Our suffering pales in comparison to the early church. The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1883).
The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1883).

Regardless of who wins the presidential election next week I believe persecution is coming. The difference may only be a matter of timing and degree. The American Church has been largely insulated from the persecution that is experience by our brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world. This is largely due to a historical (and constitutional) understanding of what it means to have freedom of religion. That understanding has been deteriorating over time.

I also know that we will face persecution because, well, Jesus promised that we would. Yet I think there has been an unspoken belief among American Christians that Jesus’ words would never apply to us.

Jesus said, “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,” (John 15:18-19, ESV).

If you have never experienced this “hatred” is some form or fashion it may be a good barometer of where you stand with the world. We’ve seen a number of Christians who have adopted positions based on our current cultural state of affairs. They may achieve the applause of men, but they are not living their lives to an audience of one.

This of course doesn’t mean that we are not to be winsome. Make sure that if you are hated it is because of your love for Jesus not because you are being a jerk.

But we shouldn’t be surprised if the world hates us, (1 John 3:13). I think we should be surprised if it doesn’t.

Persecution was part and parcel to the birth of the Church. Its Founder was crucified after all (and then gloriously resurrected!). All one has to do is look at the book of Acts.

  • Peter and John were brought before the Council (Acts 4)
  • The Apostles were arrested (Acts 5)
  • Stephen was arrested (Acts 6) and then stoned to death (Acts 7).
  • Saul (who later became Paul) ravages the Church (Acts 8)
  • Saul turns to Christ and then he experiences persecution and has to flee Damascus for his life (Acts 9)
  • James is killed and Peter imprisoned (Acts 12).

Paul and persecution were on a first name basis. Paul wrote, “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And apart from other things there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all of the churches,” (2 Corinthians 11:24-28, ESV).

After all of that he spent his last few years under Roman guard and was beheaded during the reign of Nero while in Rome.

James, early church writings tell us, was crucified upside down because he didn’t deem himself worthy to die in the same manner as the Lord Jesus.

All of the Apostles were martyred except for the Apostle John was was banished to the Island of Patmos. There were many martyrs throughout history. Second century Church father Tertullian has been credited with saying, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” In many ways he is right.

We shouldn’t expect to be exempt from this.

Fortunately, the Church will prevail! Jesus said that the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church, (Matthew 16:18).

What must we do in the face of growing persecution?

1. Pray

Paul writes, “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth,” (1 Timothy 2:1-4, ESV).

We need to pray for our leadership, not just for their sake, but for ours as well.

2. Submit. 

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement,” (Romans 13:1-3, ESV).

Peter gives us an even clearer picture.

“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and  to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor,” (1 Peter 2:13-17, ESV).

So where we can we must submit. I’ll address when we can’t a little later.

3. Remember who our fight is really with.

It ultimately isn’t with those opposing us on earth.

“For we do no wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” (Ephesians 6:12, ESV).

Our fight is a spiritual one, so back to the first point – pray.

4. Love our opposition.

Jesus said that we are to “love (our) enemies and pray for those who persecute (us),” (Matthew 5:44).

We use this phrase “hate the sin, but love the sinner.” How well do we really “love the sinner”?

Do we honestly pray for those who oppose us? Do we look for ways to serve those who oppose us? Or do they just see us protesting them and their agenda?

5. Be salt and light.

Jesus in His sermon on the Mount said, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lap and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven,” (Matthew 5:13-16, ESV).

Whole books have been written on this subject. In a nutshell we are to engage with our culture in order to preserve it. We should be involved in various aspects of our culture, but we should do so being a representative of Christ and reflecting Christlikeness and a biblical worldview. If we do not do this then we’ve lost our ability to be salt and are worthless.

We are also to shine the light of the Gospel into dark places. We are to bring the light to people. If we try to hide it we are also useless. Our good works, the love we show, the service we give is what causes those who see to give glory to God.

As we are salt and light we need to be prepared for questions and opportunities.

“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,” (1 Peter 3:15-16, ESV).

We are to first in our hearts honor Christ as holy. He is to be our guide. We are to follow His leadership. We are also to be prepared to give a defense of the faith. Be ready to answer questions. Be ready to share the Gospel with people. We need to do this with gentleness and respect.

If you are persecuted make sure it is for being a follower of Jesus and not because you were being  a jerk.

Note it says, “when you are slandered” not “if you are slandered” it will be a ridiculous statement because of your “good behavior in Christ.”

6. Stand firm and resist.

“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong,” (1 Corinthians 16:13, ESV).

We are to submit, but if we are told to violate our conscience, if “honoring the Emperor” means not fearing God, if we are to told to render under Caesar things that we are to render unto God then we must stand firm and resist.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were told to bow and worship their King. They stood firm and God protected them in the fiery furnace.

Daniel was told he couldn’t pray, he did so anyway. The Apostles were told not to not preach about Jesus they did so anyway.

Regardless of what law is passed or what order is given if it requires us to disobey God we must follow the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. If our governing authorities begin to punish what is good and reward evil we must resist.

In doing so we must show love, pray for our opponents and honor Christ however. We must also be prepared to face whatever consequences come our way as a result.

7. Rejoice.

It sounds odd, but when we experience persecution we should rejoice for a couple of reasons.

First God uses this for our growth. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trails of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness,” (James 2:2-3, ESV).

We are stronger when stand firm in the face of persecution.

Second, we are found worthy. After the Apostles were arrested, stood before the council and then released they rejoiced. Why? Because they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name,” (Acts 5:41).

God can use all things for His glory and there are worse things than death.

Be prepared for when, not if, persecution comes knocking.

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