We all sometimes wonder how we’ll react if we are ever faced with dying for our faith. Will we have the courage to stay faithful until the end now matter how painful? Would we stay faithful if they kept us alive but tortured our loved one in front of us (way harder)? I will never forget the father and son that died for their faith last year (short summation here and here). The boy was only twelve even under torture and his father held fast as well as he was forced to watch. That twelve year old boy is a hero. So is his father. The world is not worthy of people like them.
And I ask myself, would I be able to hold fast?
Words of Wisdom
Corrie ten Boom is known throughout the world for her story in surviving the concentration camps. She lost several members of her family to this gas chambers for her participation in helping the Jews hide. When she was a young girl of 6 she asked her father once about how she would stay faithful under the threat of death if she was ever faced with that.
Daddy,” she had said one day, “I am afraid that I will never be strong enough to be a martyr for Jesus Christ.”
“Tell me,” her father wisely responded, “when you take a train trip from Haarlem to Amsterdam, when do I give you the money for the ticket? Three weeks before?”
“No, Daddy, you give me the money for the ticket just before we get on the train.”
“That is right,” he replied, “and so it is with God’s strength. Our wise Father in heaven knows when you are going to need things too. Today you do not need the strength to be a martyr. But as soon as you are called upon for the honor of facing death for Jesus, He will supply the strength you need—just in time.”
“I took great comfort in my father’s advice,” Corrie said. “Later I had to suffer for Jesus in a concentration camp. He indeed gave me all the courage and power I needed.”
Courage and Faith
Paul would be the predecessor of her suffering by an almost 2000 years. He too faced dire circumstances. He was in chains and death was a very real possibility. Courage was needed not only for him but also for the others preaching Christ. Oddly it was Paul’s very chains that provoked others to preach the word of God more courageously and fearlessly (1:14). Courage is often needed to preach the gospel, especially in times where that message can cost your life. But Paul set the standard and others followed.
But Paul too needed courage. He truly believed that God would provide that courage needed if called upon to die:
“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” (Php 1:20)
Paul had built a lifestyle of exalting Christ with his body. This often meant enduring horrific abuse of his body for their faith. In a defense he felt absurd (compared to the sacrifice of Christ), he told the Corinthian church,
“I have been worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea, and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches” (2 Cor 11:23-28).
Paul had built a life on offering his body to Christ. It’s the decisions for Christ every day that shape who we are in the Lord. It was because of this that he fully expected to embrace suffering in his body for Christ one more time, even if it was the final time. He had been here many times before.
The Gospel of Witness
We never know when or if we will be called upon to be a martyr. In Greek the word originally meant a witness. But so many people died for their witness that eventually the word became associated with death. But in the New Testament times people died because they were martyrs (witnesses), they weren’t martyrs because they died.
It beckons to us to be that witness throughout our lives. And honestly, even without death that still takes courage. In some situations sharing about Jesus is easy and natural. In others it is much more difficult–especially with a total stranger.
There’s also in this text a call for daily faithfulness. Paul says he has “often gone without food.” Would we question God’s goodness to us if we had suffered any one of these hardships? How do we handle the everyday hardships we face?
It also stirs up in my mind for me that I find it easier to suffer when it’s “for Christ.” It’s so much more of a challenge when it just seems like the suffering is for other reasons. Suffering for Christ has a redemptive quality. But what about the suffering I face that isn’t “for Christ”? Can we separate the two? I think in Scripture we can see that we can. For that I think Peter has something to say:
“For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God” (1 Pet 2:19).
There’s a lot to be said of suffering. In this country we are just at the tip of paying a price for our faith. People who stand by their faith are starting to lose their jobs–coaches, firemen and more. But few yet are losing their lives. I do expect that to change.
For the Paul and for all Christians, “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Php 1:21).
I hope I can live out both of these truths.
1 Peter 4:12-14 (Phillips Translation): “And now, dear friends of mine, I beg you not to be unduly alarmed at the fiery ordeals which come to test your faith, as though this were some abnormal experience. You should be glad, because it means you are called to share Christ’s sufferings. One day, when He shows Himself in full splendor to men, you will be filled with the most tremendous joy. If you are reproached for being Christ’s followers, that is a great privilege, for you can be sure that God’s Spirit of glory is resting upon you.”