Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 2 Timothy 3:12
Welcome, Young Believer!
The idea of suffering for the sake of anything is very rarely appealing. Maybe you relish that burning in your muscles after a good workout or the way your head aches after you've solved a particularly difficult problem, those kinds of pain are necessary to grow. You may find it interesting to know then, that the Church has also always thrived when under pressure. From Jesus' death and resurrection, the early Church very quickly found times of trouble. They were beaten, tortured, and murdered for being Christians. But the underground church spread like wildfire across the Roman Empire as Christians fled further and further from their hometowns to escape the persecution that constantly threatened to overtake them. In America today, that can sometimes be hard to imagine since we have lived for so long without the threat of persecution for our beliefs. Yet around the world, Christians are still greatly suffering for the name of Jesus!
In just the last year*, there have been:
Over 360 million Christians living in places where they experience high levels of persecution and discrimination
5,898 Christians killed for their faith
5,110 churches and other Christian buildings attacked
4,765 believers detained without trial, arrested, sentenced or imprisoned
There are many in America who wonder when the time will come that we will face similar suffering here and how the American Church will hold up to that persecution. This is certainly something I think about here at Equipped for the Kingdom because I think it is a very important part of being equipped to know how to face persecution.
Do Not Be Surprised By Persecution
The first thing we need to know to be equipped for facing persecution is that we shouldn't be surprised by it. Jesus, Himself told his disciples that because the world hated Him, it would hate them.
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but 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 also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. John 15:18-21
Those Who Are Persecuted For Righteousness' Sake Are Blessed
More than just not being surprised when persecution comes, Jesus taught that we are blessed when we are persecuted and reviled because of Him.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:10-12
We Must Obey God Even When Threatened With Persecution
It didn't take very long after Jesus' death and resurrection for the disciples to find out how true this was. Peter and John heal a beggar who had been lame since birth in the name of Jesus on their way to the temple for worship. As they are teaching the people in the temple, the religious leaders hear about what has happened and come to arrest them. They command Peter and John to longer teach or heal in the name of Jesus and they will let them go.
But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:19-20
The religious leaders had to let them go anyway but took the time to continue threatening them first. They knew that if these disciples kept teaching and healing the way that Jesus had been doing before them then the rumor that He was the true Messiah would continue to spread. Can you imagine being one of the religious leaders coming to the realization that you might have the blood of the Messiah your people had been waiting for on your hands?! The religious leaders would have been concerned both for their own power and for the response of the Romans if this new belief system continued to stir up the people.
We Must Ask God to Give Us the Boldness to Continue
The disciples were also shaken by this first brush with the religious leaders. Peter and John went immediately back to the church to tell them what had happened. Although they were frightened, their resolve to continue to tell people about Jesus did not waver. Together they prayed for the courage to keep preaching boldly as they had been commanded.
When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’— for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. Acts 4:23-31
God answered that prayer through the many trials the believers faced for the rest of their lives. The apostles were imprisoned, flogged, and released not long after they prayed this together. Then one of the newer members of the church, Stephen, was killed for his bold proclamation of Jesus before the religious leaders. According to tradition only one of the apostles died of old age and that was after many years of imprisonment and torture.
The early church struggled greatly under the threat of persecution, they struggled with the fear of suffering themselves, the fear for their loved ones, and the grief of those that they had lost. Many in the early church besides facing all of these physical threats to their well-being were often cut off from their unbelieving families who wanted nothing to do with them. They were called atheists and treated as heretics by the Romans because they worshipped only one God and no longer practiced animal sacrifice even to Him. They were called cannibals because of the language used in the practice of communion. Nero blamed them for the great fire that destroyed so much of Rome. The list could certainly go on...
It is Our Calling to Bless Those Who Persecute Us
Yet Peter writes to the churches to remind them that we are not alone in our suffering and that we are called to continue to love and bless those who are our enemies because they are first the enemies of Christ.
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 1 Peter 3:8-9
Through Persecution We Share in Christ's Suffering
We were also once the enemies of Christ before He sacrificed Himself for us and we accepted His sacrifice on our behalf. We should always remember this!
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit. 1 Peter 3:13-18
Peter goes on to remind the Church that Jesus suffered and died to put Sin to death on our behalf. We are no longer to live for our earthly desires and comfort but for the will of God, even if His will means persecution.
Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. 1 Peter 4:1-2
We, therefore, are to rejoice when our faith is tested through persecution knowing that God will hold accountable those who remain in rebellion against Him. He will also have mercy on us and all who turn away from evil through the sacrifice of His Son.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:12-13
How then are we to face persecution?
We know that it will come.
We pray to God for boldness to continue proclaiming the Gospel.
We bless those who persecute us.
We rejoice in our suffering.
We know we suffer for Jesus, rather than suffering under the weight of the consequences of our sin.
We live to obey God's will instead of our earthly desires for pleasure and comfort.
We continue to do good.
Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. 1 Peter 4:19
This all sounds so simple on paper but I think we'll never know how we will hold up under persecution until we are in the midst of it. That's what makes the prayer part so important. It's only God's gift of boldness in us that allows us to endure through all of these things.
May we all have the strength to stand firm in rejoicing when that day comes.
If you have more questions about what it means to face persecution as a Christian please place those in the comments. We would also love to hear from you in the chatbox if you're needing prayer. I also highly recommend, as always, that you find a mentor in the faith that will help to walk you through these issues as you grow in your faith. This is one journey you were never meant to take alone!