We all fear that persecution is growing ever near here in America (and beyond). But how do we prepare for it? How do we prepare the children who will face this perhaps to an even greater degree than ourselves? What attitude should we approach persecution?
Persecution in the Province
Persecution was happening in Philippi as there was opposition to the gospel. It started when Paul was in Philippi and he and Silas were preaching the gospel. Paul cast out a demon spirit in a girl and when her owner saw that she would no longer be profitable, he brought accusation against them in the public square. As crowds so easily do, an uproar was formed and Paul and Silas were stripped, severely flogged and thrown into prison (Acts 16:16ff).
Paul got out of jail and left Philippi but it seemed like the Philippian brothers and sisters were likewise being troubled for their faith. Paul admonishes them that “it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now here that I still have.” The “same struggle” seems to indicate that perhaps they too were facing imprisonment and floggings.
But Paul says something very interesting to them:
“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved–and they by God.”
We have read before about the power of unity to testify to the unbeliever, and we see this here again. Their unity is great testimony. But what is interesting is the admonition to stand together, without fearing those who oppose them. This is found in other parts of Scripture as well, most notably by Jesus:
“So do not be afraid of them…Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt 10:28).
Why? According to Paul what is the power in this?
“This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved–and they by God.”
There’s something about persecution that when the believers do not tremble in fear, it makes the persecutors tremble. Both history past and history present have recorded this phenomenon–People worshiping as they were thrown to the lions in ancient Rome or singing Amazing Grace while facing a firing squad that silenced their song or speaking forgiveness and giving away their Bible on the way to their beheading. The remarkable grace God gives in the hour of persecution has brought untold numbers of persecutors to the cross–convicted by how believers have died.
It’s the peace that passes all understanding that is a conundrum for those used to reveling in others’ fear.
So how do we prepare?
All of us wonder how we will respond to persecution and quite frankly, none of us knows. Will we be like Peter who trembles in fear and capitulates three times before he gets it right? Will we be like Paul who preaches the gospel to our dying day? We don’t know. But I do think there are ways to prepare ourselves and the next generation coming up.
1) We must see persecution as the Normal Christian Life
“If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also…” Jn 15:20
Nik Ripken tells the story of a group of pastors he met in an area of intense persecution. He was in the process of interviewing believers who faced persecution and he was amazed at the persecution and God stories coming from these times. At one point Nik exclaimed, ‘You should write a book!’ The pastors and leaders looked confused. And embarrassed.
Finally one of the pastors took him to a window and showed him the sunset.
“Sir,” he said, “when your sons were growing up, how many mornings did you take them to the window of your house and say to them, “look, boys, the sun is coming up in the East this morning!”
Nik replied, “I never once did that…my sons would have that I had lost my mind–because the sun always comes up in the East!”
Gently the wise brother replied, “Sir,” he said, “That is why we talk little of our persecution and suffering. That is why we have not written our stories down. And that is why we have not made a movie. Our persecution is always with us. It simply comes as we walk with Jesus. It is like the sun coming up in the East.”
“Besides,” he continued, “When did you Christians in the West stop reading your Bible?”
Persecution is normal. It even comes with a promise.
“All who live a godly life will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12).
It’s abnormal to not face much persecution. Yes, Christ desires that we pray and seek for peace that we may live in all godliness and holiness (1 Tim 2:1-2), but this world is evil and those who live in intentional righteousness will face persecution.
2) We must see persecution as a blessing and a gift and a place of joy
“Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven” (Lk 6:23).
“You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions” (Heb 10:34)
So many are approaching persecution as something of great fear. But Scriptures tell us repeatedly not to fear. This is especially important as we speak of persecution with the next generation. There must be a paradigm shift that persecution is a place of joy. Why?
3) We must receive persecution as our Christian heritage that Connects us to Christ
“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him but also to suffer for him” (Php 1:29)
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his his sufferings, becoming like him in his death and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Php 3:10-11)
We never know someone or understand someone so much as when we walk in similar shoes. A single person can study marriage and how to raise children all they want, but until they have a family of their own, they will not understand the triumphs and trials. A soldier can study what it is to be at war, but until bullets are flying by his/her head they won’t really understand. In the same way we can study about the persecutions of Christ, but when we ourselves enter into them, we will know Christ in a way that we could not have before.
4) We must Approach Persecution with Boldness
“We are not those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved” (Heb 10:39)
[to the Church in Smyrna] “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death” (Rev 2:10-11).
“But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Mt 10:19-20)
I will never forget the woman I met from a large Asian country that starts with a “C.” She said to a group of us, “You think we have persecution. But I can go to the schools and hand out Bibles and talk about Jesus. But in America I cannot easily do such. You are being persecuted and you don’t even see it.”
And the more I think about it the more I realize she is correct. Our persecution comes in the form of fear of lawsuits. We do not speak boldly in some places as we fear getting sued or losing our jobs. Has the fear of lawsuits becomes our persecution that has closed our lips and denied people access to Jesus?
Persecution is normal. For Paul he merely saw it as an opportunity to preach the gospel to more people — the persecutors. Today martyrdom, imprisonment, beatings and more are normal for many Christians. Currently in the US we are mainly seeing occasional job losses from football coaches, fire chiefs and some others. But persecution is growing. The animosity is building. And we must prepare. But not as the world prepares.
We prepare with the hope of Christ in our hearts and joy in our eyes
We prepare with our brothers on our left and our sisters on our right
We prepare with love in our hearts, even to those who would do us wrong