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Blessed Are The Persecuted


(Matthew 5:10-12 NKJV) Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. {11} "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. {12} "Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Some degree of persecution is the normal way of life for the average Christian today. Indeed this is the biblical expectation (2 Timothy 3:12 NKJV) Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

According to David Barret's "World Christian Encyclopedia" between 150,000 to 300,000 Christians die for their faith each year. In only 24 countries is Christianity completely free of restriction and this number is shrinking every year. Thirty six countries at least actively persecute Christians and this number includes well-known nations such as China, Vietnam and North Korea.

No sane Christian wants persecution, even Paul desired that the Christian community live in peace (1 Timothy 2:1-4). Yet we are to rejoice in it when it comes and not to be surprised at it because we live in a world where the forces of wickedness are actively at work (read your newspaper or Eph 6:10-18).

(1 Peter 4:12-14 NIV) Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. {13} But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. {14} If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.

Christians are obviously different from those around them and this difference results in persecution. Our values are different , our vision is different , we are not 'one of them" any more like we used to be. In His high-priestly prayer Jesus acknowledges how the word of God has changed His disciples lives and left them adrift in a hostile world.

(John 17:14 NIV) I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.

Jesus does not ask the Father to pick these poor lost disciples up and transport them safe to heaven or to hide them away in the desert. He has a more robust plan for them than that. He plans for us to become overcomers.

(John 17:15-21 NIV) My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. {16} They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. {17} Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. {18} As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. {19} For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. {20} "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, {21} that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

Thus God's agenda for us is to be a holy, "sanctified", set apart people, immersed in the word of God, protected from the evil one, sent into the midst of a hostile world in order that the gospel may be clearly proclaimed and"the world may believe that you have sent me."That's what I want my life to be like! I think most Christians want that too.

Protection

We will endure persecution as long as we are sure that God is with us and will protect us and not allow us to be tested beyond our limits. The Bible assures us in many places that we can pray for protection and that it will be granted. Even the Lord's prayer includes the phrases"lead us not into temptation (hard testing) and deliver us from evil". It is a legitimate request that Jesus has taught us to pray - presumably so that He can answer it. Three further verses that are worth keeping in mind with regard to spiritual protection are:

(1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV) No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

(1 John 4:4 NKJV) You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.

(1 John 5:18-19 NIV) We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. {19} We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.

This last verse seems to end on a negative note but in fact acknowledges God's protecting power is a greater reality than Satan's dominion over the whole world.

Parameters

If we want to survive persecution in a way that glorifies God there are certain broad parameters that we must observe. Persecution must be "for righteousness sake" "for my name's sake", slandering and accusation must be "false" accusations. If we are persecuted it must be because we are good people not annoying busybodies.

(1 Peter 4:15-16 NKJV) But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people's matters. {16} Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.

Some Christians suffer needlessly because their style is abrupt, rude, or culturally inappropriate. Some of the Christians who get "flamed" on the Internet are in this category. It should not be our personal idiosyncrasies or ability to press other people's buttons that get us persecuted but rather the Christian qualities that we display or the truth of our message. It pays to learn what is appropriate. Missionary societies tell people what is appropriate and what is not. In Australia many people are offended by "American hype" and will criticize some preachers on the basis of style not content. We need to be well mannered and culturally appropriate if we are to only attract "the right sort of criticism".

Blessings

Jesus mentioned two blessings that flow from persecution a) great reward in heaven b) being treated as the prophets of old were treated i.e "prophetic status". While persecution may put is down in this world it lifts us up in the Kingdom of God. The apostle Paul - one of the most slandered and persecuted Christians of all time had this to say about his sufferings.

(2 Corinthians 4:17-5:1 NKJV) For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, {18} while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

Paul looked on the eternal glory and regarded his sufferings as "light affliction" though it included stoning, shipwreck and being beaten with rods. He was not a masochist but a realist who knew that "pain passes".

The apostle Peter wrote to the persecuted churches of Asia saying that their persecution resulted in special approval from God:

(1 Peter 4:14 NKJV) If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.

Not only are we approved by God but the enduring of persecution produces in us a stronger faith and a deeper character.

(1 Peter 1:6-7 NKJV) In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, {7} that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
In those countries where the church is most fiercely persecuted there is also often a deeper faith and a greater number of miraculous workings by God.

