution, not simply from ignorant pagans, but people who knew the Word of God, the Jews. “They have both seen and hated both me and my Father…. this comes to pass that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their [the Jews’] law, They hated me without a cause.” The same was true for Timothy, whom we will look at next: his opponents “had a form of godliness.” Let us be careful not just to expect persecution from the secular world, but also from the religious world, whether it parade as “Christian” or not. This is why we must love God’s true people. Knowing and being acquainted with true converts will keep us from mingling with the false converts who could any day turn on their profession and revile the faith they once claimed. One of the devil’s best tactics is to keep us watching for the outright opponents of the faith, while we non-judgmentally let false teachers creep into our ranks and destroy us from within. Let us beware. Let us stay close to our Saviour and those who love Him. This world is not our home!
Persecution: A Christian’s Expectation – 2 Timothy 3:10-14
Paul had much to say about persecution in his epistles, and in passing the baton of responsibility to Timothy he wrote much concerning persecution. Timothy could have no one better to teach him these things, for Paul had his fair share of persecution himself. Yet in all of that he could be confident and say these words “But out of them all the Lord delivered me.” In writing 2 Timothy, Paul was facing execution close by, which he ended up having to go through. But his confidence was still always in the Lord. Such must be the case for us if we have any hope in enduring persecution faithfully.
On this note, Paul told Timothy “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” This is the norm for Christianity, especially in light of the conditions Paul described afterward. “But evil men and seducers will wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.” Darkness has a tendency to grow; decay will always increase. It is no different with man’s systems. If we are to interact with these, should we not expect our light to cause agitation to their darkness? Obviously so. What is the secret to hope in these kind of conditions? Faithfulness to and assurance in the Word of God. Paul’s central advice was “Continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of.” The same is true for us today.
Peter’s words serve as a fitting conclusion:
Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: 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. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator. (1 Peter 4:12-19)