From the many reports on any given day by “The Voice Of The Martyrs”:
An appeals court upheld the 11-year sentence given to a Southeast Asian believer who pastors a church banned by the national government.
Gunmen opened fire in a West African church, located in a small village. Six people were killed. Several others were seriously injured and the building was set on fire.
An East African convert to Christianity was paraded and publicly flogged as a punishment for embracing a “foreign religion.” She received 40 lashes from a whip while being jeered by spectators.
We find persecution of believers around the world today – violent in many places, but present in every country. While I cannot properly enter into the real sufferings of many, from the Scriptures I can understand some of the reasons behind the oppression of Christians.
The Historical Battle
The Lord Jesus told His followers, “Remember the word that I said unto you, the servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (Jn. 15:20 KJV) and “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake” (Mt. 5:11).
Why was there such a hatred aimed at our blessed Lord? As prophesied in the Garden of Eden, there has been enmity between the woman’s seed (the Lord Jesus) and the serpent (which is the Devil; Satan) right from the beginning (Gen. 3:15). The Devil attacked the Lord while on earth, both personally and through wicked people (Lk. 4:2-13; Mt. 26:4; Jn. 10:31; Acts 2:23). The arch-enemy of God, not having succeeded in his assaults against the Lord Jesus, continues his attacks on the children of God – the Lord’s body on earth. This was made perfectly clear in the glorified Christ’s statement to Saul, a man who vehemently persecuted the early Church: “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:4-5).
Do you suffer on account of the name of the Lord our God? You are not alone – this has been happening for the past 4,000 years. We are encouraged to “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Mt. 5:12).
We see that Satan attacks the Lord Jesus Christ by persecuting His body – and we, as believers, are His body (Eph. 5:30). Peter reiterates our Lord’s words of hope for those who suffer for His name’s sake by recommending that the persecuted “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” (1 Pet. 4:13).
The Unsaved Versus The Believer
“But as then, he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now” (Gal. 4:29). There is a spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:12) between those who belong to the Lord and those who are controlled by Satan. After all, everyone who is not a true believer in the Son of God is a child of the Devil and will do his bidding. The Lord Jesus confirmed this relationship by saying, “Ye are of your father the Devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning” (Jn. 8:44). Right from earliest history Cain, the unbeliever, killed Abel, the man of faith.
Furthermore, as Christians we are different from those in the world and our lives cannot help but show it. If not in word or deed (which must be carefully guarded in some countries) then it will be seen in the peace we possess that passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7). Recognizing that there has to be a difference, for “what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness, what communion hath light with darkness or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?” (2 Cor. 6:14-15), the world will react: “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12).
The children of the Devil, those who are “from beneath” (Jn. 8:23), will persecute the children of God. Thankfully, their attacks can never sever us from the Eternal Love – and they may actually bring some Christians directly into the Lord’s presence. Paul, who suffered so much at the hands of both unbelieving Jews and Gentiles could say, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or peril, or sword? For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35-39).
To Spread The Gospel
“And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria … Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:1,4). The Church of the living God, it appears, grows best in hostile soils. Where there is persecution believers really know what they believe and why they believe it! And when some feel that they have to leave their homes for safety’s sake, it becomes a means of spreading the gospel by Christians who are well founded in their belief and biblical understanding.
Whether the persecution be passive or violent, the dispersed ones can be a real blessing to others – to the lost, to strong believers and to those who need to learn the ways of the Lord more perfectly – as exemplified by Aquila and Priscilla. We read: “After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth, and found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them. And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them” (Acts 18:1-3). “And he [Apollos] began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly” (Acts 18:26).
To Bring Us Closer To The Lord
“Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death” (Phil 3:8-10).
Saul the persecutor became Paul the persecuted. He not only gave up his honored place in Judaism, but at times he lost his possessions and almost his life while being driven out of different places. Escaping Damascus with the help of disciples who took him by night and let him down by the wall in a basket (Acts 9:25) – he knew Who he could count on. Even when all forsook him, Paul could still say, “Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion” (2 Tim. 4:17).
Persecution may bring us into a closer relationship with the Savior and a greater dependency on our blessed Lord, the Sustainer. “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).
To Test Our Faith
“So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure: which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer” (2 Th. 1:4-5). Persecution may test us to see if our faith and trust in the Lord Jesus is real. Paul was thrilled by the fact that the Thessalonian church was bearing up well under their trials. He could see that their faith was an enduring one so he could glory in their firmness of faith, knowing that it pleased God.
Of what kind of mettle [character] are we? Sometimes we don’t know until trials and persecutions come. May the Lord keep and make us to pass the test and so glorify the One who suffered for us: “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:7).
To Gain Glory And A Crown
“And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together” (Rom. 8:17). There must be humbling before exaltation (Mt. 23:12). The Lord Jesus was the perfect example of this (Phil 2:5-11). Before His glorification and His crown, He bore the shame of the cross. Paul understood that identification with the Savior in suffering for His Name would bring a crown of righteousness in association with the victorious Christ. He said this for himself and encouraged Timothy in a similar path: “But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:5-8).
Identification with the lowly Christ will cost a price, possibly a heavy one as exemplified by Paul’s martyrdom. But he could say, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).
Possibly only a few of the readers of this magazine can truly empathize with others suffering persecution. And there may come a time when Christians in more places will experience greater hostilities against them. The world is getting to be a darker place and will be the darkest when the Morning Star (our Lord Jesus Christ, Rev. 22:16) returns. Oh that we may all be strengthened in the Lord through the Scriptures. “For which [the gospel] 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 that which I have committed unto Him against that day” (2 Tim. 1:12).
By Hank Blok
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