Persecution drives the church to pray. We see this in Acts 4 when the apostles were threatened by the Jewish authorities and told not to testify about Jesus.

(Acts 4:18-31 NKJV) And they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. {19} But Peter and John answered and said to them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. {20} "For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.".....{24} So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: "Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, {25} "who by the mouth of Your servant David have said: 'Why did the nations rage, And the people plot vain things? {26} The kings of the earth took their stand, And the rulers were gathered together Against the LORD and against His Christ.' {27} "For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together {28} "to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. {29} "Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, {30} "by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus." {31} And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.

The answer to prayer was evident both in the shaking of the place where they were gathered and in the ministry of miracles which followed - see chapters 5 through 8 of Acts. It was a case of persecution acting as a trigger for what God wanted to do.

Persecution seems to affect the heart of God so that we are "precious in His sight". That is the only way I can put it. I acknowledge that all Christians are precious in His sight but there is something very special about the martyrs and the persecuted. We see this in the honoring of the martyrs in the book of Revelation and in the well known statement that:(Psalms 116:15 NKJV) Precious in the sight of the LORD Is the death of His saints.

Persecution leads to great deliverances. Think of the Exodus when God heard the cry of His persecuted people or Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, or Peter delivered from prison under the guard of 16 Roman soldiers or Jesus risen from the dead. The firing line is the miracle line. You have to be there to find out!

Persecution is a sure sign of judgment for our enemies. Those who keep on afflicting God's people will face a very harsh judgment indeed.

(2 Thessalonians 1:4-10 NKJV) so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, {5} which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; {6} since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, {7} and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, {8} in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. {9} These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, {10} when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly suffering persecution means that we are following Christ's example and suffering both for Him and with Him. He suffers when His body suffers. The risen Christ is not distant from the sufferings of His church. The afflictions of Christians are also his afflictions. This was revealed to Saul - later Paul, on the road to Damascus.

(Acts 9:4-5 NKJV) Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" {5} And he said, "Who are You, Lord?" Then the Lord said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads."

Later Paul was to make a connection between His own sufferings and the sufferings of Christ Jesus so that he would describe his won sufferings as part of his fellowship with Jesus.

(Philippians 3:10-11 NKJV) that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, {11} if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

The apostle Peter even took the very radical step of extending the sufferings of Christ to include not only religious persecution but the unjust punishment of Christian slaves.

(1 Peter 2:18-23 NKJV) Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. {19} For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. {20} For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. {21} For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: {22} "Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth"; {23} who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.

Handling Persecution

How then should we handle persecution? Our responses must fit the biblical criteria being lawful and Christ-like responses to injustice. We should not behave badly, lose our temper, revile others or threaten. Threats of lawsuits or defamation cases are never fitting for Christians. Christians can use their rights such as citizenship to ensure fair treatment and a proper hearing. Paul did this in both Phillipi and Jerusalem. The proper response to persecution is that of Jesus and the church in Acts who prayerfully committed themselves to Him who judges justly. They were not disappointed! Jesus was resurrected. The early church saw miracles and incredible growth.

Persecution seems to come in four main forms for me. Unjust treatment, rudeness, physical attack and witchcraft/curses. Physical attack is quite rare here in Australia but the other three are quite common especially in Internet ministry. I have found that unjust treatment and rudeness tend to make me feel violated and angry and tempt me to react in very on-Christian ways. Having a few level headed friends is a big help. I have learned to give it 24-48 hours before reacting. Also to make sure I do not react when I know I am tired.

Pagan, cult and Satanic forces are common on the Internet and from time to time take exception to my ministry. Sometimes they use witchcraft to attack my ministry. The important thing is not to give in to fear or superstition. I am often unaware of the attack until much later but once I am aware of it I call friends to prayer and break the attack. Such attacks on me are disturbing but Christ is the very adequate answer for them.

Summary

Being persecuted for Jesus' sake is a great blessing and reaps rich rewards in heaven so that we should rejoice and count it a privilege to suffer for Christ. Persecution should not be sought out - - for that is the attitude of the paranoid. Neither is it to be dodged at any cost - for in that lies the way of defeat. It is to be endured in a Christ like manner with great glory going to God.

 

This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.