Have you been persecuted recently? Check: have you been killed for your faith? OK, probably not if you’re reading this and likely to respond. But across the world the most serious, widespread persecution of Christians occurred in guess which century? Yes, this one, and it probably does not matter when you read this, because its been on a steady increase for ages. Some evidence for this is available at the Voice of the Martyrs blog, with a cautionary tale about overdepedence on statistics. Individual stories can be found in books like Jesus Freaks (an excellent and moving read) and even Wikipedia managed to have a factual article (see the recent history section under “Persecution of Christians”). As pointed out here, the western world tends to ignore this, as it does not fit in with the West’s anti-Christian thought patterns, because if the Christians are the bad guys, then we can go on living materialistic self-worshipping lives with no thought to the future judgement, yes? The Bible’s phrasing of this is “people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). No, I’m not suggesting a conspiracy here- the people are in darkness, and are blinded to what is really going on in the spiritual realm…
This paints a pretty grim picture, from a worldly point of view, but what about what the scriptures have to say on this? What should our response be? 1) Expect to be persecuted. See Mark 10:29-31, noting that those who give things up for God will receive (among other things, which include many blessings) persecutions. If we’re not persecuted, maybe we’re not being Christian enough? Perhaps we’ve been given some breathing room, or perhaps we’re compromising with the world, which is an enemy of God’s? (See James 4:4 for the evidence.) NB I certainly include myself in the category of feeling that I should speak out more here…
2) Aim to be persecuted. See Matthew 5:1-12, particularly the last few verses show this is a blessing, or consider Acts 5:41, where the Apostles consider it a privilege to share in Christ’s sufferings. Paul considers these things “light and momentary troubles” compared to the eternal glory he is destined for (2 Corinthians 4:17). In the end, being persecuted might be the best thing for God’s church and His glory, so maybe that’s why He allows it? Gosh, doesn’t this sound overwhelming. The good news is that it would be if we were alone, but we won’t be, not even right up to the end of the age: we have Jesus’ promise on this. He has sent a powerful ally. Consider John 14:16-19:
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.”
Our choice is simple: try to do the impossible alone, or with God’s help. Which do you choose?
3) If you can’t get persecuted yourself, help others. These people are family in need, so we have an obligation to them (1 John 3:17), but better yet, we’ll be rewarded for doing so (Mark 9:41), even if we just get one a cup of water!
4) Pray for the persecutors. I think the picture at the beginning is a good clue as to why this one is so important (think St Paul). These people are lost and need the love of Christ, not our hatred. They may need to hear some difficult things, but they also need mercy! Pray hard for the persecutors and the persecuted